Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Lack of Rocket Science in Our Lives

There's an interesting blog of sorts over at the Federalist site....entitled "The Death  of Expertise", by Tom Nichols.  If you have eight minutes....sit and ponder through it.

It's a general summary of the belief that experts are dying off.  Because of Google, the internet, Youtube, and various technology at hand....we are all becoming experts....which is challenging the fundamental idea that we used to have a limited field of real experts, who kept all of us informed and 'straight' on facts.

It's a healthy debate over information flow, how people are identifying themselves as an expert, and the trends we are now setting.  Toward the end.....he comes to an interesting commentary....the lack of 'gatekeepers'.  These were the people who generally kept us on track....focused on absolute facts.....and were absolute experts in the field.

I came to the end and sat pondering.  It's a good argument.  I don't consider myself an expert on anything.  I can tell what will happen if you do "X", or insult someone with a comment, or get yourself stuck in New York City because flights got cancelled.  I can balance a checkbook, tell when someone is stressed out, and generally pick winners more than losers in the stock market.  I can usually take apart some stupid commentary by a wannabe journalist on the Today Show, read through a page of statistics with no problem, and take apart a complex sixty page story....converting it into a twenty-four line story which Paul Harvey used to tell on Saturdays with ease.

I kinda disagree with Tom.  The fact is....life, technology, medicine, science, history, government, business, commerce, Wall Street, taxation, social practices, religion, nutrition, mechanics, engineering, and corruption....simply isn't rocket science.  It never has been.

When you go back to the 1920s and the introduction of the automobile across America....it was an odd thing. History notes that over the next ten years....most guys became mechanics of sort.  Maybe not absolute experts....but they knew the forty-odd things that could break and how to fix them.

If you grew up in the 1890s of Alabama.....the odds were that thirty percent of the male population knew a fair amount on carpentry, house-building, and roofing.

If you grew up in the Pennsylvania heartland of the 1790s....there's a fair percentage of male adults who knew a good bit on cows and horses....from various ailments....to actually telling their age by looking at the teeth.

If you grew up in the 1960s in most rural areas of America....you knew how to mount a TV antenna....twist it the right way....and connect up your TV with your cousin helping you.

We've always been experts, or developing into experts.  That's the plain blunt truth.

The big-name guys appearing as 'experts' on Fox News, MSNBC, or ABC News?  Well....after a while, you realize that your barber knows as much as they know.  The expert investor guy on the Finance Channel?  Well....if you start to read Kiplingers and the Wall Street Journal.....in a year or two....you know at least half of what this guy knows.  The fancy cook who appears on the Oprah Channel?  Well....there are seven hundred thousand regular cooks across America who likely cook as well or better than this big name cook.

The death of expertise?  No.  The bar to expertise might have been raised.  The inclusive of college might have taken us a notch or two.  The continued attempts by the news media to make simple topics complex....might have worked in the initial stages but it's failing now.  Scientists who write of absolute global warming news....hate to ever be challenged....yet all of this challenge business was acceptable business for Issac Newton, Tesla, and Einstein.

At best, expertise is simply going through a revolution.  If you ever wanted to be an expert on the French Revolution, the Depression of the 1930s, or research the great benefits of lemon usage in our diet.....you merely need to raise your hand and make an effort.  In a year or two.....you can be an expert.  I know the real experts will hate for me to note this.....but again....none of this was ever rocket science.

If there is any single problem....it's the fact that we just don't have any really true absolute rocket science which stops everyone at a brick wall.  Maybe that's a good thing.

No comments: