Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Death Of Expertise (thefederalist.com)
190 points by ot on Jan 18, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 159 comments



I think what the author misses is the large institutional structure that restricts the supply of experts and (as a result) enhances their prestige. These days, with the growing availability of technical information, existing systems of licensure, credentialing, and professionalization are breeding resentment on both sides of the lectern.

The author's focus in the article is on the layman's resentment for the expert. While most people would agree that experts are better qualified to talk about something than Joe Blogger, I think the urge to disagree with the expert is engendered by the larger power structure of expertise that has grown up over the past 100 years.

To take a trivial example, I wear contact lenses. While I agree that an optometrist knows a lot more about vision correction than I do, I resent the fact that I have to pay a lot of money to sit in a chair in a dark room and wait for The Expert to deliver his Opinion about whether I need the -4.5's or -5's.

The author of the article feels like he is the victim of resentment at the hands of his students (references to "intellectual valet" and so forth). I don't think students are necessarily in the wrong -- most are probably in college to get a job, and they're right to resent the stranglehold that universities have on social prestige and career respectability. They end up taking it out on the professors, because, well, they're stuck in class listening to The Expert for hours a day because of this or that degree requirement.

The experts then start to resent the laymen for failing to pay what they feel is a proper amount of respect for the superior state of their knowledge. They conclude that the solution is to come up with ways to enhance their prestige even more, for example by writing articles like this one that talks about how great experts are. I'm afraid this will only poison relations between laymen and experts even more.

What I love about computer programming is that basically all you need to be an expert on something is time, persistence, and an Internet connection. Contrary to the author's claims, the alternative to institutionalized expertise is not that "Everyone is an expert". It's that "You don't have to go to a prestigious university to become an expert". Sure, there are a lot of charlatans running around in the programming world, but the free exchange of knowledge and the absence of licensure has led to both a flowering of human creativity as well as (outside of San Francisco) non-resentful relationships between experts and laypeople.


The author of the article feels like he is the victim of resentment at the hands of his students (references to "intellectual valet" and so forth). I don't think students are necessarily in the wrong -- most are probably in college to get a job, and they're right to resent the stranglehold that universities have on social prestige and career respectability. They end up taking it out on the professors, because, well, they're stuck in class listening to The Expert for hours a day because of this or that degree requirement.

I think the fact that American students have to pay a lot of money to be somewhere they don't really want to be exacerbates this. Plus, it produces a sort of customer mentality, where you're paying for service and "the customer is always right". Things aren't perfect here either, but Danish university students tend not to have the same weird adversarial relationship with higher education. I would guess the fact that they don't pay anything, but in fact get paid to attend, helps a bit. In a sense they're employees rather than customers (albeit at a junior apprenticeship level of employment), and the state, which wants an educated populace, is the customer.


> Danish university students tend not to have the same weird adversarial relationship with higher education

My general impression is that Europeans pay a lot less for their higher education. I suspect that matters a lot.


They do. Here's a chart that compares annual tuition fees at public schools circa 2008:

http://imgur.com/EIeOUQJ

US tuition was around $6000+, while most of the other Euro countries were well below $2000, with the exception of the UK at ~$4800.

source: http://www.oecd.org/edu/skills-beyond-school/48631028.pdf


Note that UK fees tripled for academic year 2012-13, becoming £9,000 (almost $15,000) per year.


Do you happen to know why they did this? It seems very unfair to "tax" young people 60,000k.

I understand that the UK is also in a crisis and that costs have to be reduced. Income has to be raised but with the job market as it is and an pension system that is unfair for young people this increase seems to be very harsh and unfair.


15 (or so) years ago a university education was free here in the UK. A lot of students were even given grant money to live on (depending on parental income).

Then the supposedly left-wing Labour party introduced fees and loans as a replacement, supposedly because they wanted to encourage more people to go to university but they couldn't afford to keep it free if that happened. Every few years someone decides to put the fees up. The government don't directly put the fees up, but effectively do by loosening the rules about what can be charged.

Frankly it's a disgrace. We now have hoards of people with worthless degrees (Retail Management? Really?) and massive debts for all of them.


There is a very strong push from the right in the UK towards a US-style privatized system.

The way the student loan repayments work over a lifetime, this is effectively a 5-10% income tax on middle income people with degrees, but without generating headlines about putting up income tax.


Do not underestimate the price of taxes to pay for said education. It probably all comes out about the same. This assumes you also work and pay taxes to the entity that provided your education.


It's not close to the same. If you divide (public:private expenditures on tertiary education as % of GDP) by (tax rate as % of GDP), it's .029 : .005 for France, but in the US, it's .042 : .067.

http://statlinks.oecdcode.org/962012031P1G060.XLS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_revenu...


Not for an individual as not everyone has the necessary qualifications to study at a university but nevertheless everyone has to pay taxes that finance the education of those that do.


Well, not everyone pays the same amount of tax. People that studied at university probably pays more tax on average that those that didn't. You can also argue that everybody benefits from living in an educated society, even if they didn't study themselves.


Yes and this generates other tensions: those who fail the almost free higher education are totally left behind, with almost nochance to catch up (statistically speaking).


That doesn't seem true in Denmark, at least. First, even minimum-wage jobs with no education requirements will pay a living wage (minimum wage is about $37,500/yr, plus benefits and 5 weeks vacation). So, economically speaking, people with no education are not that far behind, nothing like American minimum-wage workers. And second, going back to university as an adult is pretty common.


> I think what the author misses is the large institutional structure that restricts the supply of experts and (as a result) enhances their prestige. These days, with the growing availability of technical information, existing systems of licensure, credentialing, and professionalization are breeding resentment on both sides of the lectern.

I don't think you're correct. Ph.D.s are being produced at a 10:1 ratio relative to actual tenure track positions. If anything, Ph.D.s are being massively overproduced for a society that does not know what to do with (or want to pay for) the overqualified.

http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

http://www.astrobetter.com/nature-on-phd-overproduction/

http://mikethemadbiologist.com/2013/02/01/the-overproduction...


Computer programming is also greatly aided by the existence of machine-checked proofs: the ultimate impartial mediator in any dispute between self-styled experts. Unfortunately, such a convenience does not exist outside a handful of fields. What we're left with, then, is a credentials-measuring contest.


What I love about computer programming is that basically all you need to be an expert on something is time, persistence, and an Internet connection

Those who forget Rumsfeld's Theory are doomed to be trapped in a local maxima. The value of university is that it exposes you to things you didn't know you didn't know. Doing that without actual people to guide you is 100x times harder. I don't think it can be done efficiently though purely self-directed study. Maybe 1 in 1000 people could manage it.

My lightbulb moment at university was being introduced to linear programming. Wow. A whole new world opened up before me... I wouldn't have even known the right words to use to look this up myself.


> What I love about computer programming is that basically all you need to be an expert on something is time, persistence, and an Internet connection.

You also need a fourth thing, whip-sharp intelligence. You just won't get that far without it. Also proficiency is a much easier target to reach than expertise. I would call myself a proficient computer programmer, but not quite an expert. I feel like I'm at least a few years off from that, and still I would hesitate until I've attained some recognition.


I'm so glad you mentioned that. Why? Because in the post you were replying to the author missed the (important) point that not all people who have access to the three ingredients listed will become equally good programmers. In fact, he seems to be of the assumption that anyone can become equally good at anything, given the same conditions. We can't. People have different skills, talents and abilities, and true 'experts' in a field - as well as putting in their 10k hours - possess some degree of natural talent in that area that other's do not.


> To take a trivial example, I wear contact lenses. While I agree that an optometrist knows a lot more about vision correction than I do, I resent the fact that I have to pay a lot of money to sit in a chair in a dark room and wait for The Expert to deliver his Opinion about whether I need the -4.5's or -5's.

People resent taking their car in for maintenance only to be told that they need to pay $110/hour to fix a problem or two and it will cost them several hundred dollars at the end. The reset that The Expert (a man covered in oil and grease stains who probably hasn't even attained the same level of formal education as them) is charging so much money as well.

People often resent plumbers, electricians, computer technicians, etc, etc ... anyone they have to pay three figures an hour to help them do something they are so dependent on, many times citing that the work they do isn't complex or difficult and that their annual salary divided by the hours they work per year works out to nowhere close to these workers' rates.

This resentment often falls into one of two categories, either "I don't know how to do this myself" (which is the lack of expertise) or "I don't want to do this so I'll hire someone" (which often is associated with the "this work is beneath me, I can't believe these people charge this, I guess I'll have to pay" idea).

When you say that you resent this experience with your optometrist, is it the first type of resentment, the "I don't know how to get to the right prescription strength myself" idea?

I think a lot of this stems from gross oversimplifications of other fields. For example, you wear contact lenses to correct your vision. But there's more than just near-sightedness here. Do you have astigmatism and if you did would you consider toric lenses? How's the shape and fit of your current lens, maybe that needs to be adjusted? Keratitis because you sleep with them in too much? Any signs of glaucoma? There should be a whole host of things checked, not simply just bumping the strength another notch.

This same oversimplification happens with technology so often. I'm sure everyone here has plenty of anecdotes of "hey, my son showed me his WordsPass blog yesterday and it got me thinking how much easier it is to get a web presence these days, you work in web development, do you think you could show me how to make an online store for my business next weekend?". PCI compliance, merchant solutions, inventory software integration, SSL certificates, redundancy and backups, custom shopping cart workflows, search engine optimization, etc, etc never enter their mind. They think you can whip something together after the BBQ on Saturday. "Hey, my computer is acted funny, I get this message that I need to send some guy bitcoins to get my files back, could you just uninstall that for me?"

I tried explaining to a lawyer once why his company was migrating from WinXP to Win7. He didn't believe me that a software company wouldn't support a product for at least 20 years. He said it would be like buying a car and then ten years later not being able to get any parts. (!) Then he didn't believe me that Windows had millions of lines of code and that it needed to be extremely precise, that if I were to edit the code and type in a few random characters in a few random places, it's possible that large portions would completely stop working. "You see, Brian, this is why computers will never work out, there's got to be something wrong if it takes millions of fragile lines to do this!" as he gestures at his monitor with a few icons on the desktop.

Here's a lawyer, An Expert, whose field has chosen to artificially limit the number of experts (because there's too many of them), who resents the computer on his desk, Bill Gates, An Expert who has personally wronged him thanks to any and every incarnation of Windows, his company's system administrators (Experts) and tech support (Experts) and anyone else associated with the machine.

