The Importance of Ambivalence toward Expertise

Tyranny of Experts

 

Bill Easterly’s important book The Tyranny of Experts  argues that efforts to solve world poverty often fail because the economists who are asked to propose solutions do not understand the systemic causes of the problem they claim to be able to solve. A closely related post, “The Downside of Expertise” appeared in the June 18th Dr. Bob’s Cog Blog. It discusses the narrowness of expertise. I want to add the “necessary” narrowness of expertise. 

Lord Isaiah Berlin alerted us more than 60 years ago to the important metaphor distinguishing the fox and the hedgehog.

Berlin    Fox and Hedgehog

Relying on the poem by an ancient Greek poet, Berlin provides an important visualization of the dangers and promise of specialization. American graduate programs pay abundant attention to the promises of narrowness, but ignore the dangers.  While we all need to rely on the expertise of the hedgehog at various times,  that expertise, when joined to the arrogance that can so easily be its partner, creates potential disasters. See the incredible documentary film, The Fog of Warif you doubt the danger,

 

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