Monday, August 28, 2006

The Infallible Academic

Why do so many people give automatic deference to people with a couple of letters after their last name?
I don't know if anyone has noticed this, but's Aaron Stanton is in the middle of a back and forth firefight with Dr. Thompson, a Harvard researcher who recently testified before the U.S. Congress about violent video games. She published a study that listed Pac-Man as being 62% violent. Stanton attacked in an article criticizing her research. Then, contacted Dr. Thompson and got an interview and a response, published her rebuttal, in which she defends the Pac-Man rating and the study. So today, Stanton attempted to tear the study apart, detailing why it's flawed even though Thompson claims otherwise. On one hand we have an established Harvard Phd, who has testified before the U.S. congress, against a game journalist with a bachelors degree in Psychology. Hmmm…

You can find an opinion that spans the entire realm of possibility within academia – heck even within a single institution the size of Harvard. Just because some professor spouts an opinion or publishes a paper doesn’t make it fact. The disdain that many show to people that would dare question someone in the Ivory Tower is scandalous.

People expressing opinions should always – always – be challenged. Academics make mistakes, they suffer confirmation bias and they are frequently just wrong. It is only by questioning conventional wisdom that progress can ever be made. Automatically agreeing with whatever some prof says will only ensure that we maintain the status quo forever. Not a prospect that is remotely appealing to me.

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