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"Yes, but what are your credentials, Mr Stross?"

I get email.

Normally I don't publish private correspondence, but sometimes — rarely — I feel like hanging someone out to dry ...

From: numpty#@gmail.com

Hello, I'm citing your work for a debate article I'm using about space colonization and how it is improbable. I do need credentials however, and I've yet to find them online. If you could reply with your credentials that'd be great.
(I assume he's talking about this; it's all over the internet, triggered a firestorm, and I keep getting gimme emails from content farms asking to reprint it.)
From: me
I'm a novelist, not an academic. If you want credentials, go look me up in wikipedia.
From: numpty#@gmail.com
Your time is clearly very valuable, as you would rather argue with me over this than simply take a minute or two to state your credentials. Furthermore, I have no need to know the extent of your writings, I simply need to know if you are indeed certified to be considered a credible source on the topic. For instance, if your credible knowledge is on the topic of slaads and borrowing from George R. R. Martin, you are not considered a credible source on space colonization. So let me just ask you this, why should I believe your article has any rational basis, when for all I know now is your true expertise lies in the githyanki.
From: me
Define "credible source".
From: numpty#@gmail.com
Someone who has received some sort of higher level education on the topic they are claiming to state facts about. Someone whose words can be considered factual and veritable. Do you believe you fit this definition?
From: me
Don't be silly; I'm just a multiple Hugo-award winning best-selling science fiction author. What do you think?

I tell lies for money. Now fuck off, little student, and leave me alone.

From: numpty#@gmail.com
I think that you shouldn't write articles under the mindset that you know what you're talking about, and not talking out of your ass. I'm not planning on writing any articles on the Fiend Folio monster compendium and Illithids (mostly because I'm not a socially awkward five year old), because about the subject. I suggest you do the same with your respective topics. My main point is that you as an author shouldn't write non-fiction topics on what you truly do not know about. Unless the mind controlling Illithids forced you to do so, in which case it's completely understandable (I hear they really fucked over the Githyanki race, what a tragedy).
From: me
Listen, I'm a professional SF author. It's my job to study this stuff and write about it. Credentialism — expecting me to have a degree-level academic qualification — is pointless; I'm not looking for a job with a space sciences department at a university, or working for Bigelow Aerospace.

You, I infer, are a student who's been asked to write an essay and cite your sources. You did a google search, ran across my essay, and you've got cold feet about citing it because I don't work for NASA. If you want to cite me, do so as "Charles Stross, SF author". That's all you need to do. That you don't do so, or actually had to go look me up in wikipedia, suggests to me that you've got quite a lot to learn about evaluating sources.

From: numpty#@gmail.com
...
Moral of story:

"My main point is that you as an author shouldn't write non-fiction topics on what you truly do not know about." That probably sounds like a great way of evaluating sources, if you work in an HR department. However, nobody actually knows a hell of a lot about the practicalities of space colonization because nobody's actually done that. If we were to take Mr Numpty's advice, nobody would write about space colonization. Ever. And we'd be the poorer for not having the debate.

(Incidentally, my last talk on the subject of the difficulty of space colonization went down okay in front of a postgrad seminar audience arranged by Strathclyde University's Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory. Will that do?)

Final thought: is the culture of spurious credentialism is toxic to intellectual exploration? Discuss.

(Addendum: In case it isn't obvious, please be aware that numpty@gmail.com isn't my anonymous correspondent's real email address. Please don't send email to that address. Update: #-symbol included to confuse the MTAs of anyone who doesn't read this far before exploding in front of the keyboard.)

254 Comments

1:

The guy clearly has no idea what he is talking about. If you are writing an essay you shouldn't be obsessed about credentials if the argument is logical. He should have just said "as Stross argues..." and find citations for specific facts.

One shouldn't worry about credentials, just citations for factual statements.

2:

What discuss? Credentialism is the hobgoblin of little minds. I'm still boggling about Mr. Numpty's sense of entitlement in this - are these more or less verbatim quotes? Seriously?

Final thought: *should* there actually be a licensing requirement for Internet access?

3:

There are a lot of people on the internet who do not have a clue what they are talking about, but sound plausible to someone without real knowledge on the subject. The better creationist or global-warming-denier postings are the most obvious examples that come to mind.

Credentials provide a useful shortcut to deciding whether a non-mainstream opinion is worthy of further consideration - if the person writing it, or the people agreeing with them have credentials, then it's worth thinking about. If everyone with credentials is saying that it's nonsense, then there's a very good chance that it is indeed nonsense.

The sheer amount of conspiracy theories and other such nonsense that there is in today's media, especially online, means that you need some sort of filter. That, of course, doesn't mean that you need to apply it blindly.

To the specific point - "Hugo award winning SF author" would qualify you better on a topic that requires a wide range of knowledge and strong synthesis skills than mastery of any specific academic discipline.

4:

Yes it is toxic, but it's oh so tempting. It's a way of sneering "what would you know, you're just a... " without sounding like you're on a playground. I think it's telling that in controversial topics, credentials are usually brought up as an attack by a group that feels under threat. My three examples are creationists and both sides of the global warming debacle^H^H^Hte.

I think when people without an axe to grind bring up credentials, what they should do instead is look at the sources, methods and reasoning of their source. That's hard work though, an argument from authority is much easier.

5:

As someone who has had, on occasion, to metaphorically beat citing sources into students, I think numpty's missed the point entirely.

Citing sources is not about only citing people with PhDs or similar - although there is a bias to citing sources in peer-reviewed journals as more credible which is a whole different can of worms. It's about providing your readers with the opportunity to read around the subject. That may be to find a paper or a technique they want to copy (NO concentrations in splenocyte cultures was my bug-bear the 'method' did a triangular citation thing and wasn't actually published, tsk tsk, although it may be now) or because your lecturer thinks you got hold of the wrong end of the stick (or you're arguing with his/her pet view) and you want strong evidence that you're not talking out of your backside.

But you, me, someone you met down the pub... they're all perfectly reasonable sources to use as supporting PART of you essay or similar. Evaluate the individual article on what it says and decide if you want to include it and cite it or not. The only time you're really more or less obliged to include something is when it's a huge paper in the field and you're contradicting it - explaining why and how you're contradicting core understanding is important. Science isn't perfect at accepting these changes, but unlike the Catholic Church, if you've got decent evidence you can change it without being burnt for heresy.

6:

It's not always a reliable filter though. There are creationists with PhDs, some of them in biology or geology. It's a starting point for filtering, but looking at the logic used to get from facts to conclusion is a better method IMHO. Even doing that to their past work is good - once you've built up some trust then you don't need to check everything as thoroughly.

7:

Yes, that's a verbatim transcript of an email exchange. (Full disclosure: I deleted one rather rude sentence I sent near the end, when his attitude became clear.)

Like I said, I usually keep correspondence private out of respect for the other party.

8:

"Numpty" is an excellent bit of slang and precisely le mot juste ici.

Also, a true scholar would have asked for your sources, not credentials.

9:

I have no idea whatsoever how to interpret the parts about obscure Dungeons and Dragons creatures. What could the writer possibly have been thinking?

10:

I think Charlie might have been dealing with a terrifying new phenomenon:

A student who isn't bright enough to look things up on Wikipedia!

11:

Love that, thanks.

Not seen you on G+ yet, Mr. Stross.

12:

For an entirely different take on credentialism.

I live in Abu Dhabi.

To cut it VERY short, the country (United Arab Emirates, includes Dubai as well) has had to build itself from literal scratch in 30 years.
As a consequence, Credentials are key.

Of course, it doesn't work in the long run. Your PhD doesn't really qualify you to help a growing company/country. Your certification is just a commercial stamp on some sort of training. But it's a good shortcut for lazy hiring.

And unfortunately for the UAE, they don't have the secondary "bullshit detector" mechanisms that would help them get rid of this plague (Startup companies built from scratch by high school drop outs, for example, or highly functional Sci Fi authors ...)

So for now I'm stuck justifying that I DON'T have a 6 sigma black belt event though I've successfully led .... you get the gist.

I have hope yet for the country, but hearing from Charlie right now, ... hmm, i guess you don't win this one, ever.

13:

Oh, and I've invited numpty to Google Plus. I bet there's someone out there with that email address!

14:

The writer is referencing the biography section of Charlie's wikipedia page.

15:

You won't be seeing me on G+, or Twitter or LinkedIn. The only reason you see me on Facebook is because they run a proprietary email system with 500-700 million users and no public gateway.

Hint: unless I perceive a clear reason to use a social network, you won't find me using it. Life is too short (especially when the network is run as a freebie by large corporations whose business model is based on monetising their users' privacy).

16:

I really enjoyed this exchange.

I'm a librarian and it is really frustrating when students approach researching their papers as a checklist that needs to be completed rather than as a learning experience.

Merely possessing a degree does not necessarily mean someone is competent, as I, the living embodiment of the Peter Principle, demonstrate.

Liam Hegarty, AB, JD, MLS

17:

Fair enough. You have your own 'social network' through this blog anyway :-)

18:

I'm not at all sure what particular degree would indicate authority when you're talking about a subject with so many diverse elements. Aeronautical/mechanical engineering? Horticulture? Social psychology? Medical science? Etc?

19:

This is my all time favorite quote about such nonsense.

"You may be wondering about my credentials to write this book since I am not a doctor—either M.D. or Ph.D. I respond with a story. Penny Simkin, well known educator, writer, speaker, and editor, was called on the carpet by an anesthesiologist, irate that she had written a handout listing the potential trade-offs of epidural anesthesia when she was not a doctor (although he did not dispute her accuracy). "What are your credentials?" he demanded. "I can read," was her reply. So can I. For that matter, you can too.
——Henci Goer, Obstetric Myths Versus Research Realities Bergin & Garvey. Connecticut; 1995."

20:

Ah, argument from authority, a particularly pernicious fallacy within academia?

21:

You reply to random numpties? Do you have a deadline coming up or something?

22:

Two, actually, and an overseas trip ...

23:

Why did you even waste your time with this rude, intellectually lazy "student"? This reeks of an attempt to create notariety and attention, not writing a research paper.

24:

Wait so you're not qualified to talk about posthuman AI and transhuman intelligence? I am deeply, deeply shocked and dissapointed.

All the jabs about your D&D work mark him pretty clearly as a troll, so we'll give him a 3/10 for getting a response, though he loses points for actually raising a valid discussion topic in credentialism.

>Rogue Farm, an animated film based on his 2003 short story of the same title, debuted in August 2004.

Whoa I didn't know about this

25:

I like the bit where the student *asks you for your credentials*. I would be sorely tempted to make something up in that situation, but it would have to be something that any professor would immediately recognize as a joke (along the lines of Phil McCracken University) so as not to be perceived by reasonable people as trying to inflate my résumé.

26:

Aha, that makes some sense now! Thank you.

27:

It worries me a little that there is this obsession with qualifications - I started working as an educational lab technician in 1971 with one A-level and five GCEs (resat another A-level and got some training and qualifications later).

I suspect that the minimum qualification for an equivalent starting job now is probably a degree, since that's all the agencies send us when we advertise a post. Yet it's the blunt edge of science, a little basic knowledge and some enthusiasm and willingness to get your hands dirty is really all that's needed.

I'd talk about the analogy to writing, but you're one of the people writing about science who does actually have some scientific background and knows what he's talking about - it may not be background in the specific thing matey is interested, but I'm reasonably sure you've done a lot more with it than he ever will if he gets through college (or whatever he's doing).

28:

Credentials have some value, but they have their limitations. See: Zubrin, Robert.

29:

Charlie,

I have to congratulate you on your patience. It far exceeds mine.

Personally, I would have said something like:

"NO ONE has credentials on interstellar travel or the impossibility thereof, because NO ONE has tried it yet. Therefore my credentials, or lack thereof, are irrelevant. If you want to quote my published ramblings, go right ahead, so long as you acknowledge that as a source, I am not an authority.

'However, if you must (by some rule) have someone with a relevant degree to cite about these issues, all I can say is that these are ideas I've picked up over the last 30 years from a variety of sources (NASA, JPL, Stanford, etc). You will have to go back and read those original papers, so that you can properly cite them in their original context.

'Unfortunately, I can't remember where I got all those ideas. Worse, I think some of them (especially the fundamental ones) are too old for the internet, although they are still valid. I therefore wish you the best of luck in your search for primary sources. Do let me know how it turns out."

Signed

A. Numpty, (Aspiring Writer)

Thanks for a delightful Saturday afternoon break.

30:

I think the discussion topic is too narrow. It is an answerable question, but misses the scope of the problem. It's like asking, "Is worm #6,302 contributing significantly to the decay of this corpse?"

Obviously spurious credentialism wasn't this guy's prime motive. It was an excuse to fulfill other, jerkier motives. So the real question is, "How much blame does the excuse deserve?" And the realer question is, "How bad is credentialism," and "how valuable is proper credential-reliance," and "can they be adequately separated?" Sorry, that's four questions.

But the answer is, "Quite a lot." Credentials evolved slowly and laboriously from the lowly origins of human thought, just like science. The statement, "I have a PhD," contains a core of valuable information inside its monkey baggage. That core is something like, "I spent 4,000 total hours studying this topic, and wrote 6,000,000,000 words which were reviewed by 10,000 similar experts." But those details are usually more than you need. "I have a PhD" is often adequate. But as with every simplification, some information is lost. Not the specific numbers, but the fact that they're why the expert deserves the PhD.

So my solution is to eliminate that failure point. Instead of "PhD", we should attach study hours and test scores to a person's name. The problem with the world today is people think of titles as simple, magical things. And then there's the backlash when the title holder fails to be magical. Numbers would give people a more realistic picture of why and how these people are valuable.

The downside is that it might shift problems to other failure points. Like in Japan, where everyone works long hours to make themselves look good, but spends all of that time smoking and goofing off. So it wouldn't really solve the root problem at all, but it would be more fun.

Speaking of fun, I'm still imagining this guy's motives. What if his professor told him to do it? "Don't forget to bitch at your sources. And put the full transcripts in your 'Sources bitched at' section. They are delicious to me."

31:

Minor formatting tweak needed (missing newline):

and leave me alone.From: numpty@gmail.com


(of course, pls delete this comment once it becomes redundant)

32:

Partly, the problem in science is that because real research budgets keep getting cut but people who are interested in science still want to be scientists[1] there are now far too many qualified (BSci/MSci/PhD) scientists for the jobs that actually need those qualifications. When people with PhDs are applying for entry-level tech jobs because they know they'll never get funding to stay in academia and want to do something with their expensive science education, things are broken.

[1] educational inflation plays its part as well, but is (I believe) rather less of a factor than on the arts side

33:

Were I you, Charlie, I would have been sorely tempted to title this post "Natural Stupid" to make a pair with the previous post, "Artificial Stupids".

Credentialism and its ills are not limited to the sciences. I had a quite successful, if I do say so myself, 30 year career as a non-degreed computer engineer, both hardware and software, which even included several years doing research in the laboratory of a large corporation. In that time I worked on a lot of cutting edge technology, and studied both on my own and in graduate level classes. These days it's unlikely I could even get the first job I had as an engineer (and that's just too bad for the company that won't hire me).

Some of the best software engineers I've known had no formal software training, including one who studied music composition, another who was a chemical engineer, and another who was a actor. And the best educated person I ever knew was a high-school dropout who became a printer's devil and union organizer during the Great Depression. In his fifties he decided to go back to school and get a bachelor's degree; he applied to Columbia University in New York and went to take the entrance exam. Through a mixup he was given the graduate school entrance exam, and he passed it with high marks.

Looking at it from the other side, I did a lot of interviewing for hiring engineers, both as a team leader and first line manager, and I found credentials to be completely useless in selecting suitable candidates. As far as I can see, the real reasons that credentials are used to screen people for hiring are:

  • When there are many more candidates than jobs, it's a quick way for HR to throw most of the resumes in the wastebasket.

  • When the primary screen is by someone with no knowledge of the technical skills required, it's a safe way to eliminate the necessary quota of candidates.

  • When there's some invalid reason for wanting to reject a candidate (racism, sexism, religious intolerance, homophobia, etc.), citing insufficient credentials is a way to do so with deniability.

Note that none of those reasons is a valid way to select people who are qualified to perform the job, and that one of them is illegal in many places.

34:

Has anyone wondered how old this 'student' is yet?

35:

Yup, young people can be clueless and arrogant, and can expect others to do too much for them. They grow out of it, mostly.

I do hope (and assume) that "numpty" isn't their real address, because the only real punishment they deserve is the embarrassment they will feel when they eventually realize they were behaving like a prat, not the obnoxious messages that a post like this has the potential to incite. And, of course that "numpty" isn't anyone else's address, either (perhaps it's one you or a friend set aside as a throwaway address and spam magnet? Or one that Google has disallowed because it's an insult, if a mild one?)

