Distinguishing Experts from Imposters has always carried a lively edge when their conclusions matter in the real world. Yet it’s still a bit of a novelty when views get applause simply because they reject experts! “Those bully experts, telling the rest of us a lot of stuff — just ’cause they actually know! How unfair!” If our students are picking up on the anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge attitudes that echo in some current media, we might prompt them to some reflection on the role of justification — such as boring old evidence! — in making knowledge claims. Would you find the following cartoon and its discussion questions useful in your TOK class to stir such a discussion?
Feel free to download a copy formatted for classroom use by clicking on the link below. My husband Theo and I made this handout for just such a purpose. The questions are detachable on a separate page in case you want to pose them aloud yourself, without giving them in printed form to your students.
Theory of Knowledge Questions on
- When people are described as “experts”, what features do you expect them to possess?
- In your own life, when do you turn to experts for your knowledge? Why do you do so?
- Have you come across situations in your life or in the media in which someone is rejecting apparent experts and their conclusions? Do you think that claiming to be a rebel defying “the establishment” makes someone appealing to other people and the media? Do you think that disagreeing with a body of experts makes someone wrong? Does it make someone right?
- How can you best judge who is truly an “expert”, whose conclusions contribute reliably to knowledge? Can you suggest at least four features to check and evaluate regarding particular experts and the sources in which they are speaking (e.g. journal, website, news channel)?
- What’s the difference between “opinion” and “expert opinion”? What is meant by “scientific consensus”? What does it have in common with “public opinion”, and what makes it significantly different?
- In which areas of knowledge do you most, and least, expect specialists in the field to agree? Are there differences in what gives them the status of “expert” in the following: the arts, ethics, history, the natural sciences? Are there features that you would expect to find in common for the experts of all fields?
cartoon and text: by Theo and Eileen DombrowskI