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Beware Of The Expert!

| By: Dr Robert Stevens

An expert is someone who is deemed to be very knowledgeable about, or skillful in a particular area.

I can still remember the exact moment I thought my days of education were over.  No more tedious lectures and no more late nights with my head stuck in the books.  The age of missing social events because I had to be firing on all cylinders the next day was finally over.  It was the millennium, we’d just witnessed the spectacular fireworks display over Sydney Harbour bridge, we’d entered the club and I was stood on the stage looking out over thousands of revellers, it was pure hedonism.  I took a moment to soak it all in, a brief moment of reflection and smiled to myself, the world was my lobster, I was a made-man, let the good times roll!  I was then escorted off the stage, apparently the stage was reserved for hot girls in boob tubes and hot pants.  The good times had already been rolling mind, it’s just that they could now roll a bit quicker, and for a bit longer, now that my exams were out of the way.

Ha!  Was I wrong?!  Earning my Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery degree was just the start of a journey that has brought me here today, it’s not over mind, continued professional development is exactly that, continued.  Passing an exam is certainly an achievement, but it’s only the beginning, it just lays the foundations, true understanding comes from application and experience.  I am forever educating myself, learning and growing as a clinician.  My view on medicine has changed dramatically since qualifying, I have a very different perspective on what I do, why I do it and to what purpose it serves.  Things that were once black and white are now shades of grey.  But that’s ok, it does slightly complicate matters, but to understand this makes life more interesting.

“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” – Socrates

Men are useless at asking for help, I can’t count the number of times a man has opened-up with the comment “My wife made me book this appointment”, or words to that effect.  We don’t like to talk about our problems.  That doesn’t mean we’re not worried about them, it’s just that we’re not good at asking for help.  In part, it may be lack of confidence or the fear of loss of face, but in reality I think we are just useless at it!  So, where do we turn? The INTERNET.  You can find all the information you need right there, if you know where to look.  The problem is, there is so much information freely available on there that it’s sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees.  Men often turn to online forums, it’s great to share and learn from other people’s experiences, however it’s the weakest form of actual evidence.  There are false prophets everywhere whose agenda is unknown, they all too often offer opinion over fact.

So what does it take to become an expert these days?  A flashy website, a catchy strapline and offering you something that you want.  No qualifications or exams necessary.  You can label yourself an expert or you can have the title bestowed onto yourself by others.  There’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion because, after all, if you don’t ask you don’t get.  Nothing worth having comes without effort.

There are ‘experts’ everywhere.  Everyone has an opinion about something and they feel the need to share it with the world whether wanted or not.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a well-balanced and considered argument, whether it’s objective or even if it’s anything to do with them.  Sweeping statements and broad generalisations abound and snap judgements are made without reviewing all of the evidence.  Bias is ignored with agendas mistaken for passion and purpose.  They must share it, it is a matter of the utmost importance.  They seek self-justification and validation from the wrong people, namely strangers on the internet.  If it gets enough ‘likes’ it’s been validated, and in turn their opinion has somehow been validated, ‘like & share please’!

I recently got into a bit of a debate with a ‘fitness expert’ who showed a picture of an, albeit high calorie, low carb / high fat plate of real food and and lower calorie high carb / high artificial chemical toxic KFC meal, stating he was happy these ‘fitness gurus’ were finally being exposed.  He was implying that the KFC meal was better for weight loss.  It made no sense.  I’m sure the Lean In 15 guy wasn’t saying “eat this meal and be lean”, it was surely to be eaten as part of your suggested daily calorific needs for weight loss.  I kind of goaded him a little then got fed up, wondering why I was wasting my time.  He opened one of his replies with “the evidence suggests…”  If you’re going to make bold claims about something, I hope you’ve read all the evidence, critically analysed it, made comment about its validity and considered this before you state your claim.  Bearing this in mind, I’ve tried to stop making closed statements.  It’s not because I’m wanting to be vague or deflect the answer like a politician would, it’s often because the answer is not always so clear cut.

Moral and ethical decisions about care cannot be made without careful consideration of so many variables, which makes it almost impossible to make a closed comment.  Although I do pride myself on practising evidence based medicine, there is also such a thing as common-sense medicine.  It’s funny, the more and more experienced I get, it’s the common-sense tool that often tends to be the most valuable.

Many believed the Earth was flat.  Why wouldn’t they?  You can see it’s flat!  However, there was evidence that the earth was spherical as early as 384-322BC.  The Greek Philosopher Aristotle argued that the Earth was spherical because of the circular shadow it cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse.  Despite this, the masses believed it still to be flat.  When does a theory become fact?  When should you apply a theory if there is no definitive evidence supporting it?  In 1492 Christopher Columbus was thought to be a lunatic sailing west from Spain to India, he was going to fall off the edge!

Evidence has to interpreted in the context to which it is presented.  There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about one’s beliefs, but to deny the possibility of an alternate answer shows a naivety that experience and common sense hopefully resolve.  I take everything with a pinch a salt these days, I try to listen to everyone, but as I get older I get more cantankerous with the people who annoy me, I still try and just bite my tongue…

“Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the f##k you were gonna do anyway.” ― Robert Downey Jr.

The internet is truly awesome, so much information, however it is a largely unregulated super information highway.  You’d be foolish not to use Google.  Where would we be without the internet?

“There’s a lot of porn piling up on the internet. It doesn’t download itself!” – Gregory House MD

There are a million experts out there.  I try give my patients a well-balanced opinion based on the evidence, common sense and 20 years of experience.  The decisions you make about your care are yours to make, it’s all about informed choice.  My aim is to help you achieve your health, not dictate what you should do.

Dr. Robert Stevens MBChB MRCGP Dip.FIPT