Expertise

Been reading a bit lately. From The Real World of Technology (Revised Edition) by Ursula M. Franklin. From pages 31–32:

The scientific method works best in circumstances in which the system studied can be truly isolated from its general context. This is why its first triumphs came in the study of astronomy.

On the other hand, the application of the general to the specific has been much less successful in situations where generalisation was achieved only by omitting essential considerations of context. These questions of reductionism, of loss of context, and of cultural biases are cited quite frequently by critics of the scientific method. We hear much less about the human and social effects of the separation of knowledge from experience that is inherent in any scientific approach. These effects are quite wide-spread and I think they can be serious and debilitating from a human point of view.

Today scientific constructs have become the model of describing reality rather than one of the ways of describing life around us. As a consequence there has been a very marked decrease in the reliance of people on their own experience and their own senses. The human sense of sight and sound, of smell and sound and taste and touch, are superb instruments. All senses, including the so aptly named "common sense," are perfectible and it's a great pity that we have so little trust in them. For instance, people know at what point an ongoing noise will give them a headache, but all too often they feel the need for an expert with a device that measures the noise in decibels. The expert then has to compare the noise level measured with a chart that indicates the effect of noise levels on the nervous system. Only when that chart and the expert say, "Yes, indeed, the noise level is above the scientifically established tolerance range," do people believe that it was indeed the noise and not a figment of their imagination that gave them persistent headaches. I'm not talking here about an either-or situation in which either personal experience or an established measuring procedure is paramount; what I am talking about is the downgrading and the discounting of personal experience by ordinary people who are perfectly well equipped to interpret what their senses tell them. I dwell on this because the downgrading of experience and the glorification of expertise is a very significant feature of the world of technology. Sometimes it is important to stress that because the scientific method separates knowledges from experience it may be necessary in case of discrepancies to question the scientific results or the expert opinion rather than to question and discount the experience. It should be the experience that leads to a modification of knowledge, rather than abstract knowledge forcing people to perceive their experience as being unreal or wrong.

Matt Policastro

I'm Matt Policastro, a data scientist at Clearhead. I build analyses and software to improve experiences and outcomes. I like bicycles, coffee, and building neat stuff. Welcome to my site.

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