David M. Shribman | January 28, 2020
When homeowners contemplate purchasing a refrigerator, they consult expert opinions online or in consumer guides. When patients are given a frightening diagnosis, they search for a specialist with expertise in the disease. When researchers prepare a scholarly article, they submit their work to expert review. And, in Canada, when outdoors enthusiasts want to know what snowshoes to purchase — backcountry or recreational, or even bear paw or beaver tail — they head to the retail chain called Sports Experts.
Despite such routine advice-seeking, expertise is under assault today more than ever. Medical experts extol the indispensability of vaccinations, yet are dismissed as tools of Big Pharma. Environmental experts plead for action to battle climate change, and their opponents say they are captives of ideological zealots. Academic experts are chided for their ivory towers and denigrated for inhabiting a parallel universe where peripheral concerns are made central.
No longer is mastery of the commercial, political and cultural arts widely worshipped, and no longer are the study, ambition, pluck and virtue that create expertise universally valued. Instead, expertise has become an umbrella term in the common mind for a hopelessly ossified establishment struggling to maintain a false superiority over a larger mass of people who possess superior judgment, wisdom and common sense. As a result, “meritocracy” — the subject of a searing critique in a new book, The Meritocracy Trap, written, poignantly, by a Yale professor —has suddenly become a term of opprobrium.
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