Expert testimony and expert selection criteria

Hi all, another drop in for me. Thanks to those who have responded to previous posts, been going through some rough times so haven’t always followed up on them but did read.

I have a question related to how we choose who to listen to / see as experts.
A lot of the discussion that I have with a YEC friend seem like they will eventually come back to who we trust to give us accurate information.
It seems to me that there are a number of factors here such as the following

  1. is the person giving the information a credentialed scientist in the relevant field or not. This goes to their lovely understanding of the issue, however I guess someone could be super specialised in something and therefore not the best source for even another topic in their broad field
  2. do we trust this person to represent their field accurately. By this I mean that they give the best evidence for the argument and don’t omit valid arguments or evidence that would contradict their position
  3. do we trust that the expert more than those giving counter arguments. The reason I include this is that I am unlikely to go down a technical rabbit hole reading presentation - response - counter response etc etc. fundamentally I am unlikely to be equipped to assess the evidence for any of these and will stop at some point with a shrug of the shoulder. At this point it will come to who I trust.
  4. is the scientist giving the mainstream view or not. If not then perhaps I ought to be more sceptical
  5. how new is the science. If well established then I could place more trust in the argument proposed, if new then there may be reason to be more cautious. This is similar to the one above but something that is been established for 100 years rather than the last 10 may sway me more.
  6. what does the person have to lose or gain by advancing the position. If they could lose their position at their institution by giving the argument then I may trust it more than if they are toeing the party line and would lose the position if they gave the opposite argument

I am sure that there are many more.

So I guess two questions

  1. is there a field of study I can look into that deals with this super basic area of the psychology involved in people selecting the sources they trust and what may affect their selection.
  2. what are good criteria for selecting someone to trust or even just selecting a particular view or presentation of theirs to trust?

I tagged this as society as it isn’t really a direct science question and applies widely.

Hi Matt, always good to see you! :smiley:

Have you looked at Economics?

What is Rational Choice Theory? - Social Work Theories.

When dealing with YEC it is very important to distinguish between science and apologetics. You can say yourself a lot of argument by asking “But isn’t that apologetics?” in response to pretty much anything they might claim. I like this approach because it frames the question within belief without questioning the belief. To make their claim the YEC will need to pose a scientific question, which is much harder for them to do.

1 Like

Ooooh, no I hadn’t. Thanks for that as something to look into
It will be interesting to see whether rational choice theory goes against some of my beliefs that people aren’t particularly rational in many decisions. Definitely will look into it.

As an aside… I am reading a book on necessitarianism at the moment. I think the author would give the rather blunt answer that people choose who to believe because they couldn’t do otherwise, and there is no such thing as possible world, let alone one they could have chosen otherwise in.

1 Like

I haven’t tried that before. Since I left Christianity I haven’t been interested in arguing with people who still believe. Avoided the militant atheist phase luckily, unlike my cage-stage Calvinism years back.
I do like the approach of asking what people believe the theory they are critiquing says, and to define the key terms. That seems like it would go a long way to showing the majority of people that they aren’t in a position to assess the arguments themselves.

1 Like

A criticism is that people don’t always behave rationally. :sweat_smile:

However, people generally make decisions based on what they perceive to be their best interests, and so may be “rational” from that perspective, even if it seems irrational from another.

Have you read Hugo Mercier’s book Not Born Yesterday? Great read about how people aren’t as gullible / easily led as perhaps we often thing.

I think there is an issue with taking any individual scientist as an authority. If an idea or claim is supported by only a small number of people in a field, then it is safe to say there is not yet sufficient evidence to determine whether it is true, and not much point in trying to come to a firm conclusion as a layperson.

In the case of creationism, OTOH, it is a matter of rejecting a near unanimous consensus of an entire field of science. In that case, to hold a contrary position is the equivalent of either endorsing a conspiracy theory, or condemning the membership of an entire discipline as incompetent (and stupider than Ken Ham.)

1 Like

Wait … is this some sort of trick to get me to buy the book??? :wink:

1 Like

I am not currently on commission but who knows - with enough referrals???

Thanks Faizal. I definitely agree with the analogy to conspiracy theories but tend to be reticent to use that in potential discussions as it seems offensive to people, even if true. Guess I am trying to be sensitive at the same time as being as critical as I can.


I think that a lot of people are selectively gullible. Creationists - for instance - tend to be ultra-sceptical of any science that contradicts their religion but easily fooled into believing things that go along with it. Some of them fall for Ron Wyatt’s nonsense - even after being pointed at the ICR’s rejection of some of his claims.

And then we have the whole QAnon insanity - which is not entirely without precedent (see the “Satanic Panic” of the ‘1980s)

Selective gullibility seems to be a real thing and generally one conspiracy theory seems to lead to others.
I am reticent to call people gullible though as often it comes down to them listening to people who present what may seem like reasonable arguments. If they confirm what people already believe then there is less of a critical eye given to it to be sure. Guess I am just aware the label probably applies to me in a lot of areas.

There is also the question of how much people really believe what they say they do. That book by Hugo Mercier that I mentioned earlier goes into this. He notes that many of the adherents to qanon believed in the pizza gate claims so much that they just left bad trip advisor ratings. That is obviously until someone really does get roped in and things go horribly horribly wrong.
A lot of the time mercier (if I remember correctly) reckons that people claim to believe things more strongly than they do as part of group dynamics. Affirming the groups perspective on things reinforces membership in that group. This was definitely the case for me the last few years in a church community. I found the concepts interesting, I enjoyed talking about them, but eventually realised I didn’t really believe what I was saying. In that case it isn’t so much gullibility as it is cognitive dissonance?

This topic was automatically closed 7 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.