Yet, despite the resentment, the attorney hasn't switched back to a typewriter or a stack of reference books. Similarly, I'm assuming you still, despite the resentment, let The Expert tell you exactly what type of contact lenses you need.

> What I love about computer programming is that basically all you need to be an expert on something is time, persistence, and an Internet connection. Contrary to the author's claims, the alternative to institutionalized expertise is not that "Everyone is an expert". It's that "You don't have to go to a prestigious university to become an expert". Sure, there are a lot of charlatans running around in the programming world, but the free exchange of knowledge and the absence of licensure has led to both a flowering of human creativity as well as (outside of San Francisco) non-resentful relationships between experts and laypeople.

The problems is charlatans do harm. A charlatan doctor will kill people. A charlatan optometrist will have you going through life blurry (and possibly killing people as you drive on a sidewalk instead of a street). A charlatan IT person can "do no harm"?

healthcare.gov [0]

Target [1]

Patriot Missles [2]

Therac-25 [3]

Starbucks [4]

So we're back to the issue of how do we prove not just competence but excellence in a field? I get why academia has their method and the trades have their method. I'm not sure I have better systems to replace these. But I disagree with the idea that just letting some programmers/IT people take their best shot at things is an OK thing.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthcare.gov#Launch_and_techn...

[1] http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2014/01/target-hack/

[2] http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-05-20/news/1991140090_...

[3] http://www.ccnr.org/fatal_dose.html

[4] http://mashable.com/2014/01/16/starbucks-mobile-passwords-pl...


> So we're back to the issue of how do we prove not just competence but excellence in a field?

See, that's what bugs me about this article. Not once did it address this most relevant of topics head on. It skirts it, suggesting that people don't even want to consider how someone becomes an "expert" to the point where the word "expert" is used insultingly. But I think part of it, a larger part, is simple cynicism stemming from the awareness we all now have that: with greater access to information, the world is less one-sided and more complicated than we expect. As we get more adjusted to having the Internet, we realize that anyone can "sound like an expert" and so -- to come back to my original point -- proof is important. I'm not saying "prove it," as the author did, for I'm just as willing to hear someone's backstory and trust via third-parties. But ... when it comes to what's on the news, to politics, to business, services, almost any point where an expert can be useful -- there's a sense of "if you do a good job, we'll trust you" that now more than ever withholds trust unless you can also be charming. Sadly, in news cycles especially, if you're doing a good job, no one will notice you or your "proof" until you screw up. And being an effective personality doesn't require expertise to have opinions.


"This resentment often falls into one of two categories, either "I don't know how to do this myself" (which is the lack of expertise) or "I don't want to do this so I'll hire someone" (which often is associated with the "this work is beneath me, I can't believe these people charge this, I guess I'll have to pay" idea)."

You're missing the big one - "I'm sure this guy is bilking me, but I can't prove it." The analogy for the original author would be "This guy's full of it and motivated more by ideology than he admits". It's interesting that the other experts he references are lawyers, doctors and engineers. It might be highly unlikely that a layman would contradict a lawyer, doctor or engineer and come to the right conclusions for the right reasons. This is less the case for the softer sciences such as the author's field of social policy.


Please add the Toyota accelerator issues (http://www.edn.com/design/automotive/4423428/Toyota-s-killer...) to your list. Bad software engineering practices coupled with the aggressive cost cutting mentality in the automotive industry lead to disaster.


The OP's Expert already was paid for the diagnosis of poor eyesight. If the customer just had a couple of contacts of different strengths to try on, it might save them a bunch of time and money.


> I resent the fact that I have to pay a lot of money to sit in a chair in a dark room and wait for The Expert to deliver his Opinion about whether I need the -4.5's or -5's.

In this example, is this not why you pay this expert? I appreciate eyeware that enables me to see; front row and I still can't read the chalkboard? Money is worth this. Once I get the numbers I can get the hardware for cheaper online. There are similar situations where I want someone's expertise to help me out of tough situations -- say, a lawyer. I choose what I will, and pay for it.

However, point taken: paying a premium to listen to a walled-garden oracle is not too fun.


I guess the complaint here is that you can't choose what you will pay for. By law you need to renew your prescription regularly (typically yearly), even if you want to continue to buy the same type of lens.

(The rationale is that the eye doctor prescribing the lens will check your eyes for contact-lens related diseases).


> By law you need to renew your prescription regularly

I did not know this.


I think this article is about laymen's tendency to overestimate their own knowledge of a particular subject (typically every subject), thus resisting the opinion of people with formal (or non) authority.

I, for one, share the author's view on this phenomenon. In my opinion it is a wide spread issue, maybe even pandemic in proportions. When was the last time you heard somebody not having an opinion on a particular subject? Everybody has opinion on everything. In the overwhelming percentage of cases, a very misinformed one. And when an expert comes and tells them how misinformed they are, laymen turn to the dark side and start spewing hatred.

Your example serves only to show that either you didn't understand the article, or you are one of those people. The programming guild seems to have a hell lot of people that state their (misinformed) opinions as facts and participate in big, heated arguments very boldly.


It's called the Dunning-Kruger effect, mentioned and linked by the author. Basically, the less expertise, the more tendency to overestimate one's own knowledge and the worse the ability to accurately identify real experts.

However, there is also a problem of misapplication of D-K. It is not always true (like all generalizations, it fails to give any sound basis for assessment of any particular individual); and it can be a pretext for smuggling other premises.

To try to explain the latter as briefly as possible, suppose there is a consensus of experts on proposition P, and critics C dispute P; then a speaker or writer denounces the criticism as an illustration of D-K, but maybe C are critiquing on the basis of some claim that is not refutable by the proponents' expertise - maybe that they have a conflict of interest, or are talking outside their area or expertise.


I think there's a general misapplication of the Dunning-Kruger effect, too, which can be seen in this article. Most people (like the author) use the Dunning-Kruger effect to mean:

"stupid people don't know they're stupid."

This is true, but not the way the authors meant it to be taken. It was really meant to be addressed as

"maybe I don't know I'm stupid."

... taken that way, I think the author might have written a different article, wondering if he himself might be shutting away criticism.

http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/05/revisiting-why-incomp...

> Unfortunately, in those places ruled by the smug and complacent, a classic paper has become a weapon. The findings of Dunning and Kruger are being reduced to "Stupid people are so stupid that they don't know they are stupid." Rather bluntly, Dunning himself said, "The presence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, as it’s been come to be called, is that one should pause to worry about one’s own certainty, not the certainty of others."


The trouble I had was in the first sentence:

> I am (or at least think I am) an expert. Not on everything, but in a particular area of human knowledge, specifically social science and public policy.

At least as far as the US is concerned, public policy encompasses everything. So as far as I can tell, this person really is claiming to be an expert on everything.

"Social science" does not fair much better. NOAD helpfully supplies "the scientific study of human society and social relationships". That seems to be a substantially broad claim, on the level of claiming to be an expert in, say, physical science. While there certainly are a few people who might make a competent application for that title (Feinman comes to mind), it seems to stretch the meaning of "expert", as Feinman's expertise in, say, biology, is of a substantially different sort than his expertise in particle physics.

I think the author may be falsely attributing his frustration about being heard to the "generational" "disregard for experts" instead of his own inability to defend an overly broad claim of expertise. If this article was "I am an expert in how much money we should be spending on space exploration and nobody is listening to me" then that would be an interesting, and entirely different, discussion. As it stands it's just tilting at windmills.


Here: http://www.usnwc.edu/Academics/Faculty/Thomas-M--Nichols,-Ph...

>Thomas M. Nichols is a professor of national security affairs in the National Security Decision Making Department, where is also the Course Director for Security, Strategy, and Forces. A former Secretary of the Navy Fellow at the Naval War College, he previously taught international relations and Soviet/Russian affairs at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. He is a former chairman of the Strategy and Policy Department at the Naval War College, for which he was awarded the Navy Civilian Meritorious Service Medal in 2005. He holds a PhD from Georgetown, an MA from Columbia University, the Certificate of the Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union at Columbia, and a BA from Boston University.

I think the definitions of [1]"public policy" and [2]"social science" here are meant strictly, not as generalities.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_policy

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_science


Read some of his blog.

From a cursory glance, I think he believes Snowden is a misguided traitor, Manning should spend the rest of his life in solitary, and Wikileaks is a Russian-funded intelligence front.

These are strong opinions with, IMO, a heavy political slant. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, even when I disagree with him. But now it seems like he's complaining about not getting enough respect and attention. But with his political bias, I don't think he deserves that kind of respect. His writing is too off-the-cuff and opinionated, lacking in two-dimensional treatment of what he talks about, never mind analysis.

In short, I think he's a right wing blowhard making a fuss about too much questioning of his authority.


>From a cursory glance, I think he believes Snowden is a misguided traitor, Manning should spend the rest of his life in solitary, and Wikileaks is a Russian-funded intelligence front.

He's a professor at a military school, I'm not the least bit surprised that he thinks that way. I agree completely that it limits the extent to which we can trust him as an authority.

Manning's conviction was actually pretty fair IMO. He was acquitted of leaking the video evidence of a government hiding illegal activity; he was also acquitted of aiding the enemy because that assertion was ridiculous. He was rightly held to account for releasing close to three quarters of a million classified documents that contained no instances of illegal activity. Had he done his due diligence like Snowden, he should have (but probably wouldn't have) walked away. That being said, I would be happy if they paroled him ASAP. I don't think we should take some kid's life(35 years will destroy your life just as surely as a lethal injection) away for making a stupid decision when it didn't cause much demonstrable harm.

What I find most entertaining about this article is that his argument is basically "Young people have an inflated sense of entitlement and that's why they don't worship the ground I walk on."


I think the author's biggest problem is laid out right in the article, though he attributes it to his "layman" adversary.

>They are instead rejecting anything that might stir a gnawing insecurity that their own opinion might not be worth all that much.


Mr. Nichols is an expert in an area where our experts have led us on multi-trillion dollar misadventures.

I think I know a lot about Android, but it ain't gonna cost that much if I'm wrong.


The problem is that the fields in which he is an expert have failed to provide sufficiently better predictive power over the judgement of a well-read or experienced layman[1]. I do not mean that as a criticism of the OP; this is merely a consequence of how young "social science" as a science is, and how difficult of a subject matter it attempts to study. The fact that a "2 sigma" level of confidence is considered acceptable in social science, whereas particle physics has a stand of 5 sigma, should demonstrate that judgement of experts from different disciplines should be different depending upon their area of expertise (but this has been known since the time of Aristotle).

