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Free Minds & Free Markets

The Limits of Expertise

A defense of experts exhibits the very problems it complains about.

Oxford University PressOxford University PressThe Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols, Oxford University Press, 272 pages, $24.95

Believe the experts! Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct. Sometimes, in small ways, non-experts may outperform experts. But in general, America and the world need more respect for expertise.

That is the thesis of Tom Nichols' The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. It is also, as it turns out, a critique of the book itself. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security; he is not, however, an expert on expertise.* His hand wringing about kids today is not grounded in a scholarly background in education policy or the history of student activism. He is a generalist dilettante writing a polemic against generalist dilettantes. As such, the best support for his argument is his own failure to prove it.

There are two central flaws in The Death of Expertise. The first is temporal. As the title implies, the book is written as though there were once a golden age when expertise was widely valued—and when the democratic polity was well-informed and took its duty to understand foreign and domestic affairs seriously. "The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of 'uninformed,' passed 'misinformed' on the way down, and finally is now plummeting to 'aggressively wrong,'" Nichols declares. His proof for this statement is that "within my living memory I've never seen anything like it."

As Nichols would ordinarily be the first to point out, the vague common-sense intuitions and memories of non-experts are not a good foundation for a sweeping theory of social change. Nichols admits that Americans are not actually any more ignorant than they were 50 years ago. But he quickly pivots to insist that "holding the line [of ignorance] isn't good enough" and then spends the rest of the book writing as if he didn't know that Americans are not getting more ignorant.

The myth of the informed democratic voter is itself an example of long-ingrained, stubborn anti-knowledge. In their brilliant new Democracy for Realists (Princeton University Press), the political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels explain that laypeople and experts alike have developed a "folk theory" holding that American democracy is built on an engaged electorate that casts its votes for rational policy reasons. Unfortunately, as Achen and Bartels demonstrate, decades of research have shredded this theory, stomped on it, and set the remains on fire.

In fact, Americans have long been so uninformed that they barely can be said even to have opinions at all, much less wrong ones. In one of the most extreme examples in Achen and Bartels' book, New Jersey voters in 1916 opposed Woodrow Wilson because they'd experienced a freak series of shark attacks. The president had no way to stop the sharks, but that didn't stop voters from punishing the incumbent for them. (Or at least that's how Achen and Bartels interpret the electoral data. Other experts disagree, as experts will.) Nichols thinks democracy is threatened because Americans know so little about policy, but if democracy depended on Americans knowing something about policy, Achen and Bartels argue, the United States would have collapsed long ago.

Nichols' lack of historical perspective on ignorance is mirrored by the second central flaw in his book: a lack of historical perspective on knowledge.

Nichols does admit that experts can be wrong in numerous ways. They sometimes make outright mistakes, as when nutritionists decided that eggs were bad for you. They may use their authority to talk about issues beyond their area of expertise, as Nichols himself does. They may also stray from description into prediction, where they are as likely to be wrong as anyone else. And they have been known to deliberately fudge studies, sometimes because of a financial conflicts of interest, sometimes to advance their careers by generating more newsworthy, publishable results. All this is discussed in the book.

But The Death of Expertise doesn't grapple with the most serious way expertise can be flawed. Individual expert failure is relatively minor. The real damage occurs when entire fields are built on error or, worse, on prejudice. A century ago, biology, medicine, and sociology all broadly accepted a racist and eugenicist consensus. To be an educated elite at that time meant to believe in the scientific basis of racism. American eugenic theories were picked up and used by Hitler, so this particular expert failure is implicated in horrific acts of genocide.

Nor is this kind of systematic expert bias limited to the past. American birth practices have swung strongly toward medicalization over the last 100 years, as doctors and obstetricians have wrested control over pregnancy and delivery from midwives. Maternal mortality actually rose among the upper classes as credentialed experts took over a process they didn't fully understand, introducing new risks of infection and birth injury with their interventions. Those numbers have since dropped, but even today, American doctors continue to perform Caesareans at alarmingly high rates and to rely on controversial technologies such as electronic fetal monitoring.

