February 3rd, 2020

Book 14 - 2018

Book 14: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols - 248 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement.

Nichols has deeper concerns than the current rejection of expertise and learning, noting that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both. The Death of Expertise is not only an exploration of a dangerous phenomenon but also a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age.

This book is probably more a 3.5/5 than a 4/5, but because I applaud what Nichols is attempting to do here, I'm going higher not lower. The world is more educated and has more access to knowledge than in any other time, and yet we seen to be getting dumber? Why? Nichols attempts to answer this question, though he doesn't offer enough of a resolution to these problems to really nail it. Universities acting like daycare centres, internet misinformation, media bias towards experts getting it wrong, and the population's general laziness are contributing factors, and I agree with Nichols' general argument. My main gripes are the US-centric focus (though I understand why, it annoys the shit out of me primarily from the 'America is unique and special' theme that sits at its core - I love you America but get over yourself!), and the fact that this book actually potentially runs into its own argument - Nichols is not an expert per se on this field, and thus kind of undermines his own argument though he does it in a more academically sound manner. I did however very much appreciate the point he made about the true definition of democracy - that it represents an equal vote, not equality of opinion. That is a distinction completely lost in today's world, and one that I believe is super important! If this is the one message you take to heart from this book, then we are already making headway on the issue!

14 / 50 books. 28% done!

4460 / 15000 pages. 30% done!

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