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See Inside June/July 2007

Getting Good Advice

How to recognize a real expert, good advice and the limits of such counsel



Don Klumpp Getty Images

Seeking expert medical advice? The Internet seems to invite us to dispense altogether with consulting a doctor in person. When I Googled "expert advice" and medicine, I got 1,650,000 hits. "Expert advice" and "psychology" garnered 950,000. (Your results may differ.) Sites such as Kasamba (www.kasamba.com) and AllExperts (http://allexperts.com) offer expert counsel on just about any subject.

We cannot avoid relying on expert opinion. We simply do not have the factual knowledge required to answer all of our questions. Certain fields are so technical, moreover, that only a true expert's opinion will do--and especially for medical decisions, a doctor's advice is crucial. But our very need for such advice is also why claims of expertise so easily lend themselves to abuse, much to the detriment of the person looking for help. Professionals in the advertising industry are well aware of the persuasive powers of such appeals to authority. Consequently, they spend billions of dollars on advertising and employ ostensibly trustworthy--or not so trustworthy--experts who try to lure us into buying products or services. Its one thing to be on our guard when watching commercials, however, and quite another to evaluate the credibility of Web sites, self-help books and the like.

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