Academic Snobbery

Perhaps I’m getting more sensitive to this kind of stuff because I’m not a huge fan of academia, but I seem to have witnessed more and more situations which can only be described as academic snobbery.

Just the other day, a bunch of astronomers in the department were chatting. At first people were bitching about how little undergrads know (a typical conversation between profs, TAs, etc.). Even though it’s a bit disrespectful, it really is unbelievable what some first year students don’t know (ratios for example, or simple algebra), so I can understand the frustration.

However, the conversation then turned to include examples of things “everyone should know”. One professor was absolutely disgusted that less than half their class thought it was possible for the Moon to be up during the day. Well, I’m going to admit this right now: I didn’t know this until I was in my undergrad. I know plenty of PhDs that wouldn’t know this now! You know why? Because the general public doesn’t stare up at the sky every day, monitoring the positions of celestial objects! It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s just that they’re not totally engrossed in astronomy day-in, day-out. Once you tell them that’s the case, most will understand and realize that yes, in fact, they have seen it in the day-time sky.

Another person said “If you asked a person on the street what one of Newton’s laws are, they wouldn’t be able to tell you!! I think that’s so sad.” Again, why would someone not in physics/astronomy know this off the top of their head? What’s interesting is they probably know the laws, they just don’t know them as Newton’s laws. This does not make them stupid or ignorant!

What these people don’t get is it’s a two-way street. Someone from business could ask these people what process management is and be appalled when they couldn’t answer. Or someone from geology could ask them to categorize a bunch of rocks, and the same thing would happen. It’s all about what you do on a day to day basis, and to be self-centered enough to think your work should be known and understand by everyone on the planet is just plain naive.

The most annoying case of academic snobbery is when people complain about the accuracy of science in movies. This has come up recently with the movie, 2012. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to movies to learn about science!! I go there for the entertainment, to get away from science and real life, and to have a good time. If all movies were scientifically, historically, politically, etc., etc. accurate, we’d just be watching documentaries all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some documentaries, but I like to go into a fantasy world too.

So, to all you academic snobs out there – get your heads out of your asses, lighten up a bit, and have some fun already!


Comments on: "Academic Snobbery" (8)

  1. Well said, Alyssa, well said.

    Recently there was a
    discussion on ScienceNOW
    about what p-values mean, and some smart ass snobbery immediately popped up in the comments.

    The truth is there are a lot of things that “experts” don't know and have no reason to know, if they stop and think about it.


  2. I think some of the frustration is that the general public can be very dismissive of science. Most non-scientists will not try to engage in conversation with me, however that is not true of those in business or humanities. It doesn't make it right, but its bred from the way science itself is treated


  3. I agree with you, mostly. Unless, of course, it's a movie where it's made as though the science is true. If you're selling it as science, it damn better be right.

    So, on shows like big bang theory, they actually have a physicist who goes over all the scripts & provides all the blackboard equations & notes for the given topic. I like that approach. I don't watch for the science, but just knowing they're not giving the wrong answer is helpful.

    I found a mistake in the curriculum guide given to me by the science which if was in something meant to be solely entertaining, I'd be fine with. The activity is supposed to be fun, but as it's the SCIENCE museum, I expect the science to be right. (It was about friction and surface area)


  4. I agree with you on the academic snobbery thing (I once had someone act astonished that I didn't automatically know which Nature paper she was talking about, because it was central to the field and inconceivable that a PhD scientist wouldn't know what she was talking about. I think she forgot that I was in a different field), but I'm less forgiving of scientific inaccuracies in movies than you! I'm there for the exposions and/or dinosaur rampages too, not for a science lesson, but really, how difficult is it to fact-check the minor stuff that isn't central to the story?

    Last week, I was watching CNN (I usually don't, but it was the only English-language channel our hotel got and I was waiting for Mr E Man to get out of the shower) and they kept talking about the malaria virus. I got soooooo mad.


  5. Some of those snobby people need to spend a few days in an adult education classroom. Not everyone has had the same opportunities to learn all of these things (or maybe has never cared to). Taking that snobby attitude towards them will do nothing help.

    As for movies, I'm on the fence about that. It's fun for us because we know how stupid the mistakes are. But the misconceptions that those mistakes breed and reinforce can REALLY difficult to undo. Then again, they make great source material for science lessons 🙂


  6. You know, the movie thing used to bother me so much, but in the last few months I've just given up and realized it's just entertainment.

    CNN getting things wrong on the news is really bad though :S It's one thing if it's pure entertainment, but if it's informing/teaching the masses, then that's inexcusable!


  7. Very Well said Alyssa! I love it. I never expect people to understand what I do for a job unless they are in my industry, just like I have no idea about the stars and stuff. Great entry!


  8. You realize, the actual film point accustomed to trouble me personally a lot, however within the last couple of months I have simply quit as well as recognized it is simply amusement.

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