36:

I think I know where this is coming from. The NFL debate topic for next year is:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

My son is involved in this debate league, and is becoming spectacularly well-informed on space exploration issues.

However, part of the formalized process is that when citing anyone as part of a case or a rebuttal, the onus is on you to show why they are a credible authority. Thus, I see a naive debater badgering for credentials and then using low calibre debating tactics to respond in this way.

This topic will be around all year; be prepared for more hyper-argumentative high school debaters showing up in space exploration fora.

37:

Well, good luck to your son. The best thing we can do for these kids is to teach them to understand scientific journal articles, deconstruct dense tracts on space politics, and figure out how to analyze a budget and perform cost-benefit calculations.

Fortunately, with the space shuttle out of the way, there may be more people at NASA who are willing to answer questions. One can hope.

38:

Quite. Proof: my boss is trying to fill a job right now. Normally my employer requires degrees, but because this job has such tight requirements that only a few people on earth can fill it who don't already have better jobs, that requirement has been waived. Yep, that's it: if the job really does require rare skills, a degree isn't needed, because all it ever was was an excuse to throw away most of the CVs that arrived without ever looking at them. (Now, of course, this doesn't work, because everyone caught on to it and everyone has degrees. Now the UK is charging silly money for degrees, I fear we will get into a situation where only the rich can get decent jobs -- for a while, until the older cohorts retire and degrees become rare enough again that the non-degreed must again be hired. But there are decades of unpleasant unemployment and dreary jobs in the interim for perfectly capable people who simply couldn't afford a degree.)

39:

This was so funny!

I just loved the insult about not being able to write about something because you didn't have any documented learnings in that area.

Ha! Ha!

I did quite well at university and got (what I thought was) an impressive credential out of the process. However, I only went to The University of Aberdeen so I guess Numpty won't be that impressed.

In my next life I will attend MIT at the age of 6 and advance world knowledge in the physics of pinhole wormholes, or some such stuff. Then, I can safely comment on anything because with such impressive credentials I might be a bit out of my field but I would be considered so f**king brilliant that I would be considered able to think outside my own field of endeavour.

Where did the enlightenment go?

40:

My employer forces me to hide the fact I'm a high school dropout with no academic credentials. The reason they hired me is simply because software development is still a meritocracy. I'm now considered the industry wide expert in my niche (unnamed bit of enterprise software) which means I spend most of my time consulting at the likes of Deloitte and Morgan & Stanley.

I've met hundreds of developers and I can only see a weak correlation between academic ability and programmer ability. I'm convinced that beyond it's intrinsic and personal value to the student credentials are worthless to anyone except lazy HR departments.

41:

Credentialism,

Well, that's a new one on me. What a tosser!

42:

Given the recent budgetary arguments, it unfortunately seems more likely that by the end of the year, there will be lots of recently ex-NASA people with time on their hands to answer questions. <head-desk> (Although the end of the shuttle program will make it possible to save more jobs than if huge cuts had been imposed a year or two earlier. And it's possible, if unlikely, that the current US administration will suddenly start taking financial advice from people like Krugman rather than right-wing ideologues spouting thoroughly discredited old rubbish.)

43:

Credentialism is a cancer upon society. If it wasn't for the Human Resources department's inability to understand actual qualifications to positions it would have been killed at birth. I've seen far too many people with a lack of ability or aptitude in positions simply because they have gained a certification or degree. Being self taught or having natural ability or god forbid actual experience is far more important than having a sheet of paper with some certification on it. Credentialism is another sign of the coming collapse of society.

44:

*facepalm*

Vaguely relevant? : http://www.vonnegutweb.com/archives/arc_scifi.html

45:

In the future and to avoid theunnecessary spamming of innocents, I strongly suggest you use the @example.com domain for fictitious email addresses.

You could have used numpty@example.com without any issue or unintentional day ruining side-effects.

Instead, I've received about 230 emails now castigating me for allegedly bothering you.

Next, I suppose everyone will want to see my credentials now, too?

46:

Reminds me of graduate engineers who join companies and expect "training", and get a bit peeved when somebody just drops a book on their desk and tells them to get on with it. Like a talking head + powerpoint is some kind of supermagic.

47:

Credentialism is toxic for all of us. Nobel winners have stopped doing work on the atomic. Only the right people get to use the very expensive equipment. And if they find something that's not planed for (something really new) they can't play with the big boys anymore. The big boys only find what they should. There must be a list of people who would never be allowed in the club today, who jumped science forward.

48:

I'm inclined to think the numpty wasn't a student. My impression is that he is a bit of a space colonization fanatic who took issue with your essay, but was unable to argue against its substance. So he tried to "put you in your place" by making an issue of your "lack" of credentials on the topic.

I expect he knew full well what your credentials were from the start, and was basically hoping you'd crumble under his interrogation, throw up your hands, admit to exceeding your authority on the topic, concede that the essay was rubbish, and retract it, thus leaving the numpty's space colonization dreams untroubled.

None of this was likely to happen, of course, because your essay was fine, credentials are irrelevant, and the numpty is a numpty.

49:

1. By definition, a model is an approximation based upon limited knowledge. Therefore, all models are wrong.
2. Credentials are given in a per-model context. Once, flat-earth people had credentials most people took seriously. Go back 120 years, no credential-worthy people would have considered a multi-billion worldwide effort to build the widest machine on the planet for the sole purpose of watching get tiny invisible stuff hit to see what happens.
3. The yet-to-happen future has, by definition, not been fully modeled through any other mean than imagination.
4. In the end, credential = limits of the past; imagination = possibilities of the future.

Value (imagination) > Value (credential)

50:

Credentials are what gets you past the HR Dept so you can talk to the people who matter

51:

The story is very instructive. Even without formal credentials, writing that accurately references good sources should be a valid source itself.

Quality newspaper articles are considered good sources, even though the journalists often seem rather clueless about what they are reporting, especially in sciences.

Credentials aren't meaningless, but certainly shouldn't be used as a filter. Too often the credentials are cited, but the holder is just spouting nonsense. (c.f. a lot of economics debating today).

52:

Dear Mr Stross, good as your Scientifiction is, I would much prefer it if when you introduced any new ideas beyond those of contemporary science you included footnotes to the relevant peer reviewed journals. Otherwise I will have to conclude that you are just making it up.

53:

Your conclusion is dead on. Credentials have their place, but they are not the measure of the quality of the ideas that a person produces.

54:

Are you entirely certain you weren't being trolled? That second email from numpty@ onward makes me wonder.

55:

Facebook do indeed have a public email gateway: http://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=212136965485956

Abandon hope all who send mail there, etc.

56:

One question remains: why did he ask for credentials? My own take on it is that he simply may be using credentials as a shortcut - exactly what they have been created for. Instead of going through and checking your numbers, he's asking if you have a PhD in Sciency things - because if you do, you are more likely to be correct. It's lazy, but so are all shortcuts - and shortcuts are necessary.

An alternative would be to research who you are and what you have done, and come to a conclusion that you know what you are talking about, but then he would have to convince his own readers to do the same... and writing a "PhD" after someone's name is easier.

I'm not going to say it's the only correct solution, but maybe you could get an honorary degree from some respectable place - I'd argue you deserve it! :)

57:

I think you may have been talking to an Alice bot with a foul language plugin.

58:

Peter Watts does do that. He puts references at the end of his books.

He also has a PhD.

And a Hugo award.

AND survived flesh eating bacteria.

And is a convicted felon.

And extremely tall.

Darn, there might be something to this credentials thing after all.

59:

My own experience with academia and credentialism has been pretty good. I'm a medievalist independent scholar with no formal credentials in that field, and the academics I've dealt with have all been more interested in my arguments than my credentials.

60:

Wow, what a jackass. Especially since you did give your "credentials" right away (that you're a novelist).

I find credentialism insulting even when I have the credentials -- the credential-awed aren't properly considering the merits of what I'm saying because they're too distracted by my label. I've also dealt with some credential-chasing grad students who don't have a particular use for a PhD beyond the supposed status it confers.

A PhD is only a sign of expertise in one very narrow topic, and past expertise at that. Nobel Prizes, being for a specific achievement, are similarly narrow but are unfortunately likely to be cited spuriously as being a sign of high expertise in just about anything (e.g. the fans of quackery who cite Luc Montagnier).

Credentialism kills proper discussion. I'd rather people argue well with me then be cowed by: PAE, BSc MSc PhD. WTF, really.

61:

I love the (implied) notion that authors shouldn't ever write about things they don't know everything about. I realise "write what you know" is a big thing for beginning writing tutors (particularly when faced with high school students attempting to write globe-spanning multi-faceted generational epics) but there's limits on what can be known by one person.

I don't know what it's like to grow up on a world where magic can work alongside technology. I don't know what it's like to be the eldest child of six, or to have five younger brothers. I don't know what it's like to grow up as part of the upperclass of an ethnic minority under an extremely repressive world government. I don't know what it's like to be an experimental subject for a morally and ethically unrestrained xenogeneticist. I don't know what it's like to be an uneducated rural mother of three children, who works as a barmaid, and passes on intelligence for a secretive organisation connected to her mother's family. None of this is in my experience. However, I can imagine it. And the four fan fiction characters I've described above are pretty well received in my various fandoms as a result.

How did I imagine these people? Well, some of it comes from having grown up as the eldest child of two (with one younger brother). Some of it comes from having done several culture studies units at university level (although I don't have any hard credentials, since I've yet to complete any degrees). Some of it comes from having read widely, including accounts of human experimentation, and rape survivors recountings of what they experienced both physically and intellectually. Some of it comes from having the type of mind that over-thinks things, and plays kaleidoscope with bits of knowledge, throwing them all in the air to see what new patterns occur. Some of it comes from extrapolating from known information, from deductive and inductive reasoning, and some of it just comes from making up bits that seem like they fit in the gaps.

It's called "writing" - as opposed to "journalism".

62:

Had to write in to say I was literally laughing out loud after seeing this in my Facebook feed today. Yeah, I think you have really established your credentials pretty darn clearly at this point! All the best always from across the pond.

63:

For not existing email addresses it would be better to use the .invalid top-level domain.

64:

> Credentials are what gets you past the HR Dept so you can talk to the people who matter

This can be true in IT/programming, in my experience. I've interviewed and hired on a significant scale in start-ups, wall-street, and research firms. In general these places have so many candidates (most not even approaching the ball-park) that there just has to be a coarse filter however unfair. So I accept that we need credentialism.

But if you have talent, in this field getting a degree simply gives you a decisive advantage in a 2-second moment when some HR person decides whether to ignore your resume or read deeper. That's the sum_external_ value of your 3-4 years. There are ways of achieving the same end, which however require creativity on the part of the candidate or something
else interesting.

Again, in my experience, once someone who might be your colleague or manager is talking with you ... the ownership or not of a degree would be an almost bizarre decision point. If someone brought this up at a hiring discussion I'd be genuinely confused as to why.

It can work the other way though. Claiming industry credentials on your resume (you have some indecipherable Microsoft or RedHat or Cisco cert) ... there's little positive about that, and at this point I just ask for such candidates to be filtered out early (surely missing out on some great people, but the practicalities are that there _must_ be an early coarse filter, and this isn't a bad one in the scheme of things.)


65:

+1 for the request for references in sci-fi work. Sci-fi can be a great way of learning about science if the author tries to make it accurate and provides references for people who want to learn more.

Most published books have a few pages that most people don't read, thanking people who helped, advertising other books by the same author and/or publisher, etc. Having a few pages listing references would be a good thing.

Also having an official web page for the book with links to relevant web sites for further reading would be nice.

This is something that fans could do, does anyone know of a fan site that has wiki pages for sci-fi books linking to real science articles that are relevant to the book plot? Should we create one on wikia.com?

NB by "real science articles" I include Charles' non-fiction articles about space exploration.

66:

Dear Mr Stross,

I have read these comments several times and I am concerned about the lack of credentials for the authors of the comments on this blog.

Can you point me to the appropriate degree level course for "Understanding the works of Author Charles Stross in a hegonomized society" or if this course is unavailable an A-Level course "Charlie Stross, Hes a writer like" would be suitable.

If possible people leaving comments should indicate that they have read and understood the full list of books and blog postings by Charles Stross.


---

Sometimes qualifications and credentials are misused for proof of accuracy and authenticity.

67:

Asimov had a PhD in microbiology. He wrote hundreds, yes hundreds of non-fiction science and/or technology books that had absolutely nothing to do with microbiology. Silverberg also wrote impressive amounts of non-fiction books that had nothing to do with his BA in English literature.

It's called popular science, and it's legit.

68:

Credentials tell you if they can regurgitate a book, they don't tell you if they have a clue how to use it or go beyond it.

HR departments are there to actively prevent a company from hiring someone who might be good or inventive in the job.

Most of the value in knowledge based activities comes from the tacit knowledge a person has - the abstract, grey, understanding they have of an area, or how to address problems. By definition you can't make it explicit or test it easily - but its where the value is. For the explicit stuff you can buy a book for £20.

And as for debating space exploration; wouldn't it be more use to push along the students own ideas, rather then telling them they had to copy'n'paste others? Where's the point in that? It's not as if any of the theories up to now have actually *worked* at creating a viable near space industry...

69:

Agreed; this seems pretty clearly a troll to me.

70:

Jon Hendry @48 beat me to it. The first impression of this suspicious curmudgeon was that the whole thing was a passive-aggressive set-up for your correspondent's main thesis of "Who do you think you are to be writing about this stuff".

71:

All right then. Question 2: Compare and contrast credentialism with "experiencism" in the context of Question 1. Bonus marks for cases where the experience requested is longer than the field has existed.

72:

This is sad. I like your writing Charles (esp. Accelerando). But I think your curt, snarky replies were rather rude -- and spouting expletives to a highschool student is just over the top. I lost a little respect for you today. I will not be emailing you (ever). Hopefully I can overlook this offense enough to still read Rule34.

73:

Sorry: note update (I've added an illegal character to the email address). Unfortunately (a) it went viral and (b) this happened overnight while I was asleep.

74:

"In my own professional work I have touched on a variety of different fields. I've done my work in mathematical linguistics, for example, without any professional credentials in mathematics; in this subject I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I've often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical linguistics at mathematics seminars and colloquia. No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on these subjects; the mathematicians couldn't care less. What they want to know is what I have to say. No one has ever objected to my right to speak, asking whether I have a doctor's degree in mathematics, or whether I have taken advanced courses in the subject. That would never have entered their minds. They want to know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting or not, whether better approaches are possible - the discussion dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it.

But on the other hand, in discussion or debate concerning social issues or American foreign policy, Vietnam or the Middle East, for example, the issue is constantly raised, often with considerable venom. I've repeatedly been challenged on the grounds of credentials, or asked, what special training do you have that entitles you to speak of these matters. The assumption is that people like me, who are outsiders from a professional standpoint, are not entitled to speak on such things.

Compare mathematics and the political sciences -- it's quite striking. In mathematics, in physics, people are concerned with what you say, not with your certification. But in order to speak about social reality, you must have the proper credentials, particularly if you depart from the accepted framework of thinking. Generally speaking, it seems fair to say that the richer the intellectual substance of a field, the less there is a concern for credentials, and the greater is concern for content."

- Noam Chomsky, 1977.

75:

Susannah, assuming you're the same Susannah I worked with in Watford, please drop me an email.

76:

Travis, what makes you think it's a high school student?

77:

On re-reading, I think that a secondary moral might be "when responding to a simpleton, never ask a question. *Especially* a rhetorical one."

Thanks for sharing this, Charlie. But we don't want to start a trend ... do we?

And thanks to dirk bruere @ 52 for his distillation. That last sentence still makes me laugh.

78:

One day soon, machines will be just as (or more) competent as any expert in any field (except the arts, maybe). Our precious credentials won't be worth much then. ahahaha...

79:

Good point, he never explicitly says he's a highschool student. I drew that conclusion from HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2746401

In general, I find it easier to just ignore trolls rather than trying to engage them. I can certainly appreciate your frustration -- especially when they discount your well-reasoned arguments on account of "qualifications."

No worries, I'll still read Rule34 and continue reading the website.

80:

Might be worth using example.com instead of gmail, although obviously loses context...

81:

Charlie - Perhaps you should create the university of Lovecraft, and honour yourself with a phd into tentacle monsters in pentagrams and space. Just to wind up a few academics.

Im quite sure many of us here would pay to be acredited as such.

82:

It seems like the only situation where it makes sense to worry about someone's credentials rather than the content and quality of their arguments is when you plan on taking someone at their word without further investigating it for yourself. For example, if you are forming a board of trusted advisors and you need to be able to make decisions quickly based on their opinions. (Although if it were me I would base my decision to hire someone for this group of advisors based on the quality of their previous arguments rather than their credentials.) I wonder if people put so much weight into credentials these days because there is also such an unwillingness to dig deeper for one self.

