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A field guide to experts

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 01 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:050279
  1. Andrew D Oxman, researcher1,
  2. Iain Chalmers, editor2,
  3. Alessandro Liberati, researcher3
  1. 1Informed Choice Research Department, Norwegian Health Services Research Centre, PO Box, 0130 Oslo, Norway
  2. 2James Lind Library, Oxford
  3. 3University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and Agenzia Sanitaria Regionale, Bologna, Italy

Experts are common but not well understood. Andrew D Oxman and colleagues introduces novice expert spotters to the essentials of artifexology--the study of experts

Experts are a little understood family within the phylum Chordata. Many people mistakenly believe them to have well developed egos, winged words, and dull plumage. In fact, they typically have immature egos (which explains their incessant self flattery), rudimentary wings (which is why they fly first class), and exotic plumage (to detract from their vulnerability). Despite their deficiencies, experts can be dangerous. Our brief field guide to artifexology (the study of experts) should help people to protect themselves from the insidious influence of experts.


Who are we to write a field guide to experts? By its very nature, artifexology is a non-expert field of study. As soon as one becomes an expert in artifexology one becomes the subject of one's own studies, thus arriving at a sticky end up one's own cloaca. Unsurprisingly, we insist that this guide has been written by amateurs for amateurs.

Characteristic vocalisations

Experts can usually be easily recognised by their self proclamatory call. Characteristically, they ensure that they are introduced to an audience by a fawning chairperson who refers to the many hundreds of papers and book chapters they have had published. Once installed on the declamatory perch, experts enjoy listening to their own exotic calls to the exclusion of those deemed less worthy of attention. They commonly offer firm advice, with no reference to reason or evidence.

An expert's call usually begins with a shrill “In my experience,” which develops into elaborate song about obscure theories supporting his assertions. They inevitably refer selectively to research that supports their opinions and mercilessly trash research that does not support those opinions. Experts rarely, if ever, admit uncertainty, even when they have no idea what …

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