Title: "The Death of Expertise"

Author: Tom Nichols

Publisher: Oxford University Press

The author is a professor of national security at the U.S. Naval War College and an expert in foreign policy and national security. He is frustrated with the current national condition and laments: “The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor.” With this book, he aims to “bridge the rift” between experts and lay people. He fears the rift threatens the survival of our democracy.

Tom Nichols asserts elected officials need to draw on the knowledge of experts. They are "people who know considerably more on a subject than the rest of us and are those to whom we turn when we need advice.

“One of the most common errors experts make is to assume that because they are smarter than most people about certain things, they are smarter than everyone about everything.”

Nichols skewers celebrities that opine on health issues, such as the efficacy of vaccines or give Congress advice on farm policy because they portrayed farm wives in the movies.

He scolds colleges for becoming customer service agencies seeing them as “driven to compete for teenagers and their loan dollars.”

Colleges now promise "an experience rather than an education.”

Incoming students are often not qualified to be in college. Yet colleges accept them for their tuition dollars. Their college experience fails to teach them to be critical thinkers.

"Students come out with a toxic combination of insecurity and arrogance.”

To add insult, he describes professors as becoming “dancing bears,” in seeking favorable student ratings. He faults parents for failing to confront children with failure. If a student is given a low grade, the professor is blamed, not the student.

“Students may not be dumber than they used to be but their sense of entitlement is much greater.”

Social media also are offenders.

“The internet lets a billion flowers bloom and most of them stink.”

Email and texting lead to an informality of communication between teachers and students. It erodes respect for experts.

“Students that have spent four years disrespecting their professors cannot be expected to respect their fellow citizens.”

He favors a more traditional college system, as ”students are too often wasting their money and obtaining the illusion of an education by gravitating toward courses or majors that either shouldn’t exist or … (should) be restricted to the … students who intend to pursue them seriously and with rigor.”

Regarding the national condition today, Nichols states: “Not only do people know less about the real world around them, they are less interested in it, despite the availability of more information than ever before.”

To compound things, many young people turn to sources, such as “The Daily Show,” for their news. Nichols criticizes journalists for being lazy, and he cites presidential aide Ben Rhodes bragging how he fed information to journalists to create “an echo chamber … they were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” Further, Nichols thinks "the line between journalism and entertainment is intentionally obscured to drive ratings and clicks.”

He finds Americans distrustful of the media and sees this as symptomatic of a larger malady: “Americans increasingly don’t trust anyone anymore. They view all institutions, including the media, with distain.”

In the end, he urges American citizens to become informed and responsible. As a republic, the government needs the knowledge of experts. Experts require trust, but also need to be humble and remember that they are the servants of the people.

Hal Hase is a retired psychologist. He practiced for 35 years locally. He once wrote for his college newspaper and has resumed that hobby. He and his wife enjoy family, friends and their grandchildren.

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