The Aura of Expertise

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

Related Post Roulette

17 Responses

  1. Will says:

    Trying to land a job teaching at a university in Singapore? Why do you hate America?

    More seriously, I hope you have at least some Internet access abroad because I find this topic endlessly fascinating.Report

  2. Pat Cahalan says:

    > A secondary theory: the Internet has not democratized expertise
    > as much as the aura of expertise.

    A tertiary theory: in an attempt to be more “with it” and “tech savvy”, traditional news organizations, both print and broadcast, have likewise democratized the aura of expertise.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      Absolutely. We cancelled our television package a while ago, and one of the main reasons was the shift in news reporting; from “Something happened in Arizona. We have a reporter there to make sense of it”- to “Something happened in Arizona. We’re going to read the twitter feed from people who are there and fact-check them”- to “Something happened in Arizona. We’re going to read the tweets and remain objective by not fact-checking them. You figure it out”.Report

      • MFarmer in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Jay Rockefeller is promoting ending cable news. When we get to the point that we totally trust any source without critical thinking, it’s over anyway. The thing about getting a well-rounded education is that even though you might not be an expert in many areas, you know enough about most of them to use critical thinking when you smell BS. The fear I have is an over-reaction from authorities who insist on supplying the proper experts for our protection — yeah, that’ll work.Report

  3. Koz says:

    The big cause of this is that there so many wordy professional jobs that are very difficult to evaluate objectively. Case in point:

    This has gone around the internets once or twice in the last few days but it’s topical here. I love this quote, which Last gets from Ryan Lizza.

    “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” After Obama’s first debate with McCain, on September 26th, [campaign political director Patrick] Gaspard sent him an e-mail. “You are more clutch than Michael Jordan,” he wrote. Obama replied, “Just give me the ball.”

    It’s not unreasonable to think you’re the smartest guy in the room if you spend all day hanging around Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.Report

  4. Trumwill says:

    I think for particularly bright but somewhat lazy kids, the “aura of expertise” is something learned pretty solidly in K-12. Or at least it was in my case. I had… problems… reading when I was growing up. It was like pulling teeth. My wife (a doctor, but not in psychology) thinks I had/have a learning disability. My parents think I was/am just lazy. Even when the reading material was good. Even if it was on a subject I was very interested in. I’d read maybe a half-dozen books upon graduating high school. Maybe 15 or so upon graduating college.

    One thing I have always been really good at, though, is filling in the blanks and fleshing out concepts with limited information. Skimming plus listening in class and learning which paragraphs to read put me ahead of most of the class. But very rare was it that I actually read the material. I basically had to teach myself to read (like read, read) in my twenties and I’m still not very good at it. Had the Internet been around back then, I might have gotten out of high school (and maybe college, too) without having read anything. On the other hand, it was the Internet and the wealth of material on it that motivated me to start reading more and skimming/filling less.

    Anyhow, I lived in the aura for most of my life. Graduated from my (“exemplary”) high school in the top third of my class and graduated from the honors college at my university. Not sure if this says more about me or our educational institutions in general.

    Out of curiosity, how was it discovered that the guy never read the book?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Trumwill says:

      Ah, the story is legendary among us grad students because, as he was fuming in the grad student lounge prior to yelling at the professor (yes, he did that), one of us asked him if he had read the book and he fumed, “No! That’s not the point! I wrote a review of the book!” You can see why we all laugh about this now. I’m sure he never admitted this to the professor, but he was pretty sure it was irrelevant.Report

  5. trizzlor says:

    I’ve always wanted to write a series of books on how to pretend to be of a certain profession. It would be a short and to the point listing of the specific lingo used to show you’re “in the know”; major conflicts/schools of thought within the field to get people riled up over at parties; and some common enemies/scape-goats that you can kick around to make a good first impression. In part I thought this would be a good way to ridicule the trend of knowledge creation present in a lot fields where new terminology is used less to document new concepts but simply to act as a barrier for entry to newcomers.

    Apparently someone beat me to the punch, though I still can’t bring myself to order the Bluffer’s Guide to Philosophy.Report

  6. the innominate one says:

    An “aura of expertise” is an interesting way of thinking about what it is that schools provide. That may be the most direct product of a college education, with the aura emanating from the degree, purportedly correlated with actual expertise.

    Having encountered staunch creationists earning biology degrees, your line of thinking illuminates their true motives, Rufus.Report

  7. Will H. says:

    [A]ll large and hierarchical organizations produce both expertise and the aura of expertise separate from expertise itself.
    —Rufus F.

    All that glitters is not gold.

    All that is gold does not glitter.

    I think you have discovered an ancient truth.

    Not so odd, really; considering all the Greek reviews.Report

  8. The reason we grad students all remember this incident was that he saw no reason that his having not read the book in question should have been a problem, since he had read a review of the book, which gave him knowledge of its content. In fact, he actually seemed to think he had reviewed the book.

    In my view, that grad student was borderline guilty of plagiarism as well as BS if he didn’t cite the book review in his own review. When I had to write a book review for one of my graduate classes (I’m still a grad student, but am past the course work phase), I made sure never to read a review of that book until I had finished writing my own because I didn’t want others’ reviews to influence me.

    Having said all this, there were at least a few times when, for seminar discussions I “skimmed” or just read reviews. So I guess I have been guilty of “BS,” too.Report

    • I think everyone does that at one point or another in some area of life. I just think most of us are aware that we’ve done it and that it’s not the same thing as doing what was required. There’s a difference between BSing and fooling others and fooling yourself with your own BS!

      But, with seminar discussions, each week, there’s usually one person who is supposed to review the book and lead the discussion. It was just this guy’s week at bat and he’d never read the book, and wasn’t sure why he hadn’t basically done the same thing by reading a two-page review on J-Stor. I think we all wanted to take him aside and explain, “Okay, look, here’s the thing about grad school- there are books involved.”Report