Thomas Sowell Channels Robert Heinlein

From the fifth and final segment of the Uncommon Knowledge interview comes this snippet:

Thomas Sowell: I think before so many people went to colleges and universities, common sense was probably much more widespread.

Peter Robinson: Why is that? Why is that? Why is that? We keep coming back to higher education as a kind of pollutant in the American political system. That’s been a theme of our conversation. WHY? What’s going on?

Sowell: That’s, that’s a tough one. That’s my next book, which is about intellectuals.

Robinson: Oh really?

Sowell: Yes. Yes. But . . .

Robinson: What have you found, what conclusions have you reached so far?

Sowell: That all the incentives are for people who are intellectuals, in the sense in which I would define the term, to venture beyond what they are competent to do. That is, we know that uh, who’s the man at MIT, the linguist? Noam Chomsky.

Robinson: Noam Chomsky.

Sowell: We know the man is a landmark figure in the study of linguistics,

Robinson: Yes.

Sowell: But we would never have heard of him if he stuck to linguistics.

Robinson: True enough.

Sowell: We know that our wonderful colleague Mr. Ehrlich . . .

Robinson: Paul Ehrlich here at Stanford.

Sowell: . . . has a reputation in entymology, but we would never have heard of him if he had stuck to entymology. And so all the incentives are to go beyond what you are competent to deal with, and to just assume that because you are wonderful at this, that this makes you sort of a general philosopher-king.

Robert Anson Heinlein dubbed this “The Expert Syndrome,” stated thusly:

Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so.

The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.

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