Tabula Escriba - Respect for Expertise

Advances in sufficiently advanced fields of knowledge demand those working in the field to educate themselves sufficiently to understand the state of the art. As fields advance and the difficulty of this increases, fields of study grow narrower - it was once possible for polymaths to be reasonably close to the state of the art in a number of sciences, while now the broad scientific background that members of the academic community have is more general. Similar issues are present for other academic disciplines - a historical researcher will likely not have knowledge that is both broad and deep for all parts of world history. Achievement in any field requires significant effort and time, and the rigours of academic training and learning serve to filter many of those not suited or capable of research. Beyond achieving a degree, academia acts as a distinct path towards understanding by use of peer review, which in theory submits any claims to structured discussion by qualified members of the field, using reputation, reproducibility, and independent analysis to compensate for errors even those already accepted as members of a field would make. The academic pursuit of truth is a careful, conservative one, intentionally distrustful of bold claims and very demanding of its participants.

To the degree that academia works as an enterprise, it is strongest when it functions through its primary mechanisms - formal papers accepted by peer-reviewed journals, written by those qualified and accepted within their respective research communities. Deviations from this lack some or all of the characteristics of academia - researchers publishing outside their field (e.g. when a Computer Scientist comments on psychology), publishing bold claims outside of a peer-reviewed journal (such as Stephen Wolfran's 「New Kind of Science」), and publications in general-purpose journals that do not do peer-review with the vigour it needs. Both the structure of academic publishing and the qualifications of those who would publish are important - the first is important to ensure that a publication means something, and the second is important to help filter out those who have sufficient non-academic interests in the sciences to cause them to distort the results. Papers that either make no truth claims or make supposedly new claims that can be shown to be equivalent to results of existing studies are not generally useful. More importantly, as the results of scientific studies often have larger implications for society, it is not uncommon for those affected to become involved with research, which can easily become dishonest, from outright falsification of data to selective publishing. While individual researchers immersed in academia may do these things because of ego and struggles over funding, the expected motivation and frequency is much less because academic researchers take part in a culture that marks such things as taboo - those divorced from that culture lose such traditions.

Two challenges for those outside of academia in general, and to a lesser extent those outside of a particular discipline, are identification of reliable identification of academic knowledge and the humility needed to accept the greater qualification of others in these fields. The first is made difficult by the attraction of academic authority to those with an interest in the consequences of these fields - pseudoscience is very common, aiming to win mimetic warfare by adopting stereotypical tone of scientific discourse but by being more interesting and attaching more easily to more naïve worldviews on scientific topics. The humility to defer to the expertise of others is difficult for decayed cultures which overemphasise individualism - either the individual ego or raw populism can lead one towards patterns of thought that are not scientifically sound (the postmodernist movement is particularly prone to lead to these errors).

It is a liberal imperative to identify academic paths to knowledge and to defer to them as appropriate and possible. The humility to admit likely shortcomings in one's knowledge can coexist with taking underjustified stances provided those stances are recognised as such. For those involved in the practice of science, this is essential to the field - those aiming to prove something they consider likely think this way. For those not involved in a field where there is presumably an established answer, one can state that one provisionally believe something and argue for it, but remain open to it being overturned on a show of academic authority or better evidence. A commitment to such things is a liberal stance.

Pat Gunn (aka Improv) <>