Now it is fair to point out that medicine(as an application of biology) and counseling (as an application of psychology) are held to the same statistical standard, yet the medical community has the advantage of being able to generalize about the responses of human physiology in a way that the social sciences cannot, and counselors at least have the option of leveraging their empathy when trying to understand their clients. Public policy (as an application of sociology) has neither advantage.

But I also think he is painting a false dilemma, either that or he is being uncharitable to his opposition, which I would characterize as "populist"[2]. With regard to the governance of America, it is not simply a choice between experts and the unwashed masses. We also have the option of decentralizing power and policy decisions and letting states, counties, and cities - as well as voluntaristic organizations like professional societies, religious communities, corporations, and charities - decide more of their own rules. This does preclude a "rule by experts", but does delay their ascension until their science has fully matured.

Now, to be fair, my own discipline of computer science/software engineering has yet to grow into maturity as well [3][4]. Yet for all the griping about "techo-elitism" there are quite a number of counter-indicators of this: - there are no legal barriers to entry in this discipline: while a degree is typically expected by employers it is not mandated by law and many enter this discipline without one. - there is a strong culture of having an "open book", i.e. the open source community. - a portfolio of work is typically the central piece of one's resume (rather than credentials or years of experience)

While not having a source of standards can be very detrimental[5], as Brian-Puccio pointed out[6] having a source of standards isn't going to solve the problem. As Dijkstra said, we gain respectability by limiting ourselves to the feasible, and we are successful when we allow ourselves to be opportunity-driven rather than mission driven. Only upon that foundation can we construct a source of credible authority.

[1]http://harveymansfield.org/multimedia/jim-manzi-on-science-k... [2]which, I might add, is the really only position that is truly "democratic" in the traditional sense of the word. The author strikes me as someone who is merely paying lip service to the notion of democracy, perhaps to keep his job, while trying to carefully trying disarm it of any actual governing power. Of course, this side-note trails too far into the realm of speculation about the character of a man whom I do not know, and is in any case less relevant to the main points I am trying to convey. [3]https://www.cs.utexas.edu/~EWD/transcriptions/EWD10xx/EWD104... [4]http://blog.moryton.net/2007/12/computer-revolution-hasnt-ha... [5]http://blog.8thlight.com/uncle-bob/2012/04/18/After-The-Disa... [6]https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7082283


Agreed 100%. You should only be considered an expert if you can make expert predictions.

In physics or engineering that's damn near trivial; for anything that the layman might want to know I can provide him with quite a good answer.

In the social sciences nobody actually KNOWS anything with any degree of certainty. And as for which policy is best, you might be able to give an answer that's good in aggregate or agreeable to the majority, but definitely not an optimal answer or something that everyone will agree with.

The problem is not that we don't trust the experts. We absolutely do. Experts have built the modern world in a very literal sense through science and engineering and skilled labor and whatnot. The problem is that he's a pseudo-expert and the laymen can sense that in their gut even if they can't clearly articulate it.


I've been thinking about the parent and grandparent comments for the last hour, and the longer I do, the wiser I think they are, as in one fell swoop you get a tangible way to think about what you should be able to expect from experts and their expertise. If you study a topic for twenty years, and even after this twenty years of study you are unable to predict fundamental and crucial phenomena related to that field (a global financial meltdown, say) then your "expertise" is of minimal value, however painfully it was acquired; similarly, if using your wide-ranging armchair internet quarterbacking you're able to do things (predictively; via engineering; whatever) that other people cannot do, then you're as much an expert as could reasonably be hoped for.

While I share the OA's disillusionment with a culture that seems to pride itself on stupidity, and to resent the hell out of expertise as traditionally defined, I think that the instinct can be thought of as a kind of intellectual and memetic antibody that has, for the most part, served this country well. A lot of the things that many of us value (GNU software; Linux; Wikipedia; Apple Computer) owe their existence to people who, by socially normative standards, had 'no business' doing what they were doing in the first place.


The claim that "expertise" is going by the wayside is absurd. What's gone by the wayside is the automatic acceptance of anything a self-proclaimed expert says as fact.

Yes, wide access to Google and Wikipedia have aided this trend, and raised the layperson's knowledge level. These things have also raised the burden of proof of expertise. I've never even heard of Tom Nichols; I'm not apt to take what he says as fact just because his blog says he's an expert in public policy.

I will, however, trust the opinion of e.g. Bruce Schneier because he has consistently demonstrated that he knows what he's talking about. If Tom Nichols aka Random McBlogger wants to be viewed as an expert, it's up to him to prove his expertise to his audience.

The first thing I did after reading this article was to google "Tom Nichols". The first few results were a horribly-amateurish blog, presumably by the same Tom Nichols (though no picture, so who knows?) and some wikipedia articles about a music producer and soccer player of the same name. As far as I can tell from a cursory google search, Tom Nichols is a nobody.


Apologies, but you're displaying precisely the kind of aggressive and arrogant ignorance that this article highlights.

You trust Bruce Schneier because he's a popular figure. You said it yourself: "Tom Nichols is a nobody" due to a fatal lack of PageRank not helped by a non-unique name. While I admire Schneier greatly and am thankful that there is somebody like him working to popularize cryptography, computer security, and related social issues, there are countless others equally or better qualified to speak out on topics of cryptographic theory whom you (and I) wouldn't recognize at all – but actual domain experts would.

I hope I do not really need to spell out why popularity contests in the court of public opinion are not a reliable avenue for deriving knowledge.

As for Tom Nichols?

> Thomas M. Nichols is a professor of national security affairs in the National Security Decision Making Department, where is also the Course Director for Security, Strategy, and Forces. A former Secretary of the Navy Fellow at the Naval War College, he previously taught international relations and Soviet/Russian affairs at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. He is a former chairman of the Strategy and Policy Department at the Naval War College, for which he was awarded the Navy Civilian Meritorious Service Medal in 2005. He holds a PhD from Georgetown, an MA from Columbia University, the Certificate of the Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union at Columbia, and a BA from Boston University.

- http://www.usnwc.edu/Academics/Faculty/Thomas-M--Nichols,-Ph...

- http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/1818/thomas_m_ni...

But hey, what worth is the combined judgment of the peers who bestowed these positions and honors upon Nichols, against the opinion of one armchair epistemologist on Hacker News who makes astute verdicts based upon the appearance of one's blog and how well one ranks on Google...


...and here is Mr. Nichols explaining why even if Iraq did eliminate it's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction in 2003, the U.S. would've been right to invade because Saddam had been lying (about WMDs) and willing to invade his neighbors for so long:

http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/journal/17_1/rou...

Given that Iraq was a belligerent in both the Iran-Iraq war and Kuwaiti invasion, that's reasonable on it's face. Of course, that presumes you aren't aware the U.S. supported Iraq in the former (to the degree that we ignored the only successful missile attack on a U.S. ship in history), and said "we have no opinion" two months before the latter. I presume an "expert" on IR and national security would know both of those facts---so why make that claim? Regarding Iraqi deception about WMDs... well, we know how that one turned out, don't we?

There are conscientious members of every university's IR staff, but there are also plenty of cryptofacists and priests-for-hire giving the discipline a bad reputation. I certainly hope students challenge this kind of man's pronouncements, because they are better humans and better thinkers for doing so.


Excellent find, and part of why people can't always trust experts.


Bruce Schneier is more than a celebrity (though I did use him as an example because he's somewhat famous). He consults for Congress and is the author of multiple widely-used cryptographic algorithms (thinking here of Blow/twofish). He's an expert who also happens to be a celebrity, but I can still cite him as an expert without conflating the two.

>there are countless others equally or better qualified to speak out on topics of cryptographic theory whom you (and I) wouldn't recognize at all – but actual domain experts would.

If that's true, then I ought to be able to find talks these people have given, or papers they've written. Based on a quick google search, I concluded the author of this blog post appears to only write short, shallow blog posts.

Now, that might not be the case. You obviously dug a little deeper and found some more info. But that simply goes back to what I was saying in my previous comment. There is an increased burden of proof in a world where anyone can say anything on the internet. Nichols wrote a blog post claiming to be an expert? Okay, why is there no quick link to a summary of his qualifications in direct support of the article's central premise?

Who knows, maybe he's a public policy expert but a lousy writer.

Either way, my argument stands: On the internet, if you don't have name recognition and want to be taken seriously you have to demonstrate your expertise, because any layperson can quote a wiki article. It takes more than simply saying "I am an expert".


I agree that Schneier is clearly an expert; it's the way you've reached that conclusion which I disagree with, as it could easily lead you to the wrong answer in any case where celebrity and actual expertise are not so happily aligned.

> Based on a quick google search, I concluded the author of this blog post appears to only write short, shallow blog posts. [...] Okay, why is there no quick link to a summary of his qualifications in direct support of the article's central premise?

Well, there was this at the bottom of the article: "Tom Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct at the Harvard Extension School." Anybody interested in evaluating or expanding upon these credentials could do so with (not to be trite) a quick Google search.

> Either way, my argument stands: On the internet, if you don't have name recognition and want to be taken seriously you have to demonstrate your expertise, because any layperson can quote a wiki article. It takes more than simply saying "I am an expert".

Your mistake is to look for demonstrations of expertise in the form of Google rank and other manifestations of popularity. That's not what actual demonstration of expertise looks like. Laypeople like us (relative to the field of public policy) have two options for evaluating domain expertise: (1) expend the significant effort required to become actual experts in those fields ourselves, or (2) accept the collective opinion of the larger body of experts in that field. The latter generally takes the form of academic credentials, professional awards, CVs, and the like – and as undemocratic as it may feel to yield to the judgment of a bunch of ivory tower elites, as laypeople it's all we have to go by if we value truth.

PageRank is a popularity contest. It answers neither (1) nor (2) above.


>I agree that Schneier is clearly an expert; it's the way you've reached that conclusion which I disagree with, as it could easily lead you to the wrong answer in any case where celebrity and actual expertise are not so happily aligned.

I fail to see how; it's exceedingly rare to find true experts who haven't got publications of one sort or another to their name.

>Well, there was this at the bottom of the article: "Tom Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct at the Harvard Extension School." Anybody interested in evaluating or expanding upon these credentials could do so with (not to be trite) a quick Google search.

Well again, maybe he is an expert and merely a lousy writer. But none of this contradicts my point that his article's central premise (being an expert) needs to be clearly supported. That's like first-year undergraduate essay writing 101.

