‘How is it possible that one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in history, vaccines, which saves millions of lives every year, is rejected by millions of parents?’ Luis Alfonso Gámez asked this question and explored the consequences here.
Luis is talking about medicine but the wider issue is relevant to many other areas of life and the answer to the question is quite simple: people don’t trust experts. From technology to politics to education, nowadays we question or even ignore what the experts tell us. The Internet gives us access to more information than ever before and we feel we can talk about and have opinions on pretty much any topic.
This situation can be amplified by the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is, basically, thinking you’re good at something when you’re not. Donald Trump is a good example of this. Clearly, he is not an expert politician, but he is now president of a world superpower. How could that happen? Well, some people chose him because they believe he knows what he’s talking about, i.e. some kind of expert; others just wanted to make a point: experts have tried and failed to provide solutions, so why not try something different.
We live in a world where important decisions are often made based on feelings rather than facts. The ‘facts’ of Brexit were carefully, or not so carefully, selected by ordinary people, based on intuition and personal interest, taking a big decision while getting on with their daily lives (that includes me by the way). Tom Nichols, in his book ‘The Death of Expertise’, quotes Michael Gove, a ‘Leave’ proponent: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” Quite possibly true, but what else could we do apart from wade through the information presented to us and reach our own conclusions?
But I would like to think that we could and should appeal to expertise. If we can’t trust the people who spend the most time and energy thinking, writing and talking about any given topic, who can we trust? Our own five-minute search on Google? Nichols points out that true experts are actually quite humble because they realise that the more you know about something, the more complicated it is. Dunning-Kruger-Effect sufferers are not humble at all. They are ignorant of most of the facts but don’t know it. That leaves those who admit they don’t really know, but can give you their opinion. Should we trust them?
So, what do you think? Do we need experts? Do you know anyone who suffers from the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
the wider issue (noun) (the wider context/issue/picture) – the more general features of a situation, rather than the specific details (Longman – https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/the-wider-context-issues-picture-etc)
wade through (phrasal verb) the information – to spend a lot of time and effort doing something boring or difficult, especially reading a lot of information (Cambridge Dictionary –https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/wade-through-sth
appeal (verb) to expertise (appeal to authority) – cite as an authority; resort to (Vocabulary.com –https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/appeal)