Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Internet expertise

What is it with people trusting random laypeople over experts?

Okay, yeah, I know experts can be wrong, and credentials are not an unshakable guarantee that the person in question knows what they're talking about.  But still.  Why is it so hard to accept that an actual scientist, who has a Ph.D. in the field and has done real research, in general will know more about the topic than some dude on the internet?

The topic comes up because of a conversation I had with my athletic trainer yesterday.  He is pretty knowledgeable about all things fitness-related -- so while he's not a researcher or a scientist (something he'd tell you up front), he's certainly Better Than The Average Bear.  And he ran into an especially ridiculous example of the aforementioned phenomenon, which he was itching to show me as soon as I got there.

Without further ado, we have: the woman who thinks that the amino acid L-glutamine is so named because it is important for developing your glutes:

And of course, it must be right because she heard it from "the TikTok Fitness Girls, and they don't lie."

The whole thing reminds me of something I heard every damn year from students, which is that the ingredient sodium erythorbate in hotdogs and other processed meat products is made from ground-up earthworms, because "earthworm" and "erythorbate" sound a little bit alike.  (Actually, sodium erythorbate is an antioxidant that is chemically related to vitamin C, and is added to meat products as a preservative and antibacterial agent.)

But to return to the broader point, why is it so hard to accept that people who have studied a subject actually... know a lot about the subject?  Instead, people trust shit like:

And I feel obliged to make my usual disclaimer that I am not making any of the above up.

I wonder how much of this attitude, especially here in the United States, comes from the egalitarian mindset being misapplied -- that "everyone should have the same basic rights" spills over into "everyone's opinion is equally valid."  I recall back when George W. Bush was running for president, there was a significant slice of voters who liked him because he came across as a "regular guy -- someone you could sit down and have a beer with."  He wasn't an "intellectual elite" (heaven knows that much was true enough).  

And I remember reacting to that with sheer bafflement.  Hell, I know I'm not smart enough to be president.  I want someone way more intelligent than I am to be running the country.  Why is "Vote Bush -- He's Just As Dumb As You Are" considered some kind of reasonable campaign slogan?

I think the same thing is going on here -- people hear about the new health miracle from Some Guy Online, and it sounds vaguely plausible, so they give more credence to him than they do to an actual expert (who uses big complicated words and doesn't necessarily give you easy solutions to your health problems).  If you don't have a background in biological science yourself, maybe it sounds like it might work, so you figure you'll give it a try.  After that, wishful thinking and the placebo effect do the rest of the heavy lifting, and pretty soon you're naked in the park sunning your nether orifice.

There's a willful part of this, though.  There comes a point where it crosses the line from simple ignorance into actual stupidity.  To go back to my original example, a thirty-second Google search would tell you that L-glutamine has nothing to do with your glutes.  (In fact, the two words don't come from the same root, even though they sound alike; glutamine comes from the Latin gluten, meaning "sticky," and glutes comes from the Greek γλουτός, meaning buttocks.)  To believe that L-glutamine will develop your glutes because the TikTok Fitness Girls say so, you need to be not only (1) ignorant, but (2) gullible, and (3) uninterested in learning any better.

And that, I find incomprehensible.

I'll end with the famous quote from Isaac Asimov, which seems to sum up the whole bizarre thing about as well as anyone could: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been.  The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"


1 comment:

  1. Thank-you so much for that article.
    Your take on our fucked-up world, always gives me a giggle, but your 'expose' on the Amino Acid, L-Glutamine made me actually laugh out loud😂🤣😂
    Where were these experts when I was involved in competitive Bodybuilding??
    To know that all I needed to build muscle mass was a splash of
    L- Quadracepamine, L-Pectoralamine and maybe a dash of
    L- Deltoidamine and I could have taken Arnold's crown??
    Keep up the good work, Gordon... You're always a great start to my day💯