A Quote of the Day ...

... from my Inbox:
"What happens when smart people may be smart in one field (domain specificity) but are not smart in an entirely different field, out of which may arise weird beliefs. When Harvard marine biologist Barry Fell jumped fields into archaeology and wrote a best-selling book, America B.C.: Ancient Settlers in the New World (1976) about all the people who discovered America before Columbus, he was woefully unprepared and obviously unaware that archaeologists had already considered his different hypotheses of who first discovered America (Egyptians, Greeks, Roman, Phoenicians, etc.) but rejected them for lack of credible evidence. This is a splendid example of the social aspects of science, and why being smart in one field does not make one smart in another. Science is a social process, where one is trained in a certain paradigm and works with others in the field. A community of scientists reads the same journals, goes to the same conferences, reviews one anothers' papers and books, and generally exchanges ideas about the facts, hypotheses, and theories in that field. Through vast experience they know, fairly quickly, which new ideas stand a chance of succeeding and which are obviously wrong. Newcomers from other fields, who typically dive in with both feet without the requisite training and experience, proceed to generate new ideas that they think—because of their success in their own field—will be revolutionary. Instead, they are usually greeted with disdain (or, more typically, simply ignored) by the professionals in the field. This is not because (as they usually think is the reason) insiders don't like outsiders (or that all great revolutionaries are persecuted or ignored), but because in most cases those ideas were considered years or decades before and rejected for perfectly legitimate reasons."
~ from:   Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer. 
I think this applies to Gary Taubes, but also many of the purveyors of Science Krispies I blog about here.


Fleur said…
I love this post!
Thomas said…
Outsiders tend to look at insiders with disdain, using the "argument from authority" tag as a way to classify the insiders as being part of some good old boys club. While I think this probably happens (a good argument in the case of the cholesterol hypothesis IMO), I think it's taken way too far at times; used to de-legitimize people who have already observed, studied and rejected ideas that "seem to make sense" to the uneducated public. This "argument from authority" tag is seems to be very popular amongst bloggers-your classic smart people who just haven't put the time in or been exposed to enough info about their subject of interest, although they appear very confident (often militantly so-Angry Dick comes to mind) in their positions. This militant confidence is a huge red flag that these people haven't been exposed to enough information or people who are better educated. They don't know that they don't know.
RichieRich said…
Yes,plenty of people have 1% inspiration but don't put in the 99% perspiration!
Josh said…
I like it how the guy in the example (Barry Fell) was also a harvard graduate, also decided he was suddenly an expert in another field, also wrote a best-selling book, and was also then told by scientists in that field that he was talking nonsense. It seems to be a disturbingly common phenomenon. Harvard medical school psychiatry professor and pulitzer prize-winner John Mack wrote some bizarre books on alien abduction which included great lines such as "If the abduction phenomenon, as I suspect, manifests itself in our physical space/time world but is not of it in a literal sense, our notions of accuracy of recall regarding what did or did not 'happen' may not apply, at least not in the literal physical sense."

Perhaps there is a secret society at harvard where graduates compete against each other to see who can switch fields, come up with the wackiest theory and sell the most books.
Lerner said…
yep, Harvard used to be prestigious but now Harvard is wacky...
Sanjeev said…
Another sad case I remember being exposed to @ roughly the same time as the Davis & Bass inspired false memory syndrome epidemic.

> notions of accuracy of recall regarding what did or did not 'happen'

I just realized John Mack could have used a Jack Kruse quantum mechanic seminar. Co-presented by some ESPers, Oprah/Robbins/Law of Attraction pushers.

just read it again: it'll jump up and smack you in the face, it so badly BEGS for "quantum observer/observed" and the related "we create reality" woo,
> notions of accuracy of recall regarding what did or did not 'happen'
Woodey said…
Wow Evelyn I have a deeper respect for you know. I am a member of the Skeptic Society and have the book you mentioned in your post. Ironically it was through one of Michael Shermer's skeptic "like" groups on Facebook that I found out about Taubes.

This is the review of his book Why We Get Fat taken from Skeptic magazine Vol.16 No.3: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/why-we-get-fat/
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