You could argue that this is simply another case of expertise being neglected—perhaps medical doctors are failing to pay attention to the research of scientific experts. But this kind of contest between competing groups of professionals isn't what Nichols means when he talks about the death of expertise. The arguments between doctors on one hand and midwives (or researchers) on the other isn't about ignoramuses fighting experts. It's a contest between different groups with different priorities and incentives. It's a struggle about power as much as it is one about knowledge.

The institution of the expert is, after all, basically a system for turning knowledge into power and vice versa. Licensing, credentialing, and peer reviewing are a way to certify that certain knowledge is valid. But they are also a way of conferring respect, authority, and status on certain speakers. When that authority and power is misused, you can't always expect experts to self-correct. The hard work of dethroning eugenics and race science was done by the Holocaust, which discredited both, and then by the civil rights movement. Experts didn't just decide to reverse themselves.

Nichols is certainly correct that the internet has spread a lot of dubious conspiracy theories and ignorant bluster. When he writes that "everything becomes a matter of opinion, with all views dragged to the lowest common denominator in the name of equality," he offers a good thumbnail description of just about every website comments section ever. But Nichols seems largely oblivious to the virtues of allowing non-credentialed people a chance to challenge the experts. In the past, to give just one example, experts could talk about transgender people all day every day, making invidious policy recommendations and promulgating stereotypes without fearing contradiction. The internet has made it possible for trans people to talk about their experiences and challenge expert interpretations in ways that were not possible before. (See Deirdre McCloskey on her own experience on page 12.) The resulting conversations have certainly been frustrating for many experts. But the previous expert-only conversations were frustrating, and in some cases life-threatening, for trans people.

Even Donald Trump doesn't fit so simply into the death-of-expertise narrative. It's true that his election demonstrates that an influential minority of voters are broadly uninterested in traditional expertise. It's also true, as Nichols notes, that Trump ran a campaign that sneered at elites and experts. Nonetheless, his election was enabled as much by elite failure as by anti-elitism. Professional politicians, both Republican and Democrat, stumbled repeatedly by underestimating Trump. Journalists were convinced that he couldn't win and shaped their coverage accordingly. Experts and non-experts, ignorant and enlightened, all had to work together to create a catastrophe like 2016.

Experts will undoubtedly be studying Trump's victory for decades. But they're not likely to find answers in polemics about how ignorant Americans don't respect smart people anymore.

The balance between trusting experts and challenging conventional wisdom is always difficult. How do you create discussions online where folks who have been traditionally marginalized are welcome without empowering bad actors determined to harass them or spread disinformation? How can political parties encourage participation and democratic engagement without opening themselves up to opportunists and quacks? Those are questions worth asking, but Nichols, alas, is not the writer to answer them. Someone with more expertise is needed. Or, possibly, with less.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this article claimed that Nichols lacks credentials in political science. That is incorrect and the claim has been removed.

Photo Credit: Oxford University Press

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  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    If someone had told me that a self-professed non-expert was going to write a book lamenting the lack of experts, I would have been expecting some kind of punchline. "A non-expert walks into a book publisher's office..." kind of joke.

    What a bizarre concept in the first place!

    And in the second, to assume one can even define expertise in some absolute permanent way. The examples here are just some of the most obvious. There were experts who couldn't prove that bumblebees could fly; the experts who said trains could never go as fast as projected because people couldn't breathe, notwithstanding all the storms with faster winds which didn't suffocate people; the list may as well be infinite.

    And for a non-expert to write a book on the death of expertise? What a joke. It must be a joke. I wish I could think of scams like this -- I'd be rich!

