tv Washington Journal Tom Nichols Discusses Americans Faith in Expertise CSPAN March 31, 2017 6:19pm-6:50pm EDT
tom nichols is a professor at the naval college. expert, whathis could be a problem moving forward, this is from today's washington journal. >> and we are joined now by tom to ols, he is a contributor foreign affairs and also a u.s. war national security affairs professor. he is here to talk about his march/april 2017 issue of foreign affairs on how mericans have lost faith in experts and why this could be a problem moving forward. thank you so much for joining us today. guest: thanks for having me. usingso how are americans experts in 2017 and how do they view them? well, americans have always been skeptical of experts, that is part of our goes back toacter,
the 1830s. our commonrselves on sense. what is different in the 21st we question t that experts, it's that we reject experts, reject their expertise our own knowledge in place. i think that is already angerous, whether a doctor or diplomat, people have decided they are smarter than the don't need them. host: is that a result of americans having more information available to them? what is leading to this shift in experts? guest: several factors, i turned this into a book called "death expertise," available from oxford out of this piece. university e modern system, which encourages students to believe they are retty smart by the time they get to school, the media, which segmented into echo chambers people they are already hearing the things they believe and certainly the which is kind of a big answer machine that tells people
what they want to hear, whether or wrong and confirms their biases. i think it is just part of a movement, probably in he past 30 or 40 years, narcissism that says no one can tell me i'm wrong, i don't like hearing things i don't want to hear, i can be the master of my own destiny at all moments, live in not the way we advanced technological society. when this trust in experts, which seems to be what it is a trust gap, when began to materialize, is this something that happened been acently or has this slow progression over time? guest: that's a great question trust gap does track with the collapse of trust in a lot of other social institutions. you were going to trace back, to the to the late 1960s 1970s, it picked up steam in the in part r 25 years because of other phenomena that momentum. lot of extra
the internet didn't cause this, phenomenaet puts this on steroids. host: okay, we're talking with nichols, contributor to foreign affairs magazine, where e wrote a piece on how americans have lost faith in experts and how this could be problematic moving forward. democrats can call 202-748-8000. republicans, 202-748-8001. and independents, 202-748-8002. and f americans have lost continue to lose faith in normally turne we to on specialized issues, what that formplications of society, if this trap continues? guest: it is very dangerous. dangerous for people on an individual level, for xample, people that choose not to vaccinate their children,
they know better than doctors. people that think they should in leave their phone airplane mode because the pilot doesn't know what he is talking about. dangerous on social level, we are not democracy, we re republic and have to delegate to elected representatives who have to be advised. advisor working in the u.s. senate, advising u.s. they need subject matter experts make decisions. elected le tell representatives not to listen to that, we're abandoning the republican form of government, can have terrible consequences down the line. host: former staffer for the -- senator john heinz of pennsylvania. in from north carolina on the democratic line. john, you are on with tom nichols. hey, tom, how you doing? guest: morning. caller: yeah, you know, i think is that first the government recycles the same
over and over.d find new en do you knowledge, new understanding now, you know, if you look every expert is a guy that was an expert for the government in '70s, in the the '50s, where are the new bright young experts. lastly, you know, lately within the last 10 years, wrong.expert has been they never want to admit they are wrong. they want to say, well, it was different here, i didn't see that, i guess my point is ne, we keep recycling the same people calling them experts and, ou know, millennials and the younger generation won't believe he older generation and two -- i'll leave it at that. guest: thanks for the question. i will take issue with you on a things. first of all, as one of the older experts, there is for hing to be said experience that i think is very important. i think it is true that there
older experts who can put a trangle hold on some areas of knowledge and the younger generation needs to push them i think more ion, than you might think, it is cooperative relationship between older experts in a relationship mentorship, which i think is really important. issue with your second part, you say experts are always wrong. the e a whole chapter in book about when experts are wrong and what we ought to do about it. would tell you, i think experts are wrong less than you think they are. if you look around yourself in an average day, you will see a million things the ones that but catch your attention are things that go wrong. or example, i started writing the book, people would bring up the great pharmaceutical s, well, of the 1950 that's a terrible thing, it was medical error, on the other hand, there are over 300,000 perfectly safe over the counter
that americans and other people around the world take everyday and we don't think it.e about i think experts do get things to g, it is important remember very often we get a lot of things right. host: i want to read an excerpt to get an idea why he says people are losing trust in experts. it is not just that people don't know a lot about science or politics or dpeography, they don't, that is an old problem. the bigger concern today, reached the point where ignorance, at least egarding what is generally considered established knowledge n public policy, is seen as an actual virtue, to reject advice autonomyts is to assert away for americans to from trate independence nefarious elites and insulate frajiel ego from being told they are wrong.
