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.