"There is a self-righteousness and fury to this new rejection of expertise that suggest, at least to me, that this isn't just mistrust or questioning or the pursuit of alternatives: it is narcissism, coupled to a disdain for expertise as some sort of exercise in self-actualization.
"This makes it all the harder for experts to push back and to insist that people come to their senses. No matter what the subject, the argument always goes down the drain of an enraged ego and ends with minds unchanged, sometimes with professional relationships or even friendships damaged. Instead of arguing, experts today are supposed to accept such disagreements as, at worst, an honest different of opinion. We are supposed to 'agree to disagree,' a phrase now used indiscriminately as little more than a conversational fire extinguisher. And if we insist that not everything is a matter of opinion, that some things are right and others are wrong . . . well, then we're just being jerks, apparently.
"It's possible, I suppose, that I am merely a symptom of generational change. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, an era when perhaps too much deference was paid to experts. These were the heady days when America was at the forefront of not only science but also international leadership. My parents were knowledgeable but uneducated people who, like most Americans, assumed that the same people who put a man on the moon were probably right about most other important things. I was not raised in an environment of utter obedience to authority, but in general, my family was typical in trusting that the people who worked in specialized fields, from podiatry to politics, know what they were doing.
"As critics of expertise rightly point out, in those days we were trusting the people who landed Neil Armstrong in the Sea of Tranquility, but who also landed a lot of less famous American men in places like Khe Sanh and the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. The public's trust, both in experts and political leaders, was not only misplaced but abused.
"Now, however, we've gone in the other direction. We do not have a healthy skepticism about experts: instead, we actively resent them, with many people assuming that experts are wrong simply by virtue of being experts. We hiss at the 'eggheads' – a pejorative coming back into vogue – while instructing our doctors about which medications we need or while insisting to teachers that our children's answers on a test are right even if they're wrong. Not only is everyone as smart as everyone else, but we all think we're the smartest people ever.
"And we couldn't be more wrong."