Among Friends & Foes

Yesterday I gave a talk at a seminar organised by my friends in the Djurhamn project. This was interesting from a scholarly, a professional and a social point of view.

Not least piquant was that I ended up chatting briefly with two ladies whom I have criticised sharply in various media over the Ales stenar sign-post debacle. One was very friendly, telling me that she welcomed my voicing frank opinions, in a way that was too sweet to appear condescending. The other, whom I once offended pretty badly already during the Kristian Berg conflict, had a more restrained demeanour. In her talk she told us that she doesn’t like the word förmedling (“dissemination”) in science popularisation, as it “presupposes an hierarchical relationship between the speaker and the audience”. This helps to explain why the Ales stenar signs turned out like they did.

My perspective on this is that scholars and scientists who do not know their stuff better than the average Joe should not get paid. Also, in my opinion there is no reason for scientists and scholars to cooperate with those few popularisers and science journalists who have this kind of hyper-relativistic lack of respect for specialised knowledge. I certainly don’t claim to know all there currently is to know about Swedish prehistory, but I have made its study my full-time occupation since 1990 and I do know quite a bit more than the average tourist, thank you very much.

The day ended with my first Skype conference, as paternal duties kept me from attending the October board meeting of the Swedish Skeptics in meatspace. How cool!

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Jarrett
    October 24, 2008

    I never understand how that kind of no-better-than-the-people-at-large attitude can prevail in academia. What then did we expend all this money and time for, if at the end of it we can’t opine any better than someone who didn’t? It’s a perspective that undermines the worth of all academic study, and as such I tend to assume, when I meet it, that the speaker was somehow unable to make it in academia and is now insisting that wasn’t important really after all…

  2. #2 Martin R
    October 24, 2008

    In these two cases, the facts support your assumption.

  3. #3 Strider
    October 24, 2008

    I clicked on your link to the Kristian Berg conflict and it was in Swedish (I assume). While it only took a microsecond to realize it I was disappointed I couldn’t read about it (I may sue!). It might be better to warn people beforehand that they need to be able to read Swedish.

  4. #4 DrugMonkey
    October 24, 2008

    Huh Strider? You sayin’ that Swedish is not the lingua franca of archeology?

  5. #5 DianaGainer
    October 24, 2008

    What I’d like to see is some way of finding out before I purchase, say, a book on Amazon.com is whether the author is someone like you who really knows what he’s talking about or he’s someone who thinks because he once read another book somewhere or found an arrowhead in his backyard that he’s somehow an expert! Those brief blurbs and reader reviews don’t necessarily give enough information to tell and I’ve often bought books that sounded like they’d be good, only to find they were by the second variety. What a disappointment! I can come up with a worthless opinion myself, for that matter. I thought I was paying for real expertise!

  6. #6 Martin R
    October 24, 2008

    I find that googling the author to check her credentials and reading the reviews of her book on Amazon will go quite a long way to gauge scholarly solidity.

  7. #7 eleanora
    October 25, 2008

    If I go to a lecture/seminar I would hope, no, expect, that the lecturer knows more about the topic than I do. If not it’s a waste of time and money. Even for the classes at SCA events I want the teacher to know more than me.

  8. #8 windy
    October 27, 2008

    she doesn’t like the word förmedling (“dissemination”) in science popularisation, as it “presupposes an hierarchical relationship between the speaker and the audience”

    Isn’t the meaning of that word actually more like “convey” or “act as an intermediary”? That seems pretty non-hierarchical to me. Or is “air conveys sound” imposing a hierarchy of air over the listener?

  9. #9 Martin R
    October 28, 2008

    Yes, you’re right, both of those words are closer to förmedla than is “disseminate”.