I am just finishing off Tom Nichols’ “The End of Expertise”, a very sharp-elbow critique on how we view those who really know as opposed to those who don’t know but claim they do. Unfortunately, it is that latter crowd of self-proclaimed experts that is in the ascendancy these days. As an early babyboomer, I grew up in the fifties to accept that anyone with an official title was likely a person who knew what he or she was talking about. Expertise, or the ability to use knowledge in order to enlighten others, was the trademark of teachers, lawyers, inventors, scientists, priests, politicians, doctors, professors and writers, just to name a few chosen vocations. It was only well into the sixties that I started to challenge that assumption that my elders knew better, either epistomologically or experientially. The argument went like this: those in charge naturally knew more because they had received the critical training over time that allowed them to make wise and timely decisions on behalf of others. In a trickle-down, paternalistic fashion, some of the important knowledge would come to my generation if we were patient enough to wait for it. Well into the seventies, that respect for the traditional aura of expertise had largely disappeared, only to be replaced by a welter of new ideas that suggested that knowledge needed to be shared more equitably across generations, even if it invoked conflict and disagreement in such matters as to how to raise children, live healthy, make money, rule wisely, and enjoy a fuller life. The scientists, the acme of the intellectual food chain in my salad days, were those who made a name for themselves by producing ground-breaking evidence that our world was more intricate and profound than we could ever imagine. As Nichols points out in his book, we owe so much as a civilization to those Nobel-like trailblazers like Pauling, Fleming, Einstein, Bohr, Planck and countless others who have opened up a greater world of possibilities. With so much knowledge or information being absorbed and quantified on a regular basis, we have reached a point where we no longer have the time or ability to apply it to our daily lives. We have just simply run out of time and energy to do anything with the new knowledge we learn about ourselves other than to store it or turn it over to others to use on our behalf. That is where the rub comes. Those we turn to in order to make sense of how that sacred corpus of facts impacts us personally are no longer the real bona fide experts we revered generations ago. Instead, they are a conflation of self-proclaiming, opinionated know-it-all who falsely claim to be in the know because of some esoteric training that allows them a radically new understanding of the problem. So many of us turn to these quacks because we are not satisfied with the answers old-fashioned experts are prepared to give us, like these are the facts and until I find more, I am not prepared to give a diagnosis. Admittedly, some of us have been seriously betrayed by the experts who are too lazy to seek out the best evidence on which to make a decision, thus leading to a growing cynicism that the only people we can trust in our search for truth is ourselves. The illusion here is that we can educate ourselves to work outside the constraints of the Scientific Method to find that magic pill that spells relief from pain, debt, shame, and alienation. Nichols believes that the internet and social media have the vastly popular means by which such unexpected quests are now made. The web is now full of millions of self-acclaimed experts who have their own blogs, twitter accounts, and concept to sell. News is now reported as an expanding story that includes the input of every man, from the eye-witness on the street to the neighbour down the street to the footloose wannabe hack with cellphone looking for adventure. In all this new era of greater public input, Nichols feels we have moved from an earlier safe position of informed opinion to a more reckless one of prediction based on confirmation bias why crazy drug regimens massage symptoms rather than address causes. As a society, we are in danger of wandering out of our respective lanes as we go looking for answers to our latest perplexities. Failure to get an airline to accept responsibility for a ‘grave injustice’ often forces us to go public with our grievance, thus putting ourselves on the road to becoming, in our rights, self-appointed advocates for others. As ever, our newly acquired ‘expertise’ becomes nothing more than a pathetic effort to trade on very limited experiences. All the information I collected on Belle’s cancer in 1999 is stored away in boxes, likely never to see the light of day because it is only relevant to the lane we were in at the time. We have learned, in our travels, that while we may be entitled to our own opinions about who did what, when, why and how, we are not really entitled to our own facts. They are the property of anyone trained to effectively use them to solve problems and make life better for others.