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Yes, We Do Need Experts


Stuart Vyse is a psychologist and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, which won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association.

He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

I recently watched a livestream video of a panel discussion titled “What Happened to the Public Intellectual?” ( Although the panelists were all very smart, I came away thinking this was another vapid topic such as those referred to in the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Dangling Conversation,” Paul Simon’s portrait of a faded marriage.

Yes, we speak of things that matter With words that must be said

“Can analysis be worthwhile?”

“Is the theater really dead?”

The panel discussion might have been more interesting and timely if it had not been on such a narrow and celebrity-oriented topic—a mistake not made by Tom Nichols, author of the recent book The Death of Expertise: TheCampaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (Nichols 2017b).1

The problem isn’t merely that public intellectuals are disappearing. We could (and can) live with that. Much more worrisome is the growing view that expert knowledge in general is of little value and has no role in our democracy. If you need evidence that expertise is falling out of favor, consider the following examples:

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