Re: Degrees vs. smarts

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 04 Oct 1999 10:34:21 -0400

David Lubkin wrote:

 > Surely it is least appropriate to judge people on this list by the
 > criteria Joe is applying to Mike.  Is Robin any more insightful than
 > Eliezer because he's Dr. Robin?  Do you know what degrees, if any,
 > Anders or Hal or Kathryn have?  Who cares?

Bryan Moss responded:
>Well, I do. First of all, Robin is far more insightful that Eliezer in the
>field of economics and since my knowledge of economics is weak I'd take
>Robin's word over Eliezer's. I'd do this even if Eliezer told me that he
>has read hundreds of economics books. Why? Because I'd rather take the
>word of someone who has been forced to do general studies of the subject
>than someone who has selected books to read on that subject.
>This doesn't mean I take everything a PhD says as law. As a general rule I
>never pay any attention to psychologists, people with 'evolutionary' in
>their title, artificial intelligence researchers, geneticists, or anyone
>who's spent time at the Santa Fe Institute.

Hmm... were you aware I was once an artificial intelligence researcher? :-)

I'm actually not that big a fan of the Ph.D. I think a much better fast indication of someone's expertize is their publication record. I don't know about Kathryn, but Anders and Hal have both written high quality articles. And I think Amara has as well.

Of course if one spends a lot of time reading the email posts of people one might conclude they are sharp even if they have never published anything. But that's an expensive process, and people reasonably want to have faster ways to evaluate people. Checking for a Ph.D. is indeed fast, but one can reasonably complain it is unreasonable to ask people to get one just to make it easier for you to judge them. Publication records seem a reasonable intermediate choice, requiring much less effort to get and still giving a good signal about expertize. Yes of course there are biases regarding who gets published where, but I don't see a better option.

So if you are chaffing at being ignored when you think yourself sufficiently expert, consider just publishing a few things. (And consider publishing them in the Journal of Transhumanism. :-) And, honestly, you may find that the process of trying to publish reveals that you are not as expert as you thought.

Robin Hanson Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323