We are relying on specialist knowledge to guide us through the coronavirus pandemic – so it is more important than ever to grasp what expertise is and where it comes from, says Roger Kneebone, author of a new book on the subject

Humans



3 February 2021

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IF ROGER KNEEBONE is an expert, he has spread his expertise widely. Trained as a medical doctor, he spent many years working as a trauma surgeon in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the height of apartheid, before returning to the UK to become a general practitioner in rural Wiltshire.

Now in his third career as a professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, he has been at the forefront of many innovations aimed at widening the scope of influences that students are exposed to. These include setting up a Centre for Performance Science with the neighbouring Royal College of Music and helping to devise the Chemical Kitchen project, which exposes chemistry undergraduates to lab skills through the “non-threatening” parallel of cooking.

Kneebone has also tried his hand at many extracurricular activities, from flying light aeroplanes and learning to juggle to building harpsichords – with varying degrees of success, he freely admits. He recently wrote a book, Expert: Understanding the path to mastery. Drawing on the experiences of people from musicians to magicians and tailors to taxidermists – and some scientific and medical experts for good measure – it examines the ubiquitous, but understudied, process of becoming an expert.

Richard Webb: Experts are very much in the public eye at the moment.

Roger Kneebone: I finished writing the book just before the UK’s March covid-19 lockdown began. But now more than ever we need to think about how we make use of the most valuable aspect of expertise – the wisdom based on experience that allows people to give sensible guidance about what to do …