Friday, 26 August 2016

Having the appropriate credentials to speak

Every now and then I feel the compulsion to throw something (anything) on here to keep it ticking along. This is one such moment.

People who quote their heroes on a regular basis are almost always incredibly annoying - as an example, venture into the world of amateur finance and see if you can avoid quotes from that stupid old prick, Warren Buffett. Spend any time reading mainstream health and you will inevitably get hit with that ridiculous Michael Pollan quote. 

It's fucking infuriating.

This is why, despite being very tempted to quote Voltaire on occasion, because he was clearly a genius, I have resisted that urge. Today, at the risk of being a tiresome wanker, I am giving in, and provide the following from Noam Chomsky. 

I found it interesting because, apart from the obvious, it could easily be applied to one of my other interests - the often bizarre world that nutritional authorities inhabit. 

So here you go:

“In my own professional work I have touched on a variety of different fields. I’ve done 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…. The issue is constantly raised, often with considerable venom. I’ve repeatedly been challenged on grounds of credentials, or asked, what special training do I have that entitles you to speak on these matters. The assumption is that people like me, who are outsiders from a professional viewpoint, 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 the concern for content.

One might even argue that to deal with substantive issues in the ideological disciplines may be a dangerous thing, because these disciplines are not simply concerned with discovering the facts and interpret them in a manner that conforms to certain ideological requirements, and to become dangerous to established interests if they do not do so.” 

This steak's credentials were obvious


  1. I don't have heroes, I think, but I love the great shining minds like Chomsky. Lovely quote, thanks for quoting it! It's not only relevant to the social sciences but health, climate change, all sorts of stuff, everywhere you have entrenched interests with some power or influence to lose.

    I read a book once called 'Winners' written by a game theorist who pointed out that it is usually not possible to 'win' except by cheating in the sense that if you were being a good moral person you would share your private information, and your cheese and bread, with your opponent, give them a helping hand. You wouldn't drop a bomb on them for instance. You have to be an arse by definition, to lie and cheat to get ahead in politics, war, finance.


    1. Hey, C. Yeah, Noam has many good ones. At nearly age 88, hopefully he's around for a bit longer to provide some more.

      Re winning - it seems that being an arse is certainly a benefit. But I s'pose not being an arse and losing is probably seen as a cop out and sad excuse by the winners. Guess it depends on your definition of success and/or your level of self-delusion.

      I think I'm a winner, but certainly not in the traditional money/prestige/fame flavour of winning. I wholeheartedly admit that my winning is mostly a result of luck - where I was born and live, for starters.

      That's enough random nonsense from me. Have a good one.

  2. Yes we are very lucky to live where we do and to not be one of the other poor bastards who thought they could live here in peace too and ended up on Nauru.

    I think the man's general point was not about taking stock but more that winning and losing in a game theory sense involve active conflict and bastardry whereas a draw or even a stalemate are more durable and more peaceable.
    Diplomacy rather than war.