Over the years of discussing psychology with people, there have been innumerable times when someone says something like, “Oh, that’s your opinion (or theory).” This is also related to all people who have higher education on any topic, so not just about me. Keep in mind the following is null and void if the person is questioning it in a genuine sense to learn. However when the statement/question is contentious or dismissive this is enraging on multiple levels. First off the person does not understand what a theory is. One person, usually does not have a theory in scientific terms. It takes decades of research, and hundreds of studies providing evidence for something to be labeled a theory typically. Then usually retroactively the person is given credit for originating the theory. (Side note: “string theory” was never a theory, it was untestable by definition. Yes, they had mathematical modeling, but that was all. Furthermore, it has been completely rejected). What also pisses me off is when people say it’s my opinion when I tell them something in psychology. What they don’t understand is that I’m going by the data, evidence and a consensus among experts in the field. Many times I have been quoting the world’s experts, where there is consensus on this topic. So, this comment of opinion is completely an insult. I think part of the explanation why people think it is my opinion/theory, is that since people don’t know that science is a way of thinking and based on evidence, critical thinking, analytical thought, and skepticism they jump to the conclusion it’s simply an opinion/theory. Also so many view psychology as a “soft science” (Refer back to my post on soft vs. hard) therefore again not understanding it is a process of thinking. Again, an insult to me and psychology. Of course it must be considered that people simply don’t like the information and want to hold on to their pet beliefs. I have come across this too many times to count. They simply want to hold on to their belief period even in the face of contradictory evidence. If you have another reason as to why people will question a well educated person please by all means contact me. Then of course there is the arch nemesis argument of it being someone’s personal experience. Yes, you may have experienced something different, but there are always people outside the norm. You may be atypical, again read my post on how personal experience is useless. There will always be someone who can legitimately say “oh I’m different.” This person may be in the .001 percent of people, it happens. Yet, professionals or those with advanced knowledge are speaking of the typical or norm.
What also amazes me is this questioning/challenging person is saying to someone with an advanced degree is “I question you.” They are not saying this quote explicitly to the knowledgeable person, but that is what is happening implicitly. The questioner may have had one course in the subject area while the knowledgeable person probably has had years or a decade or more of advanced education and/or training.
This also happens between professions as well. Look back at the post on Trump’s cognitive status. I once had a conversation with a medical doctor who was arguing the validity of a screening device related to the one Trump was given. This physician kept trying to tell me how “valid” (useful/accurate) this device was. Again, going back to the post on the president’s status, this physician didn’t even have an undergraduate level education in psychology, much less advanced training in assessments. Yet this individual persisted making gross errors with statements regarding tests/assessments vs. screening devices. The saying enough knowledge to be dangerous applies in this case.
The things I have said in these posts I keep hearing reiterated by dozens of psychologists and scientists. This is not to say everything I say should be taken hook line and sinker. I have attempted to point out explicitly when statements are my opinion. Keep in mind this being said most of my opinions are informed by science. When I or someone with advanced knowledge in a given area is technically the resident knowledgeable person in the room… you should take it at least as working hypothesis that you can use as starting point of knowledge. Just like when a medical doctor makes a recommendation, yet is not the world’s authority they should still be taken seriously as a starting point. Sure get a second opinion but because you did a google search is no equal compared to a medical education.
Regarding my knowledge and statements I make I just do not name drop at every turn or give extensive citations. I guess I could cull up citations from Neil degrasse Tyson, Dawkins, Hawking, Harris, Hitchens, Shermer, Nye, the list goes on. Yet would that really help if you are holding on to a pet belief? Also it is not useful to give citations to people who will not understand the complexity of the journal article it came from. This may come across as elitist. Sure you may having taken a few courses in college or even majored in psychology (or other field). That is not sufficient to dissect a journal article at a doctoral level of education. For one of my classes (in doctoral training) I read ten articles on child intelligence to present in class. What I learned is I would need to read 100 more articles to have a basic knowledge base, not even expertise. Yes, I remember reading journal articles as a major in psychology and assigned them to undergrads I have taught. There is a major difference between the analysis of an undergrad vs. someone with a masters degree or doctoral level of education. Just like it is useless for a nutritionist, biologist, chemist, physicist or geologist etc. to cite an article for me. I do not have the requisite background knowledge in these areas to understand why a certain research paradigm was used. This is why in college as you remember we had prerequisites for certain courses.
Making contentious statements questioning their knowledge to someone with advanced knowledge is annoying, enraging, and insulting to said person. To use an example outside of psychology. I recently met a nutritionist. She said this same thing happens in nutrition all the time. She hears people who have read some pop nutrition book on a new diet, watched a documentary and so on and think they can contest her. She is an actual nutritionist with a MS in the area. It’s amazing a client may have read one book, when the nutritionist has taken years of courses on this subject yet the lay person still questions her. What I am saying is this is a pervasive problem in all fields. People will read a book, take a course in something, watch a tv special, maybe even majored in a subject area and think they understand it as well as people who are a trained professionals or think they can challenge the professional.
People need to stop this behavior and realize the extent of their knowledge. It exemplifies in many ways the idea of knowing enough to be dangerous if they are in a position of policy making or authority. My opinion here: I am amazed that senators think they have the requisite knowledge to interview people regarding issues. I realize this may take some introspection on your part but this is important. Again if you are doing this out of seeking knowledge from the educated person that is fine. It is just much of the time people question the educated person in an insulting, diminutive or dismissive way.