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Expertise vs Evidence

“People confuse science and expertise. Science is the exact opposite of expertise. Scientists ask us to believe what they say because they have evidence. Experts ask us to believe what they say because they're experts.” –Sabermetrician, Bill James

Experts are good at what they do. People look to them for advice when important decisions need to be made. Experts oblige. They draw on their experiences and offer their point of view. Everyone trusts that the experts are seeing things in the proper perspective. That they have considered all possibilities. That they are offering prudent advice. After all, they’re experts.

The experts’ ideas are implemented. New departments are formed. Staff is hired. New equipment is purchased. A plan for measuring results is carried out on a recurring basis.

People quickly begin to realize that things aren’t going as expected. Post hoc explanations proliferate. Fingers are pointed. Morale declines. The experts nervously justify the inaccuracies in their original forecasts.

New experts are brought in to ascertain what went wrong. They review their predecessors’ advice and forecasts. They review the implementation. They give different advice and new forecasts.

Unless the new experts want to fall into a vicious cycle, there’s one thing they’ll do differently than the first bunch. They’ll think scientifically. They won’t rest upon their authority. They’ll verify their assumptions, not against their past experiences, but against the best evidence.

And the best evidence is directly applicable to the situation. This means that it cannot come from some other place or time. If it does, then chance will decide if invisible caveats, buried in complexity, will win the day and alter the outcome. Therefore, before making any predictions, the savvy experts collect evidence.

Like savvy experts, good market researchers behave like scientists. They don’t draw exclusively from prior experience. They work to weed out preconceived notions. Their opinions don’t veer into faulty confidence or impractical skepticism. Good market researchers are not concerned about their status in an organization. They don’t seek recognition, nor do they hide from it.

Instead, they seek evidence. Evidence that can be turned into action. Evidence that can improve the chances of success.

The famous basketball coach, John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” This is the last lesson a true expert will ever need to learn.


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