what do you mean by that? people self-actualize or autoony, theirs education,s they need or they need a medication, you are not the boss of me, you can't tell me what to do. you are the client, you are free to ignore anybody's advice. people get tos if the point of believing what experts are trying to do is run lives or tell them how to live their lives. legit nat that is omplaint, expert advice is prejudicial. i have said, my expert advice, you i mean is, what i want to do is... i think that is part of being an expert, it is a problem because in many cases, things are very don't o us and we communicate that well to the publ public. defiantly okay s not knowing things. i haven't, when people say, i
read the "new york times," new york journal, "washington ost," those are stupid journalists and i don't watch c-span, that is talking heads, i unfortunate, it makes them unprepared to participate in their lives and their own democracy. host: is it mirroring the leaders that we see? we saw the president during the ampaign trail, who he is a successful businessman, but no military or political xperience, say he knows more than the generals, you know, he knows about everything. of his sort of a mirroring his behavior? guest: to some extent, this is a don't me to say i represent the navy, my own view, just trump, president obama said i'm my own best policy writer. own best speech president trump said experts, i didn't need experts, maybe i shouldn't use them. i think a lot of people in the
to ed states have come believe the word "expert," and the word "elite" are the same is a real problem. a lot of people are experts in elites,ife, they are not just people who know what they are doing, they ought to be listened to. anna from virginia, good morning, anne. good morning. host: you are on with tom nichols. caller: yes, i wanted to tell global warming and how i feel about it. do not believe in global warming. i don't believe in these experts. they -- meteorologists can't even tell me what the weather is going to be in two weeks for me.
huge home, we cut their power off, cut electricity ff, cut their heat off, air conditioning off and like they did years ago. will keep w how they work. that won't i don't believe in global warming. host: let's let tom nichols to that. guest: i hear you and i understand your skepticism about kind of enterprise sounds uires prediction pretty risky and i think, you know, as you say, it is tough to predict the weather a week from ow, how can we predict climate 100 years from now. i do think it is important to science e reality of about how the climate is current time.r where i think people have legitimate argument with climate not over the science over what is happening and what is causing the change
rather what to do about it. one place i'm critical of look,ts on this, they say, i was saying earlier, prejudicial advice, here is how changing, that is scientific issue to be argued out among scientists, but to go what hat and say, here is you the voter must do, that is different question. that is a question of politics policy. i argue very strongly both in the piece in foreign affairs and we really have to separate those two things. cience can propose and experts can propose the policy and makers and voters must dispose. is important to keep those apart. i understand your concern about this and it is legitimate don't think you should take issue with the science as strongly as i think people do, but i think taking issue with what we ought legitimate political point worth debating. ost: are there areas or fields skepticism at experts is stronger than others or where do
you see this happening? we just heard one. anything that requires rediction, you know, no one argues with the gut when talking about climate, nobody argues guys that look at ring necessary trees and say 100 years ago, the weather was this, physical evidence in front of you. when things require prediction, to argue and room one of the problems here in the experts and between citizens, experts shouldn't be prediction business, i was in that business, i was a soviet expert and you can tell word soviet we were in the prediction business in a tough way. what the public really wants from us, unfortunately. weatherman who explains exactly why it rained in washington yesterday, they weatherman that will tell you if it will rain in washington tomorrow, that is a more difficult situation. hartman calling from georgia on the independent line.
