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Can People Still Rely on Knowledge from Experts?

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Essay title: Can People Still Rely on Knowledge from Experts?

“There is no evidence that scientists always tell the truth, and the chances are that they are only marginally more honest than, say, politicians” (New Scientist)

Knowledge can be defined as an organised body of information which through experience, theories and studies help the human mind discover and develop new information. Different forms of knowledge include medical, religious, scientific, and common-sense and these in turn have their own language and status and there is privileging of some knowledge i.e., scientific. Like everything, knowledge is also part of a social construction and in this assignment I will take a look back at the past and compare it to how we handle knowledge in today’s society. By evaluating different forms of knowledge and looking at the evidence given it will become clear that whether we can trust experts isn’t actually the problem, rather it’s that we really have no choice, if we can’t trust the experts and they are not as accurate as they make out, then who can we trust? This is actually quite a scary suggestion.

When one hears the word ‘specialist’, one automatically assumes ‘important’, ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful’. One would never have criticized someone in the medical field say thirty or forty years ago, doctors were like ‘God’ and knew best for everybody. Experts being well trained through demanding and rigorous apprenticeships acquire good reputations and credentials and so obviously deserve our respect and trust, no? In the past the answer would have been ‘yes’ as it was only a handful of people who had the opportunity to go to university (mainly men). But in our day and age it is the expectation of nearly everybody to acquire a degree, and it has now become the ‘norm’.

We have a society in doubt and not knowing who they can trust. This can be seen by book sales and search results on the Internet, the desire to acquire knowledge must mean we are less confident in believing the professionals. For example TV05 shows an increase in visitors to natural health clinics for advice on MMR jabs, this does show uncertainty but as one lady commented in the program, there is much more choice and flexibility than the past. But on the other hand, as Tim Smith pointed out, the search for alternative information other than that of an expert may have been solely for verification purposes. “Perhaps what they really wanted from the experts was just confirmation of what they knew already” (TV05). There is now a huge range of people who claim to be an ‘expert’ for example in magazines and newspapers and most of the time we would prefer to believe a real life event than what an expert has said, real life being common sense knowledge, which until categorized as being scientific, it will be ignored by the ‘experts’.

Society is rapidly losing faith in orthodox medicine and instead searching for other options. Through information and communication technologies, the speed of knowledge can travel instantaneously worldwide and this brings with it a wide range of alternative ways of life from other cultures which are being incorporated into our UK beliefs, such as homeopathy, Chinese remedies and herbal medicines even though none of these have been approved as being ‘effective’ despite claims. “You never know for certain in science whether you’ve actually got the truth, all you can say is that you’re closer to the truth, and you prefer today’s theory to a previous one” (Audio cassette side B)

One idea is that knowledge is power, and although the trust has declined, power still remains in the hands of the professionals. “Because experts are generally right on their facts, experts nearly always attach too much weight to their opinions. And so does a gullible public.” (Webpage godstruth)) Not only that, but it seems to be that scientists are pressured by governments to say a certain thing at a certain time, maybe not the truth but to help the winning side at the time. For example when USSR and USA were having that ‘space race’, we believed for years that USSR successfully sent Laika the dog into space when actually the dog died an agonising death. How could we trust scientists after that?

Science was about ‘induction’, a method developed by Francis Bacon, where ‘by collecting data about the material world and by repeating the same experiments’ (p.20 book5) one would come to a reliable conclusion. But, this cannot be said for another form of knowledge, for example, religious knowledge. Religious knowledge is not about empirical investigation, rather, beliefs and personal values. Like medical knowledge, there has been a decline in belief of religious knowledge also, i.e. less attendance of churches etc. (This process being secularization) This is interrelated through scientific knowledge. Although trust in scientific knowledge

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