Experts can make mistakes
Experts can’t promise that they’ll never make a mistake, but they can only promise to follow the guidelines of their profession to the best of their ability. There are many ways that experts can go wrong:
- reaching into areas where they don’t have the proficiency or have relative expertise;
- getting into matters where they have relative expertise;
- predicting rather than explaining;
- engaging in outright deception
The first three can still be honest mistakes or regrettable bad calls. Thankfully, they happen more often than outright deception. When it happens, fraud takes the form of forgery of evidence or credentials. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to spot by non-experts because other experts are the only people who would likely notice.
Retractions and corrections, when they happen, should be a sign of trustworthiness, not a lack thereof, because it means that someone is making sure that a publication is honest. Even if mediocre scientific work is published, it doesn’t mean the researcher was deceptive; it just means they weren’t doing an outstanding job. There’s work to mend the relationship between experts and the general population.
Experts need to acknowledge their mistakes publicly and demonstrate what they’re doing to prevent the same mistakes from happening in the future. But, on the other hand, people should do their part to become more scientifically literate and rigorous and learn to distinguish between a mistake and deception.
Against this background, the boundaries between argument, interpretation, misrepresentation, and falsehood can become blurred. This extends to academic critique, albeit online rather than in journal commentary.
Consequently, one may engage in ‘hasty’ online debate (maybe acting unethically) in misrepresenting the fraternity especially given the spread of such commentary on social media.
At its core, public relations resists accountability and can mask the importance of listening to and addressing criticism.
Criticisms may be controversial, and even when factually contestable, they may raise concerns that strike at blind spots experts otherwise cannot see.
One might ask why damaging narratives persisted over time. Such as the, ‘Psychiatrists drug patients; Psychologists advice deep breathing and fuming; Child Psychiatrists bash Parents.’ Is it simply because criticism is unarguable and has not been adequately addressed? Or is it, in part, attributable to a failure of public relations? Is such a failure inevitable, or can communication strategies effectively protect the MH fraternity’s reputation?
If so, what are the sensible and proper limits of such systems? The mental health fraternity must analyze such issues and much more too.
The mental health professionals must promote the academic and practical understanding of communication with and by anyone engaged in the field of mental health whether they belong to outside clinic settings, e.g., academics, civil society organizations, journalists, and individual observers, or working within such environments, e.g., patient education, health care professionals, hospital management, policymakers, and regulatory bodies.
In doing so, mental health experts will demonstrate the significance of communication beyond their everyday operation of clinical workload and achieve the broader goals of mental health advocacy.