83:

An obvious comeback is along the lines that you have as good qualifications to write about this as Darwin had to write about evolution: he'd read round the subject and thought about it.

Of course, that might not go down as well with large chunks of the US as it ought to.

84:

Goodness gracious! They are letting unaccredited people write their opinions on the internet now? Quick, somebody contact the manager of the internet immediately!

85:

Credentialism is certainly bad, more or less because there's usually no real way to measure the credibility of the institutions giving out credentials ("I'm a better programmer then X because I'm from -insert institution here-", neglects to say he's an English major). Combined with rather peculiar myth of intelligence that's ingrained into the society already, we end up with a bit of a loop.

That aside, anyone can clearly see the person was just another jackass in front of a keyboard from the painfully awkward and overwrought text. Let's not encourage them by having a full blown discussion like this. I'd rather see you write about Harvard grads suffering from serious cases of credentialism/elitism after spending four years to mask any obvious symptoms.

86:

Just what is perhaps a pedantic point, but I don't think flat earth theories were ever given much credence by the educated public. Certainly ancient authors were clued enough to try to compute the size of the Earth by applying trigonometry, etc. I don't think anyone since classical civilisation, with a credential on cosmology or whatever it was called at the time, produced good arguments for a flat earth.

87:
Let's not encourage them by having a full blown discussion like this

I really don't see how mocking them (especially when anonymised) could be considered to encourage them. And if this discussion deters someone else reading it from being such a dickhead-twat, then I would consider it worth it.

88:

I loved the "I tell lies for money" bit.

But, seriously, I think you let yourself be too angry at this guy. He's an asshole, and as soon as that was evident, and it required more than a very short paragraph from you, I think you should have just stopped responding. Life's too short to respond to assholes (I learned that from being an asshole and receiving silence from the other side — it's the best response).

89:

I get to deal with a very large number of credentialed people who are, basically, useless. The first warning sign is usually when they bring up their credentials while they're being introduced.

"Hi, I'm Bob Smith, MBA."

"Hi Bob, thanks for telling me that, now I can ignore you properly."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Bob, you work for a company that's lost money for the last five years. How long have you worked for them?"

"Six years. Why?"

"Cause and effect, Bob, cause and effect."

90:
So for now I'm stuck justifying that I DON'T have a 6 sigma black belt event though I've successfully led .... you get the gist.

I'm reminded of all those job adverts listing five years of Java as a prerequisite . . . in 1999.

91:

This discussion raises an actually interesting question, which is, how do you tell who's worth listening to on a technical topic? I think your answer, that a bunch of people who've worked hard at understanding relevant issues consider you worth listening to, is an excellent heuristic. Having published in peer reviewed journals is also a very good sign. Having written books is obviously not enough, since some very ignorant people can write. Having gotten a degree in an area means you've at least put in enough effort that you should be an expert!

I think that, for most non-technical people, figuring out who to believe is somewhat of a social thing. You have some set of people who you have some faith in, and expand that group to include people they have faith in. The problem with that approach is confirmation bias for things you want to believe in, and the bootstrapping problem of finding a reasonable group to have faith in to start with, when so many smart people believe such crazy things.

92:

Dinner last night with Todd McCaffrey, Craig Miller, and other professional authors. Craig, my wife was surprised to learn, had taught a course in how to write for Animation, at the university where my wife's a department chair. He used to teach that in other venues, but the plug was pulled because he had no Master's Degree in what he's been doing professionally for decades, and is flown around the world to lecture upon. Credentials? That's a 4-letter word.

93:
It worries me a little that there is this obsession with qualifications - I started working as an educational lab technician in 1971 with one A-level and five GCEs (resat another A-level and got some training and qualifications later).
I suspect that the minimum qualification for an equivalent starting job now is probably a degree, since that's all the agencies send us when we advertise a post. Yet it's the blunt edge of science, a little basic knowledge and some enthusiasm and willingness to get your hands dirty is really all that's needed.

My best friend didn't have a CS degree back in 1987 when he started his job search. Now he's pulling down in excess of $200 K/yr while people much younger than him and with two or even three degrees make maybe 60 K/yr and will top out at maybe 120 K/yr. As he puts it, the kids build the stuff and he's paid good money to break it ;-)

Would he have got this far in today's job market with his starting qualifications? Not a chance. I might also mention that he once landed his company an overseas contract worth tens of millions on the strength of his extra qualifications: Seems some Brit banking IT types were coming through and made a chance Wodehouse remark about the help and Paul made an over-the-shoulder comment, something to the effect that their like will never be seen in the Drones. One of the reps asked him if he was a Wooster fan, no doubt a bit startled that one of these illiterate Yanks knew anything about anything outside of their country. To which he replied, still over-the-shoulder, "Toodle-pip", and added that Fry wouldn't have been his first choice to play Jeeves but that Laurie fella did a good job what with his amiable idiocy face :-)

Would some kid coming out of four years of undergrad and then maybe two to four years of continued education have known something like that? Not likely, not here in the U.S. at least.

94:

These two comments, unfortunately, are related:

Yep, that's it: if the job really does require rare skills, a degree isn't needed, because all it ever was was an excuse to throw away most of the CVs that arrived without ever looking at them. (Now, of course, this doesn't work, because everyone caught on to it and everyone has degrees.

And:

I've seen far too many people with a lack of ability or aptitude in positions simply because they have gained a certification or degree.

I firmly believe that to the extent that schools have deteriorated in turning out educational product, it is the fault of the parents of these unlettered twits. Said twits come into my classroom with the very visible attitude "I don't see why I have to learn this stuff" and proceed to massively slack in all regards. I've got no problem with giving these louts the grades they deserve; I've got a big problem with parents who put a tremendous pressure on teachers and administrators to either specifically let their uninspiring offspring pass, or create an environment where they can pass as part of a general crowd.

And it's amazing how quickly the begging and pleading to let young Hubert pass because of "special circumstances" - and everyone knows you need a degree to get a job these days - flips over into threats should that happy event not come to pass. Is it any wonder that massive and prolonged pressure over the decades from these sorts have caused standards to slip, to make credentialism the hateful and despised standard the second poster refers to in my quotes?

95:

> Would some kid coming out of four years of undergrad and then maybe two to four years of continued education have known something like that? Not likely, not here in the U.S. at least.

Without wanting to be contrary, how does knowing that help do that job? I do think credentials are useful, though overemphasized, but if there's something worse than credentials to make decisions on competence it has to be silly social prestige games (read the right books, has the right accent, etc).

96:

It's fucking hilarious when dipshit nerds try to hurl verbal spears, and they throw in references to their favorite fiction to boot. Like a Star Trek nerd trying to insult someone's mom by mumbling something about how much he bet she'd be popular with Klingons or something. Awkward and pathetic.

97:

When people see the phrase 'write what you know' they usually interpret it in the wrong way. What even the most uneducated author knows about is feelings, how people interact, describing the world, and so on. This is what is also implied by 'write what you know' not that you _must_ be an expert in the field you are writing about but that you should write in a manner that is knowledgeable.

98:

I have to say, that whole thing made me laugh greatly.

I think the only time I have ever had my credentials called into question (not that I have any to speak of) was when I informed a passenger in Glasgow Central that the new 380 electric trains were shit because they kept breaking down. I was of course immediately asked "Oh and who the hell are you to make that kind of judgement?" by someone else.

My response? "Well as it happens I am a train driver, and have been for the past 13 years. I have driven 303, 314, 318, 334 electric trains. 101 and 156 diesels.... I think that qualifies me as knowing something."

Needless to say I wasnt wearing my uniform. The questioner even argued that I couldnt be a train driver right up to the point that I pulled out my wallet and showed him my train drivers license.

All it goes to show is that someone somewhere will think that you make shit up on the spot and to be allowed to speak on any subject you have to have a whole host of pieces of paper SAYING that you have read about a subject.

Personally I think these people should be sterilised for the future of humanities sake. Oh well.

99:

I've fought and lost against credentialism a few times - after ten years in an editorial role in academic publishing we were taken over by someone[1] who insisted all jobs like mine should be done by science grads. (disclaimer - I am a "hereditary mathematician" and I never claimed to understand the papers we published. That's not what the job required).

Later, when I discovered that despite a few years managing a bookshop, $large_book_chain had a graduate policy on hiring. But what do I know, I only read a book or two a day...

Oh and the delights of being on a much lower pay scale than the desk next door at $formerly_nationalised_phone_company.

At least my current employ on the edges of the music business doesn't insist I learn to read music. (Those guys with sheet music? They're earning the *least* for this gig)

ps - loved that George R R Martin book about a mechanical dog. "Accellerant Dog" A very singular work, shame it's disappeared from the catalogues.

parthian shot - did Our Good Host invent the Flind? Greatest opportunity for home-brewed critical failure rolls I ever saw. "A hulking creature appears from the gloom, and knocks itself clean out with a lump of iron"

[1]a non-graduate who later in an unrelated incident drowned in an entirely non-suspicious manner while yachting )

100:

Disclaimer: I have a PhD, so my bias is obviously on the side of valuing credentials.

I can't help but think that, as a professor, I would have wanted this exchange to have ended NOT with the student deciding to cite Charlie as a science fiction author but with the student asking Charlie to recommend suitable academic sources. When the students draw on peer-reviewed academic articles or government reports, there are at least some quality control mechanisms in place to substitute for the evaluative expertise the student doesn't yet possess. Sure, there's plenty of garbage that gets published in such venues, but there exist _some_ safety rails, especially as you learn to look for work that is cited frequently. If students start blindly grabbing self-taught bloggers as sources, they're as likely to grab complete nonsense as actually serious guys like Charlie.

"Credentialism"--as presented here--is an extreme form of a very sensible issue: looking for some reassurance that a source knows what he's talking about, if you're not in a position to judge it on its merits yourself. And one of the best ways to judge that is by seeing that other people who are reasonably authoritative are themselves willing to take this source seriously. Peer-reviewed articles and degrees are a clear indicator that you've passed some threshold of being taken seriously, and that is non-trivial. Then there are cases like Charlie, where you have intelligent work being done outside of those standard forms.

Frankly, the fact that Charlie gets invited to give talks to postgrad seminars _is_ a credential, and is the sort of flag that makes him a more serious source. Charlie's bringing that up at the end of his post is itself an appeal to credentialism--just not the idiotic "if you don't have a higher degree you can't even blog about it" credentialism. It would have been vastly more helpful for the student if Charlie had given a couple of examples of how he's taken seriously by people that are presumed to be able to judge the quality of his thinking. And it would have been even more helpful if Charlie could have recommended some starting points in the academic literature.

I don't blame Charlie at all for not giving such responses. The student was unconscionably rude and had forfeited any right to expect a helpful response. But my take away from this exchange is about how foolish it is to be rude to people you're asking to help you, not about the foolishness of wanting to see some evidence that people actually know what they're talking about.

102:

This is the sound of FAIL:

"Furthermore, I have no need to know the extent of your writings, I simply need …
I beg to differ, oh Numpty of Little Brain: You do indeed need to know the extent of someone's writing if you intend to cite their writing as a source.

Would you cite the work of Theodor Geisel – a doctor, no less! – to argue the dietary merits of green eggs and ham?

103:
Would some kid coming out of four years of undergrad and then maybe two to four years of continued education have known something like that? Not likely, not here in the U.S. at least.
Without wanting to be contrary, how does knowing that help do that job? I do think credentials are useful, though overemphasized, but if there's something worse than credentials to make decisions on competence it has to be silly social prestige games (read the right books, has the right accent, etc).

That seems an odd question, given this is a thread concerned with pernicious credentialism. Especially so, since (to hear my friend tell it) that odd bit of knowledge helped his company land a multi-million dollar contract.

104:

Cardiogenic: this is your yellow card. Keep up the ad hominem attacks and you'll be banned. (For further insight, see the moderation policy.)

105:

Personally I think these people should be sterilised for the future of humanities sake.

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you were just trying to be witty there. If you weren't: yellow card. (Firstly, humans breed back towards the norm. Secondly, let's just say that eugenics leaves a nasty taste in my mouth: one branch of my family tree was drastically pruned by folks who took that kind of thing seriously.)

106:

But my take away from this exchange is about how foolish it is to be rude to people you're asking to help you.

Well, exactly!

It's a classic worked example of the old saw that "on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog". Corollary: you don't know whether the person you're talking to is a dog, or the most distinguished expert in your field on the entire internet. Either way, it behooves you to talk quietly and carry a juicy bone. Or something like that.

(I'm reminded of an incident circa 1993 on sci.space, back on USENET. An ongoing discussion of the viability of a single stage to orbit launcher (ROTON, I think) was under way. Along comes a graduate student from UWaterloo who has just discovered USENET and become a heavy poster. He promptly accuses a bunch of the other commenters of being misguided idiots. Culminating in him telling Henry Spencer that he was obviously clueless.

(He stuck in my mind because, three months later, I saw him repeat the faux pas on sci.crypt ... with Bruce Schneier.)

107:

Stay tuned, I may have something for you in the not too distant future. I am developing an esoteric school based the ideas of Lovecraft/the Sith and other "Dark Cosmists". It may sound fanciful, but so do the Knights Templar, the Hashashin, the Shaolin, the Ninja and the Pythagoreans in retrospect, now don't they?

Credentials are only as powerful as the civilization/worldview in which they exist. Just as few would hire a master alchemist today, so tomorrow will few care about our current degrees and honors. The paradigm that created them is simply not going to be around much longer.

108:

No intent of offense was meant I assure you. I just despair at humanities arrogance at times.

The comment was meant as a joke, nothing more, nothing less. If that warrants a yellow card then so be it. And I will say "sorry".

I know your family history from what you have stated in various places, and in no way intended to infer that I support anything like what happened to them. Quite the opposite.

109:

The personal irony of this thread has not escaped me. Henceforth, i'll not be using the "Dr. Jim" name on this blog. It's too demeaning.
I don't want credentials to get in the way of my enjoyment of Charlie's ideas.

110:

Perhaps one might try this degree certificate.

As I recall, Chaosium produced a pack of similar documentation, including the sorts of semi-trivial stuff that suggests reality, such as student food service card.

111:

Don't forget credential (and experience) inflation as part of the mix.

Since so many people have degrees or experience at a certain level, a lot of employers expand their "want list" to a fairly ridiculous level.

For a BS, they want a MS, for an MS, they want a PhD, for a PhD, they want two PhDs plus a national award or two, plus experience.

It's hilariously bad in the software field. My first big laugh in this regard was in 1990, when a printing company put out a help wanted ad for a graphic designer with five years of experience using Photoshop on the Mac. So I called them up, got the boss on the phone, and asked about it. "Yeah, you have to have five years of practical Photoshop experience, that's not negotiable." I then pointed out that Photoshop was still in version 1, and had been out on the market for less than a year, and even the guys who wrote it only had about two years of practice at using it...

112:

It's a part of shared culture, not a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury...

(And I would expect a good many blog regulars here to take make a fair guess as to where that comes from.)

You might not realise how many quotes you're using, because they have become a part of the shared culture you're in. Star Trek might not be as assured of its place as is Hamlet. It might be a more restricted sharing. But it's there.

Many of us are British. Not so many of us can recall a time when there were not Daleks. The scrapyard in Totter's Lane is one of my earliest memories of TV. Few Americans will have heard of Window Twankey, and that whole genre of British theatrical entertainment in which the male lead is played by a beautiful woman while a major female part is played by man.

These things are part of social structure, and go towards defining a sense of them and us. It can sometimes be a very bad thing, as them and us issues can be, but that shared culture lets us communicate.

Credentialism is something that can make that communication a little less fraught. It can help decide who we bother to listen to. The problem is that there are many other ways of helping that decision.

Me, I reckon I'd be more inclined to lend an ear (another shared cultural reference) to somebody who knew what a Hobden was.

113:

I'm possibly a bit over-sensitive to credentialism, because the field I work in is one of the few remaining where you are assessed -- brutally -- solely on the basis of your output, not your credentials. An MFA will not get you a book contract with a commercial publishing house: the academic credentials you can obtain in "Creative Writing" are only practically useful if you want to climb the ladder in CW academia. While there are useful courses (for example the Clarion and Viable Paradise workshops) they don't carry academic credit towards a degree: they're aimed at giving the students mentoring and feedback to let them up their game so that they can do the job, not at handing out sheepskins.

