blueollie

Death of Expertise (really not that new)

This is an interesting article:

How conversation became exhausting
Critics might dismiss all this by saying that everyone has a right to participate in the public sphere. That’s true. But every discussion must take place within limits and above a certain baseline of competence. And competence is sorely lacking in the public arena. People with strong views on going to war in other countries can barely find their own nation on a map; people who want to punish Congress for this or that law can’t name their own member of the House.

None of this ignorance stops people from arguing as though they are research scientists. Tackle a complex policy issue with a layman today, and you will get snippy and sophistic demands to show ever increasing amounts of “proof” or “evidence” for your case, even though the ordinary interlocutor in such debates isn’t really equipped to decide what constitutes “evidence” or to know it when it’s presented. The use of evidence is a specialized form of knowledge that takes a long time to learn, which is why articles and books are subjected to “peer review” and not to “everyone review,” but don’t tell that to someone hectoring you about the how things really work in Moscow or Beijing or Washington.

This subverts any real hope of a conversation, because it is simply exhausting — at least speaking from my perspective as the policy expert in most of these discussions — to have to start from the very beginning of every argument and establish the merest baseline of knowledge, and then constantly to have to negotiate the rules of logical argument.

I see this all of the time on social media. No, I am NOT talking about “only conservatives” but also fellow liberals. Take any issue: sexual violence statistics, safety of GMO foods vs “organic” foods, who is ahead in a primary election (really), creationism, vaccinations, you name it.

Ok, yes, you might accurately point out that *I* am not an expert in these fields. But I know that I am not and so I DO turn to the experts. Yes, sometimes there is genuine debate within the expert community (degree of certain problems in climate change, the mechanisms of evolution, supply side vs. demand side economics, etc.) and all I can do is say “this makes sense to me”.

As far as math: I make it a point to not discuss mathematics “in public” (though I do have a blog aimed at other college teachers). It is simply too exhausting to do.

And yes, some students have gotten caught up in this too:

Universities, without doubt, have to own some of this mess. The idea of telling students that professors run the show and know better than they do strikes many students as something like uppity lip from the help, and so many profs don’t do it. (One of the greatest teachers I ever had, James Schall, once wrote many years ago that “students have obligations to teachers,” including “trust, docility, effort, and thinking,” an assertion that would produce howls of outrage from the entitled generations roaming campuses today.) As a result, many academic departments are boutiques, in which the professors are expected to be something like intellectual valets. This produces nothing but a delusion of intellectual adequacy in children who should be instructed, not catered to.

Sorry, but regardless of what some educators will tell you, the students aren’t going to “discover calculus on their own” (calculus was developed by some exceptionally intelligent people). And no, your undergraduates (or the vast, vast, vast majority of them anyway) will NOT be doing “cutting edge research” while undergraduates. Fact: at a typical 9-12 hour teaching load institution, your FACULTY won’t be doing such research either. Being a genuine “cutting edge” researcher is a 24/7 job.

And what might be worse: some who have never become experts at anything don’t know what expert knowledge is. And those who are: well, some think that being really good at, say, law, means that their opinions on, say, biology, ought to be taken as seriously as those of a professional biologist.

The confidence of the dumb
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. And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself. (There’s a lot of that loose on social media, especially.)

But remember: EVERYONE ELSE is dumb; you are smart.🙂

Oh well…

But here is my quibble: this sort of dismissing expertise is not that new. Think: creationism. Think: the church’s reluctance to even admit that heliocentric astronomy was completely wrong.

Religious people have been dismissing expert opinion for a long, long time.

June 26, 2016 - Posted by | religion, social/political | ,

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