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The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters
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The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  4,427 ratings  ·  707 reviews
The rise of the internet and other technology has made information more easily-accessible than ever before. While this has had the positive effect of equalizing access to knowledge, it also has lowered the bar on what depth of knowledge is required to consider oneself an "expert." A cult of anti-expertise sentiment has coincided with anti-intellectualism, resulting in mass ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 1st 2017 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published August 2016)
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Melora
Feb 28, 2017 rated it liked it
As Nichols would be quick to point out, I was likely to enjoy this book about “the death of expertise” (more accurately, “the death of the acknowledgment of and respect for expertise”) due to the fact that it fits with my existing beliefs. Tom Nichols' book, based on his astonishingly prescient 2014 article in “The Federalist,” is a jeremiad on the loss of respect for the opinions of experts and for facts themselves. He discusses at length the issues of confirmation bias, anti-intellectualism, p ...more
Emma Sea
Apr 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
This was disappointing. Nichols is pretty straight up: he blames "the public's own laziness" (p. 221) for the decline in esteem of expert opinion.

I was expecting a lot more interrogation of the corporatization of media and neoliberalism in general as a structure of disenfranchisement and disengagement. Instead Nichols calls Americans "childlike in their refusal to learn enough to govern themselves or to guide the policies that affect their lives" (p. 217), beset by a "toxic confluence of arroga
...more
Jim
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Marred by the author stepping out of his area of expertise and making causal and explanatory claims without proper data or argument on journalism, education, and philosophy of science.
Pavol Hardos
Our public debates lack intellectual rigor, our scientists no longer enjoy the respect of their authoritative position in a given field, common people ignore facts and asserts their know-nothing opinions as equally valuable. We are living, Nichols says, the age of the death of expertise. Paradoxically – and unfortunately – this book serves as the best argument for its main thesis.

Or maybe it could be read as a sort of elaborate test on the reader – are you capable of seeing through rhetoric & fa
...more
Jennifer
A thought-provoking, impassioned case for what makes trust in experts necessary to a healthy, functioning democracy (or republic, a distinction made in the final chapter). I wasn’t expecting too much from this, as I find a lot of the content in The Federalist to be utter tripe (and Nichols is a senior contributor there), but it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by a book (and a good reminder that you don’t need to agree with someone’s politics to find their book worthwhile). Nichols’s wri ...more
Becky
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
It should come as no surprise to many of you that I enjoyed this book. I read things like:
- You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself
- Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
among others, and enjoy them.

This is in a similar vein, and slightly less humorous in the approach than some of the others, but that's OK. Th
...more
Stephen
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"That's just like, your opinion, man" ~ The Dude Abides 1998 (The Big Lebowski)

Discussions of politics or matters of substance these days are exhausting, especially over social media. Polarity, discord, and maddening versions of "the truth" abound. As Cicero once said on Facebook, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, just not their own facts.

Dr. Nichols, Professor at the Naval War College, and 5 time Jeopardy champion, expands on his 2013 seminal namesake article. While there are numerous
...more
Richard Thompson
Aug 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book is a rant written by a jerk. That would not have been enough by itself to make me hate it. Nassim Taleb is a jerk, but he writes good books. The Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard is a bit of a jerk who writes novels as rants, yet I thoroughly enjoy his work. But I had two big problems with this book: 1. It passes off barely substantiated generalizations as expertise and established knowledge, and 2. it is guilty of some of the very sins that it decries, stating opinions as facts and fa ...more
Whitney
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Overall: I really wanted to like this book and though it covers many very important issues, it just fell a bit short for me. Very important topics, makes you think, but overall a bit preachy, negative, and I think it could have been better. Most of these topics have all been discussed elsewhere and there was not much new brought in to the discussion with this book. 6/10 or 3.5/5

Summary: I am going to summarize the entire book in the author’s words, the goal of this book is to examine “ the relat
...more
Saleh
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Disappointing to say the least. I am very interested in this particular issue and I expected to find answers. When I stumbled upon this book, without a second thought, I bought it and started reading immediately. I tried to avoid rating and commenting mainly because I expect once enough of those accumulate, two main populations will emerge, Nichols' laypeople and his experts, and I want to belong to neither one. I couldn't resist!

