Don’t Listen To Me; I’m Just A Comedian

If you read the comments, you know I occasionally hear from people who point out that I’m just a comedian and have no business commenting on the health sciences.  I get those on the YouTube channel too, usually in language that is far less polite than on the blog.  I guess people feel more anonymous on YouTube.

I’ve never understood the belief that only people with degrees have any real expertise, or that everyone with a degree is an expert.  I had a lot of great teachers in high school and college, but also a few who were dunces — dunces with PhDs.  Meanwhile, some of the most successful people I’ve met are working in fields that have nothing to do with what they studied in college — if they even attended college.

Anyway, I wrote a piece on the topic on my other blog.


28 thoughts on “Don’t Listen To Me; I’m Just A Comedian

  1. Jackie

    Regardless of others, keep up the good work! My husband and I just watched Fat Head and it was very funny as well as thought provoking. Definitely makes us question the “establishment.” Loved the movie and love your thoughts here.

    Thank you.

  2. Kate

    STOP USING JAVA!!! One of the core designers/developers for java is a a friend of mine who had a total of maybe three semesters of college. He sure has a knack for computers and computer languages, but who cares about that? He moved to CA in the 90s worked a few jobs before landing a job at Sun writing Java.

    And he doesn’t have a degree? Clearly Java has no future, then.

  3. Richard Tamesis, M.D.

    I think it all goes back to trying to discern one’s place in a group, which is hardwired into the genes of social animals. Titles after your name help identify your place in society, so people latch onto that or do their best to add several to try to increase their rank, even though titles are not proof that one is the intellectual superior of those with less or no titles.

    I think you’re exactly right.

  4. Rob

    Concur wholeheartedly. While certainly, the expertise of specialization is definitely worth noting, the idea that the “layman” cannot critically analyze information and make significant judgments is absurd. Carry on, sir.

    If layment don’t critically analyze advice, we’re all screwed.

  5. Tracey

    We run a restaurant review site and often get restaurants complaining about reviewers’ comments because our site members are not ‘professional’ reviewers and therefore know nothing about food or dining. Apparently possessing a set of tastebuds and paying the bill for your meal does not entitle you to have an opinion on it.

    Not sure how you become a professional reviewer however, as to my knowledge NZ doesn’t offer a degree, diploma, or even a certificate in food appreciation. We’re obviously doomed. Or maybe you’d like to join up and start reviewing – what with your journalism degree and all the extra time on your hands now you can’t read, write or program…

    Hey … I hadn’t thought of that one. I have a degree in journalism and I eat in restaurants. I’m qualified!

  6. Laurie

    I believe comedy is just about the only thing that might turn about the RMS Titanic “eat-low-fat-low-calorie-high-carb-low-salt-low-taste-low-satiety-brain-and-heart-and-kidney-starving- recommendations ship.
    Not everybody can or wants to slog through Taubes or read and digest scientific journal articles. Then we end up with nutrition experts’ one sentence pithy sound bite (WRONG) information EVERYWHERE. Your movie and ideas are much more accessible (and much more fun) to vastly more people.
    ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. Laughter is the best teacher.

    I’m banking on that theory. I’ve got a lecture scheduled at our country library in October, and I’m going to do my best to make it entertaining. Then people will stay awake and listen.

  7. Todd S.

    The problem with a great many “experts” is that because of their comfortable status as acknowledged authorities they approach things with a confirmation bias already in-hand. I find that in almost any field it takes an outsider’s perspective to see through the fog. Now I’m off to read your other article in the hopes I didn’t just parrot it.

  8. k_the_c

    It’s a logical fallacy known as Appeal to Authority. Look at where appealing to health and nutritional authority has gotten us the last 30 years…

    Yup, and it’s usually preceded or followed by attacking the critic instead of the critic’s arguments.

  9. Peter G. Anderson

    Good thing for me that I retired 5 years ago. I served as a Computer Science Professor for 32 years, and they never found me out: I never had a CS or programming course. OTOH, teaching the stuff is as effective as reading books or hearing lectures.

