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The death of expertise

Screenshot 2016-07-05 14.32.47“Everyone has a right to their own opinion.” Sure, but do we all have a right to expect others to take it seriously? Tom Nichols takes the current culture of relativism to task in this combative but entertaining article in the Federalist.

The Death of Expertise
by Tom Nichols

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. When I say something on those subjects, I expect that my opinion holds more weight than that of most other people.

I never thought those were particularly controversial statements. As it turns out, they’re plenty controversial. Today, any assertion of expertise produces an explosion of anger from certain quarters of the American public, who immediately complain that such claims are nothing more than fallacious “appeals to authority,” sure signs of dreadful “elitism,” and an obvious effort to use credentials to stifle the dialogue required by a “real” democracy.

But democracy, as I wrote in an essay about C.S. Lewis and the Snowden affair, denotes a system of government, not an actual state of equality. It means that we enjoy equal rights versus the government, and in relation to each other. Having equal rights does not mean having equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge.  It assuredly does not mean that “everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.” And yet, this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense.  Read more…


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Beliefs are the birthplace of actions. We have a duty to believe carefully for, as Voltaire observed, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." To think well, we need to cultivate a sense of epistemic humility, to engage with our own ideas and those of others with skepticism, respect and honesty. In short, to think well is to think both deeply and broadly. This site is a collection of resources for doing just that.

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