>Your mistake is to look for demonstrations of expertise in the form of Google rank and other manifestations of popularity. That's not what actual demonstration of expertise looks like.

Your mistake is interpreting what I wrote as conflating popularity with expertise. For the third time: I didn't choose Schneier as an example because he was popular. I stated outright my google search was cursory. You're missing the point.


You are dumb


Keep novelty accounts to reddit, please.


For chrissakes, you did not even carefully read the article, or you would have seen the paragraph @Niten linked. Bonus: there is another anecdote about his government service in the text of the article.

If you are not willing to read the article in which the author demonstrates his credibility, you have no standing to complain about it.


I think you're confusing a celebrity and an expert. Your primary care physician is an expert, but not a celebrity. We know that much because he is credentialed by a fairly reliable system. Celebrity status is simply one different way to ascertain expertise, and it's not that reliable - there are plenty of famous shamans, such as that guy with the debunked autism-vaccination link study.


That's apples to oranges. A physician goes through a rigorous training and licensing process before they can practice medicine. There's a base level of proficiency and ongoing continuing education requirements to be a physician. There is no such process for the nebulous and ill-defined field of "public policy" which could be stretched to cover just about any facet of daily life.

I therefore can only judge a self-proclaimed public policy expert based on what I can find about them. My cursory google search revealed no interesting papers written or talks given. Only a bunch of short, shallow blog posts.


Andrew Wakefield owns a patent on a single-measles vaccine, which would be a competitor to the MMR vaccine, and most people who are aware of that suspect that's why he published that shoddy nonsense about autism in the first place.

In other words, he is very much an expert on (at least) the vaccinations in his study. His celebrity came later.


He's salted the earth though - antivax crowd would denounce his vaccine with as much pique and passion as they have dished on MMR. It just doesn't look like a good business plan...


The anti-vaccination groups didn't exist at the time, so it's quite likely that Wakefield was just as startled by paranoiac monster he'd nurtured as anyone else. No member of the public (before or after Wakefield) actually knows anything about vaccines, other than the story about the Swine Flu vaccine killing more people than it saved... since any individual member of the public does not need to care about vaccines very often in their lifes, and therefore has little direct personal advantage in knowing more, vaccine safety is a very fragile exercise in blind trust.

Ironically, those who have lived and breathed vaccines for years (i.e. experts) seem to know nothing about that enormous trust placed in the vaccination process by the public---the public assumes it works and assumes it's there to keep you safe, but knows so little about them that even simple questions of safety will be translated into "vaccines bad."


The results are much better when searching for his full name used on his books: "Thomas M. Nichols"

So, you're dismissing his expertise and calling him names ("Random McBlogger") because Google ranks him more poorly for Tom than Thomas. That seems like a data-point which supports his argument quite well.


He mentions that people are not equipped to judge evidence properly, which is often true. However, people are also not well equipped to judge expertise either.

In the past few decades, we have witnessed what appears to be massive failure of experts on a number of fronts. In the media, people who certainly look like experts turn out to be con men... when well dressed "doctors" and "scientists" lie and trick people into making terrible choices, we grow suspicious. Anyone can pretend to know what they are doing, and blind trust of such people is a dangerous path to follow. Even the antivax people have what appears to a layman to be experts backing their side of the story.

Further, specifically in the areas of social policy, finance, and politics, the past decade or more seems to many to have been a disaster. Thousands of experts missed the financial disaster, and, from what the story looks like to many, bungled the recovery. The news that sells is all about disaster and the unexpected; things that experts failed to predict.

In is unsurprising, given these circumstances, that the title of expert is viewed not with blind respect, but with suspicion. If you claim to be an expert, then you are instantly placed in the same category as people who just want to exploit me for a quick buck.

I don't have a solution, but it is an explanation, and "trusting experts more" is not going to happen.


The blame resides on the media and its partnership with an undiscerning public. Time after time, the same experts are trotted out, no matter how awful their track record. This is at its worst when it comes to politics, unsurprisingly.

As a prime example, remember all the experts who got Iraq wrong? They were wrong about everything: WMD, cost, duration, effects, etc. Fast forward to the brink of the next war—instead of hearing from the people who were right, we're once again bombarded with the opinions of the wrong. Cheney and Rumsfeld were both on tv constantly spouting their expertise on Libya, Syria etc.

This happens in just about every field, time after time. It's no wonder people don't care what the so-called experts think.


Death of expertise? Not of real expertise.

This author intentionally conflates his expertise in "public policy" with expertise in other fields such as science, and concludes that a failure to acknowledge his authority is no different from rejecting the authority of a real scientist. Like the proof that 0 = 1 by including a step where you divide by zero, his argument relies on the fallacy that expertise is all the same regardless of what you are an expert in.

Expertise in physics, engineering, or programming is qualitatively different from expertise in astrology, theology, or "public policy," in my opinion, and skepticism of the authority of the latter is not tantamount to skepticism of the former.

Someone with a PhD in physics or EE got it by proving that he could make things that worked. I'm satisfied that there is something real in expertise that has been repeatedly validated by voltmeter.

Someone with a PhD in divinity or public policy has not proven to my satisfaction that life would be better if we just let him make our decisions for us, even if the degree is from Harvard. Sorry. It's just not the same.


When you refuse to acknowledge the value of expertise in a field, you are effectively discrediting the entire field. You really think you know just as much as someone who has studied it for their entire adult life? The only way that can possibly be is if there's nothing to be learned about it.

You may think you understand a topic, but you really have a narrow view of it. You understand your own point of view, but not necessarily others. Or the breadth and depth of consequences to a decision. How can you expect equally valid results through a narrower lens?


Well it's possible for people to obtain negative learning, e.g. learning things that are false.

I would consider anyone who studies Marxism to be in this category.

For most people, it is a blend of positive knowledge, and the political prejudice of their discipline, so one should neither reject or blindly accept the views of an "expert" in the social sciences.

My PhD is in economics, and I would love to be able to pull rank on people who talk about "buying locally" or putting people before profits. But there is no way to consistently enable such rank pulling, since there is a Professor of Marxist Economics somewhere would could accuse me of being ignorant of 100 years of Marxist thought, and give me 1000 books to read before I'm qualified to speak on the topic.

So the only way forward is to reach out to the public and convince them that one's discipline knows the truth.


I've seen a Harvard PhD in economics espouse on TV the false cost-push theory of inflation. It made me wonder what is taught in Harvard econ classes.

Further undermining the credibility of econ degrees is an econ professor from my college stating that he believed in the free enterprise system, and the equal distribution of all income. The contradiction didn't seem to bother him in the slightest.


I hadn't heard of cost-push inflation before, and I didn't specialize in macro-economics. Who discredited this theory? The Wikipedia article says that according to Keynsians (and most modern economists are neo-Keynsians who beleive in sticky prices), prices are sticky downwards and so a supply shock to a single good would cause inflation. This seems to be an issue that could be resolved empirically. Are you familiar with the empirical evidence?

On your second point, perhaps your professor meant that he believed in free enterprise, but wanted to use the taxation system to make post-tax income much more equal? If so, there is no contradiction.


> I hadn't heard of cost-push inflation before, and I didn't specialize in macro-economics. Who discredited this theory?

Cost-push is described in Reisman's tome "Capitalism" and is shown why it is a false theory starting on pg. 907.

> perhaps your professor meant that he believed in free enterprise, but wanted to use the taxation system to make post-tax income much more equal? If so, there is no contradiction.

I quoted his exact words, and he did not qualify them. In particular he did not say "more equal", he said "equal". I remember it to this day because I was astonished.


>Cost-push is described in Reisman's tome "Capitalism" and is shown why it is a false theory starting on pg. 907.

I couldn't understand that. One difficulty is that not only do Austrian economists use a different language to describe things, but it seems to be arguing against a traditional Keynesian viewpoint. Right now PhD programs don't teach any traditional Keynsian econ, (undergrad programs teach a bit), they skip straight to neo-Keynsianism, which only keeps a few ideas from the original Keynes (e.g. sticky prices). So I don't really understand what the article is arguing against.

I already gave a description of what I thought the sticky-prices based argument for cost-push inflation was. Can you explain in your own words how this particular argument is refuted?

Re the professor, I guess I'll just chalk that up to a bad professor.


Sure, you're an expert.

Which means you should have sound reasoning behind your position. And you should be able to explain your reasoning to somebody else. If you can't really explain your reasoning, it's likely that you did not think everything through--and if you did not think everything through, being an expert does not mean you're right!

I think of this just in terms of myself. If I hold a position but I can't explain it, it means I need to rethink it. If I've put some thought into a position--which is my goal for everything important--then explaining myself is just a matter of voicing my existing rationale.

So I think you should never be offended at having to explain something: at the very least, it's a way to clarify your own thinking and highlight assumptions. And if you're making good decisions anyway, it's easy!


There are times when, to be blunt, you (hypothetical you) don't have the background for me to explain my reasoning - and certainly not in the timeframe of a conversation when I need to catch you up on potentially decades worth of research. It is possible, especially if you're not willing to either take some things as given, that you are not qualified to understand my reasoning.

Because you are not an expert

And that's fine. There are things about which I am not an expert, to which the same principles apply. Computer science among them. Along with particle physics, Russian literature and modern cars.


Taken in sufficient context, I think your point is a good one. But I get the sense that this is not the main thing bugging the author; what seems to be bugging him is that he is under pressure to justify his positions to a broader audience than would have existed in the past, and he may be having a hard time doing that.

If he's making a point during a conversation with other experts about the cumulative costs in litigation of a certain policy implemented in some state in 1979, he's the boss. But if he's making a broad point about the welfare state, he's got a larger group of (well-informed) interlocutors to deal with and convince. I suspect he wants his expertise to carry weight on these larger questions as well.


> Second-guessing their doctors and refusing to vaccinate their kids after reading stuff written by people who know exactly zip about medicine.

This claim was originally by an expert doctor.

> Which is why articles and books are subjected to “peer review” and not to “everyone review,”

Peer review struggles to correct inaccuracies and by failing to share the underlying data behind the assertions made, and especially in Tom Nichols' area of expertise (public policy) the data is the only way of invalidating claims (as opposed to abstract mathematical concepts, like machine learning). Further more, most peer review journals are behind paywalls of some kind.

