What makes someone an expert? In the days of the internet, it seems like it’s gotten much harder to tell.

Social media and the instant expert

Social media makes it possible for anyone to have a platform, and that’s given rise to the phenomenon known as the instant expert. These self-appointed authorities on everything from federal policy to last night’s episode of This Is Us can hop on Twitter and share their hot takes in a multi-Tweet thread in the time it takes most people to make a sandwich.

If it’s a title almost anyone can claim, has the meaning of the word changed?

What did expert used to mean?

The word expert has been in use since the 1300s … long before social media was a thing.

It comes from the Latin expertus, meaning “to try” or “experience.” But in modern times, expert applies specifically to “a person who has special skills or knowledge in a particular field.” An expert is typically someone who specializes in a subject, to the extent that they are considered an authority. They’re someone who can engage with a subject from multiples angles and who has developed their knowledge over time, through a combination of research and experience. That cultivation takes time, lots of time, to develop.

But when the internet came along, it changed the way we think about expertise. Now, anyone can give their opinion on an issue (and go viral for it), anyone can start a website, anyone can post a review of a movie, restaurant, or product. That transparency has been a good thing in the sense that it’s given more people a voice, even some legitimate experts who were being crowded out of the arena. But it also poses the risk that the voices of actual, legitimate experts sometimes get crowded out instead.

Why does everyone think they’re an expert now?

An article on Glassdoor.com promises to teach anyone how to become an expert in digital media. Step one? “Find something you’re passionate about, and start blogging about it.” Supposing someone follows the steps laid out in that piece, does additional reading, or maybe even takes an online course in SEO, are they then qualified to, say, weigh in on the recent layoffs of more than 1,000 journalists by HuffPost, Buzzfeed, Gannett, and Verizon media?

It’d be elitist to say that all experts must have formal education and decades of experience. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to afford a university education, has special training, or has even been alive long enough to have had a decades-long career, and that doesn’t make their experience or knowledge less valid. There are real self-made experts who revolutionize their fields. It’s just that the internet and its armchair experts don’t always make it easy for people to know which voices can and should be trusted.

Are armchair experts a bad thing, though?

The internet has created a platform for the so-called armchair expert. This phrase describes “someone who asserts their knowledge of a subject without having a real understanding of it.” Need an example? When the trailer dropped for the Ted Bundy movie, Extremely Wicked, Shocking, Evil and Vile, it launched a huge debate on social media about how the director chose to portray Bundy.

Major news sources quickly picked up the story that the biopic had been accused of glamorizing a serial killer, which caught the attention of even more people. Now, a quick search of “Ted Bundy trailer” on Twitter yields a complex conversation about character development, film making, the portrayal of criminals by the media, and how to properly cut a movie trailer. And it’s average people, not experts, who are doing the majority of the talking.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. In fact, the actor Dax Shepard has actually found a unique way to capitalize on conversations between non-expert individuals that can often yield truly complex and meaningful results. He hosts a hit podcast called Armchair Expert, where he interviews celebrity guests about their own careers, personal struggles, and unique life experiences. “I will attempt to discover human ‘truths’ without any laboratory work, clinical trials or data collection,” he says of the podcast’s premise. “I will be, in the great tradition of 16th-century scientists, an Armchair Expert.”

And, armchair experts are just that: Experts who dole out the sort of information one can develop sitting in their own armchairs.

The underlying problem is misinformation

The problem comes when the exchange of ideas spreads misinformation that is not challenged because “anyone can be an expert.” As Washington state battles a huge measles outbreak at the end of January 2019, the anti-vaccination experts are out in force, including Larry Cook, a California naturopath who used the outbreak as an opportunity to fundraise to spread his anti-vaccine message to more parents.

The doctors and health officials promoting vaccination have extensive knowledge and experience in the medical field. Many of the people who are speaking out against vaccines do not. And yet, someone like Cook has over 21,000 followers on Facebook, many of whom are spreading his beliefs as fact.

In many ways, our expanding ideas about expertise have led to meaningful thought and discussion on a scale that was previously unimagined before the internet or social media. But with large platforms comes great responsibility. And the knowledge that almost anyone can claim authority on a given subject should encourage us to think critically and often about what it really means to be an expert. Maybe we all have to step up to become experts in weeding through the infinite information now at our fingertips.


Source: Has The Word “Expert” Lost Its Meaning?

Wittgenstein famously claimed that games could not be defined. But in 1978, Bernard Suits more or less successfully defined a game as ‘a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles’.

In that much, sports resemble games. They also resemble games in that they take place outside of ‘real life’, and in that they have no tangible product: when they do have a tangible product, such as fish in angling, then this is largely incidental, and the fish are returned to the river.