    Nice work!

    But since you didn’t have a CS degree, I believe that means all your students don’t have legitimate degrees either … there must be thousands of non-working software programs out there.

  10. Caitlin

    You – independent businessman with a probably well-established client base, a field that is fairly technical and one which your degree may or may not be in, a very good comedian (now THAT’s easy to break into – riiiight!), managed to self-produce a movie that is nationally distributed.

    Me – Master’s degree. Underemployed and not just due to the economy – a lot of it my own darn fault. Clearly, however, you must immediatly submit all your work for my approval, because, you see, it has to have the Holy Academic Stamp of Authenticity. I’ll even let you make convenient payments.

    I appreciate the easy financing.

  11. Beatle

    Listening to the folks with the degrees has greatly improved the health of all North Americans.

    Well said. It explains how we went from being a nation of fatties to the Olympians we are today.

  12. Chris

    More than a decade ago, my wife called the University of Wisconsin Obesity Clinic for an evaluation. Doctor there put her on Fen Phen for 18-months. She managed to lose 13 pounds during that period. The doctor’s explanation and diagnosis? Her metabolism was “kaput.” How’s that for trusting the expert? Today she has lost 60 pounds using a diet–get this–that she researched herself using the Internet and a few books. She has repaired her own metabolism. She can eat 2300-2500 calories a day without gaining an ounce. Most people don’t read so, for them, everything is a secret of success.

    That’s why I love the digital age. Those of us inclined to self-education have the entire world at our fingertips.

  13. Rose

    If “experts” are so all-knowing, why is there disagreement amongst them? There’s some interesting research that shows, too, that outsiders can bring new insight to groups of experts working on a problem. Such groups can suffer from a kind of blindness–they’ve all been trained similarly, all think similarly, all frame problems similarly, and therefore can fail to see the bleedin’ obvious.

    Thanks for your seriously funny work, Mr. Naughton. You’re doing a service to humanity.

    The book “The Wisdom of Crowds” has some good examples of that phenomenon.

  14. Lancaster

    ” You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.” – Will Hunting

    Great line from a great movie.

  15. Lori

    Unfortunately, a degree and years of experience in a very specific area are all that some employers will consider. Then they complain about a shortage of qualified workers.

    I’m afraid that’s often the case. My dad had a friend who flew across the country to interview for a job as a vice-president at a bank. Soon into the interview, the president of the bank realized he was talking to someone without a degree and said, “We don’t hire people without college degrees, but since you flew all the way out here, I’ll interview you anyway.”

    After the interview, my dad’s friend was hired as a vice-president. But he only made it through the door in the first place because someone didn’t notice there was no college degree on his resume.

  16. Walter Norris

    I think David Keirsey book on temperament “Please Understand Me II” the updated and improved version of “Please Understand Me” explains this very well (he’s changed his terminology so the second book is much clearer than the first).

    He used Plato’s terms – there are Guardians, Artisans, Idealists and Rationals. Artisans and Rationals don’t really care much about credentials. Guardians do – a lot. Idealists (I think) do to some extent.

    Much of what we have seen recently regarding The China Study comes down to idealist vs rational. I (a rational per Keirsey) found it easy to walk away from a “vegetable based diet” when I realized it wouldn’t help me reach my health goals and the benefits to others was always a secondary thing for me.

    I think idealists often have a harder time walking away from it because the (supposed) benefits to the world are a primary motivation with them.

    For any guardians reading this – Keirsey is a Ph.D. psychologist.

    That sounds like a very interesting book. I’m going to look for it. As a Rational/Artisan mix, I’m far more impressed by logic and clarity than by degrees.

  17. Paul451

    Isn’t an “appeal to authority” one of many logical fallacies?

    Absolutely. A very weak debating technique.

  18. M Lewis

    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts”

    — Richard Feynman (American theoretical physicist, 1918-1988)

  19. Jo

    So many witty and clever comments I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said. Keep up the good work. We need people in this world to inspire us and you do that in spades.

