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Updated: December 1, 2013 02:51 IST

Should experts decide everything for us?

V. N. Mukundarajan
Comment (7)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

“Ask the expert” is the dictum which all of us are told to obey for successfully negotiating an increasingly complex world. There used to be a time when there were fewer experts around to ‘help’ us make decisions which we did without any fuss. The knowledge explosion of the past several decades has broken down domains into cocoons of specialisation. It is true that skill and scholarship in any area are acquired only through dedicated study and research. But punditry has acquired an esoteric dimension which is debatable.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that experts wield enormous power in our society. They are the elites, the knowledge emperors of the 21st century. We have medical experts, educational experts, career experts, nuclear experts, defence experts, weather experts, etc. The list is large. There is an expert for everything that touches our daily lives.

Is your child unruly and lazy? Take her to a counsellor who, after say 30 minutes of talk, will tell you what you already know about your child. If a couple cannot get along, they are supposed to consult a marriage counsellor or psychologist. This professional will suggest a list of dos and don’ts which the couple could have easily found in a self-help book.

Bored with life? Consult a life coach or mentor who will enlighten you with nuggets of wisdom which you forget once you walk out of the consulting room.

Are you confused about your course selection and career? Go and see an educational expert. He will advise you to select the courses which the job market favours at the time. This information could have been found had you read newspapers regularly. Suppose the branch you selected became unfashionable and irrelevant by the time you finished your course, don’t blame the expert. He cannot assume responsibility for the vagaries of the job market.

When the government finds it difficult to take a decision on an intricate issue, it appoints an expert committee to examine the problem in ‘depth’ and recommend solutions. Most of the time, it is only a diversionary tactic to buy more time. It is not that the rulers don’t have solutions. They do not want to implement unpopular measures and risk defeat in the next elections.

Japan’s famed nuclear safety experts could not anticipate that an earthquake and a tsunami would occur simultaneously. The experts had an alibi for not anticipating the Fukushima nuclear disaster — the accident was a Black Swan — a highly improbable event with enormous consequences. But the fact that a few precautions like a water-proof backup generator could have mitigated the fallout was lost on the pundits. Such precautions do not need expertise, only an application of the mind which has become an endangered activity in the age of the Internet.

The most optimistic and self-righteous tribe of experts operates in the world of economics and finance. Most economists failed to see the 2008 mortgage crisis in the U.S. coming.

People were so disillusioned with the economic wizards that they started asking whether economics was a social science or quackery. Whether it is stock market or gold, the projections of experts are off the mark more often than not. Unpredictable human behaviour often stumps economic theory.

Some experts are democratic and egalitarian. They share their knowledge by writing books, But their works do not reach a wider audience because the Internet has scattered our attention with its ever shifting images and distractions. It has robbed us of our ability for deep reflection which book reading demands.

This is not an anti-intellectual rant. When we are bombarded with information overload, we need to ask an expert which information is important and which is trivial.

We need not always surrender our autonomy to the professionals and connoisseurs if we are well informed and try to use our brains to pause and reflect, introspect and reason — to lead examined lives on our own terms.

(The writer’s email:

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Mr. MUKUNDARAJAN, am not sure where this article is taking us. Definitly when there
is a key decision to be made, consulting a non-Expert wouldn't be particularly bright.
If you take the worst of everything, sure you can come up with an example for any
process to fail painfuly. But it is not fair to the thousands of experts who go about
sharing their objective experiences in improving the system we call life.

But fake experts - easy to spot - loud mouthed, opinionated, obnoxious god-
complex ones .. yes stay away from them.

from:  Anand
Posted on: Dec 3, 2013 at 09:01 IST

Author has rightly said that we do not need to depend on everything on what expert says. But other way there should be an accountability on expert opinion which is almost zero in India. Like experts who predicts future growth and demand in India-which funds the infrastructure, removing poverty-have badly failed and no one is blamed for and they are paid by our tax payer money to do this!! If the experts are not accountable then we are driving in circle with entrance but no exit for problems.

from:  marudah
Posted on: Dec 2, 2013 at 06:49 IST

My views are completely coinciding with the views of Shri VN Mukund Rajan.As I am a medical professional, I am a direct witness for this expert orientation.For a generalised problem in the body ,patients complain as a local problem. For example, in certain Viral fevers-throat pain, redness of eyes, watering of eyes are also symptoms. There is no role for Eye Specialist and Throat specialist!The order today is that if patient complains means refer him to expert! My professor in seventies it self used to comment jocularly that there will be a day when there will be a specialist for hair and nails.While patient-doctor relationship gettin eroded, experts are suggesting introduction of Personality development as a subject in curriculum of MBBS. As MBBS becoming in competent to start General practice,experts are suggesting to start General practise as a separate Specialization course.Long live Experts, the state can divert us and misrule!

Posted on: Dec 1, 2013 at 20:57 IST

Well summed up indeed. But a sardonic remark on the "Ask the Expert"
question would be whether or not the expert deserves the kind of
attention received. Whether or not the "experts" have well designed
common sense theories to justify when something goes wrong : not just
blame game on the market vagaries. Well, we all have had our bad days
and we do need "experts' advice", yet the opinions given by them are
surely open to debate and if we are not lazy enough we could always
follow up the advice with careful precautions and be ready for the
worst case scenarios too, not just dealing with the rosy picture of
the experts' opinion.

from:  Sanjana A
Posted on: Dec 1, 2013 at 19:39 IST

In this knowledge age, there are experts in all areas. In that situation, IF WE ARE NOT
HAVING THE CORRECT ANSWER , there is nothing wrong if we consult the experts.
I have seen doctors, who consults pediatricians, when their children fall sick, as the parents
Feel that the pediatrician is good , in the interests of the child. I have also seen criminal
Lawyers consulting civil lawyers on civil law matters. If you are very sure, such
consultation is certainly not necessary. But if you are not sure, consultation will definitely
Help, to prevent disasters.

from:  C p Chandra das
Posted on: Dec 1, 2013 at 18:33 IST

In this age of information overload, all we need is to sift through the
data and extract useful information from it. However, only a fraction of
the people does this. The majority depends on someone else to do the job
for them. Even if some of us are fed up with the so called experts, they
will continue to flourish unless a majority of the public becomes
informed and proactive in taking decisions. Unfortunately, this is
better said than done.

from:  Rohit Bhat
Posted on: Dec 1, 2013 at 12:06 IST

at the end the author is right saying that we have to examine our life that what is good and what is bad for us.
if we examine it on daily basis then we can learn each and every term in a curious manner and even we can solve the problem of other person.
indian youth change yourself just share your problems with your friends and your family members dont be feel silly or hesitate.

from:  karni singh
Posted on: Dec 1, 2013 at 07:12 IST
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