There are games like scrabble or monopoly that are clearly not sports. But are all sports games, as Suits claimed? While many sports like football and golf are also games, some sports like running, skiing, and rock climbing are not so obviously games other than in that they are voluntary and unnecessary. In ordinary language, we speak of ‘playing football’ or ‘playing a round of golf’, but not of ‘playing running’ or ‘playing skiing’. But if we are running from a lion, our running is neither a game nor a sport.

Culture and politics aside, what is it that makes a sport a sport? If scrabble and monopoly are not sports, then this is surely because they do not involve any physical activity, or because physical activity is not their primary purpose and any physical activity incurred is merely secondary or incidental.

In 2015, the English Bridge Union (EBU) challenged a decision by Sport England not to recognize bridge as a sport, a decision with consequences since it would deprive bridge from government and lottery funding. The EBU lost their High Court battle on the grounds that bridge does not involve physical activity any more than, as Sport England argued, ‘sitting at home, reading a book’.

But physical activity on its own is not enough. The primary purpose of working out on a cross-trainer is physical activity, but this is classed as exercise rather than sport. What is needed for sport is not physical activity per se, but skill in the exercise of physical activity, with some athletes going so far as to test the limits of human performance.

In 2005, Sport England recognized darts as a sport, presumably because darts involves skill as well as physical activity. By that account, video gaming, although targeted at a representational world rather than the real world, might also make the cut. Chess on the other hand is probably not a sport because, although it involves some physical activity, this physical activity is not particularly skilled, and, in any case, is not the primary purpose of chess. It is perfectly possible to get someone to move our chess pieces for us and still be counted as playing chess: in that much, the physical activity associated with playing chess is not central or even secondary but merely incidental.

If I, as an amateur, decide to go skiing for a couple of days, is my skiing exercise or sport? The answer depends on my own attitude, whether I am skiing primarily to keep fit, or for the sheer thrill of pushing myself or simply being in the world: and I think that this potential for thrill, for exaltation, for a certain kind of joy—rather than just panting and sweating—is an important part of what makes a sport a sport.

Well what if I meet a friend and we race each other down the mountainside? Does this competitive dimension make my skiing more of a game and therefore more of a sport? A person who develops a certain skill, whether in skiing or in baking or in any field of human endeavour, naturally wishes to measure that skill in competition with others who also lay claim to that skill. It is this competitive aspect that makes many sports so compelling to watch, although competition is by no means essential to popular spectator sports such as gymnastics and figure skating. What’s more, a sport need not make compelling watching to be counted as a sport: angling, cricket, golf, canoeing, and weight lifting are probably not the most exciting to watch, but are nonetheless sports.

Wine blind tasting is one of my favourite pastimes. Fiercely fought competitions are popping up all around the world, and some of these competitions even have audiences. So can blind tasting be counted as a sport? Scrabble and monopoly are not sports because they do not involve any physical activity, but blind tasting clearly does involve some kind of physical activity, namely, tasting, and, as the name suggests, tasting is its primary purpose and not merely secondary or incidental. Moreover, this physical activity is highly skilled, and, in some cases, can be said to test the limits of the human body.

It might be objected that the physical activity involved in blind tasting is not locomotor but gustatory, involving not the musculoskeletal system in tandem with the cardiovascular system but ‘passive’ senses such as olfaction, taste, and touch. It might further be objected, and this is an argument that I myself have made, that the real limitation in blind tasting is not in the tasting apparatus as such but in the cognitive appraisal of the wine, and thus that blind tasting is more like chess than snooker or darts—although it must be said that snooker and darts also involve an important cognitive element. Finally, it might be added that the thrill or joy in blind tasting lies more with the cognitive aspect than the tasting aspect, although that does kind of depend on the wine.

But unlike with chess, with blind tasting it is not possible to delegate the physical component: you cannot get someone to do the tasting for you and still be counted as blind tasting. In that much, blind tasting is more of a sport than chess, which the International Olympics Committee already recognizes as a sport.

As any athlete will attest, cognition is an important part of any sport: why create arbitrary distinctions between the primarily physical and the primarily mental, or between the musculoskeletal system and the specialized senses? Are the nose and the tongue and the brain not also part of the body? And are they not also trainable, fatiguable, fallible, mortal? Chess, bridge, and maths have their associations, players, teams, training, rules, competitions, professionals, spectators, drama, and tears—everything, in fact, but a skilled, primary physical activity. And blind tasting even has that.

Now pass me a napkin.

Source: What Makes a Sport a Sport?