What is a fake expert?
Using fake experts is one of the oldest tricks in the book – and it works. It’s easy to get fooled – especially when the topic is science, or law or other thing that most of us don’t know much about. How can you spot a fake expert?
Rule of thumb – if it’s a complicated issue, and the “expert” is disagreeing with the mainstream – you should be careful about believing them. Find out what recognized experts say about the issue.
How to spot a fake expert:
An economist says all the epidemiologists are wrong about a virus. The red flag is that they disagree with the actual disease experts. It needs a much more careful look.
When someone says “Everybody knows”/ “My people have found” – that’s a red flag. “All the experts say my healthcare plan is sound,” is not proof, it’s fluff.
Just what it sounds like; Philip Morris did this with smoking. They paid medical doctors, sometimes even bribing them with cigarettes, to claim that smoking was good for the lungs. Be wary of experts with a conflict of interest.
The one exception
You can always find someone to disagree with the overwhelming majority. For example: the <1% of scientists who don’t believe people are causing climate change.
Why do fake experts trick us?
It’s easy to manipulate technical language and data to make nonsense sound reasonable. This is the key to all these dirty disinfo tricks. It may “feel” logical or “sound” logical–even if you’re really smart. Intelligence has nothing to do with whether these tricks can fool you.
If someone is claiming that all the other people are wrong – be careful.
How to check:
- Google them. Does their Wikipedia page check out?
- If they’re arguing against all the mainstream experts, be careful. Sometimes minority opinions are correct, but this is a big red flag.
- Is this a real debate – or is there overwhelming evidence against this idea?
- Have they been discredited? Being discredited doesn’t erase someone’s work, so look for controversy.
- Look for conflicts of interest. For example, if this person’s on the payroll of an oil company, they probably won’t say that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming.
History Channel: When Cigarette Companies Used Doctors to Push Smoking
The Conversation: Facts versus feelings isn’t the way to think about communicating science
Indian Journal of Psychology: The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud
John Cook: 23 Ways to Mislead
See an error in our work? Please let us know and include the source of your info. We’ll update or correct as appropriate.