Excellent article: The Death of Expertise

May 14th, 2016

If you’ve read the comments section on news articles, or online ‘debates’ you would have seen how increasingly vitriolic and hard-lined they have become. I used to love reading them but now find them frustrating, sad, annoying and really not a pleasant experience at all. In 2016 we’ve seen a global shift in political debates to pillory intellectualism as elitism. Increasingly in public participation I see “pseudo intellectuals”, “leftists” and (amusingly) “pseudo leftists” thrown around as insults to dismiss any opposing opinions and denigrate the people who hold them.

This article “The Death of Expertise” by Tom Nichols really resonated with me. Written in 2014 but still so relevant today. It is a little long but really worth reading. It has particular relevance for Stakeholder Engagement Practitioners.

A few quotes from the article:

“Having equal rights does not mean that…’everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone elses’s'”

“I like the 21st century, and I like the democratization of knowledge and the wider circle of public participation. That greater participation, however, is endangered by the utterly illogical insistence that every opinion should have equal weight, because people like me, sooner or later, are forced to tune out people who insist that we’re all starting from intellectual scratch….And if that happens, experts will go back to only talking to each other, And that’s bad for democracy,”

“the globalisation of communication….means that anyone can post anything they want, under any anonymous cover, and never have to defend their views or get called out for being wrong.”

“Personally I don’t think technocrats and intellectuals should rule the world: we had quite enough of that in the late 20th century…..in an ideal world, experts are the servants, not the masters, of a democracy



Nichols concludes his article with a check list of points. Three of them seem particularly relevant to stakeholder engagement practitioners:

  1. We can all stipulate that the expert isn’t always right (but an expert is far more likely to be right)
  2. Education plus experience is what makes a true expert
  3. “In any discussion, you have a positive obligation to learn at least enough to make the conversation possible. The University of Google doesn’t count. Remember: having a strong opinion about something isn’t the same as knowing something”