The concept of an expert

IN A typical encounter between a doctor and a patient in an emergency room, clinic or physician’s office, the latter discloses the symptoms that hamper his or her biological and sociological functions to the former, who in turn prescribes the remedies or treatments based on his professional opinion.

The patient is obliged to follow the doctor’s expert judgment. In exchange, the latter receives payment for the professional services rendered to the former at a price commensurate to his educational attainment and professional trainings as mandated by the professional body regulating the practice of medicine.

Whenever we find ourselves in troubling situations -- medically, technically, practically, emotionally, etc… we turn to experts for their opinion.

From cooking, dressing, walking to writing and medical advice, an expert is sought after to teach us the correct ways of doings.

Experts are those individuals possessing specialized knowledge or skills acquired through education, practice, trainings or licensures.

They are the models set for the novice or those inexperienced in their fields.

To date, experts generally hold titles like doctors or professor. They have postgraduate degrees like a Doctor of Philosophy or PhD in a particular field. And lastly, they have a certain symbolic ways of distinction compared to the novice or the lay people.

Early sociologists and social thinkers once had a myriad of concerns in determining the role of ‘experts’ in society. And from time long past the days of chivalry, these concerns must have had long arms to extend to today’s post-industrial era, where sophisticated and highly specialized experts live.

Some had initiated the thought that experts are an indispensible commodity for the consumption of political science. Within this premise lies the proposition that the rightful place of experts is to correct the “defects” of the political system in our society.

There were also those "thinkers" who posited that elements of the social life could be best understood with the aid of these experts. I think this the most pressing point that is central to my column today.

For instance, we are all entitled to have our own opinion about things. However, not all opinions are deemed to be correct: at least not in the objective sense. A college educated housewife, for example may know of the home remedies for cough or fever, but she can never substitute the prudent judgment of a physician. In a similar vein, a college graduate of a business-related course may be capable of teaching high school Algebra but not as competent and skilful as a licensed mathematics teacher.

The point being is that even though education may correct the misconceptions of subjective opinions or armchair theorizing, it can never substitute the specialized training that experts possess. Thus, giving power and regarding them with special privileges like prestige and class.

Is it not that we pay much respect to the experts? And is it not that they are highly paid and valued by the society which we coexist?

In fact, professionals, who may also be regarded as experts in their respective fields are the paragons of their crafts. A nurse, for example is viewed as an expert in “nursing” or caring for the sick for which she is licensed for.

Perhaps one must pause on the idea that not all the time experts perpetuate the stereotypes society “coats” on them.

Doctors, for instance are generally viewed as compassionate, well-mannered, highly intellectuals and have the heart to serve humanity being healers and vanguards of health they are.

But not all doctors are like this. And like any profession, they have members who have fallen astray.

Despite of them losing their way, society tends to be even more unfair, as it seems that experts or professionals are the most likely population to be subjected to the “benefit of a doubt.” Maybe this is why a professional committing a crime is given leeway compared to a lay person or pauper committing similar crimes.

Remember popular figures in politics, media or professional organizations who have done something wrong? Is it not that society tends to excuse their misdeeds or shortcomings and reduce them to “bad days” compared to the ill acts of the ordinary masses of similar nature?

Should one attempt to open his or her sociological eye, one explanation for this is that the concept of experts fosters social inequality: experts enjoy benefits or privileges exclusively. And this social inequality creates a social conflict among those who enjoy and those who do not these privileges.

In another perspective, this social inequality is what pushes one to be ambitious to become experts. For who would want to undergo extensive trainings or spend more years in Universities beyond college education if no reward awaits at the end of the tunnel?

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