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Think it through

If you need to invoke your academic pedigree or job title for people to believe what you say, then you need a better argument.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson

Be more interested in people’s thoughts than in their titles.

Pay closer attention to what they have to say than to where they studied.

Actively analyze their concepts instead of passively praising their credentials.

Check their premises regardless of their pedigree.

Weigh the arguments and be wary of all appeals to authority.

“Who’s who?” has nothing to do with “What’s true?”

So, no matter who says it, think it through.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. I absolutely agree with this, in that we should never be dismissive because someone doesn’t have a degree. But shouldn’t we be able to count on a degree to mean something? I say this as one who is thinking through the purpose of education. I sort of WOULD like a degree to add weight to an argument, at least in an “I’ve thought about this for a long time” sort of way. Again, not to say that people can’t think of things outside formal education….

    1. My take on degrees is that they are relatively useful marketplace filters that help employers/customers minimize the risk of wasting their time when searching for someone to fill a position or meet a practical need. I see degrees as one of many social indicators that allow people to gauge potential. Our degrees are a part of our personal brand/social reputation. Having a degree in a subject usually means something along the lines of “I’ve thought about this for a long time” and that gives others a reason to think “hey…this person may be worth interviewing, taking a look at, having coffee with, etc.”

      I also think the value of degrees are changing (as in declining) as the gap between academic training and marketplace relevance seems to widen. In other words, while degrees are usually good indicators that the student is skillful in those areas necessary to obtain a degree, some are beginning to argue that many of those skills don’t necessarily translate into the kind of qualities that are necessary for thriving in the non-academic marketplace.

      For me, though, my biggest pet peeve lies in the way that many professionals dismiss the criticisms of other professionals based on title designations as if that is sufficient reason for negating an opinion. Scientists who make theological claims are often dismissed as unqualified because they don’t have theology degrees. Philosophers who make skeptical arguments about scientific knowledge are dismissed because they don’t have science degrees. Many people insulate themselves from tough questions simply by refusing to address a question if it doesn’t come from a “respected” member of their field. Sometimes scholars act like fraternity brothers and sorority sisters more than actual freethinkers and seekers of truth. “You don’t have a degree in physics” or “I’ve studied linguistics for 25 years” is not an argument. It may be a meaningful observation, but an argument it is not. I guess that’s more of what I was getting at.

      Oh..and just to add another dimension to this…I come from a religious background and am very sensitive to how positional authority can be used to dismiss honest questions. THAT kind of mentality is of far greater concern to me than what the scholars are doing.

      Your thoughts?

  2. Agreed: clubbiness and throwing one’s weight around is a bad use of degrees.

    But the larger issue is this: if I’m understanding you, you define degrees primarily with regard to the marketplace. I think this is a correct reading of zeitgeist, in that most people in the United States today think of a degree as primarily related to commerce, but I think it’s an unfortunate summation of what education can and should do. On the one hand, I believe that the academy needs to be a responsive participant relative to society’s goals and values; the alternative is the decline you mention. On the other hand, the academy’s function is to point out that society’s current values are just that–current values–and that they need not always be this way, that there are alternatives to a commerce-driven society. Kurt Spellmeyer’s article on the corporatization of the academy is an example of the kind of work scholars can do in pointing out values in society and their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll post a link here. I’d be thrilled and honored if you’d read it, especially given your recent endorsement of Praxis. I may not agree with everything Spellmeyer says, but I think his analysis of how the corporate ethos affects education is powerful and should not be ignored.

    I continue to be torn over the function of education. As a PhD candidate in an English department, I think quite a bit about the (ir)relevance of the English degree. I wrote about it here: Briefly, I see the heart of the English department as a love of books. This is very difficult to justify given the current yes-but-how-much-money-will-I-make climate of American education today, hence the decline. Part of me wants to wail, “But books are SO IMPORTANT in what they show us about what it means to be human, and to be human living in a community!” And part of me wants to say, “Well, they’re irrelevant now, and there’s no stopping their decline, like Latin and Greek . . . notwithstanding all the insights studying Latin and Greek literature gave our great grandfathers and grandmothers.” My own position is a bit different, as I focus on rhetoric and composition, which I think many literature professors see as treacherously aligned with the new utilitarian, commerce-driven barbarian hordes…. but that’s another story.

  3. I think the crucial issue, whether “degreed or not
    degreed”, involves the distinction between WHAT
    to think vs. HOW to think.

    Again, if a lunatic yells out of an asylum window that
    2 + 2 = 4, is he wrong? (An old archaic expression.)

    ALL of the humanities are affected, starting with
    philosophy, which impacts all of this, including the
    vital study of English (and the sciences. ) And what
    is being read. What is being considered classical
    literature. Witness the revealing WHAT to think
    expressed in “…many literature professors seen
    as treacherously aligned with the new utilitarian,
    commerce-driven barbarian hordes…” Yikes!

    “And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
    (Matthew Arnold – Dover Beach)

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