Experts Aren't Always the Most Expert

We should always do our own research

November 7, 2021

Probably the best and most useful analysis ever written of what to do when you are diagnosed with prostate cancer was written by Andy Grove and was published in Fortune magazine back in 1996. It is an interesting and worthwhile read and I do recommend that you read it even if you or any of your loved ones have yet to have an encounter with prostate cancer. (although this link will probably be more useful to those of you who don't know how to unblur things on But before you go and read that ask yourself some important questions about Andy Grove. Who was he? Where did he get his medical degree? How long did he specialize in treating prostate cancer before writing this article? What other special qualifications and recognitions does he have in the medical world?

Now if you went out to answer these questions you'd probably find yourself quite surprised as you learned that Andy Grove was a co-founder of Intel, he had no medical degrees and never even worked in the field of medicine as his expertise was in the world of semiconductors, he was CEO of Intel when he wrote this article, and his wikipedia article doesn't even mention that he is the author of some of the best information on prostate cancer there is. In a world where we are constantly told that we should listen to the experts we often don't realize who all the experts are, or at least who can become an expert.

I learned about this article from Andy Grove by listening to Scott Adams the other day, Grove's story is an interesting one, he ends his article with a quote from something in his research that said, "when faced with a serious illness beyond our comprehension, [each of us] becomes childlike, afraid, and looking for someone to tell us what to do." He was first told that he may have prostate cancer in '94 and that, along with a bit of denial, was a fairly accurate description of his initial reaction. He eventually came to the conclusion that he would have to treat it somehow but he didn't like what he'd learned about the traditional surgery and its life-ruining side effects, so he dedicated the better part of a year to researching for himself what the best option for him was and ended up completely ridding himself of the cancer by getting treatment which was (at least at the time) quite unorthodox and suffered no side effects once recovered. Again, Andy Grove was not a doctor but he chose to become one of the world's top experts on prostate cancer so that he could get results better than what he would have gotten otherwise.

To paraphrase the point that Scott Adams was making by bringing this up: Through focused narrow research, a smart non-expert can come to understand an issue much better than the experts can. Scott Adams himself has experience with this himself, he developed a rare condition that made it basically impossible for him to talk and he visited specialist after specialist who all couldn't figure out what the problem was and that it was impossible to cure, so, not wanting to live the rest of his life without being able to speak, Adams conducted his own research and realized he likely had something called spasmodic dysphonia then found the one doctor in the world who knew most about that rare condition who confirmed that diagnosis and gave Adams hope which he then used to encourage his further research and Adams ended up teaching his doctors how to cure him of his pasmodic dysphonia. Remember, Scott Adams is not a doctor, he is a cartoonist, and yet he knows more about pasmodic dysphonia and how to treat it than almost every doctor on the planet. Non-experts can become more knowledgeable than the "experts" if they put their minds to it.

And, after thinking about it a bit, one realizes that it is probably a much better idea to follow the conclusions of a well-researched "non-expert" like Grove or Adams than it would be to follow those of a traditional expert. The procedure that Andy Grove got that cured his prostate cancer was a sort of targeted high radiation treatment, one of the things he did to learn about this procedure was speak with the oncologist who was among the (if not the) world's leading experts on such a procedure. In Grove's first conversation with this doctor he asked him if he was in Grove's position what he'd do, the oncologist responded by saying that he wouldn't get his own treatment but instead get the traditional surgery with the terrible side effects Grove was trying to avoid. Some time later, after learning more about both procedures, Grove called up that doctor again and by the end of the conversation it was becoming clear to the both of them that the high radiation treatment was the best option. The last thing Grove asked that oncologist before ending the call was that if the high radiation treatment was so good, why did he say that he'd opt to have the traditional surgery instead. The oncologist responded, "You know, all through medical training, they drummed into us that the gold standard for prostate cancer is surgery. I guess that still shapes my thinking.”

When it comes to finding the best solutions to things orthodox experts will always be biased towards orthodox solutions, most of the time this is just fine but sometimes this is not the case like with Grove's and Adam's circumstances. We shouldn't just blindly trust the experts, we should research for ourselves what the experts are saying and come to our own conclusion on whether or not the experts are right and what the best thing for us to do is, and if that requires us to become experts ourselves than that is what we need to do.