Experts are telling us lies

Andrew Keen's book, The Cult of the Amateur is stimulating a lot of reflective thought about the nature of valued expertise. I previously used Andrew Keen as an example of an unfortunate learner. Will Richardson, Tony Karrer, George Siemens and Wendy Wickham are all thinking about Web 2.0's impact on experts -- with their recent posts.

In my view, experts are defensive because they are under siege on several, simultaneous fronts:
Observer-dependence: In quantum physics and the Santiago school in cognition theory: we see what we're looking for. Every observation has a perceptual bias that alters the findings. A self-fulfilling prophesy takes effect. There is no valid objectivity, only influential projections of our selective consciousness.

Post-modernism: Objectivity is a dominant narrative that subjugates and marginalizes the diversity of other valid narratives. "That's not a fact, it's your story that you use to control the situation in your favor". The way you label this gives you feedback on where you're coming from. It's not an indication of what is out there.

Chaos theory: A slight change (Butterfly Effect) in one location can disturb the interconnectedness in a way that yields a massive change elsewhere. System-wide repercussions discredit explanations of consistent causal links, isolated dependent variables or empirical validity.

Recursive epistemology: Events occur in cycles that are acausal (chicken-egg questions, vicious cycles, self-reinforcing loops, closed systems). This mutual interdependence enables both sides to support the continuity of each other. Isolated, compartmentalized and labeled things are misperceptions of "what goes around comes around" processes. Linear models misrepresent non-linear dynamics.

In this context, "being an expert" requires telling us a pack of lies:

This has nothing to do with me. I'm pointing my finger at an objective problem that is unrelated to my outlook, assumptions or unresolved issues. My other three fingers do not point back at me.

This is the truth. This is the one right answer that proves that other versions are wrong or inadequate explanations. The nature of this truth does not allow for idle conjectures, spin doctoring, deviant explanations or metaphorical allusions to other interpretations.

This has a known cause. This happened for an identifiable reason. This will happen again for the same reasons. This can be solved, fixed or prevented by knowing what caused it and eliminating that variable.

This can be stopped. This is not the effect of wanting to stop it. This is not persisting because of resisting it. This cannot come back to haunt us. We are not perpetually interconnected. There are no significant, unintended consequences.
Experts are losing credibility. It's becoming clear to our collective wisdom that they are liars or delusional. The more we generate our own content, conversations and subjective interpretations, the less use we will have for the distortions subscribed to by experts. The content of Web 2.0 seems more valuable to us because it's freeing us from these lies.


  1. Tom - first I read this (one of "the pack of lies"):

    This is the truth. This is the one right answer that proves that other versions are wrong or inadequate explanations...

    Then I read this:

    Experts...are liars or delusional.

    To me, that sounds like "the truth" above.

    Perhaps "experts" are responding to their own environment, acting in what they believe is the best interest of the community, and seeking to advocate the value of what they did to become "experts." Maybe they're not. Maybe they're all a bunch of prissy know-it-alls who fear change like the plague.

    Your words have covered both possibilities. If they're the former, they're delusional (because they're "wrong?"); if they're the latter, they're liars.

    I sure don't know. What leads you to these statements?

    Or, if the whole post is an ironic, postmodern parody of this kind of thinking, then I don't know where to go.

  2. Thanks for your comment and questions Ted.

    It's inherent in making pronouncements, like writing blog posts, to fall prey to the delusions of expertise. I've thought that the problem of my "announcing the truth" could be alleviated by prefacing every thought with (IMHO). I've wondered if that is taken for granted among us bloggers that each of us is "announcing our spin"? I explored that some in my most "For our consideration".

    I'm lead to these statements by the invalidation of Web 2.0 content by experts who see no quality in it and the disorienting effect that is having on bloggers and creators of content for the web.

    The only real escape from "announcing the truth" is the switch from monologue to dialogue, from announcing perceptions to exploring underlying premises, from telling it like it is to complicating what was told. Thanks for inducing that change.

    I did not intend to be ironic, writing a meta-logue or coming across as indirect. Thanks for seeing all those possibilities.

  3. Tom,

    I guess I have not seen the same degree of denunciation of Web 2.0 by experts that you have. My wife told me about a diatribe by someone from Encyclopedia Britannica, but I would expect that from them.

    The experts that I pay attention to are those that present their opinions in a rational, civil manner and then eagerly engage in debate to defend their positions. They respond with well reasoned and thoughtful replies.

    I don't think that you can dismiss all experts any more than experts can dismiss all of Web 2.0. Indeed, I bet you can dismiss the same percentage of each.


  4. Hi Roger
    It's great to hear from you again. In our last dialogue here, I realized that there are valuable experts to be acknowledged. I did not reiterate that in this post, given there was already an overload of concepts to present. I agree with you there are numerous experts who are open minded and engaging in discussion with dissenters. Some of the highest quality blogs are authored by them. Their ability and willingness to consider other viewpoints suggests they are not telling lies like: "this is the truth".

    Andrew Keen's book is already selling used on amazon for under $8 which indicates that this positional stance is already losing credibility, value and buy-in. I suspect we are going through a paradigm shift like the Copernican revolution. At least the current proponents (including myself) of valuable web content, viable wiki articles and emergent wisdom of crowds are not being executed by protectors of the old regime.


  5. Tom,

    Back in the day I learned in my 10th grade English class that the proper way to write a paper was in 3rd person, and to avoid all statements such as "I think, I guess, my feelings are, IMHO (kidding), etc."

    The reason given for this is that because your name is on the paper, it's obviously your opinion. I think that this applies to the blogosphere as well. Experts included, fart too many people preface their thoughts with IMO, or IMHO, and when they do that it really waters down their sincerity in my eyes. It's like saying, "I think I'm right, unless you disagree or can prove me wrong, in which case I didn't really mean it".

    It's a bit absurd, and it's a product of people feeling that they have to be more deferential in nonverbal communication than they can be in a verbal engagement. It's hard to read someone's intentions when all you have are smiley faces and parenthetical statements to add meaning to a post or comment. I'd prefer to know what people believe without the platitudes. Not that I'm always perfect, of course. =)

  6. Andy: You may not be perfect all the time :-)
    but that was a perfect thing to say.
    Thanks for framing the issue of "personal declarations" the way you did.

  7. Tom - first, thanks for the courteous and thoughtful reply.

    I was going to write something else about "IMHO," but Andy hit it so succinctly that there's no point. Cheers, Andy.

  8. Thanks for jumping back in here Ted. The evolving understanding from all our viewpoints is fun for me to watch unfold.