Contrast this to the accuracy of Wikipedia (where, yes peers review the knowledge, but so can the general public) or the increasing support behind open peer review (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_peer_review) and the open research movement in general (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_research) it is at least questionable to argue that closed peer review implies a standard of truth.

> but don’t tell that to someone hectoring you about the how things really work in Moscow or Beijing or Washington.

It is funny he brings this up because Beijing is rife with academic dishonesty to the point where if the exact steps / data to reproduce aren't explicitly mentioned in the paper, I don't even read it.

> [A large, large amount of opinionated elitism ending with a call for the return of the days of gatekeepers]

Gatekeepers impede scientific inquiry. It wasn't until 1957 that we seriously started examining human sexual response. This is 100% due to gatekeepers. By advancing the case for open data, open methods, and open journals we may suffer more fools' opinion's on global warming, but it is far more worth it.

The reason I suspect that this author is especially angry is that public policy is politics in declarative form. "We will use one school of 500 kids vs five schools of 100 kids" has far reaching consequences that spill into the political sphere. The reason public policy is hard to take a seriously as a scientific endeavour is that it isn't often provable, although with open data would certainly improve it.


>> Second-guessing their doctors and refusing to vaccinate their kids after reading stuff written by people who know exactly zip about medicine.

>This claim was originally by an expert doctor.

Andrew Wakefield was no expert. He was found guilty of research fraud and is no longer allowed to practice medicine.


Right, with hindsight we can clearly see that he wasn't an expert, just like all experts that turn out to be wrong.


I believe the author misses the point consistently in many ways.

Paragraph 2 - Straw man argument. People's resentment for authority has nothing to do with democracy, it's about all the false positives we consistently see ("experts" who are trusted to say make healthcare.gov but are not experts, economists who cannot predict anything about our economy).

He then argues that trusting "experts" is phased out in favor of google and wikipedia. He claims this is bad because "doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice." another straw man argument. Wikipedia will not promote faith healing, it will lead you to the same and maybe newer medical journal articles than your doctor has read. Somehow he argues, trusting Wikipedia and google is, "Fundamentally, ... a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself."

Then he goes on to cite a litany of false-negatives, cases when people don't trust current experts and presumably are wrong. Okay. But he hasn't really done anything here. Because he hasn't answered all the false positives (false "experts").

The real question here is how to differentiate between an expert and a non-expert. When is it a case of hubris and group think among an elitist circle of self-proclaimed experts, and when is it true?

Unfortunately this piece provides no advancement to this question, other that pointing out one more false positive, the author.


That brings up one common conflation that I see a lot: equation of Wikipedia and "popular wisdom". People assume that because "anyone can edit" Wikipedia, it must be some kind of average of everyone's views, the "wisdom of crowds". But Wikipedia is really not a reflection of the average opinion. A huge percentage of Americans might believe in creationism or think that vaccines cause autism, but Wikipedia articles, despite a plurality of en.wikipedia being written by Americans, pretty solidly side with the expert consensus on those points. That might be due to demographics, due to the requirement for "reliable sources", or due to who knows what else, but the results are pretty different.

That doesn't mean Wikipedia is always good, and the very fact that its viewpoint is often unrepresentative of the views of the population at large might sometimes be bad (though other times it's good). But I think whether Wikipedia is good or bad, and whether the opinions of randomly selected individuals who think they know better than experts are good or bad, are pretty different questions that should be investigated separately, since Wikipedia is not saying the same things that a randomly chosen person at your local bar is saying, on almost any subject where there's a difference of opinion.

I can see why they get connected, because both things are bypassing gatekeepers in a way. But Wikipedia is doing it in a more complicated way, particularly because while the form of the encyclopedia bypasses gatekeepers (free, no bylines, no credentials needed to participate), the content of the encyclopedia puts a heavy value on citing sources, along with an ethos of trying to make sure the sources aren't kooks, which tends to attribute quite a bit of weight to experts' views on things.


I'll gladly defer to an astrophysicist on matters of the universe, a plumber on piping, or a mechanic on auto repair. I think the problem is the field of social sciences is kind of a wasteland. While I can respect the skills and analysis of someone in the field, it's highly nuanced material with plenty of room for debate. I'm not sure it's a bad thing.


But social scientists know that. The astrophysicist, and the plumber, have many hard rules, and because of this, there are many situations where their training will force them to shout "No! Stop!" at something you're doing.

Social scientists, by-and-large, don't have very many hard rules... and so they don't often shout "No! Stop!"

They are aware, far more than the members of the hard sciences (who are used to most things they deal with being either hard rules, or debunked nonsense), exactly how vaguely-implied or well-proven each of their theorems are; how controversial or universal each stance is. And because of this, when a social scientist is tapped on practical matters of public policy, they will more than anything be hedging, not strengthening, the prior stances held by the policy-makers, by reminding them of all the things we can't assume and aren't sure will work.

(On the other hand, when social scientists are tapped by journalists, or when they write twee little NYT bestsellers, the result is more an exposure of the scientist's personal position in debates internal to the academic sphere. This has nothing to do with what a social scientist would give you if you paid them to do social science for you.)

The most useful thing a person with training in the social sciences can tell you, of which the general population isn't aware, is what you should be less sure of. No matter where a social scientist falls in matters of their own field's debates, they'll know which things are debated, and therefore can shout "No! Stop!" when you're about to base a policy decision on, for example, "the proven effect of Keynsian stimulus." (This is closely related, I think, to being trained in impossibility results. It takes you a computer scientist to tell you that, no, your new database can't be C, A, and P.)


>The most useful thing a person with training in the social sciences can tell you, of which the general population isn't aware, is what you should be less sure of

I'd say that is true for any expert in any complicated field. Almost any engineer will tell you a system made of a few simple components will have a much higher probability of being deterministic then a system of many complex components. Being that social sciences deal with the most complex creatures in existence they should damn well know determining anything with a high rate of probability is near impossible.


There’s also that immutable problem known as “human nature.” It has a name now: it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb.

The usual - social science gets disrespected, blogs that world is ending...

He'd have more credibility if he didn't quote Dunning-Kruger as if it was a law rather a debatable, sometimes observed effect. With blanket appeals to "human nature", you'll need more than some degrees to present your claims as fact. We can see where this is going. Indeed, I'm hopeful that this blog will shoot a few holes in his apparently rather thin credibility.


This is the same alarmist nonsense that's been floating around since forever under one or another banner. This time it's expertise; last time it was "the end of intellectualism" and next time it'll be "Are we heading toward a chasm at full speed because PhDs aren't choosing the president?"

It's mostly intellectually embarrassing foolish nonsense. There's a significant difference between experts like developers, doctors, and engineers, and lawyers, sociologists, and anthropologists. The former group is composed of technical expertise that is necessary for performing the applied functional area of knowledge while the latter group is solely trained in the arena of thoughtfulness.

Want to lament the fact that social science isn't appreciated as it should be? Completely fine. But let's not pretend that understanding how to organize an economy is expertise nor that having such knowledge privileges anyone to make socio-economic decisions for anyone else. If ordinary people weren't the best at understanding how to organize their own lives, traitors wouldn't pay trillions to delude and manipulate them constantly.


Looking at internet threads engaging in amateur sociology is a decent demonstration of why sociological expertise is an actual field of expertise. It's not my field, but I've at least read a 101-level methodology textbook, which I think would improve the state of things considerably if even that level of knowledge were more widespread. Doesn't require a degree, but does require a willingness to learn, whereas I think many people with an anti-expertise viewpoint are more interested in rationalizing why they shouldn't have to learn it (the "only engineering expertise is expertise" view is one variant).


As someone who studied economics I believed I had well thought out positions before studying and wasn't sure how my opinions were going to change. It turned out all my theories were worthless compared to the combined knowledge of the field and the genius observations over the centuries. So your example of not needing economists is unconvincing. We do need to check up on them frequently though and no one should get a free pass.


>So your example of not needing economists is unconvincing.

I don't need to convince anyone of needing economists. Economists need to convince the world of their necessity and have never done so, nor could they ever. Human beings don't need economists to tell them how to live their lives and until economists come up with a good argument for their authority, no one ought to do anything other than listen to what they have to say and possibly give it some thought.

Remember, none of this has anything to do with you and your theories and whatever else you think has any bearing on the structure of societies. This is about general human necessity. People don't need economists or any other social scientists. The best we can do is be helpful participants and try to use our knowledge to help those who might lack it.


Yes, because all big, incredibly complex things are just too damned hard to study or understand and thus we should instead just guess our way through problems. In economics, this is known as the Austrian school.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go out into the woods and try to kill animals with rocks and pray to the gods for fire.


I think there is a huge tendency to conflate specialization with expertise.

My arrogant baseless opinion is that there are a whole lot more specialists than there are experts.


Sort of off topic, but putting developers in with doctors and engineers is not really legit. The latter two have rigorous tests and certification standards, while developers (myself included) have nothing of the sort; furthermore, much of the methods and such used by developers are not founded at all in research or a scientific method, and are usually of an even lower standard then most soft sciences. (They at least have peer review, we mostly just have blog posts and books from random people from industry).


And it is exactly the same argument that was used against extending the franchise to non property owning men , women .... and so on.


Could you please post a citation for this? I do not know if you are right or wrong, and it is not something I have considered before, but I would appreciate the opportunity to learn what arguments were made at the time.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/history/democracy/chang...

Or any general history text from say the last few hundred years.

There was also a lot of opposition to translating the Bible into vulgar language as opposed to having a Latin speaking elite interpret it for the peasants and yeomen


Interesting article, but it does not make any argument with respect to expertise; that BBC article talks about 'skin in the game'.

>only people with "a stake in the country", that is people who paid taxes and held property, should take part in politics


you really dont see the analogy?


I am an expert ts bullshiting and being infatuated with myself, and this guy is worst than an ass he is a pure ass.

Why did Feynman said Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts?

For the same reason this bitch is crying: because the truth does not belong to a minority of self decreted "savants", "erudits" or "experts", but it is the result of a fruitful dialog amongst people which purpose is the emanation of truth. The ethic of discussion is purely "anti-religous", it states no one knows the Truth and only logic, and dialog on a peer relationship can work.

Well, experts raise themselves above the crowd as if they were a hierarchy in a dialog. As if authority counted. They are wrong. If you cannot make a consensual point whether you are wrong or right does not count, because if people cannot accept your point, your point will never be accepted.

People average education raised. Average jobs now include a high level of autonomy, design and thinking.

Even Mc Do's jobs are more creative than you think : they have to deliver unique menus (watch at the combinatory of items) in standardized way (time and tools) and they must plan new supply chain for each customers.

