Experts Revisited

EXPERTS REVISITED….I’m not quite sure why Atrios unleashed the snark on Ilan Goldenberg’s post (here) about how to tell a foreign policy expert from a foreign policy “expert” — though perhaps Goldenberg’s VSP credentials were reason enough. In any case, his advice seems reasonable enough to at least deserve an airing. Basically, Goldenberg provides two rules of thumb:

  • “Regional experts generally tend to be more well informed than functional experts because of their narrower focus.” If you want to learn about the Middle East, listen to Arabic-speaking Middle East experts, not generic terrorism experts or nonproliferation experts or whatnot.

  • “There is an inverse correlation between the number of areas of expertise listed in your bio and your actual expertise.” Genuine experts have a limited number of areas on which they claim genuine expertise, and those areas are usually related. Conversely, a long, jumbled laundry list of areas may be a warning sign of someone who’s spread too thin to have deep expertise in any single field.

For what it’s worth, Goldenberg recommends the following non-exhaustive list of Middle East experts off the top of his head: Jon Alterman, Brian Katulis, Marc Lynch, Ray Takeyh, Steven Simon, Flynt Leverett, Vali Nasr, Steven Cook, Rob Malley, and Tony Cordesman.

“None of these rules are hard and fast,” Goldenberg says. They seem like a decent provocation for further discussion, though.