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There are a lot of discussions on meta where the term expert is used. However, expert is a broad term, without a specific definition to what makes somebody an expert in a field. Some questions make it seem like people always think of vets as experts, but forget the many other experts there are.

Do we have experts here?
How do we get veterinarians to participate on our site?
Improving the quality of our answers to attract experts

When it comes to pets, vets are experts. But they can't answer all questions. Looking at our questions there are not very many questions that need a vet to get a good answer.
In addition to that, I don't really see why a vet would want to participate in our site other than to sacrifice his time and answer questions. There simply are no vet-level questions, why should someone assume that he could ask them here? Would he receive an appropriate answer?

There is more to pet experts than vets: pet shop owners, pet trainers, breeders or even simply the people who own, take care of or care about pets. I think it might be good to challenge the definition of expert and broaden our focus about the people we want to attract.

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No matter how we approach it, "expert" will have to be a nebulous term of limited value.

A definition that works could be as simple as "someone with extensive knowledge and experience with one or more species/breed of animal kept as a pet". I don't think we can get more specific than that, partly because it isn't realistic to expect there to be a single type of "expert" that can address all questions on a specific type of animal or topic, and partly because, as Tim Post once put it, "On the web, nobody knows you got your degree in Antarctica in a school of fish".

To me, experts include (but are not necessarily limited to):

  • Veterinarians
  • Biologists
  • Veterinary Assistants
  • Professional pet groomers
  • Breeders (whether professional or amateur)
  • Dedicated animal rescuers (volunteer or professional)
  • Shelter employees and volunteers
  • Owners who have had multiple pets of a specific species or breed over a period of several years or more
  • Kennel staff
  • Professional pet sitters
  • Professional trainers

Granted, not all of those qualify an individual to answer every question about a pet that they're familiar with. A veterinarian or a groomer may not be the best resources for training, but they're likely experts on matters of health and hygiene, respectively.

So really, "expert" means someone who has credible knowledge and experience to share. I think the experience part is at least as important as the knowledge, at least when it comes to writing an answer.

By way of example, I've lived with 2 ferrets, over a period of about 9 years. That experience allows me to provide insight into some questions on ferrets, but not all of them. For example, much as I would have liked to help with this question on two pairs of ferrets not getting along, I couldn't provide an answer as I never had any issues that were similar (both of my ferrets got along quite well with each other, and only one of them had even met another ferret, briefly).

I think that the idea of experience being at least as important as knowledge ties back in with this meta discussion on how we want to address anecdotal answers. Answers that are based on anecdotal data should include some indication of the answerer's experience. Granted, we only have someone's word that the experience they listed is accurate, but it can help us to get a feel for what type of expertise they might have.

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    I think our desire for 'experts' is twofold, the first is obviously that we want their knowledge, and the second that we want the quality and accuracy of our information well-vetted (no pun intended). I think it's definitely reasonable to shoot for attracting quite a bit on your (rather comprehensive) list. – Tim Post Nov 13 '13 at 15:56
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    Hard to disagree with such a comprehensive answer! – John Cavan Nov 13 '13 at 18:26
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The definition of an expert.

Definition of expert in English
expert
Pronunciation: /ˈɛkspəːt/

noun
a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area:
an expert in health care
a financial expert
adjective
having or involving a great deal of knowledge or skill in a particular area:
he had received expert academic advice
I have a friend who is very expert at the language

An expert, by definition is someone with a great deal of knowledge and ability due to education (formal or informal) and experience.

We have several experts here on this site, in various fields. None that are officially qualified to give out veterinary advice, but then we don't offer such advice and any decent professional would be loathe to give such advice without seeing and examining the pet.

Expertise is something that usually takes time and practice to achieve.


An expert will usually know the answers to questions immediately.

A good measure for self assessment when answering questions is to ask this:

Can I provide a good answer to this question without going to google?

If the answer is Yes, chances are you have the expertise to answer the question. This is not advocating not providing citations, by all means good citations strengthen an answer's position. An expert will know which sites to source good citations.

An example of an expert may be an insect lover who has collected and studied insects since childhood.

Someone who has bred and trained (for example) dogs, rabbits, cats or horses for years.

People who have studied formally.

People who have studied informally.

Without experience handling animals, I would suggest that study alone would not offer expertise.


Answering questions here is something that does require expertise, if we are to add value to the site. Which is why there has been much iteration about paraphrasing content from other sites.

To bring quality and expert answers to this site and maintain a level of professionalism that will appeal to other experts, we need to vote responsibly for answers.

Before voting on answers I would suggest the following:

  1. Read the answer thoroughly

  2. Follow any links provided in the answer and read the links. Check that the content in the answer is original and not paraphrased from another source. This is not illegal in any way, it is not encouraging expert advice here.

  3. Looking for good citations. Citations to other wiki how question and answer sites and forums are not reputable, in that they too frequently offering second or third hand content. Some examples being journal articles, some animal welfare agencies, educational institutions and textbooks.

If the answer fails in these criteria, I would suggest erring on the side of upvoting. If an answer is positively poor quality, the community can use their downvotes and flags wisely to discourage this.


Avoiding popular misinformation.

Human nature has thrived on mythology and superstition and it still abounds in this modern day online climate. (This is a discussion that is relevant for another SE site) It is important that we are watchful that this site doesn't support dissemination of misinformation. By following the steps outlined above we can mentor our community and maintain high standards.


Listening to the experts already here.

There are some people here with expertise and I urge the community to take their lead. I have often cited @James Jenkins for having expertise in rabbits and this is something that can be seen on his profile information. @Chad also has a great deal of experience and expertise about rabbits.

A few of our physics users jumped in and answered, beautifully, questions about UV light.

We have a few users here with a great knowledge base about fish, @woliveirajr, @toxotes, and our mod @John Cavan, (I know I have overlooked someone here with the fish)

There are many users here with great experience with cats.

This list is by no means exhaustive, I appreciate all the regular users here and the contributions.

As for myself, I have mentioned in detail here some of my experiences and it wasn't until I joined this site that I realised how much accumulated knowledge I have. I still remember many of the things I learned whilst studying Veterinary Science. This is borne more from my lifelong interest and hands on experience with animals and pets. I have a great deal of expertise in many areas of animal husbandry, but not in all areas of pets and am enjoying sharing and pooling our knowledge :)

From what I can discern, I have studied extensively and more thoroughly many topics relating to Animal Husbandry than the average member here, coupled with extensive experience in animal handling and training, I can come across and arrogant, and for this I apologise. It is borne from a frustration of having studied worked in the field and within the human health system and having a good grasp of terminology and how the health systems work for most species.

It has been a frustration, as many issues I tried to speak out about when I left Veterinary Science over 20 years ago, I found many of the practices to be inhumane (it seriously gave me nightmares for months) and back then and no one listened. These issues have now become popularised by celebrity involvement (which is good), but I got used to being a lone voice (within my community).

So when I speak out, sometimes it is the voice of experience (for example) watching drugs being put on the market, knowing some background into the marketing process and watching many things become removed, as they are later proven to be dangerous. Within the scope of this site, it is not always viable to explain the entire reasoning behind why I might think or say things, suffice to say, I know a lot more than I could ever reveal on a site like this, but I am hoping over time, the community will learn to trust my voice, and if I do make a mistake, I will always readily admit it.


  • Yeh typical.. downvote. Please suspend my account. I'm wasting my time and effort – user87 Nov 13 '13 at 14:44

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