The Death of Experts Impacts Criminal Law Too

It seems the "death of expertise" is a hot topic these days. A few weeks ago I heard Tom Nichols being interviewed on the wonderful program THINK on KERA about his book, "The Death of Expertise." The synopsis of that show sums it up pretty well: 

"With the Internet, nearly any fact or figure is just a click away. That democratization of information comes with downsides, though – including everyday people thinking they understand complex concepts as well as doctors, lawyers and other experts. Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, joins us to talk about the dangers of assuming we know it all..."

And then last week I saw "Why Expertise Mattes" on NPR where Adam Frank, an astrophyscist talks about the role of expertise in today's world of "alternative facts," "fake news," and denial in all it's forms. Again, the author sums it up pretty well: 

"By definition, an expert is someone whose learning and experience lets them understand a subject deeper than you or I do (assuming we're not an expert in that subject, too). The weird thing about having to write this essay at all is this: Who would have a problem with that? Doesn't everyone want their brain surgery done by an expert surgeon rather than the guy who fixes their brakes? On the other hand, doesn't everyone want their brakes fixed by an expert auto mechanic rather than a brain surgeon who has never fixed a flat?"

I see this sort of thing in criminal law all the time. I'm not talking about the defendant who simply doesn't trust his lawyer (my colleagues who handle court appointed cases will cringe in understanding and empathy at the phrase, "I want a real lawyer.") That's run of the mill distrust of you in particular (they didn't get to choose you and have frequently understandable misgivings about the criminal justice system of which you are a part, so voila. I'm talking about the defendant who does choose you as his or her lawyer but then questions your every move and/or makes his/her own suggestions based on absolutely no experience. The internet and the speed of information in modern society has undeniable benefits, but we mustn't turn a blind eye to the costs. WebMD doesn't make you a doctor. A YouTube video doesn't make you a carpenter. A little internet research on "the law" doesn't make you a lawyer. Seek out competent expertise and rely on it. Ask intelligent questions, of course. Make sure you understand the advice and if it doesn't make sense, question it. Just don't ASSUME you necessarily know better than someone who spends their life focused on your issue.

Mike HowardComment