1- The final chapter is the only one that could arguable fall unde
...more
Steve Wiggins
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is sure to put some people off. With good reason, too. We've become accustomed to think of ourselves as experts on everything. We're all guilty of it from time to time. Nichols points out that he himself is not immune. Still, there is a serious crisis of authority in not only the United States (although the affliction is largely here) that says an opinion is as good as fact. "I think" becomes "that's the way it really is." Facts have to be qualified as real or alternative. And it's hap ...more
Lauren
“Laypeople complain about the rule of experts and they demand greater involvement in complicated national questions, but many of them only express their anger and make these demands after abdicating their own important role in the process: namely, to stay informed and politically literate enough to choose representatives who can act on their behalf.”

The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols is a timely survey of what's happening in the US (and arguably many other regions) in regards to rationality,
...more
Crystal Starr Light
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Bullet Review:

Absolutely brilliant, this book punches through to the heart of why Donald Trump was elected in 2016 and other inane beliefs such as why were having “debates” on vaccines and the flat earth movement.

Of course, this is probably confirmation bias, as I know I’m not as smart as many other people and defer often to their better knowledge. Wish more of my fellow Americans were like this.

Everyone needs to read this with a little bit of goddamn humility. Yes, it’s hard to hear that Trump
...more
Mehrsa
May 18, 2020 rated it liked it
If I read one more book that promises to be about something big, but then melts down into a rant about SJW college protestors. With all the problems in the world, is that one really the most important to some people?

I like the thesis of the book and I agree that there is a Dunning-Krueger effect writ large happening in our culture right now. The book made some great points, but it was super biased at points. One example, think of a linguist that has strayed far outside his area of expertise to
...more
J.
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
Very sloppy, especially considered it was published and edited by Oxford Press. The author is your average Political Science professor whose views on this subject have little more depth than a well researched article by the New Yorker. He quotes studies, reports and anecdotes that are old news to anyone even remotely interested in this issue.
Mitchell
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
In 2014, shortly after completing my PhD in Biomedical Sciences (specializing in vaccines and virology), an outbreak of Ebola occurred in Western Africa in some of the most densely populated cities on the continent which would last, to one degree or another, for two years as the world scrambled to respond to a virus which killed ~50% of the people it infected. During this time, especially at the beginning, there was a lot of fear and speculation about what would happen if the virus spread beyond ...more
Tony61
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
(Borrowed hard cover, library)

Short review: If you want to know about the measurement and limitations of expertise, read Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise or anything by Nassim Taleb, both of whom are mentioned and grossly misunderstood by Nichols.

Long review: Nichols subtitles the book “The campaign against established knowledge and why it matters”, which is appealing to anyone who considers themselves an expert at something. (And who doesn’t?) At first this seemed a bit gratuitous for an
...more
Simona
Aug 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
Another rant from a privileged academic who bemoans the fact that the real life consequences that people face when the "experts" engage in detached experimentation in economic, social and foreign policy has made them bitter and cynical of the so-called "experts". People are losing good paying jobs while experts in academia like Nichols enjoy no real effect of how their thesis and prediction fails in real world. The experts return with new justifications for their relevance again and again after ...more
Tonstant Weader
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Death of Expertise addresses one of the most dangerous trends in modern America, one that threatens to swamp our democracy and our future. The United States has always had an anti-elitist tradition, a distrust of authority, and a reverence for the common man. There is a malignant difference today. People are not just ignorant and wary of expertise, they are belligerently ignorant and actively hostile to expertise. Tom Nichols takes a look at this dangerous trend to describe how it manifests, ...more
Rachel
Disappointing.

I agree with the thesis, that the cultural loss of trust in "established knowledge" and the professionals who specialize in such knowledge for the sake of the broader society, is a significant problem. I was hoping for a book that would offer some realistic proposals to address this problem, or at least a cogent analysis of the situation, not a minimally researched extended rant from an old fogey elitist.

