It seems to me that in Baltimore we have a system where people (non-experts) can remove a bike lane for so called nondescript "safety" issues and then we have "experts" refuse to hear about adding bike lanes via road diets where studies of road diets show that they work (removal of a travel lanes for a center turn lane and bike lanes (or as the "experts" here call them... "suicide lanes")
No doubt that it is very offensive in attempting to have a discussion with an "expert" to be dismissed with just a derogatory term (suicide lane) that seems to have no basis in actual studies. Keep in mind I am not saying a road diet is applicable everywhere, of course not but they should be applicable somewhere and the conversation should be about the details of what makes them work and what does not in a specific location. But then there is the traffic apocalypse they keep predicting so every car lane is sacred, so that ends that. :(
So with that intro, let me share a snippet of Eli Damon's post...]
What Makes An Expert?Our misunderstanding, and deliberate abuse, of the role of experts also leads us to assign the status of expert improperly, assigning it those who do not have genuine and relevant expertise and failing to assign it to those who do. So the question is: Who should be assigned the status of expert? The answer depends on a number of factors.
Relevance Of Experience - To be useful as an expert in a given discussion, a person must have expertise on the subject being discussed. For example, in a discussion about global climate change, a climatologist would probably be an expert, while a meteorologist (who studies weather) probably would not. Climate and weather are closely related but distinct subjects. Weather concerns atmospheric activity over short periods of time, while climate concerns long-term weather trends. A good meteorologist will probably have some understanding of climate, but not to the depth of a climatologist.
Breadth Of Experience - An expert on a subject should have a broad range of experience on that subject to draw from. It is not enough to have done the same thing over and over for many years; they should have done various related things so as to achieve some perspective. For example, listen to the story with which Ernesto Sirolli opens his talk "Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!" The Italians in this story, who represented themselves as experts on agriculture, failed in their project, partly because their experience was too narrow. They were only familiar with growing under Italian conditions, so they failed to anticipate the challenges of Zambian conditions. (They also failed because they were hubristic, incurious, and disrespectful, violating several of the responsibilities of experts listed above.) In fact, the Zambians were the greater experts in the story, although they were not regarded as such.
Depth Of Experience - But a broad range of experience might not give much perspective unless that experience is sufficiently deep. An expert should have studied their subject in an unusually intent, inquisitive, and discriminating manner. For example, in Charles Marohn's mocking dialogue "Conversation with an Engineer", the engineer's experience is mostly of employing the prevailing theory of motor vehicle traffic flow to defend and meet a set of arbitrary standards. (He violates many of the responsibilities of experts listed above.) The neighborhood resident has a much deeper experience of actually living in the neighborhood. (Also, she fulfills her responsibilities as a layman, as listed above, extremely well. She asks for explanation and clarification, and she challenges suspect claims.)
Familiarity With A Body Of Work - Personal experience should be supplemented by a familiarity with the body of work in the field to provide some perspective on how that experience relates to the field as a whole. An expert should be able to identify work that supports or refutes claims made in a discussion, interpret and critique that work, and describe how it bears on the discussion at hand. For example, an expert who is to inform the controversy over guns should be able to form a coherent interpretation based on the statistics cited on both sides, all taken together. An academic degree gives some indication of familiarity with a body of work, but it is not necessary or sufficient to guarantee it. I have a PhD in mathematics, but I can hardly claim to be all that familiar even with the articles I cited in my dissertation. See the next paragraph for another example.
Availability - It is likely that an ideal expert is not available. If the field of expertise is relatively new or obscure, an ideal expert might not even exist. It is unreasonable to reject someone as an expert if no better expert is available. For example, bicycle safety is an obscure field and does not have an accredited degree program. One of the top experts on bicycle safety in the country was once rejected as an expert witness on bicycle safety by the judge for the case on the grounds that he did not have an accredited degree in bicycle safety. The judge thus unfairly denied the expert's client the benefit of expert testimony by setting an impossible standard of expertise.
Intellectual Integrity And Communication Skills - Regardless of the degree of relevant expertise someone possesses, they cannot be useful as an expert unless they are willing and able to communicate their expertise to others clearly and accurately.
If the laymen working with a purported expert, through their questions, fulfill their responsibilities as described above, then it should quickly become clear to these laymen whether the purported expert should be assigned the status of expert. The purported expert should be assigned the status of expert if and only if, through their answers, they fulfill the responsibilities of experts described above. In other words, if you ask useful questions and they give you useful answers then they are worth listening to; if you ask useful questions and they don't give you useful answers then they are not worth listening to; if you don't ask useful questions then it doesn't matter whether they're worth listening to because you're not willing to listen to them.
Burden Of ProofIn a scientific debate, the burden of proof lies with those challenging the consensus in the scientific field in questions. The consensus in the field is generally entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Also, the consensus in a scientific field sometimes contradicts popular belief, but popular belief should hold no sway in a scientific debate.
One of the experiences that led me to think more intently about the role of experts was a "debate" on bicycle safety gone wrong. (I use quotes because, while I was attempting to have a debate, my opponent was having something more like a temper tantrum). My opponent summarily dismissed my argument, saying that there was no evidence to support my position, but not actually soliciting evidence from me or making any relevant criticisms of my argument.