The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters

NPR interview of the author above

Book review from Amazon

Book Written by Thomas M. Nichols    

People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement.

Nichols has deeper concerns than the current rejection of expertise and learning, noting that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both. The Death of Expertise is not only an exploration of a dangerous phenomenon but also a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age.

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Democratization of knowledge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The democratization of knowledge is the acquisition and spread of knowledge amongst the common people, not just privileged elites such as clergy and academics. Libraries—public libraries in particular—and modern digital technology such as the internet—play a key role in the democratization of knowledge, as they provide open access of information to the masses.


The printing press was one of the early steps towards the democratization of knowledge.

Another small example of this during the Industrial Revolution was the creation of libraries for miners in some Scottish villages in the 18th century.[1]

Wikipedia is rapidly turning into a real-time reference tool in which public entries can be updated by anyone at any time. This phenomenon—a product of the digital age—has greatly contributed to the democratization of knowledge in the post-modern era. At the same time, it has raised a number of valid criticisms in this regard (see Reliability of Wikipedia page). For instance, one could draw a distinction between the mere spread of information and the spread of accurate or credible information. Wikipedia may thus be a more reliable source of information in certain spheres, but not necessarily in others.

In the Digital Age

The democratization of technology has played a major facilitating role. Wikipedia co-founder, Larry Sanger, states in his article,[2] that “Professionals are no longer needed for the bare purpose of the mass distribution of information and the shaping of opinion.” Sanger’s article confronts the existence of “common knowledge” and pits it against knowledge that everyone agrees on.

In terms of democratization of knowledge, Wikipedia has played a major role. For instance, Wikipedia has attracted 400 million viewers across the globe and has communicated with them in over 270 languages.

Google Book Search has been pointed to as an example of democratization of knowledge, but Malte Herwig in Der Spiegel raised concerns that the virtual monopoly Google has in the search market, combined with Google’s hiding of the details of its search algorithms, could undermine this move towards democratization.[3]

Role of libraries

An article written in 2005 by the editors of Reference & User Services Quarterly calls the library the greatest force for the democratization of knowledge or information.[4] It continues to say that public libraries in particular are inextricably linked with the history and evolution of the United States, but school library media centers, college and university libraries, and special libraries have all also been influential in their support for democracy.[4] Libraries play an essential role in the democratization of knowledge and information by providing communities with the resources and tools to find information free of charge. Democratic access to knowledge has also been co-opted to mean providing information in a variety of formats, which essentially means electronic and digital formats for use by library patrons.[5] Public libraries help further the democratization of information by guaranteeing freedom of access to information, by providing an unbiased variety of information sources and access to government services, as well as the promotion of democracy and an active citizenship.[6] Dan Cohen, the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America, writes that the democratic access to knowledge is a profound idea that requires constant tending and revitalization.[5] In 2004, a World Social Forum and International workshop was held entitled “Democratization of Information: Focus on Libraries”. The focus of the forum was to bring awareness to the social, technological, and financial challenges facing libraries dealing with the democratization of information. Social challenges included globalization and the digital divide, technological challenges included information sources, and financial challenges constituted shrinking budgets and manpower.[7] Longtime Free Library of Philadelphia director Elliot Shelkrot said that “Democracy depends on an informed population. And where can people get all the information they need? —At the Library.” [8]

See also


  1. Jump up^ For example, in Leadhills in 1741 and in Wanlockhead in 1756. Olive Checkland (1980). Philanthropy in Victorian Scotland. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-85976-041-6
  2. Jump up^ “Who Says We Know: On the New Politics of Knowledge”
  3. Jump up^ Herwig, Malte (28 March 2007). “Google’s Total Library: Putting The World’s Books On The Web”. Spiegel Online. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  4. ^ Jump up to:a b Wallace, D. P., & Van Fleet, C. (2005). The Democratization of Information?. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45(2), 100-103.
  5. ^ Jump up to:a b Cohen, D. (2014) An evolving, essential role for libraries.
  6. Jump up^ Ryynänen, Mirja (n.d.). Democratization of Information: Information Literacy.
  7. Jump up^ Kademani, B.S. (2004). Democratization of Information: Focus on Libraries. Rapportuer- General’s Report.
  8. Jump up^ Quotes about Libraries and Democracy.

1 reply

  1. This book brings out the negative aspects of the death of the expertise. However, there is certainly a positive aspect and there is democratization of knowledge and there does not seem to be a monopoly of information by a few experts or a few institutions.

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