What is an Expert?

Often in the cycling world, we have the testimony of “experts.”

Overall, this sounds like a good idea

We need to have people who really know what they are talking about before we make decisions on riding style and infrastructure.

Right?

I’d argue that, “no”, we don’t need an expert at all. What we need is good data to decide what’s best practice.

But won’t an expert give us the best data?

I’m not sure. Maybe. I’m not against educated people looking objectively at data. However, I am a little suspicious when I can clearly see things being true, in professional data, and I am told the opposite is true, and that I’m too stupid to even read some simple statistics.

If we are to decide whether we need experts or not, we should first decide what makes an expert cyclist advocate?

Let’s first look at what does NOT make an expert.

An expert is not someone who is merely old. It is ageist (sic) to say that a younger person needs to “respect his elders” with regard to the facts.

In fact, the facts are open to all of us to look at and are not the monopoly of a single generation especially ones that keep telling us how awesome they are. (I’m looking at you, Greatest).

An expert is not someone who repeats himself–yes, himself, there are few older women who try to lord their non-existant expertise over others–over and over again.

So what is an expert?

I have worked for a number of them over the years, and in general, but not always, are bad speakers. But not all bad speakers are real experts, of course.

Experts give data to back up their claims. If they don’t have data, they will say “I don’t know”. Experts are well read in their topic, and they are constantly learning new data.

Experts don’t assume that the past will be like the future, but they are constantly looking for new findings.

Experts are generally unsure of themselves and will lose a public “debate” with someone who knows nothing on the topic, but is able to give a false sense of confidence.

Experts are humble and are more interested in learning the right thing rather than being right in a moment.

Experts often change their minds and are not afraid to admit it.

The more the expert knows about a topic, the less dogmatic and less certain they will be on anything because they will realize that there are always exceptions. Still, an expert will not get distracted by exceptions, but rather will be able to give the facts which are relevant in most cases.

When an expert evaluates something, such as a road for safety, they will be able to give, ahead of time, the criteria that they are looking for. Experts can train other experts and are happy to do so. But an expert will urge others to go and read on their own as well.

One of the biggest problems that experts have is confirmation bias (read _You Are Not So Smart, book). This infects everything we learn because we have said things in the past, and we like to seem smart. Thus, when contradictory data comes along, we’ll mentally fight it.

The way around this is the corny, but true saying, “Zen mind, beginners’s mind” which means we try to keep everything fresh by forgetting what we know to learn more. Another way of putting this is “empty your cup” which means that we need to have an open mind when learning, always.

Thus, if someone is truly an expert, you will know that they are right through the clear presentation of data rather than the insistence that you are too stupid to understand anything and thus should take their word for it.

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