Years ago, I worked as a copywriter at a medical and scientific consulting agency. At that point, I held a BA in Communications and Media Studies and a Post-BA certificate in Secondary Education. I was an expert only in my own field: copywriting and editing. While most folks at this agency were experts in hematology, oncology, and rare diseases, I knew how to write and how to write well. Still, to write intelligently and confidently about complex and unfamiliar topics, I had to learn, rather quickly, about the inner-workings of those diseases. Sure, Google provided the basic foundation to the knowledge I needed (because I know how to study and have the ability to learn and process new concepts and ideas), but an integral part of my position was working closely with PhDs in those fields. The PhDs were the subject-matter-experts, or SMEs, as they were called. And SMEs exist in most places; in education and in corporate alike, experts guide input and decisions.
Currently, I have over 10 years of experience as an educator and approximately 7 years as a copywriter. I hold an MS in Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum. I am considered an expert in my field of education. I am considered an expert in pedagogy, classroom management, engagement, restorative practice, assessment, and feedback. Yet, with all my education, training, and experience, I still rely on other experts in my field when I find myself in unfamiliar situations. Even experts consult other experts. Furthermore, I still bring my car into the shop when it’s “making a weird sound” and I still bring my kids to the optometrist when I suspect they need glasses. Because, while I am an expert in my field, I cannot and should not diagnose my car nor my children.
I trust the professionals with degrees, experience, and/or training to help me and guide me as I navigate life as a parent and as a human. Yet, within the last several years, I’ve noticed many have assumed the positions of “expert” without degrees, experience, and/or training. In fact, many rage against all of those qualifications, stipulating that experience and education do not an expert make. They foster anti-intellectualism while belittling the training and experience of others. They argue their Google search is good enough, or even better, than the actual training and education of doctors, pharmacists, teachers, etc. They have deemed themselves statisticians, epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, doctors, lawyers, mental health professionals, and even constitutionalists. Yet, they fail to acknowledge an important point: a Google search isn’t actually research, it’s confirmation bias. A Google search does not equal experience, nor training, nor education. A Google search will support whatever point-of-view one holds. Decades of scientific research awaits a simple keyword, and all one has to do is pay for an internet connection and know how to read. In fact, one doesn’t even need to know how to decipher, synthesize, and/or navigate the information one finds, all one has to do is simply read and regurgitate whatever is written, no matter how erroneously and half-wittedly.
While anti-intellectualism has been brewing for decades, this sudden “everyone is an expert as long as they have wifi,” defies all logic and common sense. It’s impossible for all of us to be experts in everything. One shouldn’t claim themselves an expert in anything one doesn’t have education, training, and/or extensive experience in. The ability to use Google isn’t equivalent to decades of training and experience, no matter how impressive one’s Google search skills are. Deeming oneself as an expert in anything other than one’s expertise isn’t only arrogant, it can be — and has proven to be — extremely dangerous.
Currently, in my very own community, we have seen an uptick in self-proclaimed experts. Suddenly, “Google search experts” have decided they know more than medical professionals, more than education administrators and teachers, and more than hospitalists and statisticians. In fact, just last week, our community saw just how dangerous the “everyone is an expert” movement can be. Many of us watched a healthy father of two very publicly succumb to COVID-19, while his wife documented his painful and tragic progression into death.
After two years of spreading misinformation and disinformation, and after orchestrating chaos in our community, members of a Facebook group called ReOpen Bucks, watched one of the followers of their disinformation die. The wife of the man who perished as she documented his death asked for advice numerous times in ReOpen Bucks.
After likely receiving misinformation, she continued to fight for her husband and document his demise. Several days after her last ask, the leader of ReOpen Bucks, posted an hour and a half long video, calling it “The progression of COVID disease and what to expect if you go to the hospital.” This self-proclaimed Covid expert and self-proclaimed statistician (who actually works in IT), spent an hour and a half offering medical advice and guidance after assuring his followers he is not qualified to offer such advice. (The entire video is too large to post here, but clips are available here. Thank you, Lady Whistletown, for your work on this. And, no I am not Lady Whistletown.) In the same breath, this person offers weekly updates that several local School Boards use to guide their decisions on health and safety. Never mind that he excludes many important variables in his data. (More on that to come.)
Four days later, the healthy bodybuilder and dad of 2 died, and ReOpen moved on as if nothing happened. They watched this man’s tragic demise, they followed the progression of the disease, they offered advice because many of them believed themselves to be experts, and then they fell silent. No condolences, no words of encouragement, no support. They didn’t even share his wife’s GoFundMe page. Nothing. This poor man became yet another victim of misinformation. And while I am not saying ReOpen Bucks is directly responsible for this man’s death, I am saying that groups like ReOpen and videos like the one above contribute to these tragic and preventable deaths.
When I was a copywriter at the medical communications firm, I knew I had experts to turn to prior to writing about topics I had only very basic knowledge in. As an educated individual, and as someone who has the ability to self-reflect, I am able to recognize my shortcomings, lack of knowledge, and lack of experience. I rely on experts, which does not mean I blindly follow and believe everything I am told; I simply recognize I don’t have all the answers and other people may know more about a particular topic than I do. I couldn’t imagine if my advice contributed to someone’s hurt or pain, let alone death. I don’t ever pretend to know it all; I know how dangerous and irresponsible that is.
This movement toward anti-intellectualism, where anyone with wifi can deem themselves an expert in anything, is dangerous. How many people have died due to misinformation and disinformation? How many have received and accepted bad advice? Too many. When will this stop? Well, until everyday people start recognizing their limitations and once again start respecting expert advice, we will face much darkness.
In a world where anyone and everyone is an expert, people die. We must understand our own shortcomings prior to pretending we know it all. If we don’t, we will end up with more death and destruction than ever before.