Opinions without expertise

While I’m busy plugging blogs I like, I thought I’d mention that A Photon in the Darkness is another one of my favorite skeptical blogs. Lately, in all the turmoil over my move to ScienceBlogs, I failed to mention two good pieces that Prometheus has posted in the last few days:

Why anecdotes aren’t data (I suspect this one will really annoy a certain lurker who occasionally likes to trash me on his blog)

and

Opinions are like…; everybody’s got one

Of the two, the second is my favorite, because he does quite a nice takedown of the apparent belief among many alternative medicine devotees (and “mercury equals autism” activists) that their untrained and uneducated opinions should be taken as seriously as opinions of experts who have spent their careers studying a field:

What would these same people say if I, a humble molecular biologist with no training in law, investing or marketing presumed to tell them that they were dead wrong about something in their fields? I imagine that laughter would be the nicest thing I could expect – and it would be well deserved! After all, who am I to think that my uneducated opinion about those matters amounts to anything?

Yet, strangely enough, they seem to think that – despite their lack of training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry, they have mastered all of the subtleties of the issues surrounding autism.

Yes, life is stranger than fiction!

Let’s dispose of the “elephant in the living room” at the outset. These people (and many more just like them) have no idea what they’re talking about – they are just repeating what they’ve been told. For the most part, they have no more comprehension of the biology of autism than my goldfish does.

These same people, who wax eloquent on the “devastation” that mercury has wreaked on the immune system, couldn’t describe the functions of B-cells and T-cells to save their lives. Likewise, they dismiss out of hand any suggestion of a genetic contribution to autism without the slightest understanding of genetics. In fact, I would be willing to bet that most of them don’t even know how many chromosomes they have (answer: 46).

I’m sure I can think of more than one person whom this describes nicely. (Hint: I think he’s the venture capitalist to whom Prometheus refers earlier in his piece.) There’s at least one other to whom this applies who also happens to have made appearances here very recently.