What makes an expert?

(Third in the series about thoughts spawned by attending the Rangemaster Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens.  The first time, the post was about something that hadn’t occurred to me.  The second time, it was about something I already knew, explained in a different fashion.  This time, it is about something that annoys me greatly on pretty much a weekly basis.)

“He’s a great self-defense instructor, he learned it in the military!”

“That firearms group is the best for CCW training, because they all have law enforcement experience.  That guy TEACHES other cops!”

“He has 25 years of firearms experience–he knows what he is talking about!”

The first two statements above are flat-out wrong.  The third is a non sequitur.

And yet, people KEEP saying things like that.

If you go to the Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens, at some point in time during a lecture he’ll discuss valid opinions, and who has them.  His slide will look something like this:


…which apparently many, many people don’t seem to understand.  There’s something about current society where people seem to think that they are all entitled to opinions of their own, AND that said opinion is equally as valid as everyone else’s opinion.  They do this to doctors, lawyers, law enforcement–and it certainly appears in the firearms training world.  Who hasn’t run into That Guy at the gun store who is the World’s Foremost Expert about guns, who will endlessly pontificate to some poor person about “the right gun for a woman” or “the best caliber for self-defense” or “you won’t be able to use your sights under stress” or some other such nonsense?  And if you actually contradict him, citing actual research, his response is “well, that’s just your opinion” or something like that?  As if his opinion and the actual research are equal in terms of importance!

Do you have an opinion about something in a technical field?  (And believe me, shooting skills and self-defense training are two very technical fields.)  In that field, do you have actual education (at a high level), formal training (by a recognized expert), or experience that directly relates to the topic at hand?

No?  Then shut up.  Your opinion is meaningless.  Seriously.  Meaningless.

You might be right—but it isn’t because you actually know, it is because you got lucky.  The next thing you spout might be equally lucky, but it also might be pure nonsense because you don’t actually have any rational basis for your opinions.  (Hint:  reading opinion articles on Internet is NOT education.  Having your friend show you how to shoot and then practicing on beer cans is not training.  Getting into a drunken slap-fight once while in college is not experience.)

Example:  Military training is effective for military purposes.  It isn’t self-defense training. Law enforcement training is effective for law enforcement purposes.  MOST of that is not self-defense training.  And very importantly, the general goals which define principles which drive tactics  in MIL and LEO training are very different from citizen self-defense.  As such, MIL or LEO training and experience does not automatically qualify someone to have a valid opinion about citizen self-defense.  (Or shooting skills, for that matter.)

Having owned and shot guns for 25 years is meaningless, because plenty of people out there SUCK at shooting and have no safety habits instilled, but simply have been lucky not to shoot themselves thus far.  (Most people who say “I’ve been shooting for 25 years and…” don’t actually shoot that much, and they aren’t very good, either.  If they were, that wouldn’t be the support for their opinion that they’d provide!)

There are plenty of MIL, LEO, and shooters-of-25-years who are VERY good instructors of self-defense and shooting skills.  However, the fact that they are MIL, LEO, or have shot a gun for a number of years isn’t WHY they are good.

If you are looking for an instructor in a particular area, if that instructor does not have education, training, or experience (or some combination of the three) in THAT AREA, then their opinion about it is as meaningless as….That Guy in the gun store.

Which, I’ll note, is why we have big-name instructors who say that dryfire isn’t a good idea, that you won’t be able to see your sights while under stress and should use point-shooting, that “fine motor skills will degrade” such that you can’t activate a slide release under stress, and that putting yourself on a timer to test your shooting skills will cause training scars sufficient to get you killed “on the street”—-all of which statements are flat-out wrong.

Anyone can call themselves an instructor.  That doesn’t actually mean they know anything.

Your opinion is NOT necessarily as valid as everyone else’s opinion.  The same thing is true for instructors.  Every instructor out there who says something should not have their opinions considered equally important, because many of them have education, training, or experience in fields that sound important but are actually unrelated to the area in which they are expressing an opinion.

If you want to actually learn something, make sure your instructor has education, training, or experience IN THAT AREA.  If they don’t—then their opinion isn’t any more valid than yours.


9 thoughts on “What makes an expert?

  1. What you’re doing, essentially, is pointing out logical fallacies.
    That we now regularly fall for it points to a lack of education on the subject. They don’t even teach logic in college anymore, really.
    What we have today is the result: everyone’s entitled to their opinion.


    Well said.


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