Expert are now not the only one to have to use their brain at high level every days.

The should stop insulting people's education and call themselves our peers; we all are experts and I don't know for you but I recognize one and only one hierarchy: not the one based on status (expert) but the one based on ability.

Knowledge is not a state: it is a fucking process.

So I am thrilled to hear this guy acknowledge we don't need him around.

The expertise is dead, long live to the knowledge


Interesting comments. I was surprised to see so much dissension.

I'm in agreement with the author on the idea that expertise has been cheapened by our culture.

I like to use the term "mastery" over "expertise" because I think the concept of mastery better embodies what a true expert brings to the table.

To me, a true expert (master) is someone who has deep knowledge in a given domain (or set of related domains).

You can't fake mastery. Mastery is, in part, the ability to produce consistent, high-quality results over time.

Anyone can get lucky once, or even a few times, but a master can deliver superior results more consistently than anyone else in that domain.

The issue now, as I see it, is what the author calls entitlement. I would add to that, impatience.

People want to be masters (experts) now, not later. We want to hack our educations and get results faster than the 1000's of people who came before us.

In the process of our impatience and unwillingness to submit to the rigors of craft, we, instead, settle for the illusion of expertise.

It's strange to me that people think a deep level of knowledge can come from anything other than a lifetime of hard work and dedication to a given subject.

Yet, we still kid ourselves into thinking that being the next Picasso, Sergey Brin, or Yo Yo Ma is just a matter of reading a few books and blogs.

An expert spends a lifetime learning a few things deeply. A dilettante knows a little about a lot.


> There was once a time when presidents would win elections and then scour universities and think-tanks for a brain trust; that’s how Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, Zbigniew Brzezinski and others ended up in government service while moving between places like Harvard and Columbia.

I find it interesting that he mentions these controversial figures. It seems to me while he does present interesting arguments for the resentment shown towards experts, I think it's far more pertinent to discuss the greater death of ethics among experts. I think this is the primary cause, the lack of ethics, of distrusting experts when I speak to relatives and friends.

People, experts and laymen, obviously can't study all fields of knowledge so they put their "faith" in others. An expert in Biology is most likely a layman in Physics, so they implicitly trust their Physicists friends when relaying scientific progress. A physician is obviously an expert at medicine but most likely a poor software developer so they implicitly trust their software developer friends to advise them.

Perhaps I'm conflating institutional expertise with a mastery of one's field. However, the ethical issue still exists.


On ethics and international relations, my previous post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7071033


The problem with this article is that the author's field is full of experts who have wildly different opinions. There is no way to appeal to expertise in this situation. For example, he says

> The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself. Yes, I said “Western civilization”: that paternalistic, racist, ethnocentric approach to knowledge that created the nuclear bomb, the Edsel, and New Coke, but which also keeps diabetics alive, lands mammoth airliners in the dark, and writes documents like the Charter of the United Nations.

But there are many experts in sociology who would ask us precisely to reject science, rationality and Western Civilization.

I think a far better approach is to educate all people better, so they are able to properly appreciate the knowledge of experts because they understand the field. One aspect of this would be teaching a lot more statistics, although the classical fields of debate and critical reasoning are also important.

Another problem is that many people, especially academics, think it is more important to push a particular agenda, than to make the public more informed in general. Hence people who want to promote gay rights, for example, don't want people to know that the probability getting AIDS from heterosexual intercourse with a White woman is extremely low. But in order to do this, they have to actively lower people's understanding of probability and statistics. They have to teach people to ignore their (admittedly imperfect) intuition about conditional probability.


The funny thing is, you're even more guilty of caring more about pushing a particular agenda than actually informing people. Whilst the probability of getting AIDS from heterosexual intercourse with a white woman is indeed extremely low, what matters is not that the sex is heterosexual but that it's with a white woman. Lesbian intercourse with a white woman is actually safer, whereas heterosexual intercourse with a white man is more dangerous. Of course, saying that wouldn't have helped push your anti-gay-rights agenda.

What's more, the qualifier that it has to be with a white woman is important. While heterosexual vaginal sex has a lower risk of HIV transmission than anal, it's not low enough to provide useful protection on its own. The main reason sex with white women is safe is because few of them have AIDS, which in turn is partly a result of all the high-risk heterosexual communities being very careful to protect against HIV transmission since very early on. If you look at somewhere like Africa where people weren't taught to take those precautions, the HIV infection rate from heterosexual sex is terrifying. Again, though, this contradicts your agenda of portraying HIV as a gay disease that heterosexuals are only taught to protect against in order to promote gay rights at their expense.


You claim that only the sex of the other person involved is relevant, and not whether the intercourse is with someone of the same or opposite sex.

This is wrong, and shows precisely the lack of understanding of conditional probability that I described. I am especially shocked by your use of lesbian intercourse as an example, since everyone knows the issue is men-who-have-sex-with-men. Lesbians are completely irrelevant to this debate.

Let us compare the probability of a man getting AIDS from having sex with a random man, vs a random woman. As you say, these are probably similar. However, it might be very hard for a man to convince another random man to have sex with him! So what we really want to calculate is the probability of getting AIDS from a random, actually occurring, sexual encounter (not with a prostitute) between a man and a woman, and a man and another man. This is what the statistic is intended to mean, and how people will interpret it, even if it is not always properly qualified. In this case, the probability of the man who has sex with a man getting AIDS is much higher, because gay men have a much higher incidence of AIDS than heterosexual women.

So we could add the following useless disclaimer to my earlier claim: if you are a man, sex with a randomly chosen man (including straight men) is not especially dangerous. It's only when you condition on that man being gay that it becomes statistically more dangerous.

Of course, this disclaimer would still be wrong since the sex with the man would probably be anal, which is inherently more likely to spread AIDS.

>What's more, the qualifier that it has to be with a white woman is important. That's why I included it :)

I can't comment on why AIDS is higher for heterosexuals in Africa than the US. I don't necessarily accept your claims about it. But that is not the issue here. I am talking about the probability of getting AIDS given the current situation, not any inherent link between being gay and AIDS. The actual cause is not relevant.

The best that you could say, is that the reason for these misleading statistics is not to promote gay rights, but to scare people into taking precautions that are good for society as a whole.


There is so much weapons grade arrogance in this essay, I wouldn't be surprised if Hans Blix bought a house nearby to cut time from his commute.

Seriously, it's a link of this:

"Oh my goodness, Google University means people are now increasingly questioning experts, like me! And doctors!"

"What are you an expert in?"

"History. I teach at the War College and write about nuclear weapons. For example, I just republished an essay I wrote 14 years ago on how responsible documentaries of the Cold War must necessarily exclude examinations of Soviet motivations, because Stalin was the bad guy."

"...Yes, it's truly a wonder why anyone could fail to trust your proclamations of genius."


Is this supposed to be satire? I can't really tell. On the one hand, it looks like he's legitimately trying to defend these views, but on the other, when you step back and look at them, they're so obviously faulty that I can't really interpret it as anything other than parody. Take this sentence for example:

"Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself."

There are so many things wrong with this sentence it leads me to believe that he's not being serious. "Ad Hominem" is one of the most well-known (if misused) logical fallacies in existence, and nowhere in the scientific method is "trustworthiness of the scientist" a factor (instead, the ability to reproduce results is of the utmost importance). The fact that "Western civilization" relies on experts is a notable rejection of purely rational or scientific views, not a foundation of them. This rejection is necessary to live in Western society (I'll get a lot farther trusting textbooks are correct, and verifying as need be, than giving similar credence to a mad man's rantings), but it is a rejection of rationality and science nonetheless.

As somebody who is clearly well educated, he must know this. But then he goes on to defend Western civilization as part of his argument, and it puts me at a complete loss as to who this is attempting to parody. One of the final points, as well, makes it read like a parody of authoritarian arguments that simply don't exist in any major discourse I've seen:

"And yes, your political opinions have value. Of course they do: you’re a member of a democracy and what you want is as important as what any other voter wants. As a layman, however, your political analysis, has far less value, and probably isn’t — indeed, almost certainly isn’t — as good as you think it is."

So your point is that democracy wants our opinions, but our reasons for our opinions are worthless? Who could think that makes any sense? The whole piece is full of these sort of bizarre statements. Who is this "expert"?

"Tom Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College"

Oh. Turns out, sometimes the character of the person making the argument is relevant: He probably does believe this.


That he could write this:

> after weeks of really having to watch them[Manning and Snowden], they’re both increasingly looking too weak, too stupid, and too easily manipulated to be conscious traitors. Rather, they seem to be narcissistic and naive pawns used by Wikileaks, and thus in turn by whoever is pulling Julian Assange’s strings these days. (Hint: It begins with “R” and ends with “ussia.”)

http://tomnichols.net/blog/2013/08/02/snowden-manning-and-sc...

Does really lead me to believe he is an incompetent buffoon who does not realize just how out of touch with reality he is. What upset people like him is that thanks to google instead of rolling over and taking whatever he says as gospel people can call him out for being wrong at the stroke of a few keys.

For example, did he know that Snowden has not released a single file through wikileaks?


You notice it's rarely the physics professors, or the (good) programming teachers, or the medical profs going, 'Our students don't respect our expertise any more'?

Expertise needs to grant you a visible advantage in some way, or of course people aren't going to respect it. You can respect experts with computers very easily, they can do things you can't, or they can do things you can much more easily.

Expertise in other areas is similar. Trained doctors produce measurably better outcomes than laymen and the system in which they're trained is trustable enough, and the systems they practice in are generally well designed enough, that it's pretty common wisdom to trust doctors. Of course not everyone does, but then again people have believed in crap like homeopathy for a long time, that's nothing new.

Experts in philosophy? Social science? English? That's a lot harder to measure, and to then be sure that you've got someone who's a well-vetted member of the expert group, rather than someone with a degree who's spamming noise is harder still. Not that I'm saying that they are, just that the visible manifestations of their expertise are very hard for the average person to see in some areas.

And let's face it, as students - by and large - aren't expected to do particularly hard things any more in most subject areas, that provides less and less opportunity for the expert to demonstrate their skill even when someone has the rare opportunity of interacting with them.

###

----------------------

> Once upon a time — way back in the Dark Ages before the 2000s — people seemed to understand, in a general way, the difference between experts and laymen. There was a clear demarcation in political food fights, as objections and dissent among experts came from their peers — that is, from people equipped with similar knowledge. The public, largely, were spectators.