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I have to thank you for this review -- I never would have dreamed in a million years that people would be so gullible about the claims of "experts" that we serfs must take their word for everything, including them being experts and us being stupid. I added an Amazon review for this book, one star, about the silliness of the entire concept, and it's amazing how many people lap up the concept and are so happy to defind being told how stupid they are and how wise the author is, simply because he claims to be an expert in telling non-experts how ignorant an inexpert they are.

    My first few comments in that review were just a joke, because I did not think people were that willing to put rings in their noses for being lead around. But I got responses! and it's been a lot of fun. If I'd known how seriously people want to to degrade themselves into the serf class, I might have given my review comments more thought, but too late now, and I've never been the most articulate person anyway.

    The gift that keeps on giving.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I'm disappointed to find that 7 of 110 people agreed with my non-review. But it has generated 35 comments!

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    Libertarians should be skeptical of experts. One of the bedrocks of libertarianism and individualism is anti-authoritarianism. Libertarian brutalists will argue against this, saying things like "but don't you accept authority every time you go to a doctor"? If you blindly accept what your doctor tells you, you are a moron. No, you should not blindly submit to the opinions of experts. Think for yourself.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    Moreover, at least for now, you have the freedom to choose a doctor, and to believe or not believe what that particular doctor says, regardless of what certifications or credentials they may or may not have. "Blindly" is in the eye of the beholder, it's choice that defines liberty.

  • Longtobefree||

    An expert is someone who agrees with you.
    See Democrats and healthcare.
    See Democrats and whatever global warming is now.
    See Democrats and education spending.
    See Democrats and any spending.
    See Democrats and anyone who hates Trump.

  • call your mom||

    You left out "Cosmotrians and economists".

  • Drave Robber||

    Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security

    Those kremlinologists, they've always been so right. /s

  • Bubba Jones||

    That isn't what he said.

  • Chupacabra||

    In fairness to DanO, he's retarded.

  • Paloma||

    DanO cites logical fallacy while giving a straw man logical fallacy

  • Entelechy||

    Remember this when listening to both climate deniers and true belevers in carbon taxation:

    Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Hayek covered all this years ago. Empiricism and the scientific method are the best tools we have for learning about the world around us. But in extremely complex systems experimentation and interpretation are extremely difficult. Aggregating knowledge into the hands a few experts can be close to impossible in some situations. Fold in human biases and it's easy to see how things can go so wrong.

  • VG Zaytsev||


    Believe the experts! Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct.

    That is 100% wrong in two ways. First as the breadth of knowledge continually increases, the scope of expertise shrinks. Attaining and maintaining expertise requires an ever greater focus on an ever narrower field, which necessarily means less knowledge in other areas, getting progressive lower as the distance form their narrow specialty increases. Which is fine in itself, but it is not how humans perceive the world and their social groups. Instead we believe that wisdom, cast as expertise, is wide - to universal. So that an "expert"'s opinion is valued on a wide range of issues, most of which he has less information and experience dealing with than a generalist. Experts themselves are prone to this flaw.

    Secondly the trust in experts and the narrow scope of actual expertise creates,the opportunity for faux experts to claim a level of authority and deference that they have no legitimate claim to. We see this repeatedly with "experts" put forward by the media to push a pre determined agenda.

  • Paloma||

    Excellent. See Paul Krugman who is constantly cited as a Nobel Prize winning economist, who won his prize for a small subset of economics.

  • ||

    At the moment (and this includes climate-system change), it seems to me anyway, quacks have the mic over the real experts.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The thing about 'experts' is that experts have hobbyhorses. They like to build castles in the sky with other people's money. Ask an expert a well bounded question - "What should we do about the way the Thames has become an open cess pit" - and you are likely to get a reasonable and even game changing answer, such as the London sewerage system that Joseph Bazalgette built in the late 19th century. Ask an open ended question - "What should we do?" - and you are likely to get Milton Keynes.

