Why do we tolerate “professional opinion” more than any other category of arbitrary information? There is, unfortunately, no easy answer to this question. Not because it’s not the same answer for every person, but because, like all matters of opinion, there are no hard facts. Opinion strips statistics out of any argument, behaving more like conjecture than argument.
Need an example?
When was the last time you tried to get an opinion on medicine from your doctor? I’ve found this a fairly tough thing to do, especially relating to my asthma, and especially lately. And the pharmacy? Like pulling teeth.
We shun the idea of these people professing opinion in part because their work is so heavily based in empirically provable science. In these cases, statistics are their jobs, because a lack of data and reliable collaboration can, and does, kill people. If three doctors don’t communicate, or have the same data available to them, they’re going to end up prescribing either the wrong medications to some people, or potentially conflicting ones.
But what about any other profession? What about media, salespeople?
Ouch. Hit me where I live, right?
I got told the other day that I should stop relying on opinion and start telling people the facts. The person telling me this was buying a television and wanted to know which one, between Sony, Samsung, LG and a few off-brands, was really truly the best. I asked if he wanted the stock speech about lighting conditions and contrast ratios and sales volumes between the three companies – and got a flat no.
“You ought to be able to tell me, fair and square, which one of these is the best! How hard can that be?”
I eventually walked him to the door.
Even in areas where there are massive amounts of data, unless you’re dealing in life-and-death lawyer-fied fields, there is simply no way to accurately transmit that volume of knowledge in a short conversation. I have this talk all the time with new staff, and I think it applies far beyond front line customer service. The basic argument is this: You can walk into a store and see a product – or better, see it online, compare the stats with another model or brand, think it looks good, and buy it. When you get home, it looks like crap. What density of the population actually has to know that a plasma is useless in natural light, and LCD screens are junk compared to plasma for movies?
You don’t. It’s of no practical use to you in your life to know that when a product claims to have a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, it’s digitally faked. That’s what professional opinion should be for: not informing a customer, or anyone else, what as a final word is better for them. I’d rather see professional opinion become abou5t a process of discovery and tailoring. Doctors ask if you’re allergic to anything. Salespeople should be asking if you watch movies or play video games. If this communication is missing, the data backing it up is rendered without context, and any opinion formed out of that data is useless.
No raw information is useful until framed by context and acted on semantically.
Photo by big-ashb.