• The Death of Expertise

  • The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters
  • By: Tom Nichols
  • Narrated by: Sean Pratt
  • Length: 8 hrs and 40 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (1,477 ratings)

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The Death of Expertise

By: Tom Nichols
Narrated by: Sean Pratt
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Publisher's summary

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 and all voices demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism. Tom Nichols shows 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 notes 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.

©2017 Oxford University Press (P)2017 Tantor

Critic reviews

"A sharp analysis of an increasingly pressing problem." ( Kirkus)

What listeners say about The Death of Expertise

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Disappointing

Any additional comments?

Seeing the other reviews, I realize I am in a very small minority in stating that overall, I was disappointed in this audio book. I had read some good (though brief) reviews, but the book seemed to meander and deviate from what its title indicated the subject would be. I thought too much time was spent discussing the failings of colleges and universities. The Introduction and Conclusion parts of the book were good, as was the chapter on “The ‘New’ New Journalism.” I did like the author’s writing, and his use of words and conveying his thoughts were well done. However, the substance of what he said was often unimpressive, and I was somewhat put off by the author’s occasional flashes of a fondness for elitism (though he was referring to “good elitism” rather than the “bad elitism” as is typically viewed for an egalitarian society).

If the audio book had been condensed to 90 minutes from its over 8-hour length, hitting the high points, it would have been a worthwhile listen for me, since the author did have some good observations. What helped me finish the audio book was the superb reading by Sean Pratt. He was one of the best narrators to whom I have listened.

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27 people found this helpful

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There couldn't be a better book at this time.

I learned of Tom Nichols when I first started using Twitter last year. He was funny, sharply critical of foolishness, and to my surprise, an avowed conservative. What struck me most about his tweets, and profoundly moved me in his book, is his well-reasoned insistence that we the people, who have so much to lose by living a life of indifference or studied ignorance, have access to resources that can address and often solve our greatest problems. We need only listen, carefully but critically, to those with expertise. He does not espouse blind allegiance to a greater education or heap disdain on those whose expertise is born of painful errors or years of tedious, mindane work. It is well-balanced book that simply requests that we be responsible for our own lives, and respect the skills and experience of those whose specialized knowledge can help us as individuals and as a society.

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The Opposite of What I Expected

I expected a book on why the effectiveness of “expertise” is dwindling. Instead I was bombarded by pseudo-intellectual groupthink on why the public is stupid, academics are experts and we should submit to their expertise blindly.

While the majority of academia strays further and further from rigorous critiquing and closer to groupthinking echo chambers, the author in essence asks ‘why doesn’t the average person follow the guidance of the ivory tower?’ If an expert is not accountable to the public/reality, and is only accountable to his peers, books like this are published.

Education (especially among the humanities, history, social sciences) is decentralizing and well-meaning but misguided “Experts” wonder why the public doesn’t think they have all the answers.

Production was fine, the author had a fine speaking voice. Otherwise avoid unless you’re looking to fluff your confirmation bias on the value of anointed experts.

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Buy a Copy for your Congressman!!

This is probably one of the most important books to be written in the last decade. And yet, the people that SHOULD read it, NEVER WILL!!!

And such is the conundrum we are in as a society. The idiots that think that science and facts should be spelled "science" and "facts", complete with smug little air quotes and all, will NEVER, EVER read this book. And why would they? It would utterly destroy their precious little fantasy world, where their opinion on particle physics is just as good as the particle physicist, or, much more disturbingly, that their lone opinion on climate change is equally as accurate as a consensus of climate change scientists.

It disgusts me that this book even needed to be written, but thank the Greek Gods that it was!! This is a truly revolutionary read, and in a perfect society it would be mandatory reading for all politicians and children.

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Meh - not terribly insightful

Pretty much boilerplate material on expertise and the USA’s reception to it. Also does not challenge the experts as much as I think is appropriate (but does do so a bit). Nasim Taleb has a much more interesting and opposing take on expertise. This book does offer a bit of interesting material when it gets into critiquing academia. Overall doesn’t provide much more beyond saying “these people need to recognize we’re right”.

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An extremely important book for our time

This book is more important than ever! It covers how expertise is dying at the hands of too much information and the laziness of the average American to get the real facts. The author covers the domains of higher education, journalism, politics, and our democracy as a whole and discusses how people's need for quick snippets rather than delving deeper is costing us a great deal. A scary tome for our future, but understanding the problem is the first step to fixing it. READ THIS BOOK!!