    Experts bring us the apparently endless parade of disastrous Public Transport projects that litter the American landscape. There are so many of these that when I fist heard the word Metrosexual, I assumed that it meant an Urban Planner who was sexually excited by Commuter Light Rail.

    The thing about the "the voters don't know what is good for them" crowd is that they aren't willing to admit that, on the historical evidence, THEY don't know what is good for the voters, either. Mencken said that Democracy was the theory that the common man knew what he wanted and deserved to get it good and hard. There's a lot of truth in that, but if the 20th Century teaches us anything it should be that trusting the common man to know what he wants is at least marginally preferable to asking experts to provide what is good for him.

  • creech||

    Everyone of us is an expert, in relation to our friends' knowledge, in something. It may be what is the best gun to buy for personal protection, or how to correct a computer glitch, or ways to take advantage of tax savings for business-related home offices. The problem seems to be when there are dueling experts, when the vast majority of people have no knowledge at all of some issue, and the dueling experts are trying to use the power of the state to impose their claimed superior knowledge on the rest of us.

  • Brian||

    I miss the good ol' days of Walter Cronkite, when Americans got their news and opinions from a few, well-curated experts, and made wise decisions, free of fake news bubbles.

    You know: during the JFK assassination, and the Vietnam War.

  • creech||

    The same Walter Cronkite who refused to cover Ed Clark's campaign in 1980 because, as he told one of Clark's aides, "the Libertarians are evil?"

  • Brian||

    Of course. They're the absolute worst.

  • John||

    There is not a death of expertise. There is a backlash against the overreach of experts.Two things have combined to destroy the credibility of "experts". First, experts have tried to assert expert authority over value questions which should be ruled by moral authority. Economics is a good example of this. Economists do have expert authority over the expected effects of a given economic policy. They can tell you that a tariff will cause the price of consumer goods to go up by a given price. And that opinion should hold some weight. What they cannot tell you is whether the tariff is a good or a bad idea. That is not an expert question. That is a value question. Maybe higher consumer goods prices is a price worth paying for greater employment security or to ensure that the US maintains a certain manufacturing capacity for national security reasons or whatever. Deciding which interest should win out is a moral and political question and not something that economists have any special authority over answering. Yet, time and again a particular economic policy is said to not just be best but the only legitimate answer because "economists say so" as if they have any sort of special authority over larger questions about what kind of an economy or society we should have or which economic interests within it should be rewarded.

  • CD51||

    "What they cannot tell you is whether the tariff is a good or a bad idea. That is not an expert question. That is a value question."

    We have empirical evidence that Tariffs cause ruin.

    We have the recorded experience of the 1930s, the Canadian Shipbuilding industry, the Brazilian tech industry, among others.

    Equally ,The knowledge problem that you rightly contend binds the true expertise of experts, also binds tariff policy.

    No matter how you frame it, Tariffs are still a centralized policy, relying on experts to "better" navigate economic forces than people do on their own.

    But in truth, they don't have the knowledge to do this, and they never will.

    Folk wisdom, would be to let people buy their goods from whomever they like, and for central planners to leave them alone.

  • John||

    Second, is that many of our self appointed "experts" are experts in fields that either do not lend themselves to expert authority or are so under developed that they are scarcely better than cargo cults. There is a push and pull between science and collective folk wisdom. Science looks beyond mere trial and error and our perceptions and finds a deeper truth. If we went by our perceptions, we might still think the earth is flat or that bad humors caused illness. Folk wisdom in contrast is the collective wisdom of trial and error. It doesn't know why its answers are right or wrong but through trial and error often gets the right answer. To understand this, think of the state of medicine today and in the 18th century. Today, medicine is a real science with real answers and understanding of the problems it seeks to solve. Today, only a nut would seek a folk remedy over modern medicine. In the 18th century, however, medicine was still in its infancy and doctors barely knew how to keep from killing their patients and more often than not did more harm than good. Folk remedies in contrast at least didn't kill you and often did some good, though no one understood why. In the 18th Century, you would have been a nut to go to a doctor and were better off sticking with the folk remedy.

