Toolsy

It took me a while, but I think I’ve identified what’s most troubling to me about Dr. Tom Nichols’ response to me, and his writing in general.

No, it’s not the way he rails against people thinking they’re a special snowflake even as he argues he’s a special snowflake (although there is that); it’s not the way he dismisses epistemological arguments even as he’s making one of his own (although there’s that, too); it isn’t even here, where he and his writing partner attempt to rebut a critique of one of their pieces by saying said critique is, “a series of improbable guesses and bald assertions,” even as they make — you guessed it — a series of improbable guesses and bald assertions in their own rebuttal.

No, for all of these demonstrations of bruises to his amour-propre, for which he should receive a prescription of reading La Rochefoucauld a dozen times or so, that’s not what he reminds of the most.

Have you seen or read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball? Do you remember the scene where the bunch of grumpy, getting along in years scouts are confronted by the sabermetric numbers guys, and basically say it’s insulting that the stats heads should even be in the same room with them?

See if this rings any bells:

Me: “I don’t think expertise qua expertise has died… rather, a typical reader today asks that expertise be demonstrated, and regards tactics attempting to evade such a demonstration as evidence of not having expertise in the first place.”

Nichols: “You also note in your post that “a typical reader today asks that expertise be demonstrated.” That one phrase sums up much of what prompted me to write my own post in the first place. My CV and professional history are posted on my website, specifically so they may be inspected by people who are curious about my background. My books and articles are scattered widely across the internet. And yet, when someone like me (or John Schindler, or any other colleague) makes a claim to greater expertise than a layman, we run into demands like yours that our bona fides must be “demonstrated” — again and again and again.

Such repeated requests for demonstrations of competence, when there is abundant evidence of that competence, is a sign of intellectual peevishness and distrust that undermines honest discussion. Answering those constant requests would be a sign of intellectual and professional insecurity, and a waste of both my time and yours.”

There’s the problem of, such requests aren’t “constant” from the asker’s point-of-view — each one is asking for the first time for them, even if it’s the fifth time Dr. Nichols has heard it this week. I get the potential tediousness of that. But what this boils down to is, “Just because I say I’m an expert on baseball, you expect me to know about UZR? WAR? PITCHF/x? PECOTA? Go away, kid… Can’t you see the World Series ring I got 23 years ago?”

He then ends with a folksy anecdote about growing up in a restaurant. Which is fine, I’m prone to folksy anecdotes myself (just ask my co-workers). But I’m not sending the food back dozens of times. I’m saying, “You know, you might get a lot more customers if you bent just a little bit their way.” (And didn’t put so much pepper in the sauce while you say how much you hate pepper, but hey.)

“(B)ut if you don’t like the food, well, then you just don’t like the food, and we won’t be able to accommodate you.”

OK, done. Noted.

(And I must mention the commenter who says the thought of someone forging a blog/twitter account/etc. “fails the test of reasonableness.” Sure. Completely unreasonable. Except for the fact it happened to an MSNBC/Slate reporter this week. And then there’s Alan Sokal’s Fashionable Nonsense. Or, if you want to get more military about it, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 must’ve been passed because there was no need for it, right? Or, um, not. One might get the impression h. sap. occasionally behaves in an unreasonable way, or something.)