Sunday, April 14, 2013

The dark side of credentialism

You mean there's a bright side?

No, there isn't. But there's an overriding assumption in society that those who have more credentials have more cred.

Here's a perfect example. Robyn Allan is an opponent of pipeline development. About 12 paragraphs from the end of that link you'll see that one of the big pipeliners has cast aspersions on her qualifications to oppose a pipeline because she only has an M.A. in economics, whereas the pipeliners have hired on plenty of economists with Ph.D's to vouch for them.

Back in one of my previous lives I remember some sort of environmental hearing, wherein all assembled were discussing the pros and cons of a proposed residential development in what had hitherto been a farm field. On this particular occasion I was against the proposal, although I am inclined to be pro-development when I have skin in the game.

The locals figured common sense was going to prevail here, but they didn't count on the developers having "experts."

The secret weapon we had to defeat the development proposal was the "it'll mess up the wildlife" card. Deer, foxes, raccoons, and rabbits would all be inconvenienced if a subdivision were to be plunked down in a pasture that they had freely traversed for generations.

Maybe even millenia.

That's a pretty strong card to play in the NIMBY game.

So the developers bring in this guy with a Ph.D. in Zoology, who, as an expert witness, claims that the rabbits and the raccoons and the foxes and the whatever have never traversed this property, because the ridge (if I'm not mistaken, the technical term was "esker") behind the subject property would have prevented it.

That was immediately identified as whole-cloth bullshit by everybody in the room. The rabbits can't hop up a hill?

But wait a minute... the guy who made that ludicrous statement had a doctorate in zoology!

Good enough!

That sub-division is a thriving and sought-after enclave just north-west of Guelph today, thanks to that expert witness with the appropriate credentials.

So I don't know if I entirely agree with Ms. Allan's take on pipelines, but I do know it is utter foolishness to ascribe more credibility to someone who has more credentials.

After all, what's to tell the difference between someone who has a masters degree in economics and someone who has a doctorate?

Often the only difference is that the parents of the Ph.D. had deeper pockets.

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