Last night, I was invited by my friend University of Sydney Law Professor Fleur Johns to give a Sydney Ideas Lecture. I spoke for the first time about a new book, *Retooling: Professionalism for an Uncertain World,* which I am finishing with Cornell University anthropologist Hirokazu Miyazaki and University of Tokyo economist Yuji Genda. The book will be published first in Japanese, but we hope to follow with an English language edition.
The book is about what we see as a crisis in expertise of all kinds–from disaster preparedness to financial regulation to scientific research. Experts are no longer respected as they once were and, what’s worse, they no longer have faith in their own expertise. So many experts we know are just bailing out–quitting their jobs, becoming organic farmers, joining new religions, whatever. These are all strategies of denial rather than engagement though. We argue that experts can and must begin to face the fact that there is no expert manual to deal with the uncertainty in the world by “retooling” their original expertise. More about what we mean by this in the future.
What made this lecture so fun was the amazing audience of experts from every field imaginable: a scientist working on stopping influenza; a Google engineer; a telecommunications expert; a tunnel planner; a bank executive; a financial regulator; an accountant; a hedge fund manager; academics from a variety of fields. They all talked passionately and eloquently about what the crisis of expertise looks like in their fields.
One key problem that emerged from the discussion was the problem of communication–across genres of expertise (for example how do lawyers and accountants talk to one another in ways that don’t sacrifice the specificity of their disciplinary ways of thinking to some lower common denominator?) but also with non-expert publics who have expectations that experts should have firm answers?
If anyone has thoughts about this it would be great to hear from you.
June 12, 2013