What is an “Expert” in the COVID-19 Debate and am I One?

Conference: The Asian Conference on Arts & Humanities (ACAH2022)
Title: What is an “Expert” in the COVID-19 Debate and am I One?
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Mark Rebuck, Meijo University, Japan


Radio phone-ins, a programme format in which listeners call a radio station to air their views on a topic, provide a forum for debates that are often enlightening and educational, but which can be bigoted and confrontational. Phone-ins, it has been argued, are a media genre that can thrive only in a vibrant democracy (and a genre that, to this presenter’s knowledge, is absent from Japan—-time permitting, possible reasons for this absence can also be discussed). Listening to many hours of phone-ins since early 2020, the presenter has noticed that a recurring word in COVID-19-related debates is "expert". It is frequently used by callers to justify or lend authority to a certain position. For example, callers who doubted the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines would quote a certain "expert," or the fact someone was not an "expert" was employed to discredit a person’s argument, or used as ammunition for an ad hominem attack. The presenter has collected over 30 recorded clips from phone-ins on two British radio stations (LBC and Talk Radio) and thematically grouped them according to the role played by the word “expert” in the presenter-caller exchange (two of the five themes are "lack of expert status to undermine/dismiss argument"; and "devaluing worth of expert status with counter-evidence"). In the presentation, after an exploration of the definition of "expert," a sample of these radio clips will be played to exemplify the way the word has entered the pandemic debate.

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