----------------------

And thus you can't say either way whether they respected you enough to change their opinion, at least not based solely on that observation. Their thoughts simply weren't on display.


> You notice it's rarely the physics professors, or the (good) programming teachers, or the medical profs going, 'Our students don't respect our expertise any more'?

Really? I notice a lot of the same with the anti-vaccination crowd, and the anti-GMO crowd and the like. Obscurantism knows no boundaries.


> You notice it's rarely ... medical profs

You don't know many clinicians, do you?


It's hard to take your claim seriously that people readily respect technical expertise, when I see "Twitter is just caching" repeated on this very site all the time.


I've not seen it said once, and based on a quick search -

https://www.hnsearch.com/search#request/comments&start=0&q=t...

I've not been able to find a great many massively uninformed comments about it. Admittedly I only went two pages back, but it was starting to get to the X years ago stuff, so... I lost interest at that point ^^

Do you have a significant number of sources?


The author talks about the death of gatekeepers, but in a few ways I think that some people with platforms to speak are not entirely blameless for the way things went after the gatekeeper disappeared. People with a platform did, and continue to, set the temperature of conversations that take place in general.

This might not be the greatest example to build my point on, but in the article he mentions the lack of respect given to professors so lets roll with that. Lets say gatekeepers still existed, there are plenty of professional bloviators with platforms that have been shitty on academics in general for as long as I can remember. If you don't know what I mean, Colbert has done some good bits on the popular "east coast ivory tower elitist eggheads" dismissal; the university system is a wellspring of education, but it is not tailored 100% towards being a employee-creator or doing all of an industry's heavy lifting for them, so they get trashed on. Is it any surprise that if students have a "get in, fuck this guy just pass his tests for a diploma, get out" attitude towards higher ed?

As I said, not the greatest jumping off point, but basically my point being that if you want the unwashed masses to act like X, then at a minimum you have to get the people with a platform to act like X.

edit/side note: OFC this is a small point w/r/t the article, not everything there. And this article itself is probably touching on a larger trend less about experts in specific and more about our culture's widespread individual narcissism.


To me, the problem is that the expert, especially in things like social science and public policy, may be hugely biased. The very fact that experts in these fields often have diametrically opposed viewpoints do not engender trust when it comes experts in these fields.


I find it kind of ironic that he cites Dunning-Kruger. In my experience the D-K effect is something people love to use to pretend they're experts at psychology, without realizing how hard it really is to correctly interpret studies like this.


I agree with the gist of the article, but it I noticed it didn't mention the research that some classes of experts actually make worse predictions than a class of generalists... I think referred to as wolves and foxes, but I can't remember.


I think you're thinking of Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hedgehog_and_the_Fox

If you like that, you might also like the book Expert Political Judgement by Philip Tetlock which uses the Hedgehog and Fox metaphor to analyze people's political judgements. https://duckduckgo.com/?q=expert+political+judgement


Also, for anyone interested, one of my favourite talks is about a study of political forecasters and their accurancy over the years, seen from this perspective: (the video is paywalled, but the audio is free):

http://longnow.org/seminars/02007/jan/26/why-foxes-are-bette...


This recalls a recent article that made the rounds of various news sites: A 1929 book perfectly captures the distrust of authority, the distrust of elites we so clearly see in our modern, digital society.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/05/the-smartes...


It's a great article, thanks for that. The book itself can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B007SXHWKI


Personally I think he hit it right on the head in the second paragraph...

“appeals to authority,” sure signs of dreadful “elitism,” and an obvious effort to use credentials to stifle the dialogue required by a “real” democracy.

Yep. Public policy makers who consider themselves "experts".

Not to say that some people don't know more about world affairs than others. But my view is that this crowd are generally too caught up in their "expertise" to do what is proper. Witness the recent NSA behavior. They are "experts" in what we all need. Never mind that their expertise is dangerous, expensive and hasn't done much good.

Now hard science is a different matter. But this case isn't that at all. There may be some knowledge of world affairs but it is intrinsically linked with ideology and OPINION. Another "soft science" guy crying he just don't get no respect. And possibly a would-be dictator who isn't getting what he wants.


I 'm not an expert but i do know that there are a lot more experts today than before, and that it's easier for an intelligent person to become an expert much quicker than the time it took in the past to acquire the required experience. I also know how one can become an expert, you just need a good understanding of the scientific method and access to information.

I think the author is just lamenting on the lost prestige and authority of experts. It was inevitable to happen, as knowledge is cheapening. I would like to say i sympathize with him, but i don't, there's no evidence that the experts of yesterday were any better than the experts of today.

The real thing to lament about is how expertise has been superseded by popularity.


> People in political debates no longer distinguish the phrase “you’re wrong” from the phrase “you’re stupid.”

I wonder just when there allegedly was a golden age of politics where the issues of the day were discussed politely and with mutual respect.


It seems pretty clear the author has been biased by the area he works in. Public policy may or may not be some type of objective science, but it's certainly under the influence of politics: which means he's subjected regularly to the most arbitrary unscrupulous insanity from random laymen. PG wrote[1] well about how when it comes to this area, people with absolutely no qualifications at all not only give an opinion, but actually consider themselves the expert. I have no doubt the author is subjected to this ad nauseam.

1: http://paulgraham.com/identity.html


I believe that the layman resents someone who is either introduced or makes himself known to be an expert, without any empirical evidence pointing to that fact. What makes this "Tom Nichols" guy an expert in social sciences? Why is he considered that? Does he have any interesting views on the subject?

What this "death of expertise" has brought us is not a closing door into a world of knowledge, but rather an empowerment of common humanity, so that anyone has access to the same information that "experts" have.


This just screams out at me "Fox News"!. The only way they can push their normally brain dead agenda as hard as they do is to ignore mounds of literature and opinions from the scientific, intellectual, and other subject matter experts on the basis of "opinions" and "freedom of speech". If 99% of people with actual knowledge of the issue disagree, not to worry, 99% of the fox news viewership does agree so obviously the experts are wrong.


Informed analyses are the goal, and extensive study in an area is a benefit. That said, "experts" can and do have bias and conflicts of interest (funding, prestige, acquiring tenure...) so their analyses require scrutiny as well. I would note that inappropriate appeal to authority is recognized as a logical fallacy. I would also note that we live at a time when there is unprecedented access to informations, so credentials alone are not the best measure of an argument.

I think we benefit most from scholarly debate of different models/analysis where the different sides adjust their position based on the criticism. I would also note that both credentialed and non credentialed people can be stubborn...


I think true expertise is probably harder to come by than it used to be. It's like when I hear old-school bloggers say it's easier now to succeed as a blogger now than it was when they were starting out. It's hard to believe. The amount of effort it takes to stand out from the crowd would seem to dwarf anything else. You have to be really sharp, really focused, Early bloggers had timing on their side, and that counts for a lot.

The barrier to knowledge has gotten much lower, so any would-be expert has to have a ready answer to the question, "why am I listening to you rather than just looking up whatever facts I need from Wikipedia?"


As a layman, my opinion has little value apparently. Apologetics aside, I have noticed a massive cultural shift to computerized expert systems. These systems are systematically replacing live human experts in many mundane but important ways. And I believe we need to keep going in this direction. Paying homage to a human expert when IN SOME CASES their knowledge can be sucked into a program that can be distributed widely for low cost and very rapid consumption just makes sense. What are the ramifications of this new digital expert culture? Heavy reliance on automation which appears to lead to somewhat dull thought processes.


The most egregious flaw in this guy's argument is that, contrary to his disclaimer about not advocating a technocracy, he's deceptively arguing that people should trust experts beyond their respective areas of expertise.

To see this, consider some points that should not be controversial:

1. Experts, properly identified, have much more factual knowledge in their respective fields than others who are laypeople in relation to those fields (the only thing the author gets right).

2. Being an expert in facts related to a particular topic does not mean that the person is truthful, benevolent, unbiased, or candid with the public; nor that his/her intentions, goals or ideology align with those of anyone who is asked to "trust" the expert.

3. Expertise makes one better qualified than others to make value judgments, only to the extent that the value judgments depend closely on factual issues. In other words, if A and B agree that X is a good policy if proposition P is true, but a bad policy if P is false, then the expert in the intellectual area covering P is better qualified to decide the right conclusion - but if A or B claims that X is a good or bad policy for reasons unrelated to P, then that expertise is irrelevant, and a false basis for following the expert's recommendation.

Keeping these points in mind, there is no such thing as an expert in "public policy". Someone may be an expert in factual issues that are considered relevant to policies, but making policy decisions intrinsically and pervasively involves value judgments and ideologies, regarding ends as well as means, and therefore is not properly conceived as a realm of expertise comparable to, say, bridge design, reducing infectious disease or conducting accurate polls.

Thus, for example, on views like the author's, if you can't recite the statistics about gun-involved deaths and injuries, you're unqualified to have an opinion on gun laws - but this is a gross fallacy unless you've agreed in advance that the right policy depends on those stats. But the latter is a value judgment, not a matter of expertise.

In this way he tries to parlay a sort of snobbery about expertise (he's obviously very proud of having been consulted by political leaders) into something like "you're anti-rational unless you shut up and obey". A real expert who's worthy of trust will instead present the facts, as well as possible to a lay audience, including the likely consequences of policy choices, and then defer to the public and a democratic process for decisions.


I remember the moment when I opened my mind to the possibility that some immunizations may not be right for my family. It was when I found out doctors get paid to push them.

It used to be you were the only one paying your professional.

Now when I go to see a professional I can't be passive. I have to participate and be active in every decision. Because now I never know if I'm the only customer or if there is some other party to the transaction.

I want to be the only one influencing the behavior of the professional but even a paying customer can't be confident anymore.


My professional experience has been the opposite. Over the course of my career, I've seen a steady decline in leadership, project management and general management. The return on skill has gone up. If you are the best in the world at your topic, the world is your oyster. Things turn around so quickly today, that specialists who can stay current can extract a ton of value quickly. It's tougher for leaders and managers.


Opposing an "appeal to authority" is not the claim that "all opinions have equal weight", it's that "all opinions should be heard." Ideas aren't weighed, anyhow, they're either falsified, or not.

If you cannot explain your idea to an intelligent layman then this is prima facie evidence that you do not understand it yourself.


Like when that pseudointellectual tried to explain the theory of relativity. Anyone with intuition would know it was bullshit.


It's hardly fair to allude to one of the deepest theories we have. Besides which, in all such cases, there are many popular works available for explanatory purposes.


