Projected veracity is a fascinating phenomenon that assumes truthfulness of one’s judgment on the basis of a notable prior accomplishment.
Today I came across the following piece, which documents offensive statements made by Dr. Tim Hunt, one of the winners of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He talks about the need to separate women from men in research labs. I don’t want to retell this story because it is stupid, offensive, and not worth the energy I have to expend typing letters. The Royal Society is distancing itself from Dr. Hunt. He himself is regretting what he had said, and so on:
But, ladies and gentlemen, I see a bigger problem here. My issue is with something no one ever mentions, namely: it is preposterous that Nobel Laureates are considered oracles. Many of them are allowed to share their wisdom on things they have no expertise in. I am tired when the general public assigns immense value to everything that comes out of their mouths. Just because a small committee in Sweden decided to award a Nobel Prize to someone for a notable and well-deserved scientific accomplishment, does not mean that whatever comes out of his/her mouth is worth listening to or getting worked up about.
But, alas, I suppose this is how it is with our illiterate society: whenever there is an issue, people rush to seek an opinion of a Nobel Laureate as if it is worth anything beyond some fairly narrow domain of knowledge.
Some people would say about Dr. Hunt: “Boy, this is so bad… After all, he is the winner of the Nobel Prize…”. So? Just pause and think about it. There is nothing that tells me that an opinion of a Nobel Laureate other than his/her science is worth listening to. Just consider how many really odd scientists are out there. Scientists are weird: we have awkward social skills that often border on the Aspergers’ syndrome. Just because someone is exceptional in one thing does not mean he/she is a well-rounded, reasonable person. And – make no mistake about it: although the opinion of a Nobel Laureate outside of his/her area of expertise is only marginally interesting, the view that women are somehow less suited for science is unacceptable for any individual to have, whether they are a Nobel Laureate or not.