Tom Nichols’ book sports a provocative title, which he qualifies early on: “While expertise isn’t dead, however, it’s in trouble.” It may well be that any regard for expertise is sick unto death. The subtitle further explains things: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.
Nichols fears that “we are witnessing the death of the ideal of expertise itself, a Google-fuelled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and lay people, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers.” Just one of his heart breaking examples involves an entire third world nation being misled regarding the origin of AIDs. Internet-derived pseudo-knowledge can wreck things anywhere. Add to the mix the numbing effects of specialization and we are left mistrusting our own judgements as well. Or consider the Dunner-Kruger Effect, which “means the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you aren’t actually dumb,” or confirmation bias: the tendency to look for information that only confirms what we already believe.
Nichols longs for the restoration of intellectual life to a standard that he deems to be worthy: “Nothing, however, can overcome the toxic confluence of arrogance, narcissism and cynicism that Americans now wear like a full suit of armor against the efforts of experts and professionals.”
Elsewhere he’s more optimistic: “. . . I believe that the people of the United States are still capable of shrugging off their self-absorption and isolation and taking up their responsibilities as citizens.” Nowadays author/experts appear to be feeling as hard done by as the willfully uninformed – with few easy remedies in sight for anyone.
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