DSD Summer Reading #7

DR BEN KIENZLE

Finally: it’s summer. The time of skimming books and speed reading has come to an end (albeit only for a short time). Summer also offers the opportunity to look beyond the narrow confines of one’s own research niche. It’s time to ‘think big’!

As part of the annual course at RCDS, members are usually invited to write a short essay on the most important global challenges. While the usual suspects – transnational terrorism, climate change, etc – are certainly very relevant, I have become increasingly worried about the state of expert knowledge. It is certainly true that experts often disagree and expert predictions might be wrong, but it does not mean that expert knowledge has become obsolete. Self-styled hobby experts assume all too often that expert disagreements or errors – combined with an unprecedented access to a vast amount of information online – means that anyone can just become an expert for anything. The amount of nonsense that has been published in the context of the Brexit debate (independent of one’s own stand on the issue itself) is simply flabbergasting. A recent book by Tom Nichols, Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College, examines these issues and their implications in greater depth. So, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters (Oxford University Press) is at the very top of my summer reading list.

Yet, it is not only helpful to look beyond the narrow confines of one’s own research niche but also beyond one’s own ‘zone of comfort’ (in my case the social sciences). What do we know (and perhaps more importantly what do we still not know) in Science more broadly speaking? Luckily, Jorge Cham has written what looks like a solid, yet entertaining and easily digestible book about the state of humanities’ knowledge in Science: We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. Most people who have gone through the arduous process of a PhD degree will know Jorge Cham all too well from the time they procrastinated (and read Jorge’s comics). So, his book really promises to become a pleasant ride through the Universe of the unknown. Though it is unlikely that I’ll be a Science expert afterwards!

Finally, and if there’s still some time left, I will also read at least one book within my actual ‘comfort zone’. Quite a lot of my research time has been dedicated to Brexit; yet, it has become clear that our understanding of the processes of disintegration (e.g. Brexit) in a project of integration (i.e. the EU) is still in its infancy. EU experts have certainly treated European integration for too long as if it were only a one-way street (though arguably this is still largely the case). So, a recent book by Hans Vollaard on European Disintegration: A Search for Explanations (Palgrave) is a very welcome publication. It seems to have the potential to become an important starting point for a nascent scholarly debate on the processes of disintegration in international organizations. It is certainly a starting point for my own ideas on ‘European disintegration’!

Image: Wordle: Hayek’s The Use of Knowledge in Society by Purple Slog, via flickr.

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