Wednesday, November 23, 2016

stick with the expert

My mother once told me that she had given up writing magazine articles in the early 1960's when it became apparent that the compact between writer and reader had been trashed. Her sense of writing was that the writer put forth an argument on a given topic. The reader's part of the bargain was to bring whatever common sense s/he possessed to the table and assess the internal logic of the article. This contract was broken when editors began insisting that conclusions be backed up by some bright bulb in a particular field.

No longer was it enough to exercise common sense. That common sense needed to be persuaded by one "expert" or another. "As Freud says..." or "as Beard wrote..." needed to be dragged into the fray. Well that, from my mother's point of view, was bullshit. If the argument was poor, the reader was charged with sorting it out rather than being nudged by some alleged "expert."

And here we are today. Back, with the help of the Internet, to the notion that the reader will find a couple of brain cells to rub together. Everyone is an expert. Why? Because s/he can write what s/he likes without any challenge ... and what is written is right, right? Everyone's a pundit. Challenges go un-exercised.

One of the reasons I like writing in a blog is that the implication, though unstated, is clear: It's just my opinion, you nitwit. It's up to you to grab your very own challenger six-shooter and poke holes in what is egregiously illogical or self-serving or petty or politically-slack. No need for raising a voice or interrupting someone else -- just rub those two brain cells together and winkle out the bullshit where bullshit seems to exist.

I hate citing "experts" and yet am as guilty as the next person of doing it. Lookit-me! Lookit-me! I'm so smart that even an expert agrees with me ... which makes me an expert, right? It's like the spiritual teachers who implicitly claim a high seat by quoting some text or teacher already sitting on it.

What expert, after all, adjudges the experts?


  1. Waiting for a 21st Century RenaissanceNovember 23, 2016 at 6:09 PM

    It's too bad you mom denied herself a source of income in writing for popular magazines.

    Independent research and thought may trump commonly accepted notions; but how well reviewed is that research and thought?

    With respect to writing articles for general publications there are sound reasons for validating that an opinion has some basis in the scientific community. It is also good to challenge or show some of the weakness of the reputable scholar's idea. One could point out that there's inadequate research and or analysis. Further, many theoretical ideas that seem to or actually fail in the real world.

    With respect to who's monitoring the experts, I have long believed that articles that appear in scholarly journals meet with editorial scrutiny as well as a certain degree of analysis that assures that a certain level of adherence to scientific methodology was followed. Following that there're often discussions by those with doctorate degrees generated by the presentation. Hence it's not really the reputable person that validates an idea but the process that such a person is supposed to have used to come to the conclusion.

    As I mull over this topic, one thing is certain -- I want a high level of integrity in articles that I pay for.

  2. Peer review is in place in some venue's, but not all. What's sad is the inclusion of a forum discussion among the readers who brawl and embarrass themselves with beliefs they can't support.

  3. Adam has been a decently credible expert over these years where zen is concerned.

    1. Yet another non sequitur, Rin.