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The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters Hardcover – January 1, 2017
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- Item Weight : 15.4 ounces
- ISBN-10 : 0190469412
- ISBN-13 : 978-0190469412
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- Dimensions : 5.79 x 0.83 x 8.39 inches
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; 1st edition (January 1, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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A few years ago, I read Daniel Kahneman's remarkable book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow." While many of the studies in the book have now been called into question (an excellent illustration of one of Tom Nichols' sections about when experts are wrong), I still found it fascinating how I, a person with a graduate-level degree and extensive self-education through extensive reading, knew so very little about so much. I became aware of how easy it is to think that I know more than I do. It was quite humbling, which I need to remember more frequently in discussions on many topics.
At least I am aware of how little I know, though. Sometimes. And I know that, even as an expert in my own field, I can make mistakes. How much do we see today, though, of people without any education or training or experience, claiming that their opinion is as valid as any expert, or dismissing experts as nothing more than "elites," as if that allows them to be ignored?
In a time when our entire world is built around technology and knowledge and the experts who understand them, Americans are forgetting how that all happened. They are so ignorant of the knowledge and experience and understanding that exists, that they don't have a clue that they don't have a clue. Dunning-Kruger writ large. And it is slowly destroying democracy and our republic.
Tom Nichols can only recommend what is key, and what even our Founding Fathers understood: the electorate must be an INFORMED electorate. The populace must understand enough to make the decisions to choose both smart experts (Knowers) and policymakers (Deciders) and understand the limits of each.
The conclusion of Tom's book, if anything, offers little hope. Sadly, I agree. We both do hold out some hope, of course, but it will take a massive effort on the part of all sides. If it will happen, no one can predict, not even the experts. But without experts and policy makers who listen, and an educated, informed populace that helps choose and respect them.....I worry for the world of my children.
The book’s central thesis is that the cause of society’s rejection of experts is multifactorial, and the willful ignorance of some portends adverse consequences for society as a whole. The book begins by clarifying what an expert is and then details (“How the Conversation Became Exhausting”) the psychological forces at play that animate and maintain misinformation. Here, the author makes his most unsettling revelation, based on former research: that those who are the least informed are actually the most confident that they are not ill-informed. In essence, this upgrades ‘being incompetent' to a ‘being incompetent with a zealous passion and a lack of self-scrutiny to curb your own fervor.’ Next, each chapter tackles a different factor that has contributed to the demise of expertise: higher education, instant access to information on the Internet and the explosion of niche-focused journalism. The book devotes one chapter to detail what to do and what happens when the experts are wrong. In its final pages, The Death of Expertise guides readers to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?”
As an expert (M.D.) I frequently found myself nodding in agreement as the author makes a clear case for why people trust themselves, however misinformed they may be. I would go as far to say that any expert would derive the most benefit from The Death of Expertise because it so neatly clarifies why your expertise is often minimized or overlooked. Sadly, the book ends without a clear resolve and instead predicts an exacerbation of the current dilemma.
I gave this book 3.75 stars for two reasons. (And yes, after reading this book I must first admit that I am a not a book review expert and am critiquing a published author). (1) At times, the book sneaks into a style of writing that reads like a frustrated man going on a rant. This is particularly evident in chapter titled, “Higher Education” that describes the many institutional variables that encourage over-protected and entitled college students to treat their professors more like a McDonalds drive-thru teller than a distinguished professor. In such digressions, the book reads like one man’s subjective commentary on society-at-large and thus carries less objective weight. (2) The book has solid points which are surrounded by lots of “fluff.” Indeed, this book began as an essay and a lot of material within the chapters is repetitive and draws out the point.
Ultimately this is a book worth reading because it encourages everyone to take responsibility for themselves, what they think, and why they think that way. After all, an engaged, well-informed population is integral to the functioning of a democracy. The Death of Expertise also compels people to gain an education on what matters most to them. Certainly, this is something experts and laypeople alike can agree on.
Top reviews from other countries
This book gives the context for this growth in simplistic thinking by presenting a series of examples which outline where the lack of scrutiny and the tendency to give equal weighting to unfounded opinion has entered our daily conversation.
Nichols refers to changes in the media over the last century. The growth in talk radio and the proliferation of cable TV channels and to changes in how news is delivered. How news has changed from scheduled, bulletin based news, to 24 hour rolling news, where once there would have been expert opinion. Now there is a huge amount of airtime available, people are engaged to speak who are experts in completely different fields, or not experienced in the topic area at all, with the result being that those without the skills to identify this shoddy thinking are taken along for the ride. Journalistic scrutiny is an area which is not as well practised as it was formerly. Younger, busier, more inexperienced journalists are up against fast moving schedules with a need to fill air-time with a result that the quality of their analysis is diminished or critical thinking is non-existent. Opinion is given equal weighting to that of expert analysis, something you will recognise in the UK if you listen to national talk radio where a climate change denier can be given equal credibility to that of the weight of the full scientific community, and the focus appears to be not on the disparity of the evidence between the two positions but that there is some sort of debate to be had where there should in reality be none due to the claims being demonstrably and well know to be false.
The education system, particularly that of the US, also has a part to play. It isn’t that people are not educated, but that the quality of that education has been altered to meet the expectations of those paying for a ‘consumer experience’ rather than to be challenged in their belief systems. The prevailing attitude is becoming one of ‘the customer is always right’ and the outcome of that is that gaining a degree now bears more resemblance to training than education, two distinctly different concepts. An education system where critical thinking is no longer a core element of the curriculum can not be counted as being fit for purpose.
Experts are also not spared from having some responsibility, however the part they play is a much more subtle one and is in part a reflection of the difficulty in expressing complexity to an audience that isn’t just ignorant of that complexity but is wilfully ignorant in the face of evidence to the contrary. Nichols makes reference to Dunning-Kruger, and the veracity of that effect can easily be witnessed on the internet, book reviews are often a give-away, although hopefully not this one…
The greatest influence of all is the internet and social media. These channels allow people to quickly find information which reinforces their way of thinking, there is no critical thought, just confirmation bias in an infinite feedback loop. Any information is skimmed, assumed to be absorbed, and makes instant experts of those that have less depth of knowledge than a tea stain on the cover of a mathematical textbook.
An interesting and ultimately depressing read. Although a brief skim of the internet suggests to me that there may have been moments like this throughout the entirety of history, fingers crossed hey, it’s common sense…