"people who want to punish Congress for this or that law can’t name their own member of the House."

If he really was an expert, he would see the underlining problem in this, instead of hatting the consequences of that problem.

Maybe if he was an expert in any engineering field he would know how to identify a problem instead of generating bigotry on the consequences.


He's not generating bigotry. He is saying that people who are uneducated in politics on a fundamental level are trying to make the rules that govern us all. Not that they are valueless, or are in any way worse; just that they have no idea what they're talking about.

You wouldn't ask a 6 year old how the government ought to be run. Why should you value the opinion of a 30 year old who hasn't actually learned any more about the topic in the intervening 24 years?


> Why should you value the opinion of a 30 year old who hasn't actually learned any more about the topic in the intervening 24 years?

Because in many cases it's not about opinions, but about decisions that affect that 30-year old. For example, every citizen should get a say in whether taxes get raised, I really wouldn't leave that up to the experts.


because it will govern him.

comparing a 30 yr old that will be subject to the laws to a kid that can't even wipe properly is idiotic. Just because you can't afford to be dedicated to the law does that mean your opinion should be excluded?

I take it that you are a fascist then?


I don't think "Expertise" is dead. But in a society where information is everywhere, and almost every one matters at least a little, people have ideologies and demand proper explanations.

Experts today better understand the former and provide the latter.


I'm surprised by the reaction -- I thought more people would be in support of this.

Since I'm from the U.S., I'm curious what the attitude is around the world. Does the layman have a lot of resentment towards the "expert" in other countries?


I wouldn't call the sentiment "resentment", but rather "skepticism".


There is a really great movie on this topic from 2006 called Idiocracy.

Note that the death of expertise may only be something that applies to the culture of the USA, not other countries. Or at least, not most other countries.


I'll start with the articles bullet points -

1. We can all stipulate: the expert isn’t always right.

All humans are fallible, including "experts", such as Albert Einstein, who famously rejected Quantum Mechanics.

2. But an expert is far more likely to be right than you are. On a question of factual interpretation or evaluation, it shouldn’t engender insecurity or anxiety to think that an expert’s view is likely to be better-informed than yours. (Because, likely, it is.)

There are "experts" in things that have no basis in anything other than the expressions of other people which may have no or very limited evidence to support them, priests, Marxist historians, Freudian psychoanalysts etc. Is their "expertise" of any actual value to the rest of humanity? What about "experts" in subjects that we as a species do not have a good understanding of? Does the conflating of those subjects with those that we have much better understanding of, for example conflating public policy with engineering disciplines, help or hinder this discussion?

3. Experts come in many flavors. Education enables it, but practitioners in a field acquire expertise through experience; usually the combination of the two is the mark of a true expert in a field. But if you have neither education nor experience, you might want to consider exactly what it is you’re bringing to the argument.

If the "field" is nothing more than some ideology, not backed by evidence, then any "education" in it seems to be open to challenge.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Upton Sinclair

4. 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.

Do I need to know the 12 Astrological Houses to reject astrology? Do I need to know the King James Bible to reject Christianity? Do I need to know Mein Kampf to reject Nazism? Do I need to know the Talmud to reject Zionism?

5. And yes, your political opinions have value. Of course they do: you’re a member of a democracy and what you want is as important as what any other voter wants. As a layman, however, your political analysis, has far less value, and probably isn’t — indeed, almost certainly isn’t — as good as you think it is.

So if someone wanted to bring about the destruction of humanity, that would be of equal value to someone who does not? Perhaps an Orwell quote would help here-

"Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Okay, so how about trying to find out what is actually happening? I would posit the following-

1. The Internet has allowed the dissemination of both fact and fiction, evidence and opinion.

2. Critical thinking, the use of evidence and reasoning seems to be lacking from most educational systems. A population that can be swayed with propaganda rather than evidence and logic is more pliable to the will of the political class and therefore this state of affairs seems unlikely to change.

3. The rise of "Truthiness" as a consequence of 2.

4. The speed of scientific and technological progress is now so great that expertise in these fields has become much narrower and the ability to communicate this effectively to the non-experts in a timely fashion has gone down.

5. The lack of progress in understanding of the complex social, political and economic systems we inhabit while simultaneously an increase in that complexity.

6. The increasing perception of many people that the current political, economic and social systems are overly beneficial to an increasingly small number of people and those, like the author of this piece are no more than courtiers to the beneficiaries. As this idea becomes more prevalent, the courtiers must defend themselves and so they try to convince the rest of us that they are experts who have the same precise answers that engineers could give.

7. There is no ideological solution to 6.

8. People in forums like HN who do have the ability to think critically increasingly critique articles like this and hopefully spur some critical thinking in others, this is then twisted by some, like the author into an attack on all "experts".


> Do I need to know the 12 Astrological Houses to reject astrology? Do I need to know the King James Bible to reject Christianity? Do I need to know Mein Kampf to reject Nazism? Do I need to know the Talmud to reject Zionism?

Well, that is the catch. You don't need to know anything to reject something. But to argue against something, to have a discussion, requires you to know what you are arguing against. But things like Christianity and Nazism are poor examples. Christianity is not factual, it's personal and spiritual, unless you want to talk about theology. And about Nazism I know too much.


My point was that there are things that are not worth arguing against as there is a prima facie against them. So those arguing for those positions are either ignorant of the prima facie case or are trying to deceive, sometimes themselves as well as you and me. If you want a more current example take Irans nuclear program, I have people try to tell me that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon, I used to point out that all 17 US intelligence agencies have said this is false, I have since stopped bothering and just avoid those people now.


Yeah, I agree that not every subject is worth arguing about. But if discussion is what you are after, then you need to know what you are talking about, or against. The nuclear program of Iran is a great example. You have done the research to know that those who are experts in the matter don't think Iran has a nuclear weapon program. The others are not prepared for the discussion.

(This certainty about Iran was actually news to me.)


The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate is where the Iran information originated, nothing has changed in the subsequent years.

'Mr Bush expresses anger that US intelligence agencies played a role in removing the option of military action against Iran over its nuclear programme.

He describes the "eye-popping declaration" in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) judging with "high confidence" that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme.'

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11722375

Comparing the factual analysis to the propaganda whether on Iraq WMD before the invasion or Irans nuclear programme now is certainly an interesting exercise.


I can't be the only one who immediately thought of this xkcd comic when reading the article: http://xkcd.com/451/


As soon as I see an article entitled "the death of x" or "n xs that y" I just skip it. Not everything is worth reading.


I'd recommend, on the same subject, the book The Revolt of the Masses, by José Ortega y Gasset.


The author is wrong by blaming anything at Wikipedia and etc. This sounded more than weird.


I think I have read too much Taleb to be able to agree.


Taleb strikes me as entirely too prone to refer to himself as an expert. For that matter I can barely stand references to ancient literature when discussing an extremely modern subject which should be understood through mathmatics, not conjecture, however fancy the latter was constructed.


Taleb's writings do not contradict this article, as the experts are often right; (my take on) Taleb's criticism of experts is that being right most of the time is not good enough when there are long-tailed distributions.


In "The Black Swan" he does talk about the importance of experts' error rate, but the larger point is that only fields which do not rely on prediction of the future, or "do not move" as he phrases it, can have true experts. Medicine, hard science, games, accounting, agricultural stuff.


The most dangerous thing to be is an expert on something most people consider trivial, or in an arena dominated by fear. Data and general knowledge won't prevent you from getting run over.

The first (something considered trivial) is Parkinson's Law of Triviality, also known as the parable of the bike shed. I ran into this at Google in the Real Games debate. It's useless to get into the details, but this was an area where I was the expert, but because everyone thought "games are trivial" (mostly based on exposure to shitty games) there was an incredible amount of product-manager-style bikeshedding, with the actual experts aggressively pushed back. (Google may be a weird case. If a company thinks that engineering is Smart People Stuff and design, product management, and HR are Stupid People Stuff, what kind of product management is it going to get?)

The second and more dangerous case is the one where anxiety (especially involving children) comes into play. There's no good reason to think that vaccines cause autism, or are in any way more dangerous than not having them, but because the stakes are so high, people feel a need to "do something" and take charge, but often end up making bad decisions. I think the insanity around expensive, private pre-schools ($40k per year, from preschool to college) in Manhattan and San Francisco is the same thing. It seems like a wasteful expense, and expectancy-wise it probably is, but when you consider the extreme stakes and what happens to people without connections, it's easy to see why people incinerate so much money on the hoity-toity private schools (most of which aren't even that good).


Excellent essay. Made me think why my comments on HN get constantly downvoted. I love HN, but for all its greatness, an average user here is neither an expert in practically anything, nor likely a productive member of society. He is just a contrarian with no knowledge. 100 years ago he would have been a peasant in Ohio.


Maybe if you were a touch less condescending and arrogant, and refrained from making baseless judgments, you would get more up-votes.

How did you arrive at the conclusion that the "average user here is neither an expert in practically anything, nor likely a productive member of society"? I disagree with many users, but have no reason to indict them.


"if you were a touch less condescending and arrogant, and refrained from making baseless judgments, you would get more up-votes."

That's exactly why you are wrong. In your world, upvotes are based on niceties and political correctness, but in my world that should be based on experience and expertise.


In your posts, you demonstrated neither category of qualities, and thus deserve to be down-voted in either "world". (The real world is in between anyways, and it is the only world that counts.) The only expertise you demonstrate is in being a prick.


"..demonstrate is in being a prick.." i'm willing to bet your downvote of @mudil was due to this emotion rather than @mudil failing to demonstrate his expertise on HN culture


If you intend to honestly leverage expertise and experience

And:

If you believe that anger and defensiveness harm rational thinking.

And:

That being rude is liable to make people angry and defensive.

Then - regardless of what world you'd rather live in - being condescending and arrogant seems liable to be ill aligned with your aims.


In my world, upvotes would be based on truth (correct relation to reality) and insight (ability to uncover new truths or present old truths in a new light).

Neither niceties/political correctness or experience/expertise should be reasons for an upvote unless the answer is correct or insightful.


Interesting theory. So, in effect, your comments are downvoted because the majority of people here are either too ignorant or too stupid to understand them. Well, that's one way to avoid ever having to question your own beliefs/knowledge.


I agree that it is an interesting idea, but it is not particularly original.


I'm disappointed that this comment was downvoted so severely. It's a perfect satire of the original article.


Not everyone got the irony...




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: