Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Backlash against Experts and Media

Whatever we might think about current events in the United States, most of us could probably agree a backlash against traditional authority and expertise has ripped through the place. A fair share probably agree this discontent and distrust extends to experts in general, for instance, in the media, the economy, the educational system, and the sciences.

So I feel the need to get something off my chest.

It’s no secret, I have a complicated relationship with experts and the media. To put it mildly. I’ve spent years of my life, my entire career really, immersed in expertise and research one way or another. Although I'm not a journalist, I've been a parenting columnist, a writer, and a blogger so I guess I'm part of the media. Yet I have spent the past decade or so debunking experts and news about kids, questioning the claims, the reporting, studies, evidence and even the expertise of some supposed experts. I’ve urged parents to do the same. I’ve urged you to do the same. To think critically, carefully, about news and advice, including the sources reporting it and the evidence behind it.

Now on first glance, this approach might sound like I’m suggesting all experts and media are worthless and should be fired. Ignored. Tossed in a new circle of hell roiling with pundits, publishers, and mommy bloggers posting the same useless or flawed advice over and over again. And researchers so in love with their own beliefs they keep finding the same thing over and over. On some days, out of sheer frustration I might have been tempted to suggest this course of action. Also, I admit, there have been times I might have used too much snark and had too much fun.

But I want to make something absolutely clear - I still believe in experts and the media even if they are imperfect.  


I NEED them. I need the news media to evolve in this new digital economy, and do a better job at cutting through the swath of information and misinformation in this post-fact era when even the facts seem up for grabs. Yes we all need the writers and news organizations trained and devoted to discovering and communicating reliable, credible, nuanced, accurate and unbiased knowledge, including scientific knowledge. Of course we also need the researchers, pediatricians and other professionals working with children steeped in experience and expertise. We will need to rely on them in this highly fractured, everybody and anybody can play an expert or can-dig-up-or-do-a-study world - with more news, more experts, more outlets, more platforms, more claims, more spin, more opinion, more evidence, more studies, more sophisticated science than ever...as traditional newsrooms (how quaint that even sounds), the Washington Posts, New York Times, etc. continue to shrink and more people turn to social media for their news and hopefully someday Facebook and Google stop promoting unreliable news and outright fake news. It is only a matter of time before FB starts hiring all the unemployed editors and reporters to start producing their own news. (Then will they care about the accuracy of news and information?) 

We need to talk about the experts more. And the media. And not just when it comes to politicians and elections. This is my hope for the coming year. 

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