Part 1: Why Amateurs Are Sometimes Better than Experts at Conveying Information

Part 1: 

In my first blog post, "About My Blog-My First Post," I discussed some of my reasons for creating this blog and posited some of the things/benefits I hoped to convey to my readership.  I would like to touch on that subject again; however, the attempt here is to cover new ground by answering a simple question: "Why comment on subjects when I do not have an expertise in those fields?"

On first glance, this appears to be a valid question.  I have a dearth of knowledge about politics, philosophy, etc. in comparison to the information that an expert in the subject might possess.  As such, some of my posts will perhaps contain amateurish or even incorrect views.  Additionally, an expert in a field will almost certainly be able to posit more in depth views on topics that are in his/her field of study.  Some would say, "These people often devote their lives to studying these topics, so they should be the ones who are most capable at conveying this information to the populace?"  In some cases, the answer to this question is yes; however, I would bet that in many more instances, the experts on a topic are the least able to transmit their learned knowledge to the public.  The reasons are evident.

The experts on a topic also tend to be specialists.  They may know a lot about one specific area of a field; however, they know very little about the other areas.  Sometimes, their lack of a more general understanding of their field may incorrectly bias their viewpoints about the field in general.  Either way, most of their papers, lectures, and scholarly focus on a narrow topic area.  Additionally, their writings are intended for other experts in the field and contain jargon, arcane symbolism, etc.  How many busy "average Joe's and Janes" have the time to spend to puzzle through dozens or even hundreds of these texts to build a generalized knowledge of a specific topic, such as free will, evolution, culture, etc.?  Besides, most of these journals are inaccessible to the "average person" anyway, unless one happens to live near a library that contains a sizable journal collection or wants to pay significant sums for individual submissions.

Even when an expert in the field does create a book or an article that is intended for the general public, the work does succeed in disseminating information to the general populace.  One could point to a number of reasons for this failure, including poor marketing, length, etc.  However, in my opinion, these books fail to enlighten many non-academicians because they are boring reads.  The writers text based comments are not entertaining.  Just as importantly, expert authors often fail to connect with their readership because they can't build any empathetic connections.  As such, large numbers of potential readers will choose not to read a book on history, culture, philosophy, etc. because they cannot "connect with it."  Other people, who do read the book, will not remember much of what they read because it will not "stick in their minds." As a case in point, how many people have read Stephen Hawkings' A Brief History of Time?

Perhaps worse is when a tiny passage from an academic publication or a high brow book written for the masses is taken out of context (thereby skewing its original meaning and purpose) and disseminated throughout the population.  Few people questions the erratum because only a tiny percentage of them read any part of the original text.  They sometimes readily accept its message because it comes from an expert on the subject.  This event occurs so often that it's not worth listing any specific examples, we can all think of numerous ones.

This situation would (to quote an oft used cliche) "be fine and dandy" if most people living outside of academia were automatons, or specialists who didn't need to concern themselves with anything that didn't involve their jobs or families.  It would also be fine if our cultural, economic, and political situations were simple, and we lived in societies whose rules, values, etc. changed slowly if at all.  However, this is not the case.

To be continued....


  1. You hit on several good points Anthony, and I hope an academician or two stumble upon your blog post and it makes them think.

    From a law enforcement perspective, it amazes me how quickly career professionals are to dismiss the ideas and questions of those from the general public (labeled as those with no expertise). These folks are missing out on some excellent insights--as you allude to, from intelligent people just from different disciplines.

  2. Thanks Slam...I would love to see at least some elements of academia change. If a company finds that something doesn't work anymore, it will usually try to change that process (if it wants to survive and thrive). In academia, if something is no longer effective, more often than not, administrators and professors don't do anything about it.