Being an expert is not what it once was.

Are you an academic, chartered in something or otherwise a ‘professional’ (think doctor, lawyer etc)? First of all, well done for achieving a high level of intellectual prowess coupled with possibly years or decades dedicated to the service of the public or to keep the wheels of industry/commerce turning.

If you have been around for a while like me, you will however have noticed that things are not what they used to be. The very word ‘intellectual’ or ‘expert’ is now toxic. Whereas once you could proudly declare your profession in a networking event, now you’re lucky to be seen as a useful fixture at a pub quiz. Okay, I exaggerate but it is true that the status of expert has never been so scorned.

People rightly have access to previously unimaginable levels of information. This helps all of us to question expertise and take an interest in matters that affect our lives. Although perhaps intimidating, I think it is fair to be challenged by clients sharing information gained online. We can, indeed, learn from these informed conversation.

It is not so positive however when much of the world refers to experts with derision, suspicion and even hatred. Some of the worst abuse has been reserved for academics. Spurred on by political rhetoric, suddenly it is wrong to be an academic rather than a ‘real’ person and clear-thinking, articulate lecturers and educators feared to ‘fess up to their work in public for fear of being seen to be ‘elite’ and ‘out of touch’, or even part of a conspiracy to keep the masses down.

Of course some professionals can be aloof and arrogant but the general trend of suspicion and stereotyping is, in my view, unfair. It has even led to (albeit privileged) enclaves within which people feel safe, away from the outside world awash with antipathy and misunderstanding. This then exacerbates the ‘us and them’ mentality.

Even allowing for a certain degree of over-dramatisation on my part, it is not a good time to be an expert in many ways. It is a good time to be an expert in other ways but that doesn’t detract from the pain. Moreover, the greater competition and demands within institutions are leaving people feeling scrutinised and under-valued. The emergence of the ‘celebrity academic’ adds to the emotional confusion. Adjusting to, and thriving within the new landscape is entirely possible but, as with any change, is not an overnight or an easy process.