The Death of Expertise

The Death of Expertise

The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

Book - 2017
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People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement.

Nichols has deeper concerns than the current rejection of expertise and learning, noting that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both. The Death of Expertise is not only an exploration of a dangerous phenomenon but also a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age.
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.

Sep 06, 2017

An excellent book. A must read for anyone trying to get to the psychology behind this phenomenon. More than once, even (hence thrilled its available here).

SME (subject matter expert) lays out complex issues in simple terms why in 2017 the generic average US citizen would complain online such a book, about such a subject, is "Self serving and boring." or would internally characterize a narrative voice heavily steeped in logic and reason as "academic" or "whine[ing]".

Aug 30, 2017

Self serving and boring. An academic gets to whine.

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