Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving A crisis in the rejection of expert knowledge, and the acceptance of “Google-fueled, Wikipedia based, Blog-sodden” information

A crisis in the rejection of expert knowledge, and the acceptance of “Google-fueled, Wikipedia based, Blog-sodden” information

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(https://www.theodysseyonline.com/americans-educated-basic-politics). On the other hand, almost one quarter of Americans can name all five family members of the sitcom the Simpsons (Shenkman, 2008). Historian Yuval Harari a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, places a global spin on this problem. He is quoted as saying “One thing that history teaches us is that we should never underestimate human stupidity … It’s one of the most powerful (and destructive) forces in the world.” In the CNBC’s news article below, Harari expresses concern about the ability of populist leaders — a group he described as “selling people nostalgic fantasies about the past instead of real visions for the future” — to solve today’s biggest global problems.

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/13/never-underestimate-human-stupidity-says-historian-and-author.html

But it’s not just ignorance, it’s also laziness – Tom Nichols quotes the research of Philip Tetlock on the interaction of experts and non-experts, and notes that one of the biggest barriers to keeping experts honest and to have robust debates is the average person’s “laziness” to make an effort to educate themselves to some degree on the topic being discussed. It is difficult to have robust debates on important topics involving experts and everyday people who think they have knowledge, but really do not. As Tom Nichols notes, “the most poorly informed among us, are those who seem to be the most dismissive of experts”.

The Response: New Perspective on Expertise

 Experts make mistakes and are frequently wrong. The average layperson, and especially the “Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, Blog-sodden” community are more often wrong and frequently misguided. We need to come up with mechanisms to ensure this situation does not polarize people and ensure that constructive engagement can move difficult subjects forward and develop solutions collaboratively. There are many processes, structures and systems already used in business, academia, industry and the scientific communities to help limit expert failure as well as overcome (to some degree at least) the general lack of knowledge of people in general. Following are several areas in which improvements could be made:

The roles of experts and lay people in organizations (and society)

The role of experts, and their interaction with non-experts and the public, should be better defined and understood. Indeed, the process of research and acquiring knowledge should be better understood (from a national level to one’s local milieu such as a school district). Knowledge is not static – expertise is a “moving target” and is forever evolving. The average citizen (and employees) should understand that what is considered cutting-edge knowledge today, may be replaced or refuted in the future.  This does not mean that experts cannot be trusted and that “Google-fueled, Wikipedia based, Blog-sodden” knowledge takes its place.

There is also value and risk mitigation in separating the roles of experts and “deciders” (Tom Nichols). Experts should advise and leaders decide. This structure worked very well in a technology company I consulted with, where leaders were often partnered with “fellows” who were deeply experienced scientists and most often acted in advisory roles. In this way, senior leaders could listen to the advice and opinions of numerous stakeholders and then make better informed decisions.

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