As it happens, I have a couple of degrees. The first, a BPharm(hons), was a professional degree: if I wanted to jump through a bunch of hoops and do the recertification training (I haven't practiced in over 20 years) I could be a pharmacist. It gave me a bunch of useful scientific background in areas such as biochemistry, physiology, and pharmacology -- not to mention teaching me how to do a back-titration in my sleep and operate an ancient liquid chromatography rig -- but in terms of scientific research practice or literary theory? Not so useful.

My second degree ... in the late 1980s the UK government panicked over the shortage of qualified computing professionals. So they got a number of universities to run computer science conversion courses. The input was people with an existing science degree: the output, after 50 weeks of 80 hour work, was someone with the distilled practical contents of a computer science degree. In theory. In practice, you got the skeleton of the full 3-year course dropped on your head and either sank or swam. (Around 30-40% sank, despite having previously made it through a science or engineering degree.) It said "MSc" on the piece of paper, but I wouldn't kid myself that it's a real master's degree. And it dates to 1989-90, which is about the same as having an aerospace engineering degree from 1937.

Anyway, neither of my sheepskins makes any practical difference to what, 20 years later, I do for a living. Sure, the CS side of my studies has been very thought-provoking and useful and gives me lots of fodder for fiction -- but most of what I use I picked up afterwards.

114:

One of the interesting things about Aviation is how much got picked up from the culture of railways, especially on the safety side. But consider the wheel-tapper checking the wheels on trains, and the rigidly timed routine checks on an airplane.

But somebody invented the jet engine, and aviation changed, just as programming a computer has to change to make use of multi-core processors.

Some things are still mistakes.

115:

Obviously numpty is seeking a Ph.D. in advanced trollitude.

116:

A few years ago, there was some twit in rec.arts.sf.written touting his favourite wonkery and stuff. He got called on it by a bunch of people, and ended up talking about the economics courses he'd taking, and what did you have, he challenged his adversary... David Friedman. Aka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_D._Friedman

Who cheerfully admitted it was true, he did not have a degree in economics, and in fact had not taken any courses in such.


117:
David Friedman. Aka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_D._Friedman
Who cheerfully admitted it was true, he did not have a degree in economics, and in fact had not taken any courses in such.

Well, Friedman is a bad example because he clearly is an idiot; I am minded of one usenet discussion where he insisted wages couldn't be stagnant because household income was going up (and that the guys writing the paper must be some sort of commie libs who clearly couldn't be using official statistics.) No, Friedman has not demonstrated any expertise in any of a number of fields that I've seen over the years. Apparently having your facts conform to an ideology no matter what the subject is rather, er, self-limiting ;-)

Otoh:

(I'm reminded of an incident circa 1993 on sci.space, back on USENET. An ongoing discussion of the viability of a single stage to orbit launcher (ROTON, I think) was under way. Along comes a graduate student from UWaterloo who has just discovered USENET and become a heavy poster. He promptly accuses a bunch of the other commenters of being misguided idiots. Culminating in him telling Henry Spencer that he was obviously clueless.

OMG. It would appear that one of the few (the very few) benefits of growing old is being able to assess who's talking sense and who's talking hooie.

Which suggests that most HR departments are doing it wrong, seeing as they seem to be almost invariably staffed with well-dressed, well-groomed younger people who clearly have no idea who the players are and who's merely pretending to be one.

118:

Well. Hmmm. What can be said further?
I suppose I could wade in and show my own foolishness (of which I have my fair share, being human, and all that.) or I could simply state that those who live for flashing their credentials are missing the point. I have a few credentials, but find it only ever necessary to emblazon them when confronted by those who fit the above statement. I suppose it stems from the fact that I really don't take them seriously, even for myself. By definition, (my own, obviously) they MAY indicate that the individual in question may have studied something that allows said individual to feel more important. Rather, I would respect an individual's opinion as just that, and do the research MYSELF. What this means: I am taking responsibility for the garbage that may or may not spew from my lips, as I trust (perhaps naively) the rest of the world to do. Will this be misquoted or taken out of context? Quite possibly. The question is: Is it really that important? You, the reader, after wading through all these posts as I did, will take away what works for you. Perhaps, it may spark further introspection. Or not.

119:

Right, it may help one to get the contract/job/promotion, but I can hardly see how it can help one do the job. If people are complaining about credentialism because it lays claim to distinguishing people who can do the job from those who can't, and fails, that sort of pre-credentialist "the right sort of chap" mode of thought fails even harder, as I see it.

My view on credentials. They are far from useless. They entail a certain amount of information, which could probably best be encapsulated as "institution X claims person Y has successfully conducted programme of studies Z". Now how useful that is depends on how much one trusts institution X and how relevant programme of studies Z is to the work, but saying credentials are useless seems odd to me, they very clearly communicate something.

Let's put it this way: what did we have before credentials? Mostly family influence,, wealth, and arbitrary power. Mathematicians actually had duels (which is a pretty random way to establish which is the better one, and leads to secrecy in the art). So are credentials overused? Yes, sure. But they're by no means useless.

120:

If you want to see where excessive credentialism takes you, have a look at Germany. There, a PhD is much more than just an academic qualification: it's a passport to high office, whether in business or politics. Employees with a doctorate get paid substantially more than non-PhD holders. There's therefore a lot of pressure on ambitious people to get one.

This year a number of German politicians have had their doctorates withdrawn for plagiarism (and further dissertations are being investigated). The most famous one - his downfall made headlines outside of Germany, too - was Karl-Theodore zu Guttenberg (now called Zu Googleberg or Baron Copy-and-Paste). The man is intelligent, wealthy, handsome, eloquent, and is a Baron to boot. Yet even he clearly felt a need to get a doctorate. In doing so he committed one of the worst academic crimes - deliberate plagiarism on a grand scale. He ended up losing his job as defence minister.

121:

I wouldn't say Friedman is clearly an idiot. He certainly takes an extreme view which, if it's wrong, could be very badly wrong.

I can think of a few other people in fandom who give me some of the same vibe: either they're remarkable talents, or they have a talent for self-delusion. You wonder if they go around muttering "pocketa-pocketa". And a lot of it could be blamed on the nature of internet-mediated communications.

In Friedman's case, I got a classic, "Trust me, I'm the expert" answer when I asked him a question. Not even a pointer to some other authority who might have dealt with what I asked. I'm not inclined to respect his opinions.

122:

One of the interesting things about Aviation is how much got picked up from the culture of railways

Telecomms, as well. Signalling. Traffic. Carriers. Common carriers. Lines. Switching. Ratecards.

123:

James Blish, interviewed many years ago, more-or-less: After all, I don't know anything about the moons of Jupiter... "Write what you know" is a prison, so write what you feel.

Credentialism...well, it depends. Both too much and too little weight are given. Perhaps worst, not having credentials can be an unnecessary barrier to employment. Still, licensing is one of the genuine defenses against dangerous incompetents in architecture, law, and medicine, so they do have their value.

Credentials, if valid, they do indicate that the person who has credentials has put in a fair amount of time on the subject, and persuaded the granting organization that he knows something about about it. (This doesn't help if the granting organization is itself incompetent. See "University of Chicago Department of Economics.") BTW, a large part of acquiring credentials is writing. A master's thesis is a short book. A doctoral thesis is a long book.

124:

The Internet campaign on this has been awesome.

Mob in Egypt. Plagiarist hunting in Germany. Advertiser bashing and snark in Britain?

125:

One point of clarification: theses can be very short (legendarily Claude Shannon's work). The requirement in my field was that there were at least three publishable papers in it, and papers tended to be 2000-3000 words long.

The standards vary by field. I'm not criticizing the anthropologists and their tomes: I've read a number. It's just that standards differ, and the amount of paper may not represent the amount of work.

126:

It's a fair point. Standards for granting degrees do vary. De Broglie, I believe, also wrote a famously short thesis, and was supported by Einstein in its validity. In the arts, masters theses are often works in the field. In some fields, competence is not at all verbal.

127:

Numpty, indeed. And no, I don't think this is a high-school student either...


Trollishly insistent, puffed-up with hot air and entitlement, and utterly devoid of any understanding about what credentials are, or how proper references work.

I'd draw parallels with this, and the published correspondence with Creationists we call the Lensky Putdown:

www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia:Lenski_dialog

In short, I think your numpty correspondent is a Conservapedist.


128:

I recall (though I didn't save the link) a fascinating expose from a man who ghost writes thesis and such high level qualification building papers for rich idiots who want unearned qualifications. His description of his text-message speaking customers was quite sobering.

It was also interesting how this man had apparently mastered the skill of writing functionally valid papers in multiple disciplines given deadlines in the weekly range.

129:

One of the things I discovered (too late) about getting credentials was that you better do it early. In my case I rather fancied doing a PhD about 13 years after leaving university. After adding up the cost of doing it, the cost of living, and three years lost salary I bought a house instead.

130:

Certainly some credentials are very useful, if not used out of context. A good degree should always mean something (in terms of what the holder can or could do). But all too frequently credentials are being used and asked for without understanding what they signify, especially their limitations.

I've worked quite a bit on curriculum development, so part of my response is annoyance that our careful work in maintaining a meaning for our credentials is being ignored :-)

There is also a huge market in crap credentials, including many supposed "peer-reviewed" publications that are rubbish, and a trade among some academics in publishing favours. There really aren't viable shortcuts to knowing someone's capabilities.

131:
they're aimed at giving the students mentoring and feedback to let them up their game so that they can do the job, not at handing out sheepskins.

Given a choice between an education based entirely on classroom and textbook teaching and an apprenticeship with mentoring and feedback, I'll take the latter. Both would be best, but in the end, when you're setting out to learn how to do something, practice and the metaknowledge that comes from mentoring by someone who can already do it means more than what can be disseminated in a classroom. I consider myself very lucky: both times I set out to start a new career I worked for someone who was willing to mentor me. I took classes and read textbooks as well, but without a mentor I don't think I could have become as competent at doing the job.

132:

Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg did have a glorious departure ceremony though:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDZVwcRHL5E

133:

Let me just say http://xkcd.com/386/ .

134:

The footnote in Charles Yu's "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" was one of the high points of the book

135:

@120 I wouldn't say that we have an excessive credentialism in Germany, at least not compared to other countries in Europe. There's jobs that (informally) require a PhD - especially in medicine. Being treated by a doctor without the formal "Dr." title is a big no-no for many, no matter which age.

However, there's weirder traditions elsewhere. I hear that for example in Austria, it was common until recently to apply titles to a person's spouse, too. Something like "Frau Diplomingenieur" for an engineer's wife - that's what I would call excessive. Hence the med students' saying: "If you don't have your PhD by 30, go marry one."

With regards to the original posting - I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Charles' work (I arrived here via a Google+ share), but most of "numpty"'s mails do not make any sense to me. Who or what are slaads and what is the Githyanki race? Is that guy just rambling or do I need a new Scifi dictionary?

136:

@135: Who or what are slaads and what is the Githyanki race? Is that guy just rambling or do I need a new Scifi dictionary?

Wikipedia is your friend. For bonus points, discover who invented them as D&D creatures. :-)

137:

Air traffic control, in its first incarnation as 'air defence', appears to have owed a lot to the (then) recent invention of the control room by British railway companies.

138:

Good sir, you missed a golden oppertunity to simply say: "Credentials? I don't need no stinking credentials!"

This whole exchange reminds of some of the more idiotic political arguements I've had here in the
States.

139:

I didn't get the impression that the person was actually asking for help. I thought the "help" portions was a pretense for engaging in the "You have no right to have an opinion on this!" line of attack.

140:

I'd recommend using @example.com if you want to avoid sending email to a possibly-existing account. The domain example.com is reserved for just that purpose per RFC2606, the account is guaranteed not to exist.

141:

sorry, I just happen to be filled with massive hatred sometimes

142:

My, there are a lot of commenters instructing granny on how to suck eggs.

(In future, you might want to check whether the content of your post has already appeared before bothering to make it.)

143:

I'd say this exchange is less about credentialism and more about laziness. I work in academia (as a tech not a researcher) and have a bunch of publications and my email attached to a variety of tutorials and postings.

I routinely get "do my homework for me" style questions; ones with oddly precise requests indicating that the sender is passing on a question or overly broad questions indicating they haven't enough background reading to properly frame their query. This looks like an example of the latter.

This person clearly doesn't understand the purpose of citations in academic writing and hasn't made the effort to figure them out. If only there was some sort of "engine" on the internet that would facilitate searching for such information...

144:
Right, it may help one to get the contract/job/promotion, but I can hardly see how it can help one do the job. If people are complaining about credentialism because it lays claim to distinguishing people who can do the job from those who can't, and fails, that sort of pre-credentialist "the right sort of chap" mode of thought fails even harder, as I see it.

I could have been more verbose :-) What I mean to say is that it's quite possible to have the knowledge, the skills, the expertise, and the experience to make you a "credible" person, yet not be aware of it. My guy says that the secret to his success is that he doesn't know one big thing really well; he knows how to do lots of little things. Heck, he's even been asked to go over comments and docs of other people's code (not in his job description), just because he can he can read and write fairly well. That sounds trite, perhaps, but he says that you'd be amazed at the sort of fractured syntax some coders call "documentation".

145:
I wouldn't say Friedman is clearly an idiot. He certainly takes an extreme view which, if it's wrong, could be very badly wrong. . . .
In Friedman's case, I got a classic, "Trust me, I'm the expert" answer when I asked him a question. Not even a pointer to some other authority who might have dealt with what I asked. I'm not inclined to respect his opinions.

Heh. In the particular case I'm talking about, he professed not to get the point that "stagnant wages" and "rising household income" are orthogonal; in fact it's quite possible for both to be true or for wages to rise while household income falls. He must have had a hellish childhood.

Anyway, the larger point is that for some subjects, there really isn't any value in resorting to credentials because the experts say mutually contradictory things. So, for example, you get that infamous Freshwater school of economists who to this day blame the great implosion of 2007 on Fanny and Freddy and greedy incompetent poor people, and who say that the problem was too much regulation and oversight of the financial sector. And I informed by an unending parade of Very Serious People that these guys are PhD Experts.

Same thing with politics - amazing how someone like me who doesn't have any degree in the subject, let alone any more advanced coursework, seems to be able to call events and elections with far better accuracy than our fabulously credentialed pundits. When the lay person in the street has a consistently better record than the "experts", credentials don't seem to be worth a whole lot in that particular subject.

146:

Legit, yes... but how often have hard-SF -- and even hard-science -- people put down such 'pop sci" works for a variety of reasons?

Credentialism is a concern here. As an IT employee, I am not using my degree for anything remotely like my work, but it was needed to get in the door. However, as an author, if I create an atypical fantasy world -- say, one based on Zoroastrianism instead of the typical faux-European fantasy world that seems to populate the vast majority of fantasy -- I had DARN WELL BETTER know something about Zoroastrianism. A degree itself won't help or prove that, but the coursework towards that degree will give much-needed information, much more than just picking up "Zoroaster for Complete Tossers."

Naturally, nobody expects a SF&F author to go so balls-to-the-wall just to research one book (or even a trilogy, or a duodecalogy, or a Zocchiology*) but it does require one to ask the question: How much research is 'enough' for the purposes of the story? Obviously it depends on the story, but it calls up other questions, too: At what point is too little research painfully obvious to the reader? At the same time, at what point is too MUCH research painfully obvious to the reader?


* - Gamer humor, there. Sorry!

147:

Of course, looking at credentials is one way of ascertaining credibility. Not the best, but a start.

The problem is that Mr. Numpty isn't checking credentials -- I very much doubt that he's a student.

A much more likely explanation is that Mr. Numpty is an asshole who disagrees with your opinions on space colonization and lacks a platform from which to speak. So Mr Numpty therefore writes secret-agenda letters to pump up his own ego -- demanding credentials (perfectly well knowing Mr. Stross's credentials -- it is 2011, isn't it), just so that he can then annoy Mr. Stross with an endless string of "You're nobody, so shut the fuck up" in slightly more fancy language.

Basically, Mr. Numpty is a troll -- I think it's pretty apparent. And he reeled Charlie in -- he managed to find a trigger and press it.

Of course, the best response to trolls is to ignore them -- but it's really very hard when they are perfect examplars of what pisses us off.

148:

Of course, the best response to trolls is to ignore them -- but it's really very hard when they are perfect examplars of what pisses us off.

The total duration of the correspondence, in wall clock time, was a couple of hours. During which I was busy doing other things.

I was tempted to just ignore him after the first reply, but occasionally my perverse curiosity gets the better of me: I wanted to see where he was going.

And having put the effort in, it amused me to hold up the chew-toy for public ridicule. (You'll notice that he hasn't shown up here to argue his corner. I wonder why?)

149:

You know -- if it gets you through the night (with the added bonus of being fodder for a column)... then who am I to judge?

Analyze -- always. Judge -- only when particularly cranky. You know, when the ol' lumbago is acting up.

