It has long been my observation that in many fields "the experts" are commonly nowhere near as expert as you or I would like to believe, or indeed as they would like us to believe. In fact, of the "professions", the only one I can think of in which the expert is truly an expert more often than not is engineering. That is probably because it is based on the "hard" sciences of mathematics and physics (of the old school, Newtonian variety), which, I am told, are not opinions. And because if they were not, bridges would collapse (sometimes they do) and aeroplanes would drop out of the sky (sometimes they do). But think of the others... accountancy, architecture, business management, dentistry, information technology, law, psychology, economics (most of all economics!), you name it. My own profession, too. Is the expert really all that expert? Too often for comfort, no!
One reason is that most professions, particularly those concerned with human sciences, are dealing with a lot of unknowns, and so opinions and interpretations take the place of facts. Two other important reasons are the way in which "knowledge" is regulated by committee, and sheer laziness.
Take medicine, which is no exception to the general rule (to state it kindly). It is not a pure science, it is an applied science and an art, at the centre of which is the human being. Now, (s)he who says (s)he knows more than a fraction about the human being is a fool. That would be true even if only the physical workings of the body were concerned. But there is a whole area of the human being which is routinely ignored by doctors: the mind. Now, the wise know how to navigate in uncertain waters, knowing that in order to do so one needs to consider all areas of relevant knowledge. These individuals may rightly be called experts, even though of course they do not "know everything". But if one ignores a whole vast field of pertinent knowledge, one doesn't stand a chance.
Another thing one needs to do when attempting to navigate uncertain waters, is to feel comfortable in trusting one's own experience and hunches, something that doctors are increasingly discouraged from doing in favour of applying "knowledge by committee". And a third thing one needs is humility and honesty, in the open admission that one's knowledge is limited. Because without humility, sooner or later you are going to come a cropper. Humility is sometimes in short supply in medicine, particularly in the upper reaches of so-called expertise, where in truth one should be more aware than ever about one's limitations.
Knowledge by committee is a major problem with modern medicine. That means that scientific evidence is reviewed by official bodies, who then publish guidelines for the treatment and management of this or that condition. Increasingly, so-called guidelines are taking on the character of orders, and woe betide the doctor who strays from them. The consequence is that doctors are increasingly disempowered from professional decision making. This is the ugly face of Evidence Based Medicine. It has a pretty face too. It's proponents say that it guarantees that only safe, effective treatments are offered. But it's critics point to the fact that standardised treatment protocols by definition limit individualising treatment, that it favours treatments for which large scale gold-standard research protocols are feasible, that it excludes potentially effective treatments, and that it denies patients choice. But in the context of this post, my main criticism here is that it diminishes medical professionals, turning them into bureaucrats, "experts" in learning and delivering protocols devised by other people. Painting by numbers. This inevitably leads to laziness. Why should I read that research paper? Already from the title I can see that it contradicts the guidelines. Therefore it is of little use to me or anybody else. You see the reasoning? Believe me, this happens.
So, as our example of "experts", what are doctors good for? Based purely on my own impression (which I do not hold to be "the truth"), and offered as such, my assessment is this. 10% of them are good or very good, 20% of them are bad or very bad, and the rest wallow in a wide swamp of mediocrity. In general they are better with acute complaints than with chronic ones. Their worth reaches its peak in A&E and Intensive Care. (There's something about the really critical that focuses the mind, and options become more basic.) It reaches its lowest ebb with some of the loafers working in outpatient specialist care. General practitioners (family doctors) are not what they were. They are comfortable with a restricted range of drugs for a restricted range of conditions. Surgeons range from greedy butchers to exquisitely skilled, highly professional craftspeople, so be careful.
Is this a broadside against doctors? No, it is a general comment about "experts", taking the profession of medicine as a typical example. It is a criticism of the diminishment of true professionalism perpetrated by professional establishments themselves. And it certainly is a broadside against the many loafers and incompetents who coast along in most professions. If you take home one message from this, take this one: don't necessarily trust the "expert".