  • John||

    Pretty much all of the social sciences are about where medicine was in the 18th Century. Before he became a performance artist, Paul Krugman described the state of economics as a field about the same as medicine in the late 19th Century. Economists, like Victorian doctors, had figured out how not to kill their patients, they know for example that printing huge sums of paper money or a government not honoring its debts or enforcing contract and property rights would kill an economy, but they really have little idea how economies really work or how to fix a bad economy that isn't the victim of the government trying to destroy it. He is about right. And economics is probably the most advanced social science. The rest are even worse. Yet self appointed "experts" in these fields expect their expert authority to be treated the same way as an MD's expert authority in telling you that you have cancer or diabetes.

    This of course is absurd and people know it. Just like the folk remedy worked better than the treatments of the trained doctor in the 18th century, today the parent or the local teacher often knows more about how to educate the children they are responsible for than any self appointed expert in "education".

  • John||

    You are illiterate. We know.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The biggest failure of expertise is its inability to account for the personal preferences of 350 individual Americans.

    No matter what the experts are telling us to do, they're making judgments about personal preferences. In an introductory economics course, they'll briefly touch on this . . . limitation, but the problem is much deeper than "normative economics".

    Even on something all sane people should value, like safety, there are individuals who value it differently. Some people ride motorcycles to work everyday because it's cheaper, faster, and fun. Other people would rather pay more and have less fun to be safer. Expertise regarding what really constitutes safer activity informs our preferences, but the assumption that safety should be more important than money, speed, and fun is an irrational assumption.

    There is a group of people in our society who prize safety over everything else. Psychiatrists refer to their condition as "agoraphobia".

    That's just one example. Point is, if experts can't even make basic assumptions for other people on a universal value like safety, then how can they hope to speak for any of us on any other issue?

  • Ken Shultz||

    When I write "350 million", here, it often seems to only get through as "350".

    Damn squirrels.

  • John||

    The biggest failure of expertise is its inability to account for the personal preferences of 350 individual Americans.

    That is largely true. The reason for that is that experts are forever trying to make expert authority count as moral authority. Expert authority can only tell you the how. It can't tell you the should. An expert can tell you how to build a bridge that will be safe and remain standing. An expert has no more authority than anyone else in deciding if the bridge should be built. Experts run into problems with the preferences of 300 million people because they think their expert authority should translate into the moral authority of telling people what they should do rather than how to do whatever they want to do.

  • CD51||

    "Experts run into problems with the preferences of 300 million people"

    Which again, dooms any talk of a tariff policy.

    Tariffs are experts, second-guessing the purchases of 300 million people. They usually get this wrong.

  • SomeGuy||

    This is really true when it comes to a lot of things from laws for our safety to other things. Anything in regards to safety really bugs me because it is always busy bodies trying to control people because they know best.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "He writes that 'everything becomes a matter of opinion, with all views dragged to the lowest common denominator in the name of equality'"

    And yet we are all absolute experts in our own personal preferences. One of the reasons markets are so fantastic is because we all get to represent our own personal preferences in markets.

    People who abdicate making judgements for themselves about what they like because of experts are abdicating their personal autonomy.

    If data from the experts is informing your personal preferences about policy on climate change, that's one thing. Quite another if you need an expert to tell you whether to care more about polar bears or your own standard of living. Those are personal judgements--on which the only authoritative expert is you.

    I once asked my girlfriend, "Where would you like to go for vacation?"

    She says, "I don't know. I'll call my sister tonight".

    No, she didn't want to invite her sister. She genuinely couldn't identify her own preferences without talking to an "expert".

    When experts inform you of the facts, they're doing their job. When experts tell you what your preferences should be, they' have no more authority than any random blowhard on any random bar stool. For goodness' sake, if we ever get a libertarian society in this country, it'll be because people learn to think for themselves, identify what they want, stand up for what they want, and question authority.

