Why (Online) Scientists are Annoying

Today’s post won’t exactly reach the commanding heights of culture, but, hey, I wrote nearly a thousand words about a dweeb’s belt yesterday, so let’s keep the low expectations a-rollin’.

Readers know that I’ve been on a bit of a Quora kick lately (see here and here). Quora allows users to submit questions, and for pretty much anyone to provide answers. I can’t remember how I got signed up for it, but I get a daily digest pertaining to areas in which I have expressed an interest.

Usually I get strange questions related to evolution. The first response is always a snarky atheist attacking the questioner’s underlying premise or motives. “Uh, well, actually, there is no evidence against evolution, because we can just shoe-horn every inconsistency into this amorphous, nineteenth-century theory based on the localized observations of one zoologist on a self-contained island ecosystem.”

Those don’t bother me too much, because I just assume anyone who believes in evolution loudly online is an Internet atheist that hates God because his parents got divorced. What bugs me the most are the armchair astronomers.

To be clear, these space scientists are way less insufferable, generally, than the armchair biologists. But when they are annoying, they are super annoying. It’s the result of high-functioning autists lacking any ability to interpret people’s questions in laymen terms (thus, the incessant “aaaaactuallies“).

Case in point: a recent Quora question asked, “In what year will we go to another galaxy?” That’s a perfectly cromulent question, and the intent is clear: the questioner wants to know when scientists speculate humans will make their first trip to another galaxy (my answer: sadly, never).

Most the answer-ers responded in that vein: enjoy life on Earth, because you ain’t going to Andromeda during it. Again, those answers are entirely reasonable, and truthful. They also understand the point of the question.

Unfortunately, the first result is from a lady who proudly trumpets that she’s working on two doctoral degrees, one in astrophysics. That kind of credential dropping is never a good sign: get ready for a ridiculous non-sequitur of an answer. This astronomic strumpet goes on to explain that our galaxy will merge with the next nearest galaxy in 4.5 billion years.

That’s interesting, but it’s not what the questioner intended; I can guarantee that with almost 99.9% certainty. When challenged on this point, the responder doesn’t write, “Oh, yes, I can see how that’s what he meant; I was just taking a novel approach to the question” (teachers love these altered-paradigm explanations to questions). Instead, she doubles down, arguing (seriously) that the original poster was a foreigner with bad English, and that this phrasing would be the way an illiterate Indian would ask the question.

When another poster notes that she is Indian, and that they learn English in school from kindergarten on, the saucy double-Ph.D. continues to insist that her experience with ESL students is that they would ask a higher-order question like “how long until we get to another galaxy,” they really mean, “How long until reality folds in on itself into a singularity.” Yeesh!

I’m going somewhere with this diatribe: ultimately, do we want clueless, prideful technocrats running the show? The old-school Progressive argument of the early twentieth century was that nerds and eggheads could manage our lives better than we could ourselves. That idea has wreaked a lot of havoc over the last century.

Hopefully this woman will never be near the levers of power, but I think (at least, I’m going to claim, based on this one annoying piece of anecdotal evidence) that her attitude and demeanor are indicative of progressive attitudes, especially among increasingly politicized scientists. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill—unlike this lady, I possess the intellectual humility to acknowledge that might be the case—but this whole attitude that “I’m better than you because I can take tests and memorize star charts well” is destructive to liberty and a good society.

Science is just a method of inquiry. It’s not some kind of mystical religion that sets its adherents above everyone else.

But, c’mon, we all know that guy just wanted to know when a human was going to get into a rocket and set out for Andromeda, right?

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