THE DEATH OF EXPERTISE by TOM NICHOLS

3.75 of 5.0

 

The bottom line: A timely and biting examination of a culture where the inept self triumphs over the competent other.

 

 

You are an expert. You are competent, knowledgeable, and have the experience and training as proof. But, people still treat you like (for example) a ‘medical valet,’ an ‘education valet’ or a ‘science valet.’ And, non-experts seem to have an unshakeable bravado in their witlessness. Why is this? The Death of Expertise explains in unfiltered terms.

Ultimately, this book will be treasured by experts seeking clarity on why the world has gone mad. It will be demonized by the delicate who think fervent volume can vanquish logic and substance (hint: it doesn’t).

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.

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

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