  • John||

    Yes Ken. There are three types of authority; moral authority, expert authority and legal authority. Legal authority is just the brute power of the law. Expert authority is expertise in how to do things. Moral authority is the authority to decide what should be done. You have moral authority over your preferences. You do not have moral authority to dictate other people's preferences and decisions. Experts are trying to read moral authority out of the equation and claim expert authority confers the moral authority to dictate other people's preferences and actions.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Moral" puts a spin on it that I don't intend.

    We're talking about your favorite flavor of ice cream, too.

    When I say that I would prefer freedom even IF IF IF gun control meant there would be less violent crime, I think people should understand that as more than just a moral stance (either way).

    Stripped of its morality, my personality is such that I prefer freedom generally, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    Elitism especially goes off the rails when they start talking about style. If people who like NASCAR and country music prefer freedom generally, that doesn't mean their qualitative positions on other things are wrong.

    Caring more about your own standard of living than you do about the environment is not a scientific argument either way. Your arguments on the subject may have a moral component to them, too, but there's a component to it, too, about simply preferring strawberry ice cream to chocolate chip. There's no logical reason why a preference for your standard of living over sacrifice for the environment needs the blessing of any expert--any more than your preference for strawberry ice cream.

    I'm certainly tired of watching my fellow libertarians tie themselves in knots over scientific questions when a simple, "I care more about myself than I do about the environment" is more than sufficient to disarm any of the scientific data they talk about.

  • Ken Shultz||

    What's dumber, Shrike's tired posts or Shrike not seeing that me and John agree on this?

    You've needed a new act for going on ten years.

  • Paloma||

    And actually most "certified" experts do NOT know what they don't know. Which is how we got the low fat high carb food pyramid when for year individuals such as Frederick Carlson and Dr. Atkins knew it to be false. On one of my facebook feeds a woman claimed to be a medical professional with 20 years experience. She was a "holistic" practitioner of eyebrow tattooing.

  • John||

    Many claimed "experts" are experts in fields that are barely better than cargo cults. Yet, they expect to be given the same deference as a structural engineer telling you that your house is built on a bad foundation.

  • Paloma||

    Carleton Fredericks. Jesus.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    And yet we are all absolute experts in our own personal preferences.

    Not really. Most people have no idea why they do the things they do, even if they think they do.

    Why People Choose Coke Over Pepsi

    In a study of exactly that question, four French and four German wines, matched for price and dryness, were placed on the shelves of a supermarket in England. French and German music were played on alternate days from a tape deck on the top shelf of the display. And indeed, on days when the French music played, 77 percent of the wine purchased was French, while on the days of German music, 73 percent of the wine purchased was German. Clearly, the music was a crucial factor in which type of wine shoppers chose to buy, but when asked whether the music influenced their choice, only one shopper in seven said that it had.
  • Stormy Dragon||

    In another study, subjects were given three different boxes of detergent and asked to try them all out for a few weeks, then report on which they liked best and why. One box was predominantly yellow, another blue, and the third was blue with splashes of yellow. In their reports the subjects overwhelmingly favored the detergent in the box with mixed colors. Their reports included much about the relative merits of the detergents, but none mentioned the box. Why should they? A pretty box doesn't make the detergent work better. But in reality it was just the box that differed – the detergents inside were all identical.
  • John||

    That doesn't say people don't know their own preferences. It just says that their preferences are based on different things.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    If you don't know why your prefer what you prefer, are you really an "expert" on them?

  • John||

    Yes. If you are not, who else is?

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Not really. Most people have no idea why they do the things they do, even if they think they do."

    Even if their preferences are operating on a subconscious level, their qualitative preferences are just as valid as any expert's.

    Even if you want to talk about connoisseurs, and educated palate, film reviewers, etc., we're talking about questions of aesthetic--not expertise.

