Do You Know Who I Am?

Lovely blog post by Paul Krugman.

Basically, having a fancy named chair and maybe some prizes entitles you to a hearing — no more. It’s a great buzzing hive of commentary out there, so nobody can read everything that someone says; but if a famous intellectual makes a pronouncement, he both should and does get a listen much more easily than someone without the preexisting reputation.

But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them, there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot — and no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.

Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background.

One of the great things about the blogosphere is that it has made it possible for a number of people meeting that second condition to gain an audience. I don’t care whether they’re PhDs, professors, or just some guy with a blog — it’s the work that matters.

Meanwhile, we didn’t need blogs to know that many great and famous intellectuals are, in fact, fools.

Reminds me of a famous story about Sir Thomas Beecham who, travelling in a first-class railway carriage, lit a big cigar. A grande-dame, seated opposite, told him to extinguish it. Beecham, equally grandly, ignored her. The dialogue then went like this:

Lady (exasperated): “Do you know who I am?
Beecham: “No”.
Lady: I am one of the Director’s wives”.
Beecham: “Madam, I don’t care if you are the Director’s only wife, I shall continue to enjoy my cigar”.