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How America Lost Faith in Expertise and Why That's a Giant Problem (foreignaffairs.com)
40 points by sarahfaulkner 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments
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Part of the problem is that experts in a particular field will get on social media, build a huge following based on their expertise, then spout really uninformed (but authoritative sounding) opinions about fields they are not experts in. Eventually people lose faith in anything they say.

Tech experts, celebrities... do not have more informed opinions about politics (for example) than the average person on the street, yet they’ll jump head first into divisive political arguments that then alienate half their audience who may have had something to learn from a field they actually know about.

I know I trust people who demonstrate the maturity to not do this more than people who let their emotions/desire for attention drive what they say publicly.


Well said.

Ben Carson during last election demonstrated this clearly, top in his medical field, but was not well informed on matters of politics and economics. Even though he is the head of HUD now, at least he seemed humble enough to know his limits at the time.


Not a good example. Ben Carson ran for president himself.

Yes, as I stated, but then realized he was above his level and dropped out.

He realized nobody was going to vote for him and dropped out. Why, out of all possible examples, would you choose someone organizing a campaign and running for president and then dropping out when their polls were low as an example of intellectual humility? I'd say literally every doctor who doesn't choose to run for president is a better example.

Can't help but think it goes way beyond "faith in expertise".

When I first heard the phrase "Post-truth politics" I thought that's ridiculous. But lately I'm thinking we're entering a post truth era in multiple areas of life.

Take for example finance. It's all just numbers in computers. Or notions of privacy in the digital world. Or identity in general.

Lies, artificial constructs and smoke & mirrors everywhere. And more importantly I'm no longer confident I can cut through the jungle even as - what I like to believe - a rather rational person.


"people who thought Ukraine was located in Latin America or Australia were the most enthusiastic about using military force there"

How does that happen? I can see a shoddily educated person mixing it up with a neighboring country, but to not even realize that it's in Eastern Europe?

I can't remember seeing a poll presented in this format, but it'd be interesting to see results for any political question presented as a graph against a score in a relevant knowledge test.


Not surprising and completely believable. Anecdotal, but the nightly news had a segment where they went into an inner city highschool and none of the students knew Poland was a real country.

> none of the students knew Poland was a real country.

The punchline is that Russians and Germans still don't believe that. :)


I'm even more impressed they would think it's in Australia. I can see not having any idea where it would be but to believe it's inside a relatively famous and we'll known country?

Two things that I think are true:

1. Ordinary people reject expertise in ways that are incredibly stupid and harmful 2. Experts have expanded the scope of what they feel entitled to have opinions about well beyond their training and experience

> “Stitch this cut in my leg, but don’t lecture me about my diet.”

> “Help me beat this tax problem, but don’t remind me that I should have a will.”

Whether to change your diet, whether to have a will or not - these are value judgments. They tell me about how I ought to live, that I should prefer one thing over another. Tax attorneys and doctors have no special training in making value judgments. This isn't very different from a financial planner telling you to retire in Arizona because there are a lot of golf courses, and he personally likes to play golf.


Ignoring evidence is the new cultural norm. I have had American employees flat out reject findings even though there was empirical evidence backing up those findings Their retort: "nuh uh"

This was at a FAANG mind you.

Something is definitely wrong, and it's only going to get worse.

Though perhaps cognitive dissonance has always been a major problem, and it is now so much more evident in the information age.


What an elitest pile of stinky!

Woe is me, the expert, because all the non-experts don't trust me. Rather than address why that is, the elitest expert condemns the non-elitest commoners and worries that it portends the end of, or at least a "giant problem" for, (elitest-controlled) society.

Trust us you must, he argues, because you know too little to make decisions for yourselves.

Has he ever stopped to consider how juries operate without "experts"? Or basic infantry platoons, or thousands of small businesses, or small towns - none of which operate on the basis of experts/expertise?


Is it a new problem? Last night, I had a look at George Kennan's memoirs 1950-1963. He discussed the congressional move to remove most-favored-nation status from Yugoslavia at the time he was ambassador there. He laid out cogent arguments against it. The congressman Wilbur Mills, who had never been out of the US, ignored him, as did all the senators and congressmen he spoke with.

In general, Kennan gave a picture, not only with regard to Yugoslavia, of congressional policies based on home-state politics.


I think part of this is many of the "experts" people see on TV are not experts at all, they're ideolouges or idiots (and sometimes both).

You can be both of those and still be an expert

Modern expertise is deep and narrow; increasing the difficulty of aggregation and reconciliation of findings.

Those nuanced and complex findings must then be disseminated to a population with no attention span; meanwhile the competition is motivated to publish a dumbed-down (wrong) version faster than you in order to capitalize on sensationalism and pull in ad revenue.


Another thing that people do is to "see" patterns in random data, and perceive "trends" from anecdotal experience that aren't necessarily happening.

America never had faith in expertise, that's just your younger self being blessedly unaware of people around you.


Let’s look at the silver lining. People are getting more educated by their own means using the internet. Although hardly as reliable as experts, some data is better than none.

Or put yourself in today’s uneducated’s shoes. If today’s values honour dishonesty and profit making over truth(just look at social media and google results), why would I, as the weak uninformed, trust in the strong, elite expert? It is a distrust in today’s society values, that is the real problem.


In other words, I don’t care how smart or talented you are if you are going lie and screw me over with it.

Are they getting informed or misinformed? I can easily find 1000 articles and documentaries that "prove" 9/11 was either a hoax or an inside job. Many of them are well written and tell a compelling story if you have never heard the counter evidence.

Interested in the reality of climate change? You could end up at polar opposite conclusions with plenty of support for your position depending where you search (and what your own personality steers towards believing).




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