My prediction -- Mr. Numpty will be around, but under a different handle at a later time. He's a passive aggressive sort, as exemplified by his letters. Not a tough guy, but someone who likes to catch others on "technicalities" and pretend they had something of substance to say.

150:

Just as few would hire a master alchemist today, so tomorrow will few care about our current degrees and honors.

It might depend on the alchemist in question.

In general, working for years as a practical alchemist implied the person in question had mixed hundreds of substances under sometimes extreme reaction conditions, failing to blow(yeah, I know nitroglycerine was synthesized much lated, but the reaction in question isn't that far off for an alchemist) himself up or poison himself.

On the subject of the writings of Hermes Trimegistos though, I would not want an alchemist, hermeticist or an even a hermeneut, but a modern philologist trained in higher criticism.

On the subject of credentials, first of, it's clear the guy who asked Charlie is a jerk-ass(Professed interest in space exploration, but derides D&D? Tststts!), but then, looking at the fun with alchemy and hermeticism, one sees credentials can be both important and, err, flabberghast.

That being said, was it not Richard Dawkings who quoted Fred Hoyle's Andromeda in a positive light?

151:

I have no idea whatsoever how to interpret the parts about obscure Dungeons and Dragons creatures. What could the writer possibly have been thinking?
Our Gracious Host invented githyanki and slaadi (and a couple other creatures in original D&D Fiend Folio). The fact that Numpty knew it demonstrates he knows far more about Charlie than he pretended, and was never after any credentials. He is this individual

153:

... Huh! I did not know that. Cool! (So I guess the 'Zocchiology' joke might have been appropriate, after all!)

154:

The fact that Numpty knew it demonstrates he knows far more about Charlie than he pretended, and was never after any credentials.

Or rather, it means that he followed Charlie's advice in the 1st response and looked him up on Wikipedia.

155:

One friend's take was that numpty went in from the start to accuse Charlie of not knowing what he was writing about, possibly by getting him to admit "I don't have any space degrees" so numpty could pounce on that.

For some reason, that hadn't occurred to me, but I think he's right. Pure troll.

156:
I recall (though I didn't save the link) a fascinating expose from a man who ghost writes thesis and such high level qualification building papers for rich idiots who want unearned qualifications.
Was it this one, perhaps?: The Shadow Scholar
157:

@145,

>When the lay person in the street has a consistently better record than the "experts", credentials don't seem to be worth a whole lot in that particular subject.

This reminds me of an essay by Paul Graham, with the basic premise that only corrupt "professions" get that bad.

>One way to tell whether a field has consistent standards is the overlap between the leading practitioners and the people who teach the subject in universities. At one end of the scale you have fields like math and physics, where nearly all the teachers are among the best practitioners. In the middle are medicine, law, history, architecture, and computer science, where many are. At the bottom are business, literature, and the visual arts, where there's almost no overlap between the teachers and the leading practitioners. It's this end that gives rise to phrases like "those who can't do, teach."

{snip}

>Where the method of selecting the elite is thoroughly corrupt, most of the good people will be outsiders. In art, for example, the image of the poor, misunderstood genius is not just one possible image of a great artist: it's the standard image. I'm not saying it's correct, incidentally, but it is telling how well this image has stuck. You couldn't make a rap like that stick to math or medicine.

http://www.paulgraham.com/marginal.html

I'm a programmer, and our field is full of hatred towards credentials of any kinds. I personally think it is a mistake, just like the demand by HR-drones to find some magical filter that can make their job easier when trying to find employees. As it is currently, interviewing a candidate is about as accurate as flipping a coin.

158:

Freshwater school of economists who to this day blame the great implosion of 2007 on Fanny and Freddy and greedy incompetent poor people

Well F and F did play a very big role in it. There's a lot of documented evidence in multiple ways about the role they played over the last 20 years.

But blaming the greedy poor is like blaming your dog for getting flees.

159:
Well F and F did play a very big role in it. There's a lot of documented evidence in multiple ways about the role they played over the last 20 years.

Must. Not. Feed. The. Troll. But the line I'm being fed is too tempting: What are your credentials for making such a statement, and are they impressive enough that I should accept that statement on your say-so alone, seeing as how you've given us nothing but an opinion?

160:

Said twits come into my classroom

Just curious. At what grade level do you teach?

161:

Must. Not. Feed. The. Troll.

You're right. I have absolutely no credentials related to anything that might be called economics. None whatsoever.

But I do read and keep up with events. Even those boring stories about the history of places like F and F and such and how they interacted with the other players. Going back into the 90s. But hey who am I to make a comment based on what I've learned. And not from bloggers on either end of the spectrum.

Back to the point. Was F and F the cause of it all. No way. Were they more than 50% responsible. No. Did they play a non trivial part. Yes. Along with many other financial institutions and politicians of all stripes.

162:

Just answer the question, DL. What are your credentials for making this statement? Particularly since you cited no supporting evidence and expected that your opinion - by virtue of it being your opinion - was impressive enough on it's own to carry the day?

I'm sure they're at least as good as Paul Krugman's, who not only disagrees with you, but says the evidence is so strong the other way that people still peddling that line must have some sort of agenda. Or maybe your credentials are just better than Mark Thoma's. His blog is actually my first stop of the day after I read my morning comics, and where I access matters economic . . . including the Krug Man's column and wonky stuff.

163:

I'm a programmer, and our field is full of hatred towards credentials of any kinds. I personally think it is a mistake,

The problem with credentials in our (I'm in there also) field is that everything changes so damn fast. In the US if you are "certified" in civil engineering you can very likely supervise a team designed the support structures of a bridge. The principles are well understood for most all types of trusses, beams, etc.. You just get to make sure the design will not fall down. Well at least you can get professional liability insurance for such events.

In programming we've yet to settle on the equivalents of steel, wood, aluminum, etc... and thus have no references manuals for most of the foundations of the larger system we build these days. Well we have some low level foundations but very little in the way of how put them together in a structured manner for medium to large scale systems. Especially when it comes to performance planning. With a bridge design you can specify how many cars and other vehicles of various sizes can be accommodated with what level of safety factor. In new large scale computer systems we're lucky many times to get the hardware within a factor of 2 for new projects.

And unlike non comp sci engineering (most of the time), programming rewards the first to market on budget way more than "does it work?"

Civil engineer has the "Steel Manual which was first published in 1927. On a relative scale software programming standards are not yet to where civil engineering was with steel in 1927.
http://www.aisc.org/store/p-1578-steel-construction-manual-14th-edition.aspx

I wish it wasn't so but wishing doesn't fix the issue. Experience and steady states allow for certifications that mean something.

164:

Just answer the question, DL. What are your credentials for making this statement?

I did answer it. None.

Assuming you're not playing games, I guess K's economic theories are the only "true" ones? All the others in his field must bow to K's expertise?

You read. I read. We have different opinions. Why are yours automatically correct and others that disagree with yours not correct?

And I am curious as to what grade level you teach at. Those parents drove me nuts also. They chewed up way too much time for everyone starting at K in my experience.

165:

Friedman is the primary reason I left Usenet. He and some compatriots blubber all over about anything other than the actual topics and purpose of that newsgroup.

166:

MODERATOR: 165 SPAM (see URL under name)

168:

Poor little fella.

Problem with higher education is that just because you get acceptted (and sometimes, just because you graduate) doesn't automatically make you clever.

The unfortunate truth is that within the relatively sheltered environment of high ed, you are rarely forced to deal with outside forces like 'customers' and 'clinets'. Sure they are producing work, but internally for their own amusement and to their own guildlines.

In the outside world you are very rarely pushed for your qualifications and instead people are more interested in your experience. The exception of course is within the proffessions of 'responsibility' (typically Engineering and Medicine where failure can equal death).

169:

When do we get too much research?
When it gets in the way of the work (novel, research paper, whatever), either in delaying completion or in distracting (or boring) the reader.

Doing too much research is rarely a problem. Showing too much of it is.

In a way that's like credentialism, trying too hard to impress the reader about the wrong thing --your background work rather than your content.

And then there's showing off the wrong research, like OGH's troll, dropping D&D references since that background info was easily available and he didn't care to put the time in to read more recent work or think about what he was reading. Skimming does not a successful smartass make.

170:

The unfortunate truth is that within the relatively sheltered environment of high ed, you are rarely forced to deal with outside forces like 'customers' and 'clinets'. Sure they are producing work, but internally for their own amusement and to their own guildlines.

Utter rot and rubbish.

Higher Ed is a rapacious dog-eat-dog world, if you peel back the genteel tarpaulin that covers it. Academia runs on an "up or out" promotion ladder with an ever-diminishing number of places at the top, under considerable budgetary stress at present (what do you think happened to all those endowments during the market crash?), and under extreme pressure from the paying customers -- those folks who are looking for the sheepskin that HR departments demand to see in order to be eligible to apply for a job.

You're still running on a 19th century vision of academia as it wanted to see itself, not academia as it is.

171:

I have a few friends who pursued the academic life, and the stories they tell me are unbelievable. Most of the things he described would lead to instant disciplinary action for all concerned in any real job.

One of his least ridiculous stories concerns two guys I had as lecturers when I was a smelly undergrad. They are supposed to be working together in the same research group, but all communication has to go via postdocs because they aren't on speaking terms. The postdocs can't actually talk in the lab because crossing over to the "other" side of the room leads to accusations of espionage...

Not staying at uni is the best decision I ever made.

172:

That is not the view I see via those I know who have to work at the local higher education establishment.

(Not me, but my wife and a number of friends who have previously worked outside academentia.)

I think the phrase 'very special little snowflakes' is one of the politer ones used about some of the academics. For those who have worked in industry, running the IT systems at this university has a whole extra layer of weirdness.

(For example: the staff at the university library are able to use their holiday entitlement in half hour chunks.)

However, this is only one university (even if a world renowned one) and I can quite understand that there may be others where there is a different atmosphere. Firstly, the Cambridge colleges have the luxury of the long term — many of their endowments don't come and go with the whims of the markets. Secondly, their 'customers' consider their degrees to be most desirable (to the extent that even if a particular course isn't quite as good as the equivalent at Southampton, the student may prefer Cambridge anyway).

As a result, it probably does match the classic view of academe, at least to a certain extent. On the other hand, a newer university - say, Bradford - will not be in the same happy situation, and I can accept reports of life being different there.

(The US and other countries? I won't even guess about those.)

173:

The funny thing is, I have a sneaking suspicion that this guy wouldn't mind quoting Einstein about Socialism or Asimov about anything. Being an SF author isn't necessarily indicative of even a vague understanding of science (most SF is still fantasy/westerns/soaps set somewhere that isn't supposed to be earth), but there are some SF authors that are famed for writing pretty good and fairly solid arguments about things within the domain of science (Asimov and Vinge come to mind, and while I know Vinge is a professor of CS, being a professor of CS doesn't even necessarily mean that you know much about CS). I suspect that this student would not have asked for your credentials and instead misquoted you in order to make any argument he liked, if you were a bigger name.

174:

Seems like your example is the exception. There's severe competition for students right now, for almost all universities.

Here's what things are like where I am, in a well-established but cash-strapped university. We need more students and $ desperately.
1. We're overhauling our (CS) program and courses pretty much all the time. Updating (the usual), simplification, but above all to make it more appealing and also to reduce the course offerings it takes to teach it since we're short on resources and will also lose the next few vacated positions.
2. We've been trying to offer our programs internationally. The oversight isn't good and it's significant extra work, but we need the $ and so does the administration that's always pushing it.
3. The admin is also pushing us to do more industrial work since they take a big cut of that.
4.Admin is growing and academic resources are shrinking.
Meanwhile, the local IT industry is lining up for our grads, so that isn't the problem (and produces additional pressure to get more).

Sure, some people can act up with respect to their research (the silliest stories get told most often), and we have a lot of flexibility in how we do our job as long as it gets done. But don't be fooled by the old ivy-covered buildings (whose roofs leak anyway).

While this is just from my experience, colleagues elsewhere ('round the world) indicate that things are pretty much the same. A lot of universities are offering programs abroad (to get $) and starting partnerships with other universities (to make their programs more attractive).

175:

Do you think those researchers would be fighting like that if they didn't see themselves in competition with each other? That example tends to support Charlie's dog-eat-dog characterisation of academia.

176:

I wasn't disagreeing. I think our host is spot on.

As I said above that was one of the sanest stories. Some of the others really do beggar belief.

177:

Ah, sorry DB, I misunderstood.
Still, academia does have its advantages, if one can find a less crazy place. I had a senior colleague that acted as if I was working for him instead of being independent. In industry (or in a more top-down academic system), he'd've been right.

And once one has the necessary credential (and at least for a research position the PhD credential makes sense), it becomes more about what one can do.

178:

Possibly. Or it also reinforces the opposite view: the one of people being able to behave as they would supposedly never be permitted to do in industry. It's difficult to tell from a single piece of anecdata.

Also, in competition for what? The traditional external assumption is that the competition is for reputation, for the right to say "I'm right and you're wrong". Although the most famous academic quarrels have been between people at different institutions (e.g. the Marsh and Cope Bone Wars), that doesn't stop equal rivalry arising at lower grades.

One thing should be noted: there are different pressures in academe and in industry, and there is also huge variation across each, often on the small team/large organisation axis.

179:

In competition for what?
Usually promotion and research funding. More successful researchers may also be able to adjust their workload so they have more time for research and teach fewer but more interesting courses; at the extreme this becomes a "star" system favouring top researchers.

But yes, the pressures are quite different and vary considerably by place. Presumably in industry two coworkers who want the same promotion would need to hide their animosity and competitiveness better.

180:
The unfortunate truth is that within the relatively sheltered environment of high ed, you are rarely forced to deal with outside forces like 'customers' and 'clinets'. Sure they are producing work, but internally for their own amusement and to their own guildlines.

That's simply not true. The time frame is indeed different -- grants are written on 3 to 5 year bases, hiring and firing at the very top ends are on multiple decade basis -- but that doesn't make it "just for their own amusement".

That's way, way, way overly-simplistic -- and that tone of "unfortunate truth" is propagandistic. You just throw out the claim and say that the finding is trivial -- it's an "unfortunate truth" that requires no actual evidence. "Everyone" knows it.

Why? Because it's not actually true -- it's merely an assertion. It's the mirror image of credentialism -- in the same way that academics will arrogantly assume that they are sole keepers of knowledge, non-academics arrogantly assume that they are the only folks who make the world work.

Well, both positions are unadulterated bullshit. Religious faiths. Claims to power. Juvenile self-aggrandizement.

It's an unfortunate truth.

181:

Academia runs on an "up or out" promotion ladder with an ever-diminishing number of places at the top, under considerable budgetary stress at present (what do you think happened to all those endowments during the market crash?), and under extreme pressure from the paying customers -- those folks who are looking for the sheepskin that HR departments demand to see in order to be eligible to apply for a job.

In the US, the students are not actually the clients. They are merely consumers -- indistinguishable from the consumers of sugared cornflake cereals.

That makes the competition worse -- because if the students were actually customers, their demands would to some degree overlap with the faculty. They would be buying knowledge and connections -- something that faculty members both are desirous of producing.

But in the US, the actual clients are the banks that get students on the hook (on top of grant-making institutions). They want to see maximum possible throughput of their good -- they want as many students as possible as quickly as possible to receive their diplomas and begin paying back their loans.

The grant-making institutions don't have much better goals -- they've been reduced from collaborative institutions where senior academics help to direct the scientific enterprise, to "scientific" and "objective" enterprises that look for "impact numbers" in place of human judgement about direction of the enterprise as a whole. The result? Senior folks have abandoned doing grant reviews, leaving junior faculty produced by this system running through huge numbers as glorified accountants.

The students as clients? You might as well say that tv-watchers are the clients of production companies!

182:
I have a few friends who pursued the academic life, and the stories they tell me are unbelievable. Most of the things he described would lead to instant disciplinary action for all concerned in any real job.

As you go up in any hierarchy, the insanity of the stories will increase. Jobs has endless stories of his absolutely insane behavior at Apple -- behavior that would result in the termination of anyone else.

The problem is that you're comparing worker bees in industry with queens in academia. A tenured faculty member isn't the equivalent of an lowly engineer -- they're at least at the level of a middle-manager, and many are upper-management.

A "real job" isn't just the bullshit jobs that most people have no choice but to put up with, being at the bottom of the pile. They include unkempt professors and authoritarian CEOs.

183:

A bit off-topic, but what the hell is "real job"? Nobody ever asked me "When will you get a real job?", but I know plenty of people who were asked that question. People like a man with his own earth-moving business, or a very successful game programmer. My impression is the phrase "real job", at least as it is used by the sort of people who use it, means "9-5 job where someone orders you around and you do not have much fun".

