What is an expert after all? As defined by Merriam Webster an expert means “Showing special skill or knowledge” the online Merriam Webster states “Having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.” None of the definitions I have read ever say anything about anyone claiming to be an expert. It would seem obvious that ‘experts’ show or prove themselves as experts through their work, not their voice. This was mentioned by Nathan Hangen in his piece Signal V. Noise.
Reptiles and the Internet
Since the advent of public access to the internet, and later the World Wide Web, it would seem that ‘experts’ in any given field came out of the woodwork to speak on subjects of interest to the general public. Today, with more people accessing the World Wide Web daily at least ten ‘experts’ pop up every month on the popular species of reptile that are sold or so it seems. Some don’t last a month; others linger on because their brand or SEO is good enough to get them a fair amount of traffic. Looking at Yahoo Answers we see the top ten ‘experts’ listed on the right. Out of the profiles we read only one would even be close to being a reptile ‘expert.’
There’s no proven method for vetting experts. So literally anyone can be an expert based on their own personal judgment. An ‘expert’ may have read every book currently published on a particular subject and claim to be an expert. At these times my personal mentors’ words come to mind. “There’s a big difference between book knowledge and practical knowledge.”
There are literally hundreds of people who have bred a reptile and are now ‘experts’ and again my mentors’ words come into play here. I remember it well, I was in my second year of keeping reptiles, I had a Corn Snake Pantherophis guttatus which was gravid (pregnant in reptile world speak) she laid the eggs; I hatched them in an incubator. I was ecstatic. I called my mentor to tell him the good news; after a pause he said quite calmly “Great, now do it again.”
I spent the next two years trying to breed Corn Snakes Pantherophis guttatus unsuccessfully. This experience is a key element of an expert. Repeated experiences revealing results of a desired outcome are further evidence of potentially gaining expertise in a given subject. But, do we have the right to label ourselves as an expert? I have a decades worth of experience keeping and maintaining captive reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Some of which, I have bred and others I have not. I have consulted on a few breeding projects of specific reptiles; does this mean I am an expert? I know the scientific names for hundreds of reptile, amphibian, and insect species. I have written a book, and several articles on species of the reptile industry does this make me an expert?
Experts and the Media
Reptile media is changing as well. They don’t want experiences of the field or interviews with the folks who actually started this industry. They want what’s new and fresh. The next big thing is always the lead story. At times, it seems like they have taken the role of Hollywood. Grab the latest thing, dilute it down to its basics and regurgitate it to the masses amid advertisements of the latest and greatest products that the magazine hasn’t even tested themselves; advertising pays the bills.
They’re constantly side barring pieces of reptile bans or laws ranting on about why it shouldn’t happen instead of really investigating in depth. How about why it happened in the first place? How about a feature on how it happened and what we can do to stop it happening in our areas? Obviously their method works; they’re the ones with the subscribership. I remember magazines like Vivarium, Reptile Care, and Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist. They would cover stories of Red tail Boa caudal luring, vivarium construction, and last but never least, they would speak with the people who started the industry of herpetoculture. I have been doing this for ten years, so for me to wax nostalgic is a little bit of irony.
Look, Listen, & Beware
To get right to the point, people who claim to be an expert are probably not. I don’t consider myself an expert in the field of herpetoculture; I’m knowledgeable, but by no means am I an expert. Usually, the real experts are the ones who aren’t claiming any self righteousness. They are referred to by their peers and people who have read their works or worked directly with them and I don’t mean that they’ve bought something from them. I mean that they’ve actually spent time working on projects with them.
It’s fairly easy to spot an expert.
Are they respected by their peers?
How many years do they have doing their chosen profession? (If you haven’t produced two consecutive seasons, I’m questioning your dedication.)
I am also very leery of people who breed more than 3-4 species/families. If your breeding geckos do just geckos, Boas or Pythons do just those. When you start breeding everything in the industry, you quickly enter the realm of me questioning your dedication.
Are they published? Now by published, I don’t mean just books. Do they maintain a peer respected website, blog, newsletter, or have they been interviewed for one or more of these. The next time you drop by a website or blog on the net check the person’s background and make sure the person you are contacting is really dedicated to their craft before acting on their advice. After all, you wouldn’t take advice on marriage from a divorce attorney, who was never married, would you?