SNP11: The Death of Domain Expertise

In Podcasts by Danny Lennon2 Comments

This is a Premium-exclusive episode. To listen to the full episode and access the transcript, you must subscribe to Sigma Nutrition Premium.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Further Reading
  3. Transcript (Premium Subscribers Only)

Listen to a preview of the episode here:


Never before has there been greater access to information about nutrition and health. But never before has there been such a low barrier to being seen as an “expert”. There are large numbers of people getting information from, and basing their health decisions on, people who don’t have direct expertise in the field in which they are talking about.

Moreover, some promote the lack of domain expertise as a feature, not a bug. They claim that those that were conventionally seen as domain experts are either brainwashed, lazy in their thinking, or outright corrupt. And the solution is instead to look to those with a fresh perspective that can illuminate us on the “truth”.

In this episode, Alan and Danny discuss this “death of domain expertise”, how it plays out online, and its ramifications for people’s ability to get good information.

This is a Premium-exclusive episode. To listen to the full episode and access the transcript, you must subscribe to Sigma Nutrition Premium.

Further Reading

  1. Tom Nichols – The Death of Expertise
  2. Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind


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  1. I only heard the first half hour of this – the Premium subscription no longer fits into my domestic funding envelope ;( – but I loved what I heard as I’m fascinated by the thriving on-line quackery industry and the disdain for expertise that accompanies it.

    Maybe you get to this later in the podcast, but as I listened I couldn’t help but wonder what this is all about this from the perspective of those who are pulled in by these grifters.

    First, why are these people not getting what they need from conventional health care and nutrition? Of course, that’s a huge question, touching on the uncertainties of medical science, deficiencies in health care delivery systems, the fact that one size does not fit all in health or nutrition, personal idiosyncrasies, etc. Why do they think they need to go to the grifters?

    Secondly, why are these grifters so attractive to those whom they attract? I’ve read a lot on critical thinking and especially cognitive biases and I get that confirmation bias and motivated reasoning play a huge role here once people head down this rabbit hole, but why is the heterodox stuff so compelling to some people?

    Finally, what can be done to oppose this? And that’s a big question, too, it’s about helping people how are struggling in such a way that they’re headed down this path, how to help them get off the path, and, most challenging of all, is there anything that can be done to mute the grifters or otherwise make them less visible and attractive?

    Love the show, especially this episode, will go Premium again if circumstances permit again one day.


    1. Author

      Hi Mike!

      You raise excellent points, and indeed questions that we have asked ourselves.

      “Why do they think they need to go to the grifters?” – This is a combination of things. First, as you note, is that some areas of health currently don’t have much solutions for people. For example, autoimmune diseases or PCOS, are frustrating conditions with very little in the way of solid help, especially in relation to diet. Unfortunately, these are the places where quacks can most easily appeal to people (related to your second question), as they will offer an all-good solution that is based on a simple diet of food behaviour. Another aspect of why people will go towards quacks is that many of these people seem “nice”. They’re charismatic, they seem intelligent, and they claim to care about people (while stating how much conventional medicine hates them!).

      On a more philosophical front, as humans I suspect we have an omnipotent drive to control things, even when that isn’t possible. Quacks offer people a way of “guarenteeing” they will be healthy or disease-free, if they just follow their advice. Which, of course, is nonsense.

      “Secondly, why are these grifters so attractive to those whom they attract?” – Touched on this above. But I believe they are a combination of: a) charismatic, b) selling an all-good solution, c) offering something that can’t be got elsewhere, d) have a compelling narrative around their diet/advice.

      In relation to d), I think this is key. People don’t respond to evidence or careful statements. They respond to narratives and what “feels” right on hearing it.

      These are just some things that come to mind. There are of course other things like shady marketing practices that they commonly use.

      Their tactics are very similar to the divisive figures in politics and pop culture, who gain large audiences through wild statements or behaviour, regardless of if its easy to show they are wrong/lying by pointing to data.

      In terms of what can be done, I’m at a loss to be honest. When I look at the current information landscape in the world generally at the moment, I’m nihilistic about how we ever move in a more positive direction towards truth and evidence.

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