morning. caller: yeah, hi. first several points, but of all, actually it turns out, an important,n is a necessary essential part of science in general. i myself, i am a physicist, when you then experiment, project what the meaning of that experiment is. as for climate science, it this is a hat tremendously -- i mean, there is tremendously high probability that the global models that are climate models being levelped have a very high f certainty in their prediction, so you know, i don't a thing i wanted to talk about originally, let me
go back to the point that i wanted to make. hat is that it's true that there is a kind of cult of sense and intellectualism in this country that has been at gnized for a long time, least since the '50s when wrote hofsteter antiintellectualism in america. notyou are -- maybe you are overlooking, but important to structural reasons or much of this ntiintellectualism, this extreme intensive uptick in anti-intellectualism and i want to mention several things that one of politically and those was the removal of the doctrine under reagan basically that required that
for political statements made on your and then under clinton, that is why i'm an problems in i see clinton, es, under removal of restriction on conglamorization in the media, allowed for example, what name of that free -- what station that's or the radio corporation that dominating that is now dominating the airwaves? consolidation has produced hate radio, which spews basically disinformation -- okay. yes, let me let tom nichols address that. guest: two things. you bring up the fairness doctrine, i talk about this in
the book. doctrine is misunderstood, goes back quite a way. it was never enforced. apply to television nd it really had no effect and the fairness doctrine finally was allowed to lapse in the late 1980s, but that didn't have anything to do with this. hat really changed in terms of all of these segmenting of news all and talk radio and this other stuff was just the bandwidth that was available. became so low ry and one argument in later years against any kind of enforcement didn'tfairness doctrine, need it airwaves and bandwidth scarce.longer the fairnessut for doctrine, wouldn't have these things is demonstrably false. the bigger issue, there is so much the fairness on rine, wouldn'tbandwidth, soe the airwaves, so many channels
that americans have sent a to each of the channels and shows saying this is exactly the segment of to talk about. so there is no need to actually for example, half-hour news in the evening. ou can watch the single news channel all day long and get -- hear what you want to hear 24 days a week, it is not healthy. host: philip on the democratic line, hi, philip. caller: hello, good morning. c-span.ou for two quick comments, the experts are their own worst enemies some times. i could think of the two biggest the iraqs, first being war and now talking about weapons of mass destruction and had to e weapons and we get them. turns once we got out there, that wasn't true. head of the ell, intelligence committee saying we're not hacking american turns out they were. to ink it is important
question expert, not deny them entirely, question them. even when writing a research credible unless have you several sources, not just one. guest: thank you. i agree completely, it is question experts. my only response, it is important not to believe that average person can replace experts on any given issue. iraq war, for the example, there were a lot of reasons the united states went and i think they pushed a reason that wasn't a articularly good one, but to say the experts had some kind of onsensus behind the iraq war, simply wrong, many colleagues in the academic area of international relations took out full-page ad in the "new york times" saying they thought this was a bad idea. think there is a certain amount, this is where i ush back, i think there is a certain amount of scapegoating of experts that takes place after the fact when the public
its may regret, this notion that the iraq war is something r that only seems plausible in the on view mirror, if you rely what was happening it was not unpopular situation, as far as nsa, i think this is one thing that spurred me to was how s whole book deeply people misunderstood the role of the national security agency, central intelligence agency, role of russia in and again,al affairs these were elected argumentstives having within themselves and talking with the american public about were.the acceptable limits experts weren't really taking a position in this either way, me, who were like arguing russia was more involved than we thought and some things necessary in terms of intelligence, again, we have to eep separate the problem of experts versus the decision-makers.
host: are you saying experts accepted or the words of experts should be accept? ed guest: no. how much skepticism do you think is healthy for people to bring to experts? believer in great informed skepticism, that is the key. when people say, i don't believe simply because they are experts, that is when we run into the problem. of it is almost kind conspiracy theory level of distrust. know, f you're on -- you if you're on television right now, you must be trying to sell you are working against my interests and the message gets lost in that. think, you know, as i said earlier, how do i stay informed, i d the "new york times," will not read that, it is fine, "wall street journal." some point you have to read something before you engage the toate, that is what i'd like see. host: elaine is calling on the republican line from alaska. elaine. caller: hey, good morning. can you hear me?
