Monday, 9 April 2012

Fake protection

I have been intrigued for some time on how someone can present themselves as something other than they are; a fake.  We recently had the entertaining case of the person who suggested they were a barrister but the judge recognised the contradiction of a barrister's wig with a solicitor's gown.  The culprit, unable to adequately defend themselves, is now serving a custodial sentence for impersonating a barrister. The strange thing is that case was almost a replica of a previous sham in 2010.

If you were going to pretend to be anyone, surely the daftest option would have been pretending to be a barrister and effectively trying to con your peers in the same courtroom.  Then we have the fake GP - would you trust your health to someone who had faked their qualifications? Clearly some have. Although what should have been a greater cause for alarm was how that particular fake actually ended up working on clinical guidance, without appropriate qualifications, and had successfully navigated his way through the NHS system by impersonation.

The role of expert witnesses, their calibre, validly and the relevance of qualifications in courts has also been called into question. To me, the key problem isn't the fake expert but the deference given to them. The expert is frequently held as beyond challenge, critique or questioning; why?

I don't recall the case of the fake 'procurement expert' but I have been surprised at some of those promoted by conference organisers as 'experts' and I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before we have some scandal associated with unquestioning deference to the expert. So in anticipation I have given some thought to the facades of the fake:

  1. The facade of 'letters':  More letters after a name do not necessarily equate with the specific expertise required.  Do not fall for this facade but ask: Are the letters remotely relevant to the area where expertise is required?  Qualifications reflect past knowledge, how current is their knowledge?  Are the qualifications presented in the traditional style (I've seen some dubious 'one-offs')?  Are some qualifications which you would have expected to see in a suite missing? Are the 'letters' available 'off the shelf' like alphabet soup as opposed to 'earned'?
  2. The facade of 'chapter and verse':  This facade is implies a comprehensive and detailed knowledge, yet, if you actually check the reference (verse) sometimes the expert has misinterpreted or misunderstood it - why are those citations so rarely checked?
  3. The facade of assertion: This takes the form of self-assertion ('huffs' and 'puffs') that 'I have great credibility elsewhere so therefore why would you doubt me' - just remember this is their own version of a reference as opposed to a referees.
  4. The facade of intimidation: Nothing short of bullying which leads you to hear 'you're small fry compared to me, so, if I want your opinion I'll ask for it'.
You may of course feel this is all a bit of paranoia, but I have seen evidence of 'experts' advocating an inappropriate and unnecessarily onerous procurement procedure, asserting quite confidently a wrong interpretation of the procurement regulations, putting forward thoroughly inappropriate evaluation criteria, and even, due to 'arithmetical error', recommending the wrong bidder.  Somehow their view was considered beyond question, even among quite senior people, who otherwise rarely lack confidence. 

Lessons for the future:
  • Don't be intimidated - you don't need to be an expert to be right.
  • There's nothing wrong with asking questions - better to be reassured than kicking yourself with the benefit of hindsight.
  • Protect against the hubris syndrome - contrary views can be more valuable than hearing what you want to hear.

Please feel free to share your 'fake' lessons and other facades.

No comments:

Post a Comment