In one of my many day jobs, I am blessed to work for one of the coolest people I have ever met as an editor/research assistant.
I’ve mentioned Jeffrey before: he’s an 82 year old retired professor of biology who amongst his many accomplishments has authored several books and articles ranging on subjects as vast as the Civil War to children’s books, and even gave a presentation at the Vatican on the conflict between science and religion back in the late 1970s.
As one may imagine, Jeffrey is pretty old-school in a lot of ways. One of the things he insists on is accurate fact-checking. In my role as research assistant, I am responsible for that task.
As well as being my boss, Jeffrey is my friend, and we talk about a variety of things. Despite our age difference, we have a lot in common including that we both lament over the lack of fact-checking that goes on today. As a scientist, this is especially disconcerting to Jeffrey. It is to me as well. Both of us avoid television news in general but whenever we happen to see it, it seems like there is some self-appointed expert on one of the shows spouting things that aren’t true. (Remember the “death panels” from a few years ago?
The weapons of mass destruction that Iraq supposedly had? Or the people who claim taxes went up under Obama? None of these things are actually true.) It isn’t just TV talking heads who are guilty of this as well. I am always amazed at how people will believe certain people just because of how they say something.
Despite my despair at times, I am a hopeless optimist and believe that the truth will ultimately prevail.
However, even I am tempted at times to throw integrity to the wind and become a “pundit” myself. (Hey, the pay is a lot better than that of a yoga instructor/freelance writer.)
For those who would also like to jump aboard I offer these tips to make anyone appear to be an expert.
1. Wear glasses-esp. heavy black circle frames or vintage tortoiseshell.
This is an oldie but goodie. Glasses make anyone look smarter. Think back to the adventures of Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Did anyone doubt Mr. Peabody was smart? Nope. Nor can anyone deny that those glasses played a huge role in that. Without those black frames, Mr. Peabody could have passed as distant relative of Snoopy who was clearly not in the same league.
Even better than the heavy black frames are vintage tortoiseshell ones. These can be hard or expensive find, but they are worth their weight in gold for giving anyone that highbrow look. Think of the late author/social gadfly Dominick Dunne. His heavy vintage glasses were a key part of his look. Somehow while wearing those and discussing the OJ Simpson trial or presenting a TV show (mostly) about rich women who murdered their husbands or boyfriends, he managed to make it seem highbrow.
Of course, it helped that Dunn delivered his narration in his East Coast accent which hinted of boarding schools, old money, and the boredom that comes with having been there, done that. Accent is very important which brings me to #2.
2. Speak with an English accent.
As the recent media frenzy over the new royal baby proves, there are a ton of Anglophiles. Many people—especially Americans—think that an English accent equals smart. Now, as a former UK resident who married a man from the Home Counties, I know that is not true. Even those famous English public schools (which are actually what private schools are called over there) sometimes turn out posh kids who aren’t that bright. However, no one can deny that at least they sound smart.
Also, no can deliver sarcasm like the English. They own the patent on that.
If you aren’t actually English and want to use this tactic, then be aware that English accents vary. Don’t go cockney-for an example of this one, see Michael Caine in Alfie or any other movie for that matter-and instead aim for Downton Abbey. Granted, no one under the age of 80 actually sounds like that anymore, but few outside the UK know that. You don’t even have to be able to carry on a full conversation in your newly affected accent. Just saying “No. I. Do. Not.” and “Yes. I. Said. That.” followed by a sneer down the nose is usually sufficient.
3. Throw in facts when you are talking about something you know absolutely nothing about or are telling an outright lie.
At first glance, this may sound impossible, but the facts you cite don’t have to actually have anything do with the topic your discussing. For example: “Thomas Jefferson authored The Declaration of Independence in 1776 stating that everyone had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and climate change is a well-established hoax.” As long as some of it is true, no one can say it is a complete lie.
4. Quote a famous person.
As anyone with a Facebook account knows, the internet is peppered with quotes attributed to famous people—Albert Einstein, Rumi and Thomas Jefferson are favorites. Many of these people never said these things, but who is going to fact check every single one? Sometimes even really it’s highly unlikely that person ever said that quotes get a pass. (I actually saw someone attributing “Haters are going to hate” to Thomas Jefferson. Now, I am not a Jefferson scholar, but I don’t think originated with him.)
Quoting a famous person suggests that you read and reading is,of course, something that smart people do.
5. Drown out other people by repeating “Can I say something? Can I say something?” even when no one is interrupting you.
This is a popular one on news shows. I don’t know why, but it seems to work as well as talking loudly to drown out the other speakers.
6. If you are caught in a lie, then blame it on your sources.
This is a favorite tactic of politicians. They will never say they “lie,” but rather they were “given misinformation by their sources.” More often they not, they never say who these sources are. I’m sure in some cases, this is true.
People are only human and sources can make honest mistakes.
With that said, I believe that many have a hard time accepting much less admitting they were wrong when caught in a fib. Plus, saying “sources” also suggests you actually bothered to do research.
In any event, while the about tips were purely meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it is important to keep your your critical thinking skills sharp whenever you hear anyone who is claiming to be an expert make statements and not back them up.
While it’s probably not possible or practical to verify every statement that is thrown out, it is important to take the time to do some research especially if it is an issue that may impact something you do or chose not to do for you or your family (i.e., deciding whether or not to vaccinate or whether or not you are going to vote on a particular issue you don’t know a lot about).
Unfortunately, many decide they are going to think one way or stand on a certain issue without having the correct information. This doesn’t even have to be a political issue but something as simple if you want to hang out with someone based on “things” you heard about them.
In any case, the need for accuracy, critical thinking, and questioning is something that would serve all us well.
May we all live to be as older or older than Jeffrey and may we never lose these skills.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
(Photo: via Pinterest)