Pop-Up Experts

I’ve been meaning to post on the topic of experts for a while now. Unfortunately, I’ve been given the opportunity once again, thanks to the events in Japan and all of what I like to call the “pop-up experts.” You know the type. Even though you’ve worked in the field for years, something big pops off (let’s say a radiologic disaster post-earthquake) and some talking head gets prime placement on CNN spouting off the worst-case scenario.

Sound familiar? It should, and if it doesn’t yet, it will.

The amazing Maggie Koerth-Baker of Boingboing.net posted on the amazing story of the MIT corporate risk management scientist who wrote like a nuclear physicist. While he was well-intentioned, and helped a lot of people understand what was happening in Japan, and the problem was quickly rectified by MIT, the point made is larger than that.

There are folks out there—hired guns?—that are willing to say what needs to be said to get on cable news. And since we’ve now established that cable news is willing to amp up disaster for ratings sake, we should be anticipating these pop-up experts. Consider anyone in your field that holds an unusual view of the work you do, or maybe a former employee with some incomplete knowledge of your plans, or a colleague from afar that disagrees with you. Or, really, anyone that wants to get on cable news.

This argues even more for the need to be first (while still being credible and right) in an emergency communication situation. The sooner you are established as the expert with on the ground knowledge of what’s happening, the less likely these “pop-up experts” will be to stand in your place.

I’m sure I’m going to have to post on this issue again, but I wanted to get the idea out there and see what you all think.