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Expert Opinion is Still Just Opinion, and Not Necessarily the Truth

Reference
Randolph, S.E. 2013. Is expert opinion enough? A critical assessment of the evidence for potential impacts of climate change on tick-borne diseases. Animal Health Research Reviews 14: 133-137.
In a paper published in Animal Health Research Reviews, Professor Sarah E. Randolph of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford in England writes that "if opinion is uninformed by accurate full analysis of the relevant data or critical examination of published evidence, it is worthless at best and dangerous at worst." Why? Because, as she continues, "once opinion is published, it is citable and takes on an authority of its own."

As an example, the astute zoologist refers to a survey of the opinions of infectious disease experts from 30 European Economic Area countries, which revealed that the vast majority of them agreed that "climate change would affect vector-borne, food-borne, water-borne and rodent-borne diseases." Giving a bit more detail, she adds that "this body of experts comprised representatives of governmental health protection agencies, ministries of health, and infectious disease surveillance centers," whose opinions, in her words, "were more likely to be second-hand than based on their own primary research."

Noting that "in science, opinion is a poor substitute for quantitative evidence," Professor Randolph nevertheless indicates that the opinions of these extremely "busy, multi-tasking health administrators," which were based on "unspecified evidence," later became expert opinion that was "fed into the literature," from whence she says "it can be, and indeed already has been, cited (Lindgren et al., 2012; Smenza et al., 2012)," as it has gradually been transformed into what she correctly identifies as consensus dogma.

Randolf ends her brief review of the subject by stating "there is nothing wrong with expertise, but it must be based on familiarity with and sound analysis of the data, not simply on opinion." Experts, as she continues, "must have the courage to say: 'I do not know the answer because I have not studied that particular problem in detail," closing with the venerable words of an old Russian proverb: "There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out." Surely, this is good advice for everyone involved in climate change-related research.

Additional References
Lindgren, E., Andersson, Y., Suk, J.E., Sudre, B. and Semenza, J.C. 2012. Monitoring EU emerging infectious disease risk due to climate change. Science 336: 418-419.

Semenza, J., Caplan, S.J., Buescher, G., Das, T., Brinks, M.V. and Gershunov, A. 2012. Climate change and microbiological water quality at California beaches. EcoHealth 9: 293-297.

Archived 19 March 2014