18 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Non-Experts

  1. Well, perhaps I didn’t get it completely, but I think this is already done and it’s called crowsourcing. There are several projects performed in this way where people collect data from all accross the world. Citizen science, Fold.it, that project where you classify moon craters or whale sounds.
    It is indeed a great way of incorporating non-experts in research but I think more importantly is a great way to engage non-researchers into pursuing a career in research (those in the appropriate age, of course)

  2. Pingback: non-experts | nykterinos rhithmos

  3. I absolutely agree with you. That is how I would like to do research! So will the day come when hits on your TED talk count more than citations of your A* journal article? There are some who are leading the pack (I think, anyway…) Dan Ariely for one!

  4. I’m an anthropologist and I don’t know any other way to do my research. I don’t do research ‘about’ people, I do research ‘with’ people, and I consult my research collaborators for guidance on what they think are the important questions I should explore, whether I’ve got the details right, and if my writing is appropriate and correct. If someone asks me not to publish something, I listen. This is not crowdsourcing or public engagement. This is listening to non-academic experts.

  5. carinaofdevon, I really like your phrase “non-academic experts” as opposed to the OP’s “non-experts”. I think it highlights a very real problem in academia, which is that a lot of (particularly social science) academics think that they are more expert in their field than the people who actually live those lives.

    Actually, your whole comment is a great response to the OP. But that phrase stuck out to me. Thanks for your comment :-)

      • Hi Jonathan, I’m glad you like it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the years. Two things I’d add. First, as academics, we’re experts in our own fields. I know my anthropological theory, I know my methods, etc. But when it comes to the people I conduct research with, I am the ‘non-expert’, the neonate, the apprentice. The hunters and fishers in the community where I work have the expertise. They have environmental and social knowledge from years of engagement and interaction. And that leads to my second point. Not everyone is an expert. In the small community where I work, there are people who are experts on hunting, or sea ice, or local history, and there are others who are not. Two people may be the same age, the same gender, but their different life experiences, even in a small rural community, makes one an expert and the other most assuredly not. Figuring out which is which can be a tricky business!

  6. I think this is largely discipline-dependent, as earlier comments have shown. It may also depend on the atmosphere around your institution. At my institution, a huge new centre is about the open, centered on work around obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It’s no accident that these are areas that attract huge funding now, but the people who will work there will include (as you’d imagine) biomedical scientists, public health people and clinicians, but also psychologists, historians and even philosophers.

    There is also a new degree in biomedical engineering, taught across engineering and health sciences. All over the university, people are collaborating in both research and teaching. They are being forced out of their disciplinary paradigms. Like all changes, this process is slow and can be painful. A PhD student working at the intersection of disciplines can find more than usual difficulties are involved in negotiating with supervisors etc. but it’s so worthwhile, and it will be of great advantage in a future career, whether within academia or outside it.

    • Thanks Mary-Helen

      Can I add to this, for the benefit of Jeff.Davis@mailinator who has attempted to post the same comment twice now – Mary-Helen has just shown us how good, generative critique is done.

      Jeff: I deleted you twice now because I don’t like your tone. If you post that same comment again, you will be deleted. In case you didn’t get my email, have a read of our moderation policy http://thesiswhisperer.com/moderation-policy/ If you re-write it, using Mary-Helen as a model of good academic behaviour, I will be happy to let it stand.

  7. Hey Jonathan,
    Excellent article.Non-experts become an expert one day if they work with dedication in a proper guidance.Thanks a lot for sharing your insight here.

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