you, you are on with tom nichols. caller: great, thank you for you fory call and thank c-span, this is where i get the my information, so i the guest rious if you have, if he addresses in his difference between the the idual versus institution? because i think they are at odds quite a bit and just from a personal example, in 2005, i very, very sick with lupus. is a pretty nasty autoimmune disease. "expert" my rheumatologist, she wanted to immediately put me very hard-core dangerous medications and i know a physical i'm therapist, so i will see the
interactions and what it an do, so i thank god i had access to books and the i could do ere really more natural things. diet, and supplementation basically is what i did. thing consist change on a dime, but i thank god i health back and i've got my life back and i didn't do any medications. i'm just curious if he ddresses in his book the institution doesn't care about he individual and i think so many people feel like the experts don't really care, they of the institution and -- host: let's hear what tom nichols says about that. different things. one is, first of all, you can always run into a bad expert. if you live long enough, you will get a bad
bad st, bad doctor, a lawyer, i can tell you in my profession, there are plenty of don't argue i experts as an institutional contrary are always right and jobs, i'm their saying experts on a given day are more likely to be right lay most things than people. i would also say that i'm glad feeling better and that findheless, i think if you a doctor whose opinion you have problem with, the goal or the objective should be to find another doctor who is also an becausen the same field google actually doctors, i point out in the book, doctors have for this, "paging dr. google," where they become the patient walks in and says i found this on the dumpster of bad material, you might find likely to ood, more find something that could kill you. important to stay within the
expert community. one thing, i think experts, we deal with data and cience, we deal with facts and information, we do have a endency, i think, sometimes to lose empathy, an important thing for experts to remember, our need tos society and we maintain that empathy. host: all right, bob from line.an on the democratic bob, you're on with tom nichols. yes, sir. over the last few years on looking at a een lot of experts coming on middle figure erts trying to out where the jihadist movement startd and how it started and is financing it. amazingly, here is one of the problem with experts, none of mentioned the r country of saudi arabia. supposedoreign affairs expert. this is a specific question now, tom. for whatever reason, i am not
oing into why saudi arabia would do it, but through the educational system, training is lities overseas and who controlling the sunni philosophy mecca, i want you to go i mean d as an expert, the dots are connectible now that saudi arabia, for whatever reason, is the primary financier jihadist philosophy throughout the middle east and worldwide. think the dots are connectible, tom, you are an expert. guest: first of all, one rule of experts is not to get outside of our own lane. russian-speaking two booksist, my last were on war and on nuclear weapons, so i'm not going to into the territory of arabic speaking middle eastern connect the imply dots because the demand is there to connect the dots.
issue on something important, i follow the middle eastern experts, follow that saudi arabia comes up a lot. this notion no one mentions audi arabia, i'm not sure this goes back to the question of where you get your news, where ou get your information, because everything i read, the word saudi arabia comes up president's when the travel ban was proposed, first hing most critics went right to, to say two obvious countries travel sing from the ban, saudi arabia and pakistan, the two countries all over the airwaves, the notion people don't talk about this suggests you need to scope of the kind of information you are taking in. sit am not -- i cannot here and tell you definitively about the politics of saudi rabia because then i would be violating for star trek fans, the prime directive of the is never to trespass into make pronouncement
area of eone else's expertise. host: hank from south carolina on the independent line. good morning, hank. caller: good morning to y'all. i'm enjoying your show. sitting here thinking malaysian -- when the plane went down in the pacific weeks, we got nd all these experts telling us happened. mean, every -- most of the services e had news had ex-airline pilots and stuff like that. cnn had this richard what he knew exactly happened. so i did some research on him. was a pilot, all right, but a cessna f little old airplane, he office television trying to tell us he was an
happened to that malaysian plane and people still what happened to it. i just -- i am leery when i see say, i'm an expert. and : that's a fair point one of the problems with having so much time, having a 24/7 news cycle is they have to fill that time. they do. justified cism is because to this day, i mean, the malaysian jetliner is a great case stud newhy people shouldn't and just go ion with whatever wild theory pops out of their head. the problem is that the viewers are tuning in and the and people want to hear about it and they want people to speculate on it. prediction, that, you know, as you point out, we still don't know what happened, to fill that time and not thing, to e malaysian
fill that time, there is parade of people that go in front of or ras who are experts self-proclaimed experts and you re completely right to be skeptical of them, i would say you did the right thing, saw an expert and said, i wonder who him up, look up his background, if you watch me i am, my onder who entire career is transparent, it everything iernet, published is available as public record, you can find it, that is what you should do when you it is talking to you through this camera. find out who that person is and is.t their background there are going to be a lot of people when an airplane disaster guy pops on some television and says i walked i am anan airport once, expert, that is not true. host: tom nichols, contributor foreign affairs and national security affairs professor. you for joi