184:
Just answer the question, DL. What are your credentials for making this statement?
I did answer it. None.

My apologies. Our posts crossed; yours wasn't up when I composed my reply, and it was already past my bedtime. Now, out of order:

You read. I read. We have different opinions. Why are yours automatically correct and others that disagree with yours not correct?

In one word - the lynchpin of the scientific method - prediction. More specifically, testable, falsifiable predictions (I'm assuming most people know recent history). Now, I don't have any fancy degrees in business, banking, or finance. Yet in 2004-2005 it was blindingly obvious that the (American) economy was heading for a big fall. Nothing esoteric about that - it was just all those crazy loan "products" (as they were euphemistically called), the ARMs, the NINJAs, TV shows about fixing up houses (actually rather enjoyable to watch) predicated on the belief that the "value added" for an investment of a few thousand dollars at most plus some elbow grease would be tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. And when I first heard about tranching and reputable banks selling off mortgages to third-, fourth- and fifth-parties as a business model, well . . . It didn't take a genius to realize that the market would be in for a rather large, er, correction. And in fact, there were many such non-geniuses who realized this; myself, co-workers, family, etc. This was in 2004-2005, mind you.

In contrast, all the big experts, the guys with the credentials, those who were happy to let others call them "Maestro" without a murmur of protest were insisting that everything was just fine, thank you very much, we're the experts. We had guys like this joker sneeringly calling others (in 2007!) credit snobs.

So what happened? Who made the correct prediction, and who professed to be stunned, caught completely unawares, "shocked" as the events of two years down the line unfolded?

I'll make yet another one of my tireless plugs for the scientific method for determining the truth of things, as opposed to appeals of authority or strict deductive reasoning from first principles: at the end of day the acid test for the validity of a model are the correct (and incorrect) predictions it makes. And by this criterion, the "credentialed" experts (for the most part, there were some shining exceptions) failed utterly, while their inferiors, those unlettered prols untutored in Freshwater economics or finance, did far, far better.

So it's not that I'm automatically correct. It's just that those who predicted a different outcome were wrong. Despite the fact that making predictions of this sort was their paid frickin' job, that they had advanced training in the subject, and that they had access to far more and better quality data than I ever had.

That sort of counts for something ;-)

Assuming you're not playing games, I guess K's economic theories are the only "true" ones? All the others in his field must bow to K's expertise?

NO. I can't put that strongly enough, so I'll say it again: NO!!!!! I bow to his and Nouriel Roubini's and a select few others superior predictions. The Krug Man called this one sometime in 2002, I think, and in the face of widespread derision. And K has something of a track record in making correct predictions. So I tend to listen to him and accord him some respect. Those others, the libertarians, the Freshwater types who made not just wrong, but badly wrong predictions?

Why should I accord any particular importance to what they have to say? As opposed to those three drunk guys at the end of the bar who always seem to be there no matter what time or day I walk in?

And that is why I say all their bluster and hooey about Freddie and Fannie being big drivers in the collapse isn't worth the electrons their screeds are printed on. Why should I believe them when they say that X - and it's worth noting that X is just the usual Conservative parade of suspects - caused the problem after the fact when they didn't even acknowledge there was a problem in the first place?

And that's what got me hung up about your bland, fact-free assertions.

And I am curious as to what grade level you teach at. Those parents drove me nuts also. They chewed up way too much time for everyone starting at K in my experience.

I teach math at the college undergraduate level, everything from stat to calculus to linear algebra and on down . . . which practically speaking means that I teach algebra for oppositional dummies part-time at the high school level. And one thing I'm really big on in my classes wrt to these discussions is drilling into my student's heads the notion of what it means to "prove" something, and how to prove things for themselves. Most of my freshmen and sophomores think that the quadratic equation was handed down from on high incised in stone tablets. Sadly, so do a goodly fraction of my more advanced students, sigh. Though in their defense, most of them are either engineering majors or in some sort of natural science like biology or psychology - they don't need to know why the tools work, just how to use them.

185:

I'd say that at a research 1 academic institution, the equivalent of a professor is a contractor who has to pull in $250,000 plus per year to keep his crew (researchers, grad students, undergrads) fed and housed. Tenure is partially defined as bringing in the money to pay back your start-up costs.

The problem is that we have more researchers fighting for a shrinking pool of funds. The numbers are getting into Hollywood script acceptance territory. At NSF, <10% of grant applications ever get funded (that may now be <<<10%. I've been out of the loop for awhile). On the grad student end, there's <10% chance of ever getting a tenure-track job, and a ~0% chance of getting a job near your friends, family, or possibly even your wife (if you're both going for professorships).

Ninety percent failure rates eat at people, which is why I suspect that the best and brightest now go elsewhere.

As one fellow grad student noted (back in the booming 90s, no less!) "if they ever come up with a cure for OCD, the graduate student population will drop by 80 percent." That is still true today.

186:

Most of my freshmen and sophomores think that the quadratic equation was handed down from on high incised in stone tablets. Sadly, so do a goodly fraction of my more advanced students, sigh.

Back in the early 70s we had to derive that equation in high school for a test. I just can't remember the grade. But we were not exactly a top flight school. Say middle of the road from very far western KY. But we did have a couple of good math/science teachers. Somewhat flaky but good. My trig teacher spend as much time teaching about selling used cars and growing Christmas trees on his farm as teaching trig. His tests were all open book. And we learned more math in that class than in all our previous years combined.

187:

I have a few friends who pursued the academic life, and the stories they tell me are unbelievable. Most of the things he described would lead to instant disciplinary action for all concerned in any real job.

The craziness exists in "real jobs" also. I've seen it at IBM, a major airline, multiple insurance companies, and if you really want to see crazy, look at firms with less than 20 employees.

188:

A bit off-topic, but what the hell is "real job"?

One where the work done is either needed for society to function both short and long term or where your economic output is greater than your costs.

Now all we have to do is come up with universally acceptable definitions of the two key phrases in the above and we're all set and ready to start defining which jobs are "real". :)

189:

I'd say that at a research 1 academic institution, the equivalent of a professor is a contractor who has to pull in $250,000 plus per year to keep his crew (researchers, grad students, undergrads) fed and housed.

Your number seems low. Maybe by half.

The paycheck salary in the UNC system for professors seems to be in the range of $80K to $200K or more. (And I suspect the $80k number is way low for full time staff.) So your number would barely cover their own salary. Much less that of the supporting people.

Note: I get these numbers by inference from information from local news reports over the last two years about our local scandal centered around our ex-governor and his wife's teaching position at a local university.

190:

And I am curious as to what grade level you teach at. Those parents drove me nuts also. They chewed up way too much time for everyone starting at K in my experience.

I teach math at the college undergraduate level, everything from stat to calculus to linear algebra and on down . . . which practically speaking means that I teach algebra for oppositional dummies part-time at the high school level.

You have parents coming into college classes yelling about their kids grades? I can't imagine. Well I guess I can but I don't like doing it.

Both my kids are in college and unless there's a crime being committed they are on their own in the classroom. Now I will give them some incredibly strong opinions about which classes to take and which to skip and how to deal with situations but middle and high school are over. Grow up.

191:

And that is why I say all their bluster and hooey about Freddie and Fannie being big drivers in the collapse isn't worth the electrons their screeds are printed on.

I agree with everything you've said but this. I'll go look up some data but they were encouraging and were encouraged by Congress (by both parties) to underwrite junk home loans. But were they behind the wheel driving the car. No. But there were in the car encouraging the drivers to go faster. Big banks, AIG, and such.

192:

I'll go look up some data

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/24/136496032/how-reckless-greed-contributed-to-financial-crisis

I haven't read it yet but maybe I should.

As to congress search youtube for:
fannie freddie congress
and you'll get clips that can be extracted to support most any position if you're selective enough. But you will find nice ones showing members of Congress telling F and F to ease up on standards or a least not tighten them. Both D's and R's.

193:

David, that might be true. My last contact with the real numbers was about 6-7 years ago, and departments do differ. I also studied a rather esoteric field, where the expectations might have been lower than, say, materials science or molecular biology.

Still the basic point is that if you're a reasonably good researcher, also assuming that you have a $2.5 million in grants every year, without fail, to keep your career going and keep your students fed.

If you're right, the numbers are even higher. The point is that it's pretty stressful. While I agree that many professors are prima donnas, so are many small business owners.

194:

I always thought that a unwritten disclaimer was that part of being a novelist is you kind of abandon your ideas out in the wild to fend for themselves. Hence you have every entitlement to say "f*** off" to anyone who doesn't like your work.

It's clear here the student didn't agree with your point of view, didn't like it, and was having a jab with the intellecually lazy "So who are you say that then?" kind of arguement. He might has well have lost the arguement by calling you a Nazi.

195:

There is another slant on credentialism that I haven't seen anyone here mention. I asked my Ph.D. daughter about the work of someone in her field whose books I had read. She replied with disdain that he was just a popularizer.

I've heard Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould sneered at in the same way by people in their respective fields. What makes people from academic backgrounds think that work is valuable only if it is incomprehensible to the unwashed.

196:

Someone who had been watching America from before WW-2 said that what we call credentialism, is a way of keeping people off the workforce. He cited a job that after WW-1 called for a 8th grade education, a trained eye and a watch. After WW-2 you needed a high school diploma. Now they sit in a room and watch dials and need a engineering degree. And it's the same job!
Those American junk home loans, let's remember they were in violation of banking rules. They were given to make bonus fot the bankers giving them. The bankers are saying that they were made to give them. They were not, and some are now going to jail. More will be.

197:

The "just a popularizer" response may be more about the "just" part; research work doesn't need to be opaque but it is supposed to be new.

However, research is not valuable until it is communicated and understood (or made part of something else that is), and novel syntheses of other work is normally still considered research. But that type of work is unusual in the natural sciences, and some research scientists won't consider someone a "proper scientist" unless they* are producing new results.

*or people in the lab they manage. But that's a different kind of sneering.

198:

As a child, the mirror in my bedroom was an old one; on the back was pasted newspaper, a safety measure from WW2. It was very educational to me, reading those stories preserved in that fragment of a sheet, from the early 1940s.

I particularly remember the story about the fears of some about the possibility of nuclear or chemical warfare; I remember it because of the credentialed "boffin" the newspaper quoted, who dismissed those ideas as nonsense belonging only in Science Fiction.

There's a lot of difference between what science states and what scientists state. At best, for the *good* scientists, what they state mostly correlates with the body of knowledge of science itself.

Me, I'm with the well-researched, deeply thought out Sci-Fi. I'm a Stross fan. :) *puts on sunglasses*

199:

Hi Anura,

my point that I was trying to paraphrase is that until you are forced out of your sandbox and have to deal with other people in their own sandboxes you are often blind to the quality and preceived importance of your work.
For an abstract general example I preceive lunch to be very important and, since I often make my own lunch, I consider my food to be up there with choccie manhole covers in quality.
Dear readers on the other hand do not really care if I starve and often think manhole covers are very, well, bad eating.
Until I would attempt to feed or sell my choccies to the rest of the world (where I would quickly go bankrupt) I would live the dream that I knew best.
(or as another example - my Mum loved my novel, publishers everywhere else hated it)
So, getting back to the arguement on higher education. To progress in higher ed you are required to produce 'product' for other members of higher ed who will then judge you based on the same higher ed principles. Everyone goes home happy because everyone pats each other on the back and their market and reward circle are the same.
People outside higher ed circle look at your report on Chocolate Manholes, A History and think that is 'very interesting' and go back to downloading illegal porn.
When you get to the example of working to grants you are starting to increase the size of your circle. Your market is now someone with money and the reward is getting hold of it (with the bonus of professional fame and more grants, bit the same as the casually described 'real world' where good work in the office gets you a pay rise come review time and promotion to the more fun projects).
So in summary, (which I will tongue in cheek call the 'Crab Knows Best Theory') unless your market/reward circle is big enough, you will often be blind to your limits, and I believe that many within higher ed suffer from this problem.

200:

ScentofViolets,

You probably would find interesting the work of the
Australian economist Steve Keen who has been using nonlinear dynamics to model Minsky's financial instability
hypothesis which is that a deregulated financial system would be prone to crashing. See
http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/

201:

You might be onto something there: "Predictably Irrational" explained some of the author's (Dan Ariely) research experiments as starting points for discussing various cognitive biases. I've seen it on the reading list for behavioural economics conferences.

202:

just started reading your books. very good fun Im loving the bdsm futuristic sex (im glad to see between married couples only) its so gratuitous!
as to your credibility, well I think your incredibility is more important. thanks for all the fun.

203:

Yes, that's the one. Aside from the fascinating level of cheating it exposes, I was also amazed at the author's meta skill at writing papers itself.

204:

Charlie

I think I might have cited

Scalzi. J. "The Ghost Brigades" et seq.

(and others) as credentials :-)

205:
Higher Ed is a rapacious dog-eat-dog world, if you peel back the genteel tarpaulin that covers it.

Great Nyarlathotep, yes! Some time ago (in the early 1970's, if you must know), I spent a few years as an electronic tech and instrument designer supporting graduate physiology and neurophysiology departments in the medical school at the University of California, Davis. Just as I was hired, the department chairman of the physiology department died suddenly, and after a couple of years a new chairman was hired from another institution. The new guy proceeded to bring in his own assistants, force out all the current professors (the junior ones he denied tenure, the senior ones he gave to understand that they would never rise any farther in the system if they remained), and bring in his own people. When he told me he was going to put me on half-time I started looking for jobs at startups in Silicon Valley, an hour and a half drive from there. I figured working at a startup would be more interesting, and probably less likely to be subject to crazy office politics (the first assumption was true, the second not so much).

And that's a good part of the reason I never went back to school to get a degree: I really didn't want to deal with that sort of nonsense. The funny part is that I ended up working with and taking courses from a lot of CS professors, and I managed to avoid most of the bad ones while getting to know many good (as in competent and decent people) ones. I also got to hear some horror stories from them about other schools (ask me about the Stanford CS department, I dare you).

206:

I'm picturing this guy this guy as an undergrad who got into a discussion with friends, did some google 'research', unloaded on them with talking points from 'the well known article by Sir Dr. Stross', only for them to find out your a sci-fi writer and 'them' being a group of people that don't know sci-fi from bad television. So he was teased mercilessly about your credentials and decided to pay it forward...

Yet I didn't find out until reading a great deal of Clarke and Heinlein over the last few years (as well the great new Heinlein biography recently published) how involved sci-fi writers have been over the years in big gov and military 'think-tanks' for certain situations. because of all possible choices, when working on space-travel and strategies of space-age-war, (or planet killer defense) the most meaningful credential is 'published, award-winning sci-fi writers'.

as far as credentials go, I think in academia they are a price of admission, you're opinion doesn't matter unless you've suffered through a real, arduous, 4-year PhD program and been published in the relevant journals etc. while they may fight tooth and nail for tenure and research funds and the other status symbols of academic success, the one thing they can join ranks and agree on is "we can't let them common folk act as smart as the rest of us - they haven't joined the club."

and again, while I do not doubt that hard science academia in top-schools is cut-throat/competitive/dog-eat-dog, academia is a big place. I would submit that for every MIT physics lab or the equivalent, there are a few hundred schools with tiny-niche literature, history, pop-culture, or arts PhD's running departments where the body of knowledge hasn't changed in 75 years and the price of admission is becoming an expert in the 'right way to interpret Faulkner, Picasso, or Mozart' by agreeing with everyone else in that dusty chapter of the academic world....

and I only wish you could have countered his ridiculous D&D barbs about something you're credited for from decades ago with some of your more modern source materials (i.e. as a 'credentialed' chthulic monk you will ensure that alien gods will eat his brain first, or last.....)

of course, that might reward his trolling by filling his narrow stereo-type of 'fiction writer'....

thanks for sharing

207:

As an aside: Why was Wikipedia sucessfull, and Nupedia, Google What-ever-we-clone-Wikipedia-with-real-experts etc. etc. weren't?

208:

@195, "just a populizer"

Pretty much every field has an "us" vs "them" dynamic. Anyone who makes the field easy to understand by outsiders dilutes the value of the "us" vs "them".

@201,
I think "Predictably Irrational" is one of the most overlooked books on behavioral economics.

@170, "Higher Ed is a rapacious dog-eat-dog world, if you peel back the genteel tarpaulin that covers it."

I've been doing some research for an annoying course, and some of what I'm coming across in archeology makes me want to barf. There appears to be an influential movement in the field that claims destroying "unprovenanced" artifacts is better than allowing them into museums, academic journals and books. Based on that philosophy, if the Rosetta Stone were found today, and hauled off as war booty (as the original was - twice), it could not appear in any "reputable" museum, book or journal. Hieroglyphics would remain untranslated and could never be deciphered.

