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The Disintermediation of Expertise: Why We All Think We Know It All

I bang my head against the wall on a daily basis as I observe the really stupid and arrogant people who don't believe in expertise because they imagine they possess it in equal measure themselves.
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Let's start with a definition:


So, this is about cutting out the middleman. Just bypass that sucker and get right down to business. Personally, I'm not qualified to invest directly in the securities market without the help of a professional, so I'd probably go through a bank, but if you've got the know-how, go for it.

I'm an enthusiastic believer in the value of expertise. If I don't have it, I go about finding it and, when necessary and possible, paying for it. It's how I learn new things, and how I go through life with the fewest possible blunders. It's efficient, too. I can't be an expert at everything! There are people who know more about children's vaccinations than me and people who know more about climate change than me, and they aren't Hollywood celebrities or politicians.

So that's why I bang my head against the wall on a daily basis as I observe the really stupid and arrogant people who don't believe in expertise because they imagine they possess it in equal measure themselves. They dismiss it because their own opinions must be as valid anyone else's, because we live in a democracy. No matter how many years any so-called expert has studied or worked or in other ways accumulated wisdom about a certain subject, someone else has read about it on the Internet. Cue the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

Unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.

When I was a school administrator, parental disrespect was a common topic of discussion because our days involved dealing with a certain number of parents who did not value expertise. Our collective graduate degrees, years of work experience, and involvement with thousands of children were of no value to parents who had once gone to school themselves.

Most of us have gone to school, had kids in school, been kids, or had kids. In fact, 100 percent of us have been kids! That makes my professional contribution to the world understandably dubious. But what about global warming and evolution? Have most of us been climate scientists or paleontologists, too? No, but we've all read blog posts. Or the bible! Don't forget it's not just about religion -- it's a science textbook too. Thus, any one of us can challenge the opinions of the writer of any article published in any reputable scientific journal. Everyone knows the scientific method is just an elitist shell game played by people in ivory towers with letters after their names meant to make average citizens feel like they can't think well enough for themselves. Thanks to professional science deniers and the idiots under their influence, basic facts have been redshifted menacingly as heresy. Science is now political and religious. This has not happened on such a scale since that dustup with Socrates after the Peloponnesian War. Well, maybe it's more like since the Spanish Inquisition.

What does a legitimate scientist have to do these days to convince people of science? The answer used to be "wait until his or her critics die" -- hence the physicist Max Planck's assertion that science advances through a series of funerals. But with so many ignorant critics and medicine that prolongs life to a hideous degree, Planck's assertion is rendered moot. I call it Day's Law of Dandelions: Mow down as many as you want, but even more will sprout up.

Social media and comment sections are so riddled with dandelions there is no clear path for walking. Dandelions are put in chairs opposite experts and given the same amount of airtime by journalists. The resulting epidemic of straw man debates is a scourge on humanity. What is going on?! I can only surmise that ratings trump the survival of our species.

I recently read on some blog somewhere that: "The Internet is a weird little world of dens and tunnels populated by blindly groping mole-people trying to define their own reality in a nearly complete vacuum of perspective." That's funnier than anything I could write.

Help. Help, help, help.

Lori Day is an educational consultant and author. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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