Last week, at the Today’s Dietitian Spring Symposium, Dr. David Katz gave the keynote address in which he mentioned a 2014 article titled “The Death of Expertise” (The Federalist, 01/17/14). The idea sounded so much in line with one of my biggest fears as a nutrition scientist, I couldn’t wait to read it.
The author, Tom Nichols, writes:
“I fear we are witnessing the ‘death of expertise’: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers—in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.”
As a Registered Dietitian entering my 20th year in the profession, I’ve watched the food/nutrition blogosphere and social media grow exponentially—and alongside it, the even faster growth of self-proclaimed nutrition experts who not only reject the education of RDs but also reject science and rationality in favor of sensationalism and fear. It is this “death of expertise” that is potentially dangerous to all people who eat and also a risk to the RD as a profession.
I tossed and turned all night after listening to Dr. Katz and reading Mr. Nichols article. Was there anything I could do to stop this disease from killing our profession? I pulled myself together for my “real job” and headed into the symposium.
Along the way, I ran into an old friend and valued colleague who was speaking on how to be a qualified preceptor in order for students to have more opportunities to gain experience in the varied fields of dietetics. Without knowing it, she started to put my worries to rest. And then I went to the “expo”—the recently vilified, corporate-hamstrung, sometimes-dreaded vendor showcase (BTW, I am a vendor). For two hours, I talked to colleagues, answered questions from RDs with sincere interest in the science behind the product I represent and listened to other experts challenge the proposition of this product. I left the room hopeful, inspired and in awe of the professionals around me.
While a few were bloggers and “media RDs,” most were dietitians with direct patient contact either in an in-patient or out-patient setting. Most had paid their own way to attend the symposium and most didn’t miss a single session. They were open to new ideas and eager for more and more information. It’s been a long time since I walked away from a vendor showcase without a single copy of a journal article left, and a list of people who asked for digital copies of full-text articles for their “reading pleasure.” The experience assured me that the Registered Dietitian is THE nutrition expert and is working tirelessly to maintain that expertise.
Why is this important? Because, at a time when marketing budgets are tight and digital/social communication is the darling of paid and earned “impressions,” you can’t forget to talk to the experts. Getting your information into the hands of the people who make professional recommendations to their clients guarantees that an expert is delivering your message. What’s even better, this information doesn’t have to be in the form of clever sound bites or complicated brochures. In fact, it can and should be a clear presentation of the science in a manner that respects the expert’s ability to draw his or her own conclusions, with a simple coupon to drive trial.
So, I answered my own question: what can I do to stop the “death of the expert?” I can treat them with respect for their knowledge and experience, and for their time and effort in continuing to advance their expertise and that of the profession.