The Death of Expertise ~ A Book Review

“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.” With that claim, Tom Nichols defines the tone of a very bold book, The Death of Expertise. Such a book invites both fascination and scrutiny all the while compelling a deeper discussion about a social phenomenon within our culture. Perhaps this is a discussion that should be had.
Nichols sees an enlarging gap between experts and laypeople to the point that it is creating unnecessary problems within our society. Thus the task at hand is one that seeks to bridge the gap and establish some understanding in order to minimize the growing conflicts between experts and laypeople. The result is a six-chapter book that guides readers through an interesting aspect of a progressive society. After laying out the current issues and author’s convictions, he systematically discusses varying factors that contribute to a society who no longer has a need for experts (or a society in which everyone has become the expert themselves) including higher education, technology, journalism. With some quick thoughts about when experts are wrong, Nichols wraps the book up with some conclusions that force consideration and contemplation about the issue.
The author makes some bold claims through the book that are certain to challenge the trending mindsets of the majority of people these days. Claims such as the internet are making people stupider instead of smarter and that society now considers the acquisition of knowledge the end point, not the beginning education. Some of his claims will find wide acceptance while others will be met with wide skepticism. Interestingly, after reading this particular book, personally I don’t think the most important thing is whether or not the author is right or wrong, but instead, find it important that we give due consideration to some of his premises. He offers intriguing insight and descriptions into our culture that forces us to consider society from a different lens that is often overlooked.
It’s fascinating that the author makes a claim that so many people are acquiring knowledge and deem themselves sufficiently versed in an area to offer their own viewpoint with no need of experts, and yet from what I can gather about the author’s own background, his area of expertise is not released the field of study in this book. I place little emphasis on this though, because first, there may be more to his background than as a professor and worked in the realm of international relations. Second, his premises set forth are worthy of attention to at least some level of consideration because they uniquely address circumstances that are not often brought up by others.
With that said, there are some areas that are a bit more troublesome. First, is the book’s lack of attention to the notion of public trust in ‘experts.’ The author rightly discusses the notion that sometimes experts are wrong. We get that. People are fallible and make mistakes. However, he fails to pay attention to the fact that many people do not feel that experts are trustworthy these days because they are constantly being misled due to unconsidered bias and untempered intentions. Therefore the supposes rift and chasm that exists is not fully the consumers’ fault, but the result of a content misuse of the consumer’s trust.
Finally, while the book presents some interesting premises and perspectives, it does little to discuss root causes. Because those root causes are left behind, so are probably solutions. In reality, much of what the author brings to light is actually addressed by Scripture. Therefore, with a thoroughly defined biblical worldview, the problems and solutions to the issues set forth in The Death of Expertise actually find greater priority that the author misses because he fails to capture his biblical worldview.
It seems conflicting for someone like me who has little experience in this area to question one who claims to be the expert. Yet, I can assure you that while this author has many diagnoses, Scripture has the right prescriptions. So I would urge discernment in reading this book, and yet, I would also urge many people to read this book (something that I often wouldn’t do). In a case like this, I would often be discerning at my end by filtering who I promote the book to. However, right or wrong, and whether one agrees or not, the premises set forth here deserve sufficient contemplation, enough that I would urge many to take an opportunity to look it over, but do so remembering our Lord and His Word first and foremost.
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