In any profession there’s an underlying slide toward the assumption that if someone from outside the profession talks about the field and contradicts an expert, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. That is often the response from people who are engaged in a profession, though, not people who are doing science for a living. <thiswillbugacademics> I count mathematics and physics as professions, by the way. </thiswillbugacademics>
I think this tendency to discount outside opinion exposes a little arrogance and a lack of healthy skepticism, which are personal flaws that can be corrected by the person making this assumption of ignorance, should they desire. Most of the science people I know at Stanford do not make this mistake – they would briefly engage the idea on its own terms, and then point out why the person contradicting the expert is wrong.
In order to engage the idea on its own terms, both people have to be talking about the same thing. Hume’s famous-ish Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding said that the 2,000 year debate about free will and determinism was just about people using the wrong words. He suggested that a more proper response would check for shared words, common conceptual building blocks both people could use to understand the topic, and then talk about it that way.
This does not mean an expert should respond to every idiot who contradicts them. Some people really don’t know what they’re talking about. But sometimes, even a highly experienced professional gets it wrong because he took the word of less-experienced people who were just the first to say anything about the topic.
Like how Aristotle was right by default on so much for so long because no one thought to think differently.
In fact, it was usually by being wrong a bunch that they got highly experienced. But sometimes, the people with the least experience might come up with the biggest ideas, simply because they’re taking much less for granted.
After all, even if you create an entire field of science like Newton, you still might be wrong about how to find a mate, but so arrogant that you never let anyone talk you into it. And that, my friends, is a tragedy. Well, maybe. I bet coming up with Calculus was kind of definitely like sex.
By the way, Nikola Tesla is my favorite example of how to approach the world with humility. He went and studied with Vedic philosophers and mastered electricity and died loving a pigeon.
Also, Lawrence Krauss is arrogant and I think he gives physics and atheists both a bad name.
A google search for Lawrence Krauss debate will pull up what I’m talking about. I have seen him publically state that there is no way of knowing that does not involve empirical science – a hardcore empiricist. That’s okay though.