Saturday, February 1, 2014

Everyone an "expert"?

A friend reminded me to read a couple of interesting opinion posts outside the field of genealogy:

"The Death of Expertise" by Tom Nichols, and

"No, You're Not Entitled to Your Opinion," by Patrick Stokes.

Both writers are dismayed at the popular notion that any ignorant opinion is as good as a well-informed one. Neither draws much on history, but it is well to remember that the US was founded on a healthy skepticism of authority, and the ensuing presidency of Andrew Jackson intensified this American characteristic.

But like all good things mistrust of authority can be carried too far. A politician who uses her position of authority to assert without evidence that history supports her position (or that she can see Russia from her house) may indeed deserve skepticism. Someone who played a dad on TV and who now shills for a finance company deserves something stronger than skepticism.

Many of us come to genealogy thinking that we're already experts. Most of us learn that we're not, and then proceed to learn what we need to know. At least genealogy has a clear set of standards that anyone can read and understand. Those who choose not to follow them will still be judged by them.

We're not all experts, and we don't have to be. We do need the wit to seek our genealogy from those who follow standards, our business news from the Wall Street Journal, our climate science from actual climate scientists, and so forth -- not trying to make one source do for all. Common sense, right?

Harold Henderson, "Everyone an 'expert'? ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 January 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Jen said...

Excellent thoughts Harold. This idea of an expert has been on my mind this week, especially after I saw an "expert" provide incorrect information repeatedly online. I think everyone has to move beyond their ego and realize we all have special talents, skills, and knowledge. We can help each other if we are open to it. And yes, we must step outside that genealogical box already and seek the experts on so many other areas that will enhance our research.

Harold Henderson said...

Thanks, Jen. If you missed her blog post, check it out for additional thoughts and a bunch of actual up-to-date military records information at

thegenealogygirl said...

Great post.