Experts: why so wrong, so often?

After my first non-fiction book was published, something unusual happened to me. Overnight, I suddenly became an “expert”. During book tours, I did newspaper, magazine, television and radio interviews. I was invited to speak at conferences and writers’ festivals and schools during National Book Week. Each presentation led to more invitations. I became the go-to writer for foreign Sunday paper editors who needed a West Coast perspective on my subject. I was even offered my own regular weekly broadcast gig on a popular TV newsmagazine show.

Why? Because I’d written a bestselling book. By the time my second book came out a couple years later, I was already a pretty well-known local “expert” on my subject matter. Even my publisher treated me with newfound respect (and a hefty advance).

Of course, I wasn’t really an expert at all. I had, as David H. Freedman describes it, “simply done a good job of gathering up a lot of information”. I never pretended to be an expert, but writing books and doing live presentations or media interviews can apparently make you one. That’s how physicians paid by pharmaceutical companies to help shill their drugs get to be called “thought leaders”. Continue reading