Nichols seems oblivious to both economic reality and his own privilege. Never
...more
Mara
Super uneven rating — there were 4-star sections, there were 1-star sections; definitely would be 2½, if that was a thing Goodreads allowed.

If you haven't read much else on the changing information landscape, cognitive biases, etc., you'll probably enjoy this more than I did. Nichols makes good points, just not enough to keep me riveted throughout.
Frank Theising
May 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, sociology
In The Death of Expertise, the author isn’t actually arguing that we are experiencing a death of expertise. Specialization and expertise are prerequisites to a complex economy/society (we no longer build our own houses, grow our own food, etc.). He is also not arguing that people are dumb(er) (although he goes off argument and reverts to this several times in the book). An ignorant polity isn’t new. Instead his argument is that there is a new “positive hostility” to established knowledge. People ...more
Book
The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols

“The Death of Expertise” is an intellectually stimulating book that looks at how a movement of ignorance has threatened our ability to rely on expertise. Professor Tom Nichols takes the reader on a journey that shows that not only have we dismissed expertise we are now proud of our own ignorance. This interesting 272-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Experts and Citizens, 2. How C
...more
Mike Robbins
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I liked this book. I have the odd reservation. But I think it’s important reading, especially at a time like this (I am writing in the depths of the Corona pandemic).

Tom Nichols is a lecturer in international and strategic affairs who taught for some years at two of America’s most exclusive institutions, Dartmouth College and later Georgetown University. He is now Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, a venerable institution in Newport, Rhode Island. He is a conse
...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Expertise used to carry a lot more weight in the past but in our egalitarian culture, the reputation of experts is now widely challenged. Some skepticism is a healthy thing of course but when experts are disrespected and knowledge and fact become a matter of opinion and everybody's opinion has equal weight and when wisdom and folly get equivalent megaphones, we are in trouble. Arguments appealing to authority are a fallacy often referred to by logicians but it is impossible for someone to be inf ...more
Jessica
Much like reading Stephen Pinker, my logical mind recognizes the validity of the argument while my gut says, "what a flaming asshole!"
Kris
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
In the beginning this felt very open and readable. Unfortunately it went downhill fast. This is one of those ideas that should have remained an article only, and didn’t need to be expanded into a book.

I agree with many of Nichols’s statements and I think some of his cause and effect explanations are true. He says that facts are more important than feelings — great. He talks about the Internet making our brains shallow (basically borrowing the analysis from The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doin
...more
Iset
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I think this is one of the most important books this year. Explains clearly why critical analysis is a key tool in being able to reason and, indeed, get anything done, and why failures of education are leaving the Western world sliding towards either disastrous mob rule ignorance or elite technocratic dictatorship. Well worth the read.
Erin
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Appreciated being reminded of the Dunning-Kruger effect but the insightfulness quickly abates only to be replaced by narcissistic baby boomer unexamined white male privilege whining about snowflake kids these days. Had to stop when the strings on my little violin snapped.
Lenny D
Aug 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
Terrible. Formally shoddy, intellectually bankrupt, curmudgeonly ranting. The Death of Expertise is an ugly look at just how narrow-minded a career in academia can make someone. Nichols, who does somehow come off as intelligent, has written an argument of monumental cluelessness that reveals far more about his own ego than about the state of “established knowledge.”

Reading this book is to suffer the extended grumble of a crotchety elitist who seems to hate most of what’s in the world. Nichols’ f
...more
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“if college graduates can no longer be counted on to lead reasoned debate and discussion in American life, and to know the difference between knowledge and feeling, then we’re indeed in the kind of deep trouble no expert can fix.” 7 likes
“At the root of all this is an inability among laypeople to understand that experts being wrong on occasion about certain issues is not the same thing as experts being wrong consistently on everything. The fact of the matter is that experts are more often right than wrong, especially on essential matters of fact. And yet the public constantly searches for the loopholes in expert knowledge that will allow them to disregard all expert advice they don’t like. In” 6 likes
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