252 pages, no illustrations
In recent years, a cult of anti-expertise has engulfed America. While the United States has long been prone to bouts of anti-intellectualism, because of far-reaching technological and social transformations the current variant is of a different order. From the anti-vaccination movement to citizen blogging to uninformed attacks on GMOs, the nation has witnessed a surge in intellectual egalitarianism.
As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, there are a number of reasons why this has occurred, ranging from easy access to Internet search engines to a customer satisfaction model within higher education. The product of these interrelated trends, Nichols argues, is a pervasive distrust of expertise among the public along with an unfounded belief among non-experts that their opinions should have equal standing with those of the experts. The experts are not always right, of course – after all, the leaders who rushed headlong into the Vietnam War were the "best and the brightest".
Nichols discusses expert failure at length, but he makes the crucial point that bad decisions by experts can and have been effectively challenged by other experts. That is fine, he argues. The problem now is that the democratization of information dissemination has engendered an army of ill-informed citizens inveighing against expertise. When challenged, non-experts typically resort to the canard that the experts are often wrong. That may be true, but the solution is not to jettison expertise as an ideal; it is to improve our expertise. He is certainly not opposed to information democratization, but rather the leap to enlightenment that that millions of lightly educated people believe they make when the scour WebMD or Wikipedia. Nichols shows in vivid detail the ways in which this impulse is coursing through our culture and body politic, but his larger goal is to explain the benefits that expertise and rigorous learning regimes bestow upon all societies, not just the United States.
"Nichols expands his 2014 article published by The Federalist with a highly researched and impassioned book that's well timed for this post-election period [...] strongly researched textbook for laymen will have many political and news junkies nodding their heads in agreement."
– Publishers Weekly
"Tom Nichols is fighting a rear-guard action on behalf of those dangerous people who actually know what they are talking about. In a compelling, and often witty, polemic, he explores why experts are routinely disregarded and what might be done to get authoritative knowledge taken more seriously."
– Sir Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies, King's College London, and author of Strategy
"We live in a post-fact age, one that's dangerous for a whole host of reasons. Here is a book that not only acknowledges this reality, but takes it head on. Persuasive and well-written, The Death of Expertise is exactly the book needed for our times."
– Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group
"Americans are indifferent to real journalism in forming their opinions, hoaxes prove harder to kill than a slasher-flick monster, and the word 'academic' is often hurled like a nasty epithet. Tom Nichols has put his finger on what binds these trends together: positive hostility to established knowledge. The Death of Expertise is trying to turn back this tide."
– Dan Murphy, former Middle East and Southeast Asia Bureau Chief, The Christian Science Monitor
"Tom Nichols has written a brilliant, timely, and very original book. He shows how the digital revolution, social media, and the internet have helped to foster a cult of ignorance. Nichols makes a compelling case for reason and rationality in our public and political discourse."
– Robert J. Lieber, Georgetown University, and author of Retreat and Its Consequences
"Tom Nichols does a breathtakingly detailed job in scrutinizing the American consumer's refutation of traditional expertize. In the era of escapism and denial, he offers a refreshing and timely book on how we balance our skepticism with trust going forward."
– Salena Zito, national political reporter for The Washington Examiner, CNN, The New York Post, and RealClearPolitics
"Timely [...] useful [...] in providing an overview of just how we arrived at this distressing state of affairs."
– New York Times
"This may sound like a rant you have heard before, but Nichols has a sense of humour and chooses his examples well. His anger is a lot more attractive than the standard condescension."
– Financial Times
"A genial guide through the wilderness of ignorance."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Nichols is a forceful and sometimes mordant commentator, with an eye for the apt analogy."
– Inside Higher Education
Introduction - A Nation of Explainers
Chapter One - Higher Education: The Customer is Always Right
Chapter Two - Let me Google That for You: The Impact of the Internet
Chapter Three - History is Bunk, and So is Science: How Conversation Became Exhausting
Chapter Four - The New Journalism - and New Journalists
Chapter Five - Don't Blame Us: Why Expertise and Policy Aren't the Same Thing
Chapter Six - When the Experts are Wrong
Conclusion - Democracy, Expertise, and Citizenship
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Tom Nichols is Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College, an adjunct professor at the Harvard Extension School, and a former aide in the U.S. Senate. He is also the author of several works on foreign policy and international security affairs, including The Sacred Cause, No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security, Eve of Destruction: The Coming Age of Preventive War, and The Russian Presidency.