The role, regard and reputation of 'The Expert' is under threat.
From academics to medical practitioners and from consultants to expert witnesses, professionals who previously would have enjoyed immediate and unquestioning respect, are increasingly being challenged by 'lay people' - and have often been found wanting.
In many cases, it's the so-called experts themselves that have made a rod for their own backs, with high profile - dare I say it, 'epic' fails: from strongly influencing devastating, wrong-headed and world-changing events, like the war in Iraq and the (still ongoing) global financial crisis, to more mundane matters, like misidentifying wines during blind tests and promoting dodgy diet advice.
To present yourself as an expert (or to allow yourself to be introduced as such), can be fraught with potential risks to your reputation.
Before going on, I thought it important to establish what (or who) exactly is an expert?
For a definition, I've sought the biggest thorn in academic experts' sides, Wikipedia:
"An expert...is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain."
It's a little wordy, so back to the online encyclopedia for something more succinct:
An expert "is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study."
Much better...and fairly straightforward.
So, one would reasonably expect anyone calling themselves an expert to have the qualifications, experience, affiliations, publications and industry recognition to back up whatever theory they espouse or whatever comment they make...and for which they are occasionally very handsomely rewarded.
Even if this criteria is met, there's no guarantee that the truly 'expert view' will be correct, as was shown recently when a student successfully challenged the conclusions of a paper written by two eminent Harvard economists.
Meanwhile, undeterred by falling well short of the requirements for 'expert status', there are daily examples of self-styled experts pontificating on matters of which they appear to know very little, using bold language, making vague statements or even indulging in what the philosopher Stephen Law dubbed pseudo-profundity, to make up for a lack of real authority and specificity.
Under pressure to have the 'definitive analysis' of a current or breaking story, news editors and TV producers are regularly the instigators, co-conspirators, or at the very least, willing participants in this 'deception by expert'. They seem to need someone - anyone - 'authentic sounding and looking' to complement the splashy graphics and mood music.
The news business turned to show business a long, long time ago.
Outside traditional media, the internet is an insatiable beast and the normal checks and balances for factual accuracy and credibility you'd expect in a story that could influence the behaviour of literally millions of people, will often be ignored for the sake of expediency and a series of juicy, social media-friendly soundbites.
To misquote George Orwell: "All experts are equal, but some are more equal than others."
A more appropriate term for an expert could (or should) be 'specialist' which is less presumptuous and significantly less pretentious.
Personally, I prefer 'enthusiast', if only for its simple and beautiful honesty. Being an enthusiast suggests a deep interest and an ongoing desire to learn more about a particular subject or issue. I live in hope for a time when the media and corporate worlds give this moniker the respect it deserves.
Perhaps the most significant phenomenon that has led to the the 'death' of the 'anointed' or even the self-appointed expert, is the sheer volume of information being produced on a daily basis, much of which challenges age old practices and perceptions.
There's simply too much new raw data, factual content and subjective information that needs to be filtered and adequately processed...even by an expert!
Perhaps this is where the wisdom of the crowd comes in.
It's not perfect, but in the age of Google and Wikipedia, we've all become experts.
Thoughts on customer service, communication and, of course, reputation management.