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Sunday Evening Thoughts

One thing I have always found very interesting in the firearms / tactical industry is the prevalence of the Subject Matter Expert, or for you high speed types, the SME.  They are literally everywhere, hell, ever been to SHOT?  But are all of them really, truly, SME's? Who even determines that title anyway? The truth really sucks to hear, especially for those who have bought into some of these false prophets.

Without naming specific names, as the people I would name have a history of either threatening lawsuits and/or doing actual smear campaigns against those who would bring them up as examples, so you will just have to extrapolate who and what I am talking about.

There are alleged SME's out there who are SME's because they were given that title by other alleged SME's.  This is very obvious on certain forums where certain people who are given SME status by other alleged SME's simply due to association.  Maybe they own a company that gives free stuff to a particular group or well known SME, maybe they are good shooters who teach a little bit here or there but have a primary job outside the firearms / tactical industry, or maybe they are just random dudes who always show up for classes and because of that some well known instructor, or group of alleged SME's, gives them an honorary SME title. 

There are also a bunch of various misconceptions about instructors, industry reps, competence and ability.  The first thing to understand is that competence in one particular field does not equate to competence in another field.  Just because you are an excellent helicopter pilot does not mean you can teach medical science.  Just because you can pilot an airplane does not mean you are really good at shooting/instructing pistols and should be considered an SME.  Yet, this is the illogical path many people take when determining or assuming SME status.

Experience does not always equate to capability.  Knowledge does not always equate to proficiency.  Just like every police officer is not an SME in tactics or pistol application, same goes for every GM or champion competition shooter, not every soldier is an SME in anything to do with soldiering, not every SEAL/Delta/Operator is an SME in high speed stuff, and just like not every instructor is actually qualified or able to teach properly.  We throw the title of SME around way too easily and freely.  There are entire groups on the internet, in various forums, chats and email groups, who freely give out these titles without any consideration as to their real impact on the industry and the average Joe shooter who decides to start his journey into the fray.  This is even more obvious when you inject all the fake Instagram SME type nonsense which really messes with how the industry is perceived.  There are literally guys on IG who post up videos of themselves talking about topics, concepts and showing off their "skills" based on absolutely zero experience, logical thought or mindset.  That is not only unethical but it is potentially dangerous.  What makes matters worse is that you cannot call these people out because the moment you do they will do everything in their power to discredit and smear you, they will even label you as a troll because you speak facts about them.  Such is the internet though, right?

So how do I tell who a real SME is and who I should listen to when it comes to this type of stuff?  This is the tricky part as most of the SME's which I personally know refuse to go on forums and refuse to deal with all the derp perpetrated in social media, forums, chats and email groups.  The reason behind this is that when they post something completely experience based, factual in nature, and often vetted through many difficult and different processes, they are quickly attacked and disregarded by members of that particular community who have established seniority and other members take the senior members word over the legit real world SME.  It is even worse when there is a group of self-described SME's who do this to a real world SME who says anything which is counter to their particularly approved group think.  This is extremely dangerous, because the average member of these places gets conflicted on which way to go.  I have personally seen this occur on several occasions on various forums, chats and email groups.  It is a very sad state of affairs.  But, in the modern online theater, the loudest voices appear to be the most competent, and those who may actually be the most competent are ignored if they are not present and making themselves heard.  This is a serious issue as most real SME's just want to teach and not really talk about it, they want to train and do not really care much about making it very public or advertising it.  Meanwhile you see alleged SME's with really expensive production values posting slow mo videos (or just slightly sped up videos) and they are getting the most attention, either organically or through purchasing of those likes/followers (yes they do it).

A real world SME will usually respond to an email or phone call pretty quickly and be very responsive about a particular subject, they would also be the first to tell you to seek someone else out about a particular topic.  This is especially true if you have ever gone to train with them at a class and they know you from that class. 

One thing which I have learned over the years is dealing with the online presence of alleged SME's is that you have to extremely skeptical of any mass gathering of SME's.  If you find a place where every other person posting is an SME in something or other, that should be a huge red flag to disregard that place.  The issue is that some of these places actually have legit info here or there, but it is usually intertwined with info which is put out for no other reason than to pad the wallets of whoever is running the show and those who they have deemed is an SME.  The nepotism in some of these places is very substantial.  This has occurred on various forums throughout the years, it was done correctly at some places (invite only by team mates/etc) but that is not a profitable business model and was disregarded.

The title of SME should be difficult to obtain, it should take decades of experience, training, instructing and theorizing on/in a particular topic or group of topics.  Having first hand experience may not be enough, having researched and studied a particular topic may not be enough, simply being in the right place at a particular time may not be enough.

Beyond all of this, challenge any SME at any given opportunity.  If their response is a negative, ad hominem styled, or dogmatic type then you should disregard them or leave without falling for their rhetoric.  A true SME usually will not ridicule a student (unless they are making a point or using ridicule as a teaching tool), they will never insult, and they will never regurgitate dogma.  If an SME does anything like this, then you were probably duped into believing they are subject matter experts, and they were likely given that title without having earned it.