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The Death of Expertise

The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters

By Tom Nichols
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The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols

The Death of Expertise (2017) examines the current attacks on science and knowledge that seem to be on the rise in our current technological and political environment. What has happened to objective truths being the truth and facts being indisputable? Why is science now a matter of political partisanship? Find out what’s really going on and why this is one of the most important issues of our day.

Key idea 1 of 7

Although disagreements about expertise are nothing new, they have been increasing in the internet age.

In the past, you could expect some misinformation coming from the tobacco or sugar industries, who were always ready to tell you how harmless their products were. But these days, it’s becoming harder to keep track of what’s real and what’s bogus.

Generally speaking, being able to challenge a government’s official message has always been a sign of a healthy democracy. In the cradle of democracy, ancient Athens around the fifth century BC, the general populace was heavily involved in discussions about social and political developments.

And even back then, there were the same two opposing sides we continue to see today: the intellectuals who believe most people are buffoons, and the laypeople who have a distrust for anyone claiming to be an expert.

But things changed dramatically once the internet arrived in our homes, and the conflict between experts and laypeople has gotten wildly out of hand.

The internet makes it possible to find a source to support any opinion under the sun, no matter how outrageously unscientific it might be, and it also has people feeling more empowered than ever to voice their opinions.

Once people start ganging up and attacking established knowledge, years of scientific progress are endangered and people’s lives can be put at risk.

This is certainly the case with the anti-vaccine movement. Despite consistent research and an overwhelming majority of doctors and scientists insisting that vaccines are safe and essential for protecting children against disease, a dangerous myth caught on with the public. Now, many people truly believe vaccines are harmful and can even cause autism.

What’s worse is that these movements can pick up celebrity endorsements, as was the case with Jim Carrey, who used his celebrity status to promote this misinformation. Thousands of parents are now putting their children and others at risk by refusing to vaccinate their children.

People who reject expert advice often use the logic that experts have been proven wrong in the past and can be wrong again. This is true, but it’s also true that science has gotten more exact and experienced experts are less likely to be wrong than ordinary citizens and movie stars, especially when it comes to their area of expertise.

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