7 Criteria to Consider When “Experts” Disagree

What do you do when experts disagree? When Mike Stelzner tells you one thing and Scott Fox another? When Mom says ‘be careful’ and Dad says ‘go for it’. When Obama says left and Reagan says right? It’s a problem, isn’t it? When writing, analyzing, doing business, dating, debating, rating—whatever—life’s just a mass and mess of conflicting viewpoints and choices. What to do? Whom to believe?

1)    Don’t be swayed by their titles, books, or relative positions of authority. Those things might be genuinely good or they might be phony and derivative pap. I’ve been in “higher education” for 35 years. One of the main things I’ve learned is that for PhDs publishing is an imperative. Even PhDs who can’t write and have nothing much to say strive hard to get published. So there’s a lot of published junk and white noise. As for positions of authority? Same thing. Just ask yourself how many inflated egos and Peter Principle people you’ve encountered with authoritative positions and titles. The Peter Principle, by the way, is this: “People rise to their level of incompetence.”

2)     Nor should you be influenced by your personal opinions of the experts. Maybe you’ve heard, read, or been led to believe they’re great or rotten. Maybe those hearsay reports are true. But maybe they’re false. You never know.

3)    So, you should dispassionately examine the evidence they present to support their statements. It all comes down to facts—my favorite topic. I’m a facts man. Everybody’s got opinions, but do they have facts to support them?

4)    Then, once you’ve set the stage up in good analytical order, determine what facts the experts do agree upon.  Dig deep into their common ground. Establish what doesn’t need to be debated.

5)     If you’re really doing your homework and have the opinions of multiple experts to evaluate, group them up as best you can and determine if there’s a majority position. This step can be misleading, though, because a majority—though it often rules—doesn’t necessarily equal truth, justice, or the American way. The majority is often on the wrong side of the right position. Of course, that brings us back to defining what’s “right” and what’s “wrong.” (See some of my Blogs on Critical Thinking for more discussion of the right/wrong problematic.)

6)    As always—at least from my experience—the effectiveness and accuracy of so much of what we think, what we decide, what we judge, what we espouse, and what we argue for and against depends on facts. Those attorneys, salesmen, bloggers, writers, and even politicians who respect and demand evidence usually come out on top. Don’t we all tend to believe people who’ve established credibility by the veracity of their words? It’s downright foolish to focus on “expert testimony”. Examine the data, the facts, the evidence people present, not the people themselves.

7)    But ultimately, you have to decide whom and what side to believe based upon your judgment and your own position on the values or issues at stake. It’s a profound irony and complexity of the human reasoning process. We can follow steps 1-6 as objectively and diligently as humanly possible. But in the final analysis, we usually make up our minds based on our own subjective viewpoints, hunches, feelings, and/or preset beliefs. What’s important to us—what’s in it for us—is the primary criteria for our conclusions.

We may strive to be fair, unbiased, and objective, but who among us isn’t swayed by our own ingrained attitudes and vested interest? “Not me!” you might say. “I’m fair and impartial all the way, all the time.” Uh-huh. Sure you are. As Jake Barnes said at the end of The Sun Also Rises: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”