Lubrication & Fluid Power                                                                        

Journal of Machinery, Fluids Tests and Standards




November 2002 Table of ContentsNovember 2002 Editorial


"Pseudo Experts"


Most of us have had to hire or consult with an expert at one time or another to resolve a problem. Immediately, like well-trained Hollywood actors, "Pseudo" Experts begin convincing, Oscar-caliber, performances. Determining credentials of an expert adds yet another problem.

Various "Experts" present conflicting advice, often, recommending courses of action that in reality have little to do with either basic questions posed or solutions sought. After considerable observation of such chicanery, we suggest four basic rules that are useful in sorting "Hollywood play acting" and "drama" from scientific inquiry—distinguishing the "Pseudo Expert" from the real thing.

#1 The "Pseudo Expert" defends conclusions by challenging any questioner’s credibility with statements such as, "These are tried and true methods" or "This has been applied for over 20 years", etc. In general, "Pseudo Experts" do not answer questions but seek instead to question the questioner. A real Expert knows that defending conclusions to skeptics is as critical a part of expanding the general body of knowledge, as are the initial phases of data gathering, validation, review and analysis. An Expert is always willing to defend any conclusions drawn, since basing conclusions on verifiable data always simplifies this task. An Expert is also willing to modify a belief in the face of compelling scientific/technical data.

#2 The "Pseudo Expert" at best repeats a canned phrase when asked to explain steps taken to reach a conclusion. Most often the "Pseudo Expert" repeats the same concluding statement as if repetition yields understanding. To varying degrees, the "Pseudo Expert" tends to suppress data or conclusions that cloud his point of view. In contrast, an Expert knows that being able to take a questioner step-by-step through the process of examining raw data, combining it with other knowledge, and rendering the mix down to the final recommendation, is the true path to understanding.

#3 The "Pseudo Expert" relies on a very narrow set of fixed limits against which the entire world is judged. Such limit-checkers will inevitably defend their position through an appeal to perceived authority, as in: "These values were developed by a skilled team of ‘experts’ and have been in use for over 20 years!" An Expert knows that the only constant is change, and that any data population must be monitored continuously to observe and characterize change. What was true 20 years, 10 years, 5 years ago, or even last month can, and most often will change. Knowing such population shifts will likely occur, yields a better prediction of the processes, which affect that population.

#4 The "Pseudo Expert" is often skilled at presenting colorful pictures and bright graphics, while hiding behind the fact that the conclusions presented often come from someone else. Typically, such presentations are sprinkled with "…these (plots, pictures, graphs, etc.) illustrate the findings…" without adequate explanation as to how the conclusions were reached. An Expert knows that graphics can be a powerful presentation tool, quickly drawing attention to an event or trend. However, an Expert relates foremost to a statistically significant set of hard, reliable measurements from which reliable conclusions can be drawn.

Yes, whether carbon or silicon based, distinguishing between "Pseudo Experts" and Experts is a troublesome endeavor, requiring wisdom that can only be developed through careful observation and study. "Pseudo Experts" are always in plentiful supply in plants, maintenance shops, cubicle farms and shrink-wrap software packagers. Experts are rare, and always a surprise when one is found.

As a final thought, to find an Expert, one needs to look for real experience in the area of interest; and seeks persons who have made real contributions to that body of knowledge.

                                                                                                            - Larry A. Toms and the L&FP Editors



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