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The sins of expertness and a proposal for redemption

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7244.1283 (Published 06 May 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1283
  1. David L Sackett, director
  1. Trout Research and Education Centre at Irish Lake, Markdale, Ontario, Canada

    Two decades ago I was an expert on the subject of compliance with therapeutic regimens. I enjoyed the topic enormously, lectured internationally on it, had my opinion soughtby other researchers and research institutes, and my colleagues and I ran international compliance symposiums and wrote two books, chapters for several others, and dozens of papers about it. Whether at a meeting or in print, I was always given the last word on thematter.

    There are still far more experts around than is healthy

    It then dawned on me that experts like me commit two sins that retard the advance of science and harm the young. Firstly, adding our prestige to our opinions gives the latter far greater persuasive power than they deserve on scientific grounds alone. Whether through deference, fear, or respect, others tend not to challenge them, and progress towards the truth is impaired in the presence of an expert. The second sin of expertness is committed on grant …

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