Stop the Death of Expertise

I recently read Tom Nichols The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. He had originally written this essay, also titled “The Death of Expertise”, as a precursor to the book. If you find the essay interesting, which I did, I recommend you read the book.

He also documents the importance of trusting others. Specialization is good, we get higher quality and it means we do not need to know everything, which we couldn’t anyway. This also means we need to have trust. Even better, we can be part of the solution when we become experts in our own domain. Experts empower selfish, selfless, synergistic actions. #SelfishSelflessSynergy

I liked the final points in his essay about things to think about with regard to interactions with experts. His book does a great job explaining and describing all these points. He writes:

“Here, presented without modesty or political sensitivity, are some things to think about when engaging with experts in their area of specialization.

Tom Nichols, Death of Expertise

We can all stipulate: the expert isn’t always right.

But an expert is far more likely to be right than you are. On a question of factual interpretation or evaluation, it shouldn’t engender insecurity or anxiety to think that an expert’s view is likely to be better-informed than yours. (Because, likely, it is.)

Experts come in many flavors. Education enables it, but practitioners in a field acquire expertise through experience; usually the combination of the two is the mark of a true expert in a field. But if you have neither education nor experience, you might want to consider exactly what it is you’re bringing to the argument.

In any discussion, you have a positive obligation to learn at least enough to make the conversation possible. The University of Google doesn’t count. Remember: having a strong opinion about something isn’t the same as knowing something.

And yes, your political opinions have value. Of course they do: you’re a member of a democracy and what you want is as important as what any other voter wants. As a layman, however, your political analysis, has far less value, and probably isn’t — indeed, almost certainly isn’t — as good as you think it is.”

I also provided the review below on GoodReads.com and Google Books to encourage more to read this important book:

Death of Expertise is a Great book. There are so many valuable insights, I strongly encourage you to read the book. I can only highlight a few I thought were of value.

He explains, expertise is not dead but it and respect for it is on life support. The main idea I got from the book was how people are mixing up the fact that everybody’s vote counts the same in this country with the idea that our opinions are of equal value. As he points out, in clear detail, experts are of great value, importance and service to society. They help us make sense of the flood of information available. For example, he appreciates dentists because he knows even on a dentists worst day and on his best, his ability to dentistry would be wholly lacking despite what he could read on the internet.

Yes everybody can have an opinion, but educated opinions from schooling and experience are of significantly greater value and it has been what has made our lives possible. It is the ability of people to become experts at different functions that allows us to have a higher quality of life. Nobody can do everything well. Yes we could all probably build our own houses as they did in days past, but then the quality of our houses would be severely lacking for most who not have the requisite expertise.

He also suggests that much loss of respect for expertise seems to be a way to protect fragile egos. As he notes, everything is not a matter of opinion, some things are right and wrong. Yes, sometimes experts are wrong, but is rare and that is why it is news. We all must understand we can be wrong. Some of this problem has been fed by the media that now focuses more on entertaining than on informing and fact-checking. Of course the internet is a huge source of problems because all the information appears to be of equal value despite about 90% of the information on the internet being incorrect. Deciphering what is right and what is wrong is difficult for a layperson. For example, he notes the public claims they have been misled to which experts and policy makers respond, “how would you know?”

This relates to his discussion of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This effect helps us understand why the least informed are the most confident in opinions. They are confident, though wrong, because they do not have the understanding to know there information is insufficient. I am sure if you are reading this blog, you know how much you do not know, but it is still easy for all of us to point out mistakes and to believe we have a more thorough understanding than we do. That is the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Predictions by experts are hard because science helps explain and understand more than predict. It is also hard to predict because it is impossible to account for all possible intervening factors. Predictions by experts, however, are almost always much better than by those less informed. Of course there are time when uninformed get it right, but it is rare. The difference in how often experts or laypersons are right would dramatically impact our lives and we are better because we more often rely on experts.

Death of Expertise in Higher Education
He also provides a great chapter about Higher Education. As a professor I especially appreciated this information. He suggests it is important to universities to focus on helping students become more self-reliant and resist knowledge being viewed as a consumer good for students purchase. As he points out in one example, it is easier for students to email the professor with a question than to find the answer themselves. Students often think of emailing a professor like communicating with a customer service department, this however does not help students become more self-reliant. There are also more difficulties because if the professor pushes students to do their own work, they may come back with a “customer is always right” retort, putting higher education in a precarious position.

To me this is one reason society should help support higher education more so students are not forced to go into debt to get a university education. Higher education should be seen more as a privilege and societal obligation to improve. He was concerned that students are being taught to be picky consumers rather than critical thinkers. He is also concerned that students are learning that feelings matter more than rationality and facts because often emotion trumps everything else.

Throughout the book, he also emphasized that facts, which can be obtained on the internet, is not the same as knowledge or ability. I teach an Applied Principles class and students are always amazed how difficult it is to apply what seems like common sense information.

In his discussion of “Wisdom of Crowds” he acknowledges that the average of many guesses, like for the weight of a pig, will be very accurate. This suggests crowds can have wisdom but it does not mean all in the crowd are wise. While this suggests the Wisdom of Crowds is valuable, it does not mean crowds should run society. A wisdom of crowds does not translate well into creating a coherent policy. Small groups of experts are needed for that because they are needed to aggregate the publics irresolvable demands.

As I noted, there is so much good in this book, I could only skim the surface of what I found interesting and of value. I strongly recommend you read it. If you want a sampling, you can read the short essay, “Death of Expertise” he wrote and suggested inspired him to write the book. Enjoy…

I hope this inspires you to build on your expertise and to value and use that of others. Developing expertise is a way to practice paneugenesis because it will help generate comprehensive benefits by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfish, synergistic interactions so everyone and eveything benefits. Thank you for helping everyone and everything benefit. Please share your efforts so we can learn from your selfish, selfless, synergistic actions. Thank you.

Be Well’r,

Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

#SelfishSelflessSynergy

Please share your thoughts and questions below.

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