The suicide of expertise: Glenn Reynolds

According to Foreign Affairs magazine, Americans reject the advice of experts so as “to insulate their fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong.” That’s in support of a book by Tom Nichols called The Death of Expertise, which essentially advances that thesis.

Well, it’s certainly true that the “experts” don’t have the kind of authority that they possessed in the decade or two following World War II. Back then, the experts had given us vaccines, antibiotics, jet airplanes, nuclear power and space flight. The idea that they might really know best seemed pretty plausible.

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  • deplorabledave

    The author is a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion, and as one of the all-time top players of the game, he was invited back to play in the 2005 Ultimate Tournament of Champions

    Your kidding right?

  • dance…dancetotheradio

    Expertise must be able to withstand scrutiny.
    And many times these days it does not or will not.
    David Suzuki, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Al Gore are experts.
    Except that they aren’t experts in the fields they claim to be experts in.
    And they take great lengths to avoid being scrutinized.

    • Art Deco

      Al Gore is not an expert, but an advocate. Bill Nye was a perfectly rank-and-file engineer employed by Boeing. He
      has no research degree and hasn’t been a working engineer in over 20
      years.

      Neil deGrasse Tyson can say whatever he wants. He just should not expect much deference when he isn’t talking astrophysics. Ditto David Suzuki re any subject other than biology.

  • Frances

    The problem is that, to be blunt, too many “experts” are only expert at rent-seeking and feathering their own nests.

  • Tooth&Claw

    Expert = a drip under pressure.

  • Art Deco

    The problem is multifold. One is that there is no ‘expertise’ you can apply in answering normative questions, the pretension of certain experts notwithstanding. The mental health trade is the worst in this regard. Another is that some experts are con men. Two sorts come to mind: peddlers of ‘constitutional law’ and peddlers of art criticism. Another is incorporated into the following observation: what is the function of intellectuals, but to tell us things are not as ordinary people perceive them. Much unconventional thinking is a consequence of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion (see books and articles which commence with “The Myth of…”). Another is the manufacture of academic pseudodisciplines (e.g. women’s studies) and professional pseudo-training (of which the teachers’ colleges, the schools of social work, and the schools of library administration provide the richest vein of examples). Another is the decay of select academic disciplines into apologetical enterprises (see what’s happened to much of sociology). The word-merchant class is self-discredited, by and large.

  • Art Deco

    Here’s a question. William Bratton and Rudolph Giuliani were fantastically successful (with some assistance from the state government) at restoring a modicum of order in New York. How many academic sociologists specializing in the study of crime would have recommended they do what they did? How many have found the experience of New York at all interesting bar as a point of departure for a dubious debunking exercise?

  • Clausewitz

    Many of the “Experts” I have come across in education, and in business are only Theoreticians, and have no foundation in the practical world.

  • Norman_In_New_York

    Said President Truman, “An expert is someone who is afraid of anything new, because then he wouldn’t be an expert anymore.”