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Interesting but not compelling

I thought the Future of Professions was better at explaining what Mr. Nichols complains about. I tried to separate his anecdotes about [snowflake] students correcting professors from actual data on the relationships between students and professors. I think I missed the scientific data he used to prove some of his points. I found myself waiting for the evidence after a story about how more people are being influenced by non-experts than by experts or how it actually matters. He uses social media as the prominent examples, but as he pointed out this is availability heuristic and not actual statistics at work. I think he missed the centuries of mass miss information propagated by the Church or other mythology based religions. People want to believe in something and they will - town idiots will have their platform and some will listen: maybe even the majority of people. The author would like to believe idiots are winning - I am waiting for the evidence - in a lot of cases the idiots have always been in charge (e.g. organized religion or deity based civilizations)

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A Lot of Complaining...not much expertise.

I feel like most of what the author writes about here resonates with me. Unfortunately however, the book provides little quantitative evidence that any of it is really true or actually poses any real large scale problem for America or anywhere else. Ultimately the book failed to convince me that an overall “death of expertise” has occurred or is occurring now. The author posits no data to suggest that the overwhelming majority of people are not trusting experts like their doctors, attorneys, financial advisors, auto mechanics, etc regularly. Moreover the anecdotal evidence the author posits is exceedingly limited. He cites examples of small groups who have rejected the consensus of experts on certain finite issues (anti-vaxers, raw milk consumers) and otherwise laments poor political decisions (the vote for Brexit, the election of Trump) without much analysis as to how these limited decisions constitute a more general rejection of expertise. The overall effect is that the tone of the book comes off as the ranting of an old arrogant college professor who is upset that these kids today don’t give him and his ilk the proper respect their credentials should command. I fear Sean Pratt’s narration only exacerbates this effect. But, this should not be held against Pratt. He’s a great narrator who I liked on many other books. Probably the wrong choice for this one. In summary, I feel like the author here should have taken some of his own advice and stayed in his own lane—Russia and Soviet politics. He just doesn’t have the background nor the data to make a compelling argument here despite the distinct intuitive appeal of many of his points.

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Okay Boomer

It's a book about how we shouldn't speak on or criticize subjects we arent knowledgeable or expert in by a guy who is not an expert on most of the subjects he is writing about.

Also made me feel like saying "okay boomer" regularly.

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Nichols appears to lacks awareness of his own position in his argument

Nichols fails to acknowledge that he is from the generation that got inexpensive bachelors degrees and could still get tenure. I got my BA in Political Science and Philosophy at Reed College in 1990 (full scholarships due to financial need—-gotta mix in some poor kids for diversity). Then I went to a PhD program at Johns Hopkins. One and 1/2 years into my second year rumors of hiring freezes and “the death of tenure” were circulating furiously so I looked into the demographics of the situation. My advisor, under pressure leveled with me. So I took the perfunctory Masters and let go of the dream of teaching and living immersed in a public and academic dialogue about civic political discourse. My heart was broken. You can write me off as having quit my graduate program for another reason and that I’m really just stupid. I am a psychiatrist now and I love my work. All of this cocksure certainty of the boomers is going to fall squarely on my Gen-X and the millennials as we struggle to pay for their platinum social security and Medicare which the CBO has determined which both be bankrupt in 2034. What will the Boomers have left behind? Better infrastructure? No. A vigorous, well funded university system? No. Nichols is the cat that swallowed the canary and is now asking the canaries why they aren’t better behaved (that is a problem) and continually reminding the canaries that we aren’t equal to him. No, we aren’t because we weren’t all born at 3rd base sliding into home thinking what losers all those people back in the locker room who are still trying to figure out the code to the locker. Although the author Cannon Gibney used the word instantiate way too many times, I recommend his book The Sociopathic Generation: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America. Lastly, Nichols writing style implies that he thinks his readers are stupid. I had high hopes for the book. It’s funny that he mentions the Dunning-Krueger effect because I think he suffers from it. Otherwise, if you’re going to talk down to your reader from his Trumpian “I’m a really really really smart guy” perch you shouldn’t tip your hand quite so obviously. I’m just not that impressed. All of my Reed professors’ books were better than this.

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