Friday, October 06, 2006

Faking expertise

Here is someone who is doing experiments on whether someone can learn a few buzzwords, read some survey papers, and then converse with an expert. Slate says:
In a recent experiment of his design, British sociologist Harry Collins asked a scientist who specializes in gravitational waves to answer seven questions about the physics of these waves. Collins, who has made an amateur study of this field for more than 30 years but has never actually practiced it, also answered the questions himself. Then he submitted both sets of answers to a panel of judges who are themselves gravitational-wave researchers. The judges couldn't tell the impostor from one of their own.

Nature seemed to be saying that if a sociologist can understand physics, then anyone can understand anything.
No, not quite. But I think that it is to the credit of physicists that they have written articles making the basics of gravity wave research accessible to non-experts.
Sokal showed that, with a little flattery, laymen could be induced to swallow the most ridiculous of scientific canards -- so why should we value their opinions on science as highly as scientists'?
No, Sokal only showed that he could bluff a postmodern cultural studies journal into publishing nonsense.

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