Threats to Expertise

Does our training as global change scientists make us experts?  Can we use our expertise to influence policy, public debate, and action? In a recent Interfaces of Global Change seminar, we discussed threats to expertise and its implications for global change scientists.

What makes someone an expert? That question, it turns out, is a hard one to answer. Aside from possessing knowledge of a subject, it was clear that one cannot act as an expert unless those around you believe your expertise. This belief can come from credentials and/or years of direct experience such as the experience of living and working the land or being a committed hobbyist.

In addition to the topic of expertise, fellows also discussed the politicization of science and the implications that this has for both science and scientists. Climate change is an obvious example of politicized science, a scientific topic that has become more of a political issue than a scientific issue. Climate scientists are often viewed now as political advocates, regardless of their desire to participate within the political sphere.

We ended our discussion by focusing on how our buzzwords (i.e., sustainable, nexus, probiotics, nanotechnology) impact how science is viewed by scientists and the public. Buzzwords are common practice in scientific literature and in science communication because familiar words or phrases can quickly generate interest from a wide audience. Despite this, we decided most buzzwords should be used captiously or avoided. Fellows were in agreement that avoiding or using buzzwords is a choice that often needs to be consciously made in order to achieve the proper reception from a given audience.


Korin Jones is first year PhD student studying the amphibian microbiome in the Belden lab. He believes that the IGC program is crucial to understanding the many perspectives involved in creating lasting solutions in conservation.