Expertise Mismatch

Linus Pauling is probably one of the most famous Nobel Prize Winners in history, and not for the prize he won. In 1954 Pauling won his first Nobel in the field of chemistry. In 1962 he would win another for Peace.

In the early 1900s the understanding of vitamins and ability to extract them to create supplements led to a new hypothesis in medical science. The treatment of disease through vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplementation; a field known as orthomolecular medicine. By the 1930s it was experiencing a boom across America. Supplements were sold to treat all kinds of illness and studies were being conducted. The final conclusion, after decades of research, was that it didn’t work. Large deficiencies in vitamins and minerals could lead to specific problems, but additional amounts wouldn’t kill diseases. More vitamin A, B, C etc… didn’t kill viruses and bacteria, or cure mental illness.


In the 1960s Linus Pauling became very interested in supplements and even created the term orthomolecular medicine to give the field more validity. Despite the medical community stating very clearly that it didn’t work, Pauling began to support it. His history of having received a Noble prize in a science field gave a strong backing to the community and it’s claims. The use of supplements to treat illnesses experienced a resurgence. Mega doses of vitamin C were given to cancer patients and once again proved ineffective.


Pauling conducted many studies and trials to build a body of work to support his orthomolecular theory, but his expertise was in chemistry and the trials were poorly organized according to the medical community, and his results were not repeatable once the corrections had been made.

Pauling’s expertise was mismatched for the medical field, but the minority group that wanted to push its agenda of orthomolecular medicine was able to leverage the fact that most people had a lot of respect for the Nobel Prize, and title of Doctor to win over new followers. He became a gatekeeper, because of his mismatched expertise.

Notes on the heading:

I’ve seen this technique used many times by different groups. It’s most common in pseudoscience. When people become desperate and modern science either can’t help them or fails to help, they turn elsewhere. This can happen to even the most brilliant of scientists. It’s been common enough among Nobel Laurates that it’s called Nobel Disease.

Other techniques are used as well to add false expertise to unscientifically supported fields of medicine. Some of the greatest and most famous universities in the world offer various further learning certificates for adults who take classes during the summer. Occasionally these individuals will then claim to have attended these prestigious universities to present themselves as intelligent, and gather support for their ideas.

I think there is a flip side to this as well, sometimes experts get it wrong. The psychologists and behavior experts of the 1940s and 50s thought you shouldn’t hug and kiss your children or show them affection of any kind. It was only Harry Harlow who proved those experts wrong with his famous wire/cloth mother monkey studies.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I don’t know if there is a shortcut to recognize when an expert is mismatched to leverage influence, or when they are a pioneer that will one day revolutionize the field. Statistically speaking mismatched experts are usually wrong when they oppose a group of experts working in their own field.

As a friend of mine once said, “I don’t believe in science. It gets things wrong all the time, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot, but I accept it as the best we have for now.”