The world is inhabited by a dynamic society whose characteristics change from one generation to another. These changes affect all aspects of humans, including social, economic, and political spheres. As the society experience these transformations, the level of people's knowledge and skills changes as well. Cambridge online dictionary defines expertise as a high level of knowledge and skills in a particular field. In the past five decades, the societal changes have had significant impacts the states of expertise in the world. In response to this scenario, Tom Nichols, in his book, The Death of Expertise, published in 2017, argued that expertise in the current society do not enjoy similar status like in the past. He further described the current poor state of knowledge and skills in America as 'the death of expertise.' The experts and non-experts have played significant roles that have contributed to the death of expertise in modern society.
The increase in the disagreements among and between both the experts and non-experts have largely contributed to the death of expertise. Although the disagreement on expertise is nothing new, in the modern era, it is not based on any scientific facts. Intellectual discussions in any field of expertise should be based on empirical facts and evidence, however, in modern society the arguments by both the experts and non-experts' are based on something else other than scientific facts. For example, in the early 1990s, Peter Duesberg, a professor at the University of California, argued that HIV did not cause AIDS (Nichols 1). During the same period, Thabo Mbeki, then the president of South Africa, also argued that AIDS occurred as a result of poor health and malnourishment, therefore, rejected the need to use drugs to combat HIV infections in his country (Nichols 1). The arguments by these two respectable individuals considered the custodians of knowledge in society have damaging impacts on the field of expertise in society.
Confirmation bias among all human beings, both experts and non-experts have a destructive impact on the acceptance of expertise in modern society. People tend to pay attention and only to seek out the information that conforms to their beliefs (Nichols 8). The confirmation bias occurs are a result of a lack of metacognition. Metacognition is people's ability to be aware of their thinking process and characteristics that allow them to recognize their limitations. The lack of these critical characteristics is the main reason why people are adamant that they know some things, even when it is clear that they are wrong (Nicholas 8). This characteristic often leads non-expert to deny valid knowledge that is supported by empirical evidence. Besides, it can also influence the most talented experts to go astray. The knowledge that is against people's beliefs often faces opposition, thus, undermining the field of expertise.
The role of experts in higher education has contributed significantly to the death of expertise. In the previous century, education systems across the world has experienced significant changes. Before World War II, a college degree in any field was a sign of expertise (Johnson 46). Nowadays, however, higher education has become a business product where students are the targeted customers. As a result, institutions of higher education focus on giving students good grades as a way of attracting more students. The current universities inspire students that they as smart as their professors who have decades of experience. Students in the modern education system are praised and coddled throughout their education life instead of subjecting their intellectual abilities to a more productive challenge. In this case, the experts in the universities are undermining the growth and development of students as new experts (Johnson 46). Apart from the failure of the university to help develop upcoming experts, the internet and the media continue to weaken the expertise by providing contrary and invalid information. In this case, since most people highly trust the media, the experts using the media or the internet can easily mislead the public, thus discrediting the established knowledge (Gobet 25).
One of the most severe negative impacts of experts on expertise occurs when they are wrong. Experts are humans like other people in society, and in some cases, make erroneous conclusions. Unfortunately, their mistakes can lead to severe attacks and doubts on the established knowledge. Linus Pauling, an expert in the field of chemist and two-times Nobel Prize winner, was mistakenly convinced that Vitamin C could treat all diseases in the world (Taylor 6). Although he was a brilliant chemist, he was a terrible medical expert (Taylor 6). His behavior encourages non-experts to believe almost everything that comes to their mind without subjecting it to empirical tests. Another instance of a situation where experts failed was in the 2016 presidential election in the US when the most polls and political experts predicted Hillary Clinton would win. When Donald Trump won, many experts and their expertise were subjected to doubts and ridicules.
It is clear that experts and non-expert play a critical role in the decline of value attached to expertise. The way these individuals use the internet and the media discredit the importance of knowledge in society. Besides, these individuals are human beings and, therefore, more likely to be influenced by confirmation bias. On the other hand, experts in the higher education sector have made learning to be a commercial products instead of developing expertise.
Gobet, Fernand. Understanding Expertise: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Macmillan International Higher Education, 2015.
Johnson, Will. "The Dynamics of Change in Higher Education." Higher Education Dynamics, vol. 3, no. 2, 2009, pp. 45-50.
Nichols, Thomas. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and why it Matters. 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2017.
Taylor, Duncan. "Is Technology the Death of Expertise?" Forensic Science International: Genetics, vol. 24, no. 2, 2016, pp. 5-10.
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