the death of expertise

As we near the fourth quarter of the year, I began evaluating last year’s resolutions — how they’re shaping up, noting any ditched long ago, and how I might be motivated with three more months in the year. As noted, my previous, most prominent goal was simply to read more. And what a joy and growth opportunity it’s been. From “Called to Forgive” by Anthony B. Thompson — husband of Myra, who was gunned down by Dylan Roof in the 2015 AME church massacre — to Chad Veach’s “Help! I Work with People” — a fun, light-hearted, relational tool for leaders, learning how to steward influence wisely — to “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore our Nation” by Intramuralist fave, David French. Embracing neither a Democrat or Republican approach, French takes a logical yet sobering look  at how the two competing political narratives are significantly hurting us.

What’s wrong with us? Why has conversation become so hard? Why are we so seemingly, quickly, easily offended? Sometimes it seems we can’t even joke anymore.

Such has lead me to “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters,” by Thomas M. Nichols. Nichols, a professor of national security at U.S. Naval War College, examines our respect (or lack of it) for facts, how uninformed and expert opinions have become entangled with one another… how “policy debates sound increasingly like fights between groups of ill-informed people who all manage to be wrong at the same time”… how universities are part of the problem… how journalism is, too…

Note more of Nichols’ insight that prompts my attention…

“These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to learning anything.” 

“While expertise isn’t dead, however, it’s in trouble. Something is going terribly wrong. The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance.” 

“Learning new things requires patience and the ability to listen to other people. The Internet and social media, however, are making us less social and more confrontational. Online, as in life, people are clustering into small echo chambers, preferring only to talk to those with whom they already agree.”

“We are supposed to ‘agree to disagree,’ a phrase now used indiscriminately as little more than a conversational fire extinguisher. And if we insist that not everything is a matter of opinion, that some things are right and others are wrong … well, then we’re just being jerks, apparently.”

“Journalism is now sometimes as much a contributor to the death of expertise as it is a defense against it… This fusing of entertainment, news, punditry, and citizen participation is a chaotic mess that does not inform people so much as it creates the illusion of being informed…This morphing of news into entertainment stretches across every demographic.”

“The modern media, with so many options tailored to particular views, is a huge exercise in confirmation bias. This means that Americans are not just poorly informed, they’re misinformed.” 

“One of the most common errors experts make is to assume that because they are smarter than most people about certain things, they are smarter than everyone about everything… Entertainers are the worst offenders here… This creates bizarre situations in which experts in one field—entertainment—end up giving disquisitions on important questions in other fields…” 

“What is different today, and especially worrisome when it comes to the creation of educated citizens, is how the protective, swaddling environment of the modern university infantilizes students and thus dissolves their ability to conduct a logical and informed argument. When feelings matter more than rationality or facts, education is a doomed enterprise.” 

“College is supposed to be an uncomfortable experience.”

“At the root of all this is an inability among laypeople to understand that experts being wrong on occasion about certain issues is not the same thing as experts being wrong consistently on everything. The fact of the matter is that experts are more often right than wrong, especially on essential matters of fact. And yet the public constantly searches for the loopholes in expert knowledge that will allow them to disregard all expert advice they don’t like.”

“Americans no longer distinguish the phrase ‘you’re wrong’ from the phrase ‘you’re stupid.’

Looks like we have a little more to read this year…