Know-nothing ‘experts’

In a column dissing experts, NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof describes the “Dr. Fox effect,” named for experiments in which “an actor was paid to give a meaningless presentation to professional educators,” psychiatrists, psychologists and graduate students.

The actor was introduced as “Dr. Myron L. Fox” (no such real person existed) and was described as an eminent authority on the application of mathematics to human behavior. He then delivered a lecture on “mathematical game theory as applied to physician education” — except that by design it had no point and was completely devoid of substance. However, it was warmly delivered and full of jokes and interesting neologisms.

Afterward, those in attendance were given questionnaires and asked to rate “Dr. Fox.” They were mostly impressed. “Excellent presentation, enjoyed listening,” wrote one. Another protested: “Too intellectual a presentation.”

Students learn more from high-content lectures, researchers concluded, but give the same high ratings to “expressive” Fox-style lectures with no content as they do to “expressive” lectures with content.

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  1. It has been my experience that a confident, enthusiastic presenter can have an audience in the palm of his hand. At other times, an interactive lesson can fall flat. The personality of the teacher makes a big difference in how engaged the students actually are in the lesson. This applies to adults as well.

  2. I learned this lesson a decade ago from Scott Adams:

  3. SuperSub says:

    Well, this just demonstrates the misplaced trust in enthusiastic and charismatic educators.
    If two teachers are observed, one, a no-nonsense teacher who constructs a solid lesson and expects students to respect them, and the other, an entertainer who puts a lot of effort into crafting interactive lessons, which will the observer give a better recommendation to?
    If you’ve answered one or the other, that’s the problem. The question is whether the students actually gained anything of value in the lesson. This is what so many administrators fail to ask.

  4. To bad those educator didn’t use those “critical thinking skills” they’ve been teaching their students.

  5. The answer, of course, is to provide both; present high-quality information in an engaging manner. Best of both worlds.

  6. The most important difference between this one and many of the staff development presentations I’ve sat through during the years is that this one was “warmly delivered and full of jokes and interesting neologisms.” Some of the ones I’ve witnessed “had no point” and were “completely devoid of substance,” but I’m not sure whether or not that was by design.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Seminar and convention speakers, the professional kind, usually have the congenial part down pretty well.
    Substance…. Well, since they have to satisfy a couple of dozen different groups every year to make a living, the substance is either thin or not particularly applicable.

  8. I read the final sentence and thought: this is how President Obama got elected.

  9. SuperSub says:

    And we can only hope that the rest of the world falls under the sway of his influence as much this nation has.

  10. wahoofive says:

    Kristof is of course a charter member of the right-wing noise machine, whose purpose is to discredit experts so they can enact their agenda even if experts say it won’t work. Global warming? Attack the experts. Need to stimulate the economy in a recession? Attack the experts. No WMD in Iraq? Attack the experts. Cutting taxes increases the deficit? Attack the experts.

    Kristof is the least credible person on this topic I can imagine.