The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters
In “The Death of Expertise,” author Tom Nichols describes the relationship between experts and citizens in a democracy, why that relationship is collapsing, and what we might do about it.
“Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”
The book is a motivating read – and slightly depressing. Nichols describes a wave of anti-rationalism that has been accelerating across America for years, manifested in the growing ascendance of emotion over reason in public debates, the blurring of lines among facts, opinions and lies, and denialism in the face of scientific findings about climate change and vaccination. Citizens of all political persuasions increasingly live in their own news media bubbles, consuming only views similar to their own. When confronted with hard evidence that they are wrong, many simply double down on their original assertions. As a result, extreme views are amplified online, just as fake news and propaganda easily go viral.
These and other factors have combined to create a whirlwind of unreason that’s not just killing respect for expertise, but also undermining institutions, preventing rational debate and spreading an epidemic of misinformation. These developments threaten to weaken the very foundations of our democracy.
I must confess that I wanted to like this book from the moment I read the title – and I did. It encourages everyone to take responsibility for themselves, what they think, and why. 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.