We often appeal to experts and authorities due to the usefulness of their acquired knowledge, and a lot of the time, this is a fairly sensible thing to do.

However, very often, I feel like there is a certain bias that is being introduced whenever one does so, and I am wondering whether this phenomenon has been deemed important enough to have been given a name.

Here's what I mean: an expert or an authority has chosen to be an expert or an authority. This choice implies an inherent bias that has lead them to take this particular path in life. Thus regardless of how much factual knowledge they acquire or how well they hone their instinct, this bias may possibly remain present in their mind and influence the way in which they transmit their expertise to others.

For example, imagine you wish to discuss Christianity with an expert. What sort of person becomes an expert in Christianity to begin with? Presumably all kinds of people, but I am sure if you pulled out the stats, you would see a remarkable number of Christians being experts in Christianity. Which isn't surprising, as their passion for their religion was what probably lead them to study it in detail to begin with. We thus might imagine a scenario where a critique of the Christian religion leads us to ask the help of an expert ... who happens to have a bias in favor of Christianity.

Likewise, imagine an expert in motor-racing. Presumably, many of these will be petrol heads (car enthusiasts), since their a-priori love for racing and vehicles was what lead them to become experts in this field in the first place. Imagine a scenario where there's a critique of the environmental impact of motor-racing, and we are lead to talk to these experts ... who happen to have a bias in favor of motor-racing.

  • I made a small edit which you may roll back or continue to edit. I also added some tags. You can see the changes by looking at the "edited" link above my image. I don't know what the name is you are looking for, but I suspect we would want to ask the opinions of those who have a positive bias because they would be focused more clearly on their position. If we asked those negatively biased toward these positions could we trust them any better? Jul 18, 2018 at 20:30
  • This is called self-selection bias and it is not unique to experts or authority figures. It always happens when the sample is not randomly produced, which in many cases is impossible, including this one.
    – Conifold
    Jul 18, 2018 at 22:29
  • There are some questions only answerable by ourselves, and others that are humanly unanswerable.
    – Bread
    Jul 19, 2018 at 21:09

3 Answers 3


You appear to be referring to self-selection bias. This is a well-known phenomenon in statistics, whereby self-selection into a category is correlated with other characteristics, and hence, inclusion in that category is not statistically independent of those other characteristics.

This means that every field of expertise would be expected to attract a certain kind of person with certain kinds of characteristics. However, it is important to note that this 'bias' in statistical parlance, merely means that the characteristics are not statistically independent of the category (such that statistical bias would occur if you fail to take account of the correlation). You seem to be using the term 'bias' in a much stronger sense, to assert that the characteristics of the self-selected experts cause them to have biased opinions about their subject matter. That is a much stronger claim, and it would need to be justified by the facts. Be careful not to fall into pure subjectivism here.

With regard to your example on experts on Christianity, you are likely to be correct that most of these experts are Christians themselves, and hence take a favourable view of Christianity. But don't reverse cause-and-effect here --- they are probably Christians because they have concluded that Christianity is good, not the other way around. To make an argument casting suspicion on their expertise, you would need to establish that these experts have come to Christianity via a route that is independent of the truth/falsity of that philosophy (e.g., because they were raised that way as children) and then they gain their expertise due to this allegiance. In short, you would be arguing that the characteristic of being Christian is only weakly related to the objective assessment of the truth/falsity of Christian doctrine. (And incidentally, the same charge could probably be made against their opponents ---i.e., they were raised without religion and are therefore atheists.)

  • 1
    "they have concluded that Christianity is good" through confirmation bias, possibly. Do you think they came as agnosticists and only after studying they became christians? Those who studied New Testament well, know modern christianity contains things Jesus opposed. But this requires unbiased view.
    – rus9384
    Jul 19, 2018 at 7:59
  • Well, I guess you'd assess that on a case-by-case basis. I am simply making the point that it is no good saying, "Well of course you think Christianity is good - you're a Christian!"
    – Ben
    Jul 19, 2018 at 8:46
  • Are there christians who think christianity is not good to make it a bad saying? I am not saying about causal relationships, but only about linkage.
    – rus9384
    Jul 19, 2018 at 9:26
  • It is the causal relationship that is relevant. That statement dismisses the belief of the person by causally attributing it to their status as a believer of that general philosophy. This is invalid because it reverses cause-and-effect.
    – Ben
    Jul 19, 2018 at 9:35
  • However, you should not dismiss the role of confirmation bias. Of course, there are some biased atheists as well, but in general if there are less atheists, there probably would be less biased atheists. This causes statistical bias.
    – rus9384
    Jul 19, 2018 at 9:44

You have received suggestions for names. I don't have a rival suggestion but I'd like to say something about the substance of your question - about the bias of experts.

It depends, I should say, on what the expert is being asked about. If I ask a Christian theologian to tell me what Nestorianism is, they might say : 'It's the doctrine that the the divine and the human attributes of Christ were so distinct that only the human attributes were subject to human conditions'. Equally if I ask the learned local Rabbi they might give me exactly the same answer. I might also get that answer from a militant atheist who has studied the history of Christian doctrine.

There's no necessary risk of bias here. Expertise can operate independently of personal belief and I see no reason, in regard to this sort of question, why it should not.

In contrast, if I ask a Christian if Predestination is true, namely that all events are predetermined by the will of God, the Christian theologian cannot respond from a standpoint of pure expertise. If all events are predestined by the will of God, then either God selects me and bestows grace on me, in which case I am saved; or God causes me to resist grace, in which case I am among the reprobates and some dire fate awaits me. Either way, God's bestowal or withholding of grace is independent of anything I can do prior to the gift (or not) of grace. A theologian might draw finer distinctions but there is no expert truth the theologian can deliver here. The matter is indeterminate by human reason and there is no expertise the theologian can have to match their expertise about Nestorianism. If the theologian says 'Yes' or 'No', they are not answering as as expert but are at best taking a stand as a reflective Christian.

I would probably trust the theologian - if they were an expert on the early church - as an expert on Nestorianism. On Predestination, I might as well jump off the roof as expect an expert answer. There is none to be had, only personal opinion, this side of the grave and perhaps none on the other.


As preliminary, Wikipedia describes bias as the following:

Bias is disproportionate weight in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

This article lists five categories of biases: (1) cognitive biases, (2) conflicts of interest, (3) statistical biases, (4) contextual biases, and (5) prejudices.

Since the question focuses on potential problems arising from our "appeal to experts and authorities due to the usefulness of their acquired knowledge", we can eliminate statistical biases. When we seek out an expert we are usually not interested in estimating a population parameter through a sampling process. We simply want advice.

We may also eliminate the prejudice and conflicts of interest categories. Although the authority may be prejudiced or involved in a situation involving conflict of interest the question focuses on some "inherent bias" caused by becoming an expert in a field. A prejudice, such as racism or sexism, or conflict of interest would not be inherent to acquiring expertise in a field.

We can focus on the named biases listed in the two remaining categories of cognitive biases and contextual biases.

Looking at cognitive biases the list of them is large. To help limit this further the OP is concerned with the following:

an expert or an authority has chosen to be an expert or an authority. This choice implies an inherent bias that has lead them to take this particular path in life.

One possible bias based upon an expert's choice of what to study might be selective perception:

Selective perception is the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs.

Looking at contextual biases, academic bias may be close to this inherent bias:

Academic bias is the bias or perceived bias of scholars allowing their beliefs to shape their research and the scientific community.

From this survey there are two possible names for the "inherent bias" of choosing what to study: selective perception and academic bias. There may be other names that fit as well.

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