The Death of Expertise

The Death of Expertise

The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

Book - 2017
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The rise of the internet and other technology has made information more easily-accessible than ever before. While this has had the positive effect of equalizing access to knowledge, it also has lowered the bar on what depth of knowledge is required to consider oneself an "expert." A cult ofanti-expertise sentiment has coincided with anti-intellectualism, resulting in massively viral yet poorly informed debates ranging from the anti-vaccination movement to attacks on GMOs. This surge in intellectual egalitarianism has altered the landscape of debates - all voices are equal, and "fact"is a subjective term. Browsing WebMD puts one on equal footing with doctors, and Wikipedia allows all to be foreign policy experts, scientists, and more.As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, there are a number of reasons why this has occurred - ranging from easy access to Internet search engines to a customer satisfaction model within higher education. The product of these interrelated trends, Nichols argues, is a pervasive distrust ofexpertise among the public coinciding with an unfounded belief among non-experts that their opinions should have equal standing with those of the experts. The experts are not always right, of course, and Nichols discusses expert failure. The crucial point is that bad decisions by experts can andhave been effectively challenged by other well-informed experts. The issue now is that the democratization of information dissemination has created an army of ill-informed citizens who denounce expertise. When challenged, non-experts resort to the false argument that the experts are often wrong. Though it may be true, but the solution is not to jettison expertise as an ideal; it is to improve our expertise. Nichols is certainly not opposed to information democratization, but rather the enlightenmentpeople believe they achieve after superficial internet research. He shows in vivid detail the ways in which this impulse is coursing through our culture and body politic, but the larger goal is to explain the benefits that expertise and rigorous learning regimes bestow upon all societies.
Publisher: New York, NY : Oxford University Press, [2017]
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780190469412
Branch Call Number: 303.4833 Nic
Characteristics: xv, 252 pages


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Dec 24, 2017

In The Death of Expertise, Nichols, focussing on the US, explores the tension between the elitism of educated experts and the belief that anyone's opinion on any subject is as good as everyone else's. He emphasizes that democracy isn't about every person knowing as much as every other person, and how those who've devoted their lives to a particular topic, whether international relations or auto mechanics, usually have more valuable opinions than those who have dabbled in the subject or only read a book or two, let alone an internet headline. (If you don't believe this, next time you have trouble with your car, open the hood and see what your neighbours have to say, then compare their diagnoses with those of the "expert" mechanic who actually fixes your car.) Nichols doesn't spare the experts and illustrates how and why they get things wrong, even criticizing himself, saying that because he's an expert on one subject, it doesn't mean that he's worth consulting on other topics, though he's had to discipline himself not to comment on things he knows little about.

The Death of Expertise has its flaws, for instance, Nichols more or less tells us that the old establishment universities in the US produce people with most academic expertise, a highly questionable notion. Furthermore, he doesn't ignore but downplays the role of experts in getting his country into such murderous fiascoes as the Vietnam War. Still, the ignorant and uninformed, who believe in Satanic conspiracies for instance, have a worse record. I fear that Nichols will be mainly "preaching to the choir", those who agree with him to start with. Still, I think most readers, whether their area of expertise is academic, manual, or something else, should be able to see themselves in The Death of Expertise and learn something about why and when they should listen to others.

Aug 30, 2017

Self serving and boring. An academic gets to whine.

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