James Rainey of the LA Times examines the abuse hurled at Amy Wallace for her excellent coverage of vaccine rejectionism, and laments the rise of the Google scholar. “Readers who brush up against expertise believe they have become experts,” he writes. “The common man rebels against the notion that anyone — not professionals, not the government and certainly not the media — speaks with special authority.”
Without the internet, America’s anti-vaccine movement would be kept in check, with periodic flare ups related to political climate and disease outbreaks. The rise of computer literacy, high-speed Internet connections, blogging and social networks, says Rainey:
“has emboldened the common man to tell his own story and, sometimes, to disdain trappings like a university degree, professional training or corporate affiliation. The citizen activists often frame themselves as truth tellers fighting against an establishment that is hopelessly venal. No matter that the corruption, routinely claimed, is seldom supported by more than innuendo.”
In our brave new an age of instant information, when virtual communities of like-minded individuals can coalesce and plot in real time, the expert is seen more and more as the middle man who stands in the way of wish fulfillment and easy answers. Why listen to the experts, ask vaccine rejectionists, when you can buy direct from the factory? And thus we have D-list comediennes dispensing medical advice, and talk show hosts inviting crackpot religious figures and celebrity wives to talk about the H1N1 vaccine. We have become, as Thomas Friedman says, as dumb as we want to be.