    Some connoisseur may be able to point me to a wine I'll like, but they can't tell me I don't like what I like. I know a guy who likes the burgers at Del Taco. Most disgusting burgers I've ever seen in my life. I suspect they're made out of left over taco meat. He goes out of his way to go to Del Taco 'cause he loves them so much. If the world's greatest foodie told him that he wouldn't like those burgers, then the world's greatest foodie is wrong.

  • Robert||

    Let's get the Wind Commonsewer in here for a consult.

  • Robert||

    I used preview but I LOL so I posted it that way.

  • Ken Shultz||

    No, Robert.

    If you like a wine, it doesn't matter whether TWC agrees.

    You still like what you like even if TWC disagrees, don't you?

    Do you stop liking what you like because experts say you're wrong about what you like?

    If so, why?

  • Robert||

    Values clarification. Her sister knows the right questions.

  • mtrueman||

    "To be an educated elite at that time meant to believe in the scientific basis of racism. "

    Nonsense. There were plenty of educated people who rejected this notion. Those who whole-heartedly embraced it were the Nazis: a collection of crack-pots. Their only expertise was in creating political spectacles. To call them experts on 'race theory' is giving them far too much credit.

  • Paloma||

    Ralph Waldo Emerson was among those who believed in the scientific basis of the superiority of the white race.

  • mtrueman||

    Emerson had no more expertise on race theory than I do.

  • Paloma||

    Yet he certainly was an "educated elite" of his time. He hardly rejected the notion, as he built a whole theory that included a hierarchy of races, with Americans of "Saxon" descent at the very top. (English from England were second).

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The book is written as though there were once a golden age when expertise was widely valued—and when the democratic polity was well-informed and took its duty to understand foreign and domestic affairs seriously".

    This longing for a society run by experts is probably looking back to Plato and The Republic.

    From rule by philosopher kings to the suggestion that society is better when the polity believes in its leaders (noble lie), this idea reeks of Plato and, yeah, Leo Strauss.

  • balff||

  • John||

    Soave and the Asian doofus are photo bombing the three women in the picture.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    Lack of accountability is the worst and most pervasive toxin. The paradox is that once one's credibility is to be presumed, for any reason, accountability and the rigor of its testing decrease, and credibility should effectively diminish.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    What exactly is the thesis of this article supposed to be? I get that Berlatsky thinks experts are dictatorial finks that shouldn't be listened to, but instead of that he thinks we should... ?

  • John||

    I think the thesis is that in many cases not listening to experts is the right thing to do. The thesis of the book seems to be that not listening to experts is always a bad thing. The point of the article is to rightly point out that in many circumstances experts should be ignored.

  • John||

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3.....anoid-row/

    Muslim terrorist in London attack binged on hookers and cocaine before attack. This kind of thing needs to be publicized. Rather than telling Muslims what is and is not Islam, we need to be pointing out what phonies the radicals actually are. They claim to be these pious warriors for Allah, but in reality they are nearly always petty criminals and sociopaths who see radical Islam as a rationalization for their own hedonistic and sociopathic desires.

  • Paloma||

    Didn't the 9-11 hijackers do the same thing? Maybe that was why the Moroccan guy didn't make it. Overslept and had a hangover.

  • John||

    Yes they did.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    The hard work of dethroning eugenics and race science was done by the Holocaust, which discredited both, and then by the civil rights movement.

    Hitler proved the Jews aren't genetically smarter by murdering millions of them.

  • Damned||

    Hey, get your gardener to do your root canal, you don't need experts. See if I care.

    It's true that his election demonstrates that an influential minority of voters are broadly uninterested in traditional expertise.

    Yup, Drumpf's supporters like no expertise. Polls in five states were within margin of error, and aggregated exactly in favor of Killary, so all polls from now on are always wrong. Instead we should go by...oh wait, we should never poll.

  • AlmightyJB||

    You don't say

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