209:
And that is why I say all their bluster and hooey about Freddie and Fannie being big drivers in the collapse isn't worth the electrons their screeds are printed on.
I agree with everything you've said but this. I'll go look up some data but they were encouraging and were encouraged by Congress (by both parties) to underwrite junk home loans. But were they behind the wheel driving the car. No. But there were in the car encouraging the drivers to go faster. Big banks, AIG, and such.

My apologies for the lateness of my reply (assuming anyone is still reading this thread.) We're down to the wire at the end of an eight-week term again and things are a little bit crazy. About the only good thing I can say for it is that the institutional air conditioning is better than what I have at home . . . especially since I don't have to pay for it :-) Given the temperatures and humidity of the last few months, that's actually kind of significant.

Anyway, I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding here. I am not automatically rejecting the notion that Freddie and Fannie bear some culpability here, and a significant fraction at that.

What I am objecting to is the notion that these bounders, these credentialed experts who insisted everything was just peachy up to the point that the economy crashed are now presuming to tell me - and accept on their Very Serious Say-So, without any other serious evidence or analysis being offered - that their usual bad guys (poor people and inept/corrupt government agencies) were the culprits. Huh? If that's the case, if you really were worried about what these bad actors could do to the economy, why didn't you say so in the first place instead of saying everything was just fine? And why didn't you say so a few years back when your warnings might have made a difference? A difference worth a few trillion dollars?

Now, some people, like Dr. K, get a small pass, and I will accept a marginally lower standard of evidence from him on certain assertions by virtue of the fact that he has a good track record when it comes to predictions. That is, if he's been proven right 19 times out of 20 on his predictions, that's a guy I'm going to listen to a little more closely even if he doesn't present as much evidence as I would like[1]. The guys who were proven wrong on 19 out 20 of their last predictions? Why should I take anything they have to say seriously? Especially if their chief justification that I do so is referencing their Very Serious Credentials?

[1]Though in fact, Dr. K actually presents more evidence than most in his columns; why, the man actually has the temerity to include charts and graphs of various historic data series to justify his claims and to debunk the claims of others. There couldn't possibly be a connection between his writing style and his track record ;-)

210:
The guys who were proven wrong on 19 out 20 of their last predictions?

... and the time they got it right was probably on the stopped clock principle.

(Someone who is 100% rather than 95% wrong may actually be useful because you know to reject whatever they come up with. This is the Melanie Philips principle.)

211:
The unfortunate truth is that within the relatively sheltered environment of high ed, you are rarely forced to deal with outside forces like 'customers' and 'clinets'. Sure they are producing work, but internally for their own amusement and to their own guildlines.
Utter rot and rubbish.
Higher Ed is a rapacious dog-eat-dog world, if you peel back the genteel tarpaulin that covers it.

Yet another bit of weirdness where "academia" actually operates in the way conservatives say want their cherished institutions to operate (or at least as close as your going to get in this world). But rather than point to the obvious success of their model of the way things should be done (one could imagine them saying with all due sincerity "The scientific method is a demonstration of the superiority of Capitalism!"), they persist in their unflagging hostility towards anything that smacks of higher education.

Yes, academia is just that sort of jungle where only the strongest and fittest, those winners of a grueling series of competitions survive. That is, in the most literal sense, academia really is that "marketplace of ideas" that certain people do like to go on about as being the best way to judge fitness.

However, despite this happy vindication, there are certain types who whine that their theories don't get a fair hearing in this environment, saying that there is a "liberal bias" in academia which prevents the truth from being acknowledged, let alone taught. Really? Is it utterly outside the bounds of reason that these ideas just lost out in a fair competition in the academic jungle? No, 'course not. Despite whatever the test results say, conservative theories about economics and sociology and human behaviour are right, dammit - and even if they're not, well, they should be, as every right-thinking person acknowledges.

So much for all those nostrums about the "free market" and "fair competition" being the optimal way to allocate scarce resources. Why, you'd almost get the idea that what a lot of these types really want is a "free market" that applies only to other people, namely the faceless hoards of their inferiors. Which you can identify by virtue of the fact that they are either a) poor, or b) not conservative. Obviously, because otherwise they wouldn't be inferior ;-)

212:

despite this happy vindication, there are certain types who whine that their theories don't get a fair hearing in this environment, saying that there is a "liberal bias" in academia which prevents the truth from being acknowledged, let alone taught.

Of course, reality has a liberal bias ...

213:

One of the WashPost's columnists was sure that a textbook was too liberal.

214:

"Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."” – John Stuart Mill
the main thing to remember about Conservatives is they are sure. People want leaders who are sure. Not liberals who say maybe. They lie to themselves. They say no one ease can see the real world. But they can't see that nothing they do works the way they said it would. Have any of you ever heard a Conservative say, Oops I was wrong? Remember how they said tax cuts would pay for themselves.

215:

This is not you guys kind of brainwork. For years my union sent me to companies doing work a oil refinery to build big and high scaffolds.
I got word they wanted people to work for them, not outside contractors, to do little jobs. I went to their HR office. The desk dog wanted to know how much formal training I had at building scaffolds. I said I had been doing it there for years. I did not get past HR.

216:

I don't know what conservatives you know but you need to get out more. And maybe quit watching FOX news.

I have a lot of conservative and liberal friends. Some extreme on both sides. And at each end they are "sure". And they want leaders who are "sure".

It's not a symptom of conservatives, but one of the extremes.

As to the stupid comments, I must associate with the only high IQ, some with PHD, successful because they are smart, conservatives on the planet. Ditto liberals the liberals I know. But in general they don't go around making loud simplistic statements in public.

217:

In an earlier post someone quoted the old falsehood "those who can't, teach", with especial reference to the arts. This is not entirely true.

In my home town you can learn music production and various rock&roll techniques from the guitarist in Sleeper, with guest lectures from Stephen Street etc. (to the puzzled - British Indie royalty).

If you were a little older you could learn history from Asa Briggs. I wish I'd asked him about Hut 6.

And so on and so forth. Within 100 miles, whatever the subject, you could learn it from a world leader in the field - graphic design from the producer of the Channel 4 logo, radio production and media theory from a senior BBC producer with 30 years experience, film from Derek Jarman, etc etc.

And I'm not sure this is atypical. Without actually gaining a degree, I've been in and around a lot of colleges, and most departments have their stars tucked way somewhere. It's not just the physicists who get to learn directly from Abdu Salaam.

re:archaeology. My sister-in-law works for MOLAS and every year she teaches a new group of undergraduates. Very very few of them end up in the field, if you'll pardon the pun. She herself has no degree.

re:liberal bias in academia. Nonsense. I know some extremely conservative academics. They may appear to be liberals because they do tend to have a more realistic view of life than yer typical talk radio fan and a greater notion of secondary consequences, but see Charlie's comment "reality has a liberal bias".

218:

typo - Abdus Salam. He deserves to be spelt correctly.

219:

Took me a few days to find this one. It happened locally and was in the local papers which is why I first saw it. It has interesting implications for the credentials required mind set. If you read the article make sure you read the section near the end titled "Sociological replication". It is the scary part.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

220:

Please accept my apologies for any inappropriate snippage:

In an earlier post someone quoted the old falsehood "those who can't, teach", with especial reference to the arts. This is not entirely true. . . .
And so on and so forth. Within 100 miles, whatever the subject, you could learn it from a world leader in the field - graphic design from the producer of the Channel 4 logo . . .
And I'm not sure this is atypical. Without actually gaining a degree, I've been in and around a lot of colleges, and most departments have their stars tucked way somewhere.

Exactly so. Someone up-thread made the point that even with excellent credentials and references, it's still tough to get a decent position in academia without some sort of significant sacrifice. And while they may have been thinking of freshly minted post-Docs, it's actually true all up and down the academic hierarchy. But in some respects, this is a good thing - it helps ensure that even modest schools have a good chance at snagging a star now and then. Take my advisor, for example: at the time he received his PhD from Brandis he was the department's fair-haired boy, sure to end up a tenured professor at someplace like Princeton after making his mark in his particular specialty.

Well, they were kind of right. He has produced some widely cited papers over the years, written a well-received textbook, and deemed by his colleagues to be a mathematician's mathematician (somebody like Terence Tao; if he were doing sf he'd be a five-time Nebula winner as opposed to a five-time Hugo winner). He even got that job offer from Princeton.

The thing is, they didn't offer his wife one as well.

Now, say what you will about lone geniuses pursuing knowledge at any cost to themselves or those around them, generally these "geniuses" are just regular guys. In this particular case, instead of taking that offer and either breaking up the family or forcing his wife to sacrifice her career for his greater good, he went where she was offered a position. Thirty years late, he seems to think he made the right decision :-) And now a second-tier school can boast that they have a first-tier (or better) mathematician in their stables. Everybody wins.

The point I'm taking a long time to get to is that this is by no means an unusual occurrence; there are stars everywhere if you have the eyes to them. And just as having a fancy set letters after your name courtesy of some prestigious institution is no guarantee that you're actually competent, the converse is that there are a lot of extremely capable people out there who don't have that highly visible and very public signal. So if you think you know more than the "experts" you see on TV windily dispensing their Very Serious Opinions . . . there's actually a fair chance that you're right :-)

221:
re:archaeology. My sister-in-law works for MOLAS and every year she teaches a new group of undergraduates. Very very few of them end up in the field, if you'll pardon the pun. She herself has no degree.

As long as some people are getting away with regular appeals to evolutionary psych, I might as well grab some for myself - it seems that just about everybody I come into contact with genuinely enjoys teaching others what they know. Just for the pleasure of teaching and nothing else. Seriously. The problem is that if you're going to make a career out of teaching others, you have to put up with endless, soul-destroying hours grading homework, "professional development seminars" where credentialed "experts" take three hours to say something that they could have said much better in five minutes(hey, there's marker for you - anybody want to bet me that there isn't a link between highly credentialed incompetence and a fondness for subjecting others to Power Point presentations?), and most of it wrong at that, etc. Not everyone can put up with that, and conversely, we can't all be an Isaac Asimov and get thousands of dollars to speak with authority and insight on just about any subject under the sun while putting in maybe five minutes worth of preparation[1].

Anyway, given that this impulse to teach is so common(and I imagine that even people paid to give bad opinions can say with some sincerity that they enjoy teaching others), is it possible that back way back when it conferred some sort of fitness advantage?[2]

re:liberal bias in academia. Nonsense. I know some extremely conservative academics. They may appear to be liberals because they do tend to have a more realistic view of life than yer typical talk radio fan and a greater notion of secondary consequences, but see Charlie's comment "reality has a liberal bias".

Heh. That "liberal" thing is a moving target. I don't consider myself particularly liberal. More significantly, my family and neighbors, who could most charitably be called "Reagan Democrats", don't think I am either (except for some of the older family members who suspect I might be a liberal because I don't chime in when they condemn unnatural unions between white women and black men).

But because I have the temerity to be looking out for number one, putting my own interests first instead of second or third - and say so - I'm accused by a lot of intertubes guys of being "liberal". No, I'm not. I'm looking out for number one. Just like they are when they accuse me of being a "liberal" ;-)

[1]I'm genuinely curious - I've been doing some idle research and I can't dredge up any items of substance where Asimov was wildly wrong on some point or another. And yet, he - like Charlie - was in the end just another guy who happened to write science fiction for living. Is anyone here prepared to say that Asimov wasn't really all that, that he was a fraud through and through just like, say, George Will is fraud?

[2]I'm not speaking of a campaign of deliberate misinformation, if anyone wants to go that route. Ugh - in a depressing alternate reality where both are well and hale in the modern era with full access to the internet, Neither Asimov nor Heinlein become full-time writers. But being who they are, what happens in this world is that Asimov writes 20,000 entries in the wiki, all of which can be validly cited as some sort of good reference. Need I add that these articles are on everything from Bible scholarship to the chemistry of high explosives to the history (detailed!) of dozens of fonts and font families? Heinlein? Well, when he isn't participating as a regular over at Instapundit or on Megan McArdle's blog (do you really have to ask why her in particular?) dispensing his wisdom on Life as he sees it, he's being his well-known trollish self at places like Crooked Timber or Glen Greenwald's blog over at Salon.

222:

When I talk to Cons they say dumb things and get real mad if I don't agree, fast. If i can get them to talk and not yell. I find they are all big time Fox friends. They, including some family members, are aggressively ignorant. Not just ignorant.
You ever heard a Conservative say, Oops I was wrong. Tax cuts have not paid for themselves. Over here they have Conservative students watching for teachers who say Un-American things. Like the simple truth. I've read people have lost there jobs over that.

223:

As I say. You seem to travel in a limited crowd. A liberal neighbor friend of ours stopped by about a year ago for a few minutes and somehow got into a lecture about the evils of the R party and if anyone disagreed they could shove it. This was in OUR house not hers. We still consider her a friend, there are just some buttons we try to avoid pushing. And I have other L friends and associates who get red in the face about politics and how they are perfect and the others are all wrong.

And I have friends on the C side who can do the same thing.

The ability to not see anything but your own point of view is not tied to any political leanings.

If I look closely in the mirror I even see a glimmer of it myself. :)

224:

That "liberal" thing is a moving target. I don't consider myself particularly liberal.

"Liberal" has been turned into a scare-word in the US over the past thirty years, once "socialist" had been flogged to death.

The trouble is, it's a scare word that covers anything that a certain type of ossified reactionary objects to. The accuser gets to define the term, and the accusers are very reluctant to take on board any idea that challenges their world-view.

We're living through a period of rapid change and scientific discovery. Lots of new insights coming down the pipe. New research challenges your world view? Yell and point and accuse the researches of being "liberal" and you can ignore them for a bit longer.

But eventually, the whole of the modern world is going to acquire a liberal tint.

225:

I don't believe the heart of the matter was addressed and since I don't tend to waste time with anything but the deep layers I decided to post on this.

the Email appears (to me) to be symptomatic of a social disease, of formalism, let me explain.

Acceptance is a function of formality, and formality is function "the known". Whatever is new or unusual enough not to be well known/understood can not possibly be readily accepted because it is not possible to formalise it.

The clear exception to this lies only with a very few who don't require formal establishment in order to assign validity, and sadly this mentality falls prey to indiscretion. The duality is supported by a sort of lever made of fear.

Those with vision see the formal as close-minded, those of the formal see those of vision as indiscreet, and each perceives his character flaws as virtues in the light of the flaws of the other.

There is some measure of comfort in the idea that some single way of thinking about things can be safe in a world that is clearly moving faster at such amazing rates but where does the quest to create an island in a sea of insanity stop being noble and merely become another sort of insanity?

clearly your email friend has shown us at least one place.

226:

you know, expressing the core issues responsible for very tiny (almost atomic) errors in thinking can be a great challenge. It can require all sorts of specialised language and in the end it can seem very complex if one fails totally to differentiate between the language needed to express a thing and the thing being expressed.

it is, just exactly an issue of failure to differentiate.

I submit to you the most likely explanation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

227:

Idiot. Obviously an essay should be concerned with credentials. Only someone so obviously stupid wouldn't be. The "logic" behind space exploration and colonization is technical; the people you're citing shouldn't be some dickhole SF author, obviously.

228:

No PhD and you dare writing essays ? how shocking ! I wanted to read again The atrocity archive this summer, but please, before I waste my time, could you send me a copy of your Arkham University Diploma ?

229:

Mr. Stross:

I hope you read this although you probably won't.

As a debater, credentials do matter. Not to us - anyone who's even a halfway decent arguer knows that good arguments are good ones and bad ones are bad, no matter who says them. Credentials are important not because they effect the strength that an argument has but because they magnify that strength in the mind of certain judges.

Because of this, asking for credentials isn't an unreasonable thing. While this debater eventually turned rude, his initial asking was perfectly acceptable and it seems that you ignored him without good reason.

It's apparent that you omitted emails from earlier in the conversation wherein you "wasted your valuable time" (obviously not a reference to your two sentence reply) and implied that this debater was being unreasonable by asking you to list "the extent of all your writings", which he was not. You also reveal that you paid little attention to his emails when you assumed that he was writing an essay, although he had already told you that he wanted a comment for the purposes of debate rounds.

Additionally, your point that it is impossible to be qualified in the field of space exploration because no one has ever done it is ridiculous. Hands on experience is not the only form of qualification. Many scientists have devoted life times studying the technology and physics which would be necessary for large scale exploration or development of space.

Lastly, that you feel the need to "hang [a high school student] to dry" seems extremely immature. Yes, he used your literature to mock the fact that you refused to give him a straight answer, but that doesn't justify a desire to punish him.

230:

I was a Debater. You do your best to prove things that are wrong to win. Maybe whats wrong now is too many debaters/lawyers who care only about wining. Not right.

