Celebrities used as experts

More and more often, celebrity “experts” are replacing real experts (who are deemed not sexy enough?). Currently, there are two types of celebrity “experts”: celebrities with no expertise whatsoever in anything remotely related to the area on which they are required to advise or comment (type 1), and people with a (vaguely) related expertise who are asked to comment on what is largely outside their area of expertise (type 2). Both types of celebrity “experts” lack the knowledge required for them to comment or advise, but we are lead to believe that what they say matters, especially if the “expert” has any kind of professional qualification and/or title.

Experts have power. We trust experts. We believe what they say and it influences how we think and behave. When celebrities replace real experts, we don’t get the expertise we believe we are getting. Type 1 “experts” have no professional knowledge or experience of the area they are talking about. They cannot judge the data they are looking at and can approach delicate issues in an insensitive way. They can make light of painful issues, miss important signs of distress, and stay too focused on themselves and the image they want to project instead of focusing on the people they are supposed to be helping. Type 2 “experts” overestimate their expertise and make pronouncements about things they don’t know enough about. They sometimes step outside ethical boundaries and diagnose people who are not their patients (often celebrities in the news, about whom, even if they were their patients, they would be bound by professional ethics not to disclose any personal information). Both types 1 and 2 cover up their lack of knowledge by reproducing chunks of randomly chosen and pre-digested “science” completely uncritically. Whatever they say or do becomes a universal truth for too many people who don’t themselves have the knowledge or expertise to judge what they hear. These “experts” are spreading ignorance and actually prolonging people’s suffering. Being given false hope is worse than receiving no help at all, especially when it is damaging – as can be the case. When “experts” directly advise people, and when they do so in a way that puts publicity first and ignores the effects such public exposure could have on someone already in distress, they risk increasing that distress.

It would be better to have real experts whose area of expertise corresponds exactly with whatever is being discussed. These experts could really enlighten us about what is currently known about the subject and provide a critique of research and different approaches. They could attend to people more compassionately, being sensitive to their needs, detecting any psychological distress, and looking at whatever is going on while making sure that ethical considerations and the wellbeing of the people seeking knowledge, help or advice override any other considerations.

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