What is expertise?

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 07.35.58It’s a misleading title, in a way, because I was driven to write this here and now by a new article/interview with “original” bad boy celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (though as rightly acknowledged in that conversation, that distinction of Uber bad boy must of course go to Marco Pierre White. After Keith Floyd, that is).

I’m a fan of Bourdain, for the record. (And congratulations to him on turning 60, which is why he is pictured here with his face on a cake having narrowly escaped being punctuated by birthday candles.) But here’s the bit that got me:

In order to write well about food you need to eat well, and you cannot eat well if you’re analyzing the food.

Continue reading “What is expertise?”

No, actually don’t try this at home

“When I see a picture of someone who’s really hugely fat,” Nigella Lawson once told a talk-show host, “I don’t think ‘how hideous’. I think how delicious it must have been to get there”.

Not so Katie Hopkins, who earlier this year embarked on her very own ridiculous “Fat Story“. The conceit*: put on 3-4 stone (that’s about 25 kg) and lose it again to show how easy it is – or rather, that all fat people need is a kick up the arse.

If you haven’t heard of her, this is all you need: she calls herself the biggest bitch in Britain, and was apparently ranked the second most loathed person in the world, after Vladimir Putin. Perfect person for the job, right?

Continue reading “No, actually don’t try this at home”

On the death of expertise

images

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all. By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields. Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live.

This is a very bad thing. Yes, it’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us. But mostly, experts have a pretty good batting average compared to laymen: doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice. To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.

Worse, it’s dangerous.

An excellent essay by Tom Nichols at The Federalist.