231:

None of Liberals I once knew believes I am one like they are. Every Con knows I am one and will tell me over and over what I think, Without letting ME say what I think.

232:

As a high school debate coach, I'm embarrassed and heartily hope none of my students would behave so atrociously.

This person was more than likely in high school, as space is the high school topic this year, not the college debate topic.

FWIW, it's likely that this person desperately wanted to use your article to win a debate round, but would not be able to do so (at least, not successfully) if he described you as a SF writer, so he emailing you hoping you would tell him you had an advanced science degree or something.

233:

There is really nothing to debate on this subject. You have this essay guy who's entire mindset in this situation rests on an appeal to authority (http://www.skepdic.com/authorty.html). Even if he wasn't trolling, or if Charlie isn't trolling us by posting it then there is still the deeper issue of emotional agenda and there it reveals its self to be a situation springing from feeling of inferiority.

no, there is nothing to debate on the subject, the guy was full of holes. if he'd been allowed to continue I am sure he would have displayed a number of continuously deepening fallacies.

to Mr. Stross however... Next time draw it out a little more I think. it can be interesting to let people dig their own graves and THEN post the result.

234:
As a debater, credentials do matter. Not to us - anyone who's even a halfway decent arguer knows that good arguments are good ones and bad ones are bad, no matter who says them. Credentials are important not because they effect the strength that an argument has but because they magnify that strength in the mind of certain judges.

I was going to snark this, but to be honest, in this context it practically snarks itself.

Because of this, asking for credentials isn't an unreasonable thing. While this debater eventually turned rude, his initial asking was perfectly acceptable and it seems that you ignored him without good reason.

I suspect Charlie gets quite a lot of email. Since his employment and publication history is well-documented and available to anyone capable of using either Wikipedia or any internet search engine, someone emailing to ask for that information should consider themselves lucky to get any reply at all. Someone who can't be bothered to do basic research - perhaps clicking on the "Who am I?" tag that appears next to the top of the very article they had read if typing "Charlie Stross" was too hard for them to manage - doesn't deserve much sympathy unless their time is demonstrably much more valuable than their correspondent's.

It's apparent that you omitted emails from earlier in the conversation wherein you "wasted your valuable time" (obviously not a reference to your two sentence reply)

So now you're saying Charlie must be a liar because the other party couldn't possibly be so unreasonable. That phrasing strikes me as perfectly in character with the rest of the exchange; the person in question comes over as having serious entitlement issues. (I wrote that about the original emailer, but as the phrasing stands it could equally well apply to the commenter I'm replying to. What a coincidence!)

and implied that this debater was being unreasonable by asking you to list "the extent of all your writings", which he was not.

Again: this information was available to them on the public internet at the click of a button. Why should Charlie waste his time dealing with someone who clearly hasn't made any attempt to find the information for themselves?

You also reveal that you paid little attention to his emails when you assumed that he was writing an essay, although he had already told you that he wanted a comment for the purposes of debate rounds.

On the contrary, you reveal that you paid little attention, since the original email says they are "citing your work in a debate article". That is, a piece of written work, of the kind not unusually described as an "essay".

235:

Whoah, bro.

No need for hostility. It's not like I insulted the fundamental moral character of Stross, and it's not like insulting the fundamental moral character of Stross would effect you or him in any important way.

If I came across as rude, I'm sorry. That's not my intent, my intent is to allow everyone to see that this debater is not as rude as he was portrayed, although he was still rude.

Your personal attacks don't matter to me and are excuses for arguments.

Credentials are important in debate because some judges think they are. The goal of a debate is to convince the judge that you should win the debate, which means that credentials are important things.

I agree that the debater was rude, but Mr. Stross obviously omitted some things from this conversation which might change the nature of this debaters rudeness. The debater made reference to previous arguments and an assertion by Mr. Stross that the debater was asking him to list the extent of his works. The debater also implied that the conversation was longer than the one available here when he apologized for wasting Charlie's valuable time, which is obviously not a reference to his two sentence reply.

On the contrary, YOU reveal that you paid little attention because he said that he was asking for qualifications for a debate article that "[he's] using". (c wut i did there?) He's not writing an essay, he's citing Charlie's article so that he can use it in debate rounds.

Since there's no strong qualifications available online for Mr. Stross but his article reeks of knowledge (in a good way), I suspect that this debater thought Charlie might have some qualifications which weren't published online. This does happen you know, Wikipedia is not the end point of all knowledge.

This debater then attempted to contact Mr. Stross to ask for these hypothetical qualifications, which probably didn't exist.

Your point that this debater was wasting Charlie's time (initially, before he started making fun of D&D) is wrong.

1. The "Who Am I" page is full of whimsy rhetoric which is obviously not suitable for persuading the types of judges who are influenced by qualifications, and doesn't reveal any substantial qualifications behind Charlie's writing.

Again, I don't think that qualifications influence the quality of an argument, only its persuasive value, which is why the absence of strong qualifications is detrimental to the utility of his article for debate purposes.

2. Since Charlie had enough time to reply to the email, it only would have taken a few seconds more to give a response listing his qualifications or saying that he felt that an academic reliance on qualifications was detrimental to knowledge, or whatever.

3. Charlie isn't God. Taking 20 seconds out of his day to tell this kid where he went to college would hardly have been a big deal.


My overall point is that the debater was rude, but only after Charlie rather rudely (not AS rudely, less so) denied his request for qualifications, and that Charlie did this without any justification (in the email). It's not unreasonable to find this annoying. The debater wasn't "entitled" to that reply, but it seems that most people would have given it freely in the interest of promoting intelligent discussions about space development.

Everyone in this conversation has been attacking this debater and I feel that he is less guilty than he has been portrayed. I also feel that high school students shouldn't be held to this level of criticism. That's why I'm attempting to defend him, as best I can.

236:

"Your time is clearly very valuable, as you would rather argue with me over this than simply take a minute or two to state your credentials."
That doesn't sound like pure sarcasm to you?
I was taking issue with the sense of entitlement and the inability to bloody read: OGH told numpty to go look him up on Wikipedia, which implies Mr. Stross believes everything one needs to know about his qualifications is there. Instead of taking what was on Wikipedia and working with that, deciding OGH is a dickhead and moving on with life, or drafting a clear and polite request explaining what extra information they needed and why, they decided to demonstrate they had read the Wikipedia article by mockery while demanding they be catered to.
This is not acceptable behaviour from anyone, even teenagers. ",)

237:

Supplementary note: not only do I get lots of email from strangers every day -- most of whom are polite -- I get email from folks who aren't polite. One subgroup are the spammers and content farmers who want me to promote their product, but I also get email from trolls.

You learn the behaviour patterns after a couple of decades on the net: they want your attention, and once they've got it, they try to pick holes in your ego. Quite probably they're hoping to share their private correspondence with you with their friends for lulz: trolling is usually a spectator sport, after all.

The best response to such people is a blunt "fuck off and die" (if you ignore them they keep coming back), but I often give people the benefit of the doubt even if the first email smells slightly fishy.

238:

I'd like to personally apologize for what that person did. Not that I know who s/he is specifically, but I also am a debater in the same league. we cite arguments from many different authors, and it is unacceptable to use novelists, etc. (that's not to say that you aren't credible in your own rights.)

What he did was quite rude, and hope that you don't take it out on any other debaters, should they contact you for information.

239:

As a debater I can say that I can empathize with the person who sent you those emails. Just knowing that someone has a degree/graduated from highschool / isn't a convicted felon or park-ranger can go a long way in a policy debate round. Part of the norm in policy debate is writing the qualifications of an author before a quotation (or "card") so that people know who a person is and if they are qualified to write policy proposals or if they are some sci-fi writer (not that there is anything wrong with being a science fiction writer, you just are not as qualified as say a PhD in Aerospace Engineering to assert that Space Based Solar Power is technically feasible or that mining the moon for He3 can be done within the next decade). Still nagging an author for quals does seem rather rude / makes the assertion that the person is not qualified.

240:

Dude. You are my hero. Seriously.

241:

Ok. When you pull a card out of your shoe box, you may sometimes need more than the Colonial Commission Report of 1951. And come to think of it I wish the RW flocks dropping waste in the media had to prove what they know. Lets just say he wanted to know things and may have put the post wrong.

242:

Just knowing that someone has a degree/graduated from highschool / isn't a convicted felon or park-ranger can go a long way in a policy debate round.

Maybe, but your argument is wholly specious: I am not interested in formal debate. It's not my shtick. Badgering me for information of use in such debate is like grabbing a random stranger and demanding the latest news on the India v. Pakistan Test Series: vanishingly unlikely to be productive, and liable to annoy the random stranger in question.

Finally, going back to the original essay I wrote that the troll in question wanted to know about my qualifications for -- my argument emerges from the numbers. Anyone can double-check what I was talking about with the aid of a pocket calculator and some references, be they wikipedia or Britannica or something more specialised. So he didn't need my qualifications; he just needed a couple of citable sources and a pocket calculator.

If actual worked calculations based on hard data are inadmissible in your form of debate, then I submit that the format of the debate is less than optimal.

243:

Just knowing that someone has a degree/graduated from highschool / isn't a convicted felon or park-ranger can go a long way in a policy debate round.

Do you actually see the utter wrongness in what you're saying?
You're valuing say-so by a person with a degree higher than an empirically based process, because that's what people react to.

This whole planet is utterly, terminally fucked. Sorry.

244:

@243

Why is that a bad thing?

There's no reason that accepting the inevitable bias of certain judges and continuing to debate despite that bias is a bad thing.

Yes, it sucks that some people are dumb and insist on credentials, but that's no reason to not attempt to get credentials. Our form of debate IS less than optimal, but it's the best there is, and there's no convincing certain judges that qualifications aren't important.

Learning how to persuade idiots is a key part of politics. If we don't learn how to engage in these tactics and use them for good we'll cede the political arena to those who seek only personal gain and have no qualms about playing off biases.

This might seem harsh, but it's actually realist. Anyone who asserts otherwise believes in utopias.

245:

Yes, it sucks that some people are dumb and insist on credentials, but that's no reason to not attempt to get credentials. Our form of debate IS less than optimal, but it's the best there is, and there's no convincing certain judges that qualifications aren't important.

Dude, any time I feel like it I can get another stack of letters to add to the couple of sets I'm entitled to put after my name (and don't bother with).

Trouble is, what used to be an indication of serious scholarship is today just a tick-box to put on your CV so that Human Resources don't ignore you when you're applying for a job. A Bachelor's degree was unusual and a sign of scholarship: a PhD was a remarkable rarity. Yet today you need a Bachelor's in engineering to do a job that 50 years ago would have gone to someone who left school at 15 then did an engineering apprenticeship. It has become largely meaningless, part of a culture of credentialism that is a substitute for actually having some sort of grasp on what people know and do.

This might seem harsh, but it's actually realist. Anyone who asserts otherwise believes in utopias.

That's a nice trick you've got there, son. Shame that the old bait-and-switch unsupported assertion (with a side-order of ad hominem) doesn't work around here.

246:
the couple of sets I'm entitled to put after my name (and don't bother with)

Heh. And one of them is in a subject that some of us didn't graduate in because said full degree wasn't available in our day.

As long as government agencies and multinational companies are flying you round the world for the benefit of hearing your views, I don't think you need worry about a piece of paper or two.

247:
Our form of debate IS less than optimal, but it's the best there is,

You'll find that actually the best form of debate is a thing we like to call "science", wherein the only thing that matters is the facts (and if you're right, no-one cares that you're a patent clerk whose only academic qualification is a teaching diploma from your local polytechnic).

and there's no convincing certain judges that qualifications aren't important.

Credentials are very helpful in regulating a wide range of applied fields - if your plumber isn't properly qualified, then they might not know how to fit your new gas boiler, leading to explosive death. If your naval engineer doesn't have suitable background, then your new ship might sink (or be otherwise unsuitable). Mind you, even in those cases I'd take someone with a proven track record of being right over a random unknown with the right bit of paper every time.

But as I said, we do have a better way of settling many types of dispute, and it's called science. (Good work in humanities field tends actually to be conducted using basic scientific method: test your hypothesis against the evidence, publish the results, and let your peers try to knock the idea flat. There are bad journals, and whole fields that are fundamentally broken, of course, but that's a separate problem.)

248:

Somebody that's long dead now said a Bachelor's degree was needed to do what high school drop outs, did because there are so many workers for each job. Keeping them in school was better for society. He cited one job that was done by a 8th grader with a trained eye ans a watch. Now its done in a office with dials and a degree. But its the same work. Now there's no jobs anyway.

249:

I will have to at least thank this student for reminding me that Charlie contributed to Fiend Folio (in particular the Githyanki reference). I used to be so obsessed with that book in my formative years.

250:

Sorry for the late reply, I've been on a vacation. I realize that this conversation might end up dying, but it'd hardly be the end of the world if it did.

I really don't think that Charlie's post was responsive to mine at all. I understand that academic qualifications are useless to discern who is and who isn't good at debate, but my point is that certain judges cannot be persuaded that this is true and so debaters have an incentive to find qualified authors.

Charlie has not address this point. At all.

The best remedy for an over reliance on qualifications is not a snippity reply over email, but an intelligent explanation of why academic thought is harmed by this over reliance.

Charlie has not addressed this point. At all.

Chrisj was off the mark with his comment too, in essentially the same way that Charlie was. Chris said that logic and science is the best is the best way to mediate disputes, which in no way refutes my claim that although the current format of high school debate is less than ideal it is still desirable because it is net educational.

It's not even necessary for me to defend that the current form of high school debate is the best that exists so long as you can accept that it's beneficial.

Yes, it's upsetting that debaters feel a need to ask for evidence, but that need is real and is not the debaters fault but the fault of the judge. The current form of debate wherein some judges are biased in favor of qualifications is still more preferable than no debates at all because students are still researching the issues and reading the literature and experimenting with the concepts involved.

It's completely unfair for Chris to compare a competitive high school activity with science, which isn't a program but a set of ideas and methodologies based on hundreds of years of human experience. His assumption that scientists aren't also subject to those biased by qualifications is an ignorant one.

Chrisj also ignores a fundamental point of Charlie's initial post: Science can't be our only tool for analyzing things like the consequences of space colonization because science is based on empiricism and we have not yet colonized space.

Hasta la vista, space minions.

251:

Sorry for the late reply, I've been on a vacation. I realize that this conversation might end up dying, but it'd hardly be the end of the world if it did.

I really don't think that Charlie's post was responsive to mine at all. I understand that academic qualifications are useless to discern who is and who isn't good at debate, but my point is that certain judges cannot be persuaded that this is true and so debaters have an incentive to find qualified authors.

Charlie has not address this point. At all.

The best remedy for an over reliance on qualifications is not a snippity reply over email, but an intelligent explanation of why academic thought is harmed by this over reliance.

Charlie has not addressed this point. At all.

Chrisj was off the mark with his comment too, in essentially the same way that Charlie was. Chris said that logic and science is the best is the best way to mediate disputes, which in no way refutes my claim that although the current format of high school debate is less than ideal it is still desirable because it is net educational.

It's not even necessary for me to defend that the current form of high school debate is the best that exists so long as you can accept that it's beneficial.

Yes, it's upsetting that debaters feel a need to ask for evidence, but that need is real and is not the debaters fault but the fault of the judge. The current form of debate wherein some judges are biased in favor of qualifications is still more preferable than no debates at all because students are still researching the issues and reading the literature and experimenting with the concepts involved.

It's completely unfair for Chris to compare a competitive high school activity with science, which isn't a program but a set of ideas and methodologies based on hundreds of years of human experience. His assumption that scientists aren't also subject to those biased by qualifications is an ignorant one.

Chrisj also ignores a fundamental point of Charlie's initial post: Science can't be our only tool for analyzing things like the consequences of space colonization because science is based on empiricism and we have not yet colonized space.

Hasta la vista, space minions.

252:

Compare and contrast these quotes, all from "Chaos":

If we don't learn how to engage in these tactics and use them for good we'll cede the political arena to those who seek only personal gain and have no qualms about playing off biases.
It's completely unfair for Chris to compare a competitive high school activity with science,
Our form of debate IS less than optimal, but it's the best there is,
which in no way refutes my claim that although the current format of high school debate is less than ideal it is still desirable because it is net educational.

Someone here is arguing in bad faith, and it isn't me or Charlie. Bored now; I only play with people who use reasoned argument and admit when they're wrong rather than claiming that their premise was something totally different.

253:

#253 - I spy spammers!

254:
Please don't just repeat your earlier argument about how academic reliance on qualifications is a bad thing, actually engage my argument on how debaters have to adapt to judge bias in order to win debates.

My goodness, just see the entitlement dripping from that demand.

The answer is no, you do not get to impose your rules on this forum.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 9, 2011 7:44 PM.

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