    Thank you.

  20. Kandylini

    I agree whole-heartedly with Laurie. My friends and I are going to be doing movie presentations combined with nutrition lectures, and I want to start with Fat Head rather than Sally Fallon’s Oiling of America (their choice). I slogged through Dr. Enig’s Know Your Fats and Taubes’ GCBC, but I didn’t exactly enjoy doing so. Never mind Dr. Colon’s book. 😉 Speaking of which, now that Denise has revealed that the doctor has no clothing, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of “appeal to authority”-type comments.

    The appeals to authority are already fast and furious.

  21. Kate

    Better watch out for all of those Unix admins. Most of them are *shudder* self taught. Well, by now there might be an official degree for it, but even when I was in college, computer science didn’t teach any unix type stuff beyond what was required to set up a programming environment. Most of computer administration is having trouble shooting skills, which you either have or you don’t. Yet for some reason, a major university hired me to help take care of their unix system (which had at least 30k users.) Only about 1/2 of us had a computer science degree, and not everyone one even had a degree yet.

    Good programmers have a knack for thinking through problems, definitely. When I first moved to LA, I took a test at an agency that placed technical temps. The entire test was a measure of how well you’d memorized terms. (“Which of the following statements best describes the Fourth Normal Form?”) Nothing in the test measured problem-solving ability. It was worthless.

    When I left the company that built the clinical-trial software (they were moving to New York, and I didn’t want to go) they were worried they’d go through another string of programmers, so I created a test for them that presented 10 problems within a piece of software, all solvable by a little bit of code. They told me later they had programmers come in with all kinds of degrees, but most of them couldn’t solve more than two or three of the problems. (Trust me, they weren’t that difficult.)

    Then a fresh-from-college young lady came in and zipped through all 10 in about 15 minutes. They hired her, and she turned out to be great. She had a knack for solving problems.

  22. Your older brother

    Of course, if you want to rely only on experts, any men out there in the audience will need to bypass treatment for prostate cancer when the time comes.

    You probably already know this, but almost the entire current body of knowledge concerning treatment has been developed by Michael Milkin, the 1980’s convicted junk bond king. He came down with a very aggressive strain around age 45, and quickly found there was no real major research. He did what you did with the nutrition question — read everything he could, consulted with every expert he could find, attended conferences and asked lots of questions. Most of the replies started like “that’s an excellent question — you are doctor who?”

    He did have a couple of advantages. One, he was going to die if he didn’t find an answer. Okay, maybe not so much an advantage, but a HUGE motivator. Also, he had a couple of hundred million bucks laying around that weren’t going to do him much good dead.

    So he started using what he knew to fund research outside the normal inbred establishment. The knowledge level and treatment options exploded. He’s still alive, as are thousands of other people.

    Too bad he’s just a banned stockbroker. He might’ve been able to accomplish something.


    I wasn’t aware of his work in that area. Bravo. And considering what I’ve read about how the feds threatened to ruin his entire extended family if he didn’t take a plea, I’m not sure the conviction was entirely warranted.

  23. Walter Norris

    Just saw your response to another comment:

    If layment don’t critically analyze advice, we’re all screwed.

    Per Keirsey 40 to 45% of the population are guardians and they trust authority. Scary. I know some guardians who have learned to question authority, but it is not their natural inclination and I don’t think they will ever do it like rationals do (about 5 to 6% of the population).

    THe book is really useful, because it talks about underlying values. We tend to compose arguements based on our own values, which no matter how well constructed, do not influence those of another temperment because it does not appeal to their values.

    That’s a point I’ve tried to make with libertarians who believe the correct logical arguments will turn others into libertarians. It ain’t gonna happen. Some people make their decisions emotionally, and if you want to convert them, you have to appeal to their emotional side.

  24. Katie

    I’m currently reading “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me),” and it’s giving me great insight into the mindset that leads to the types of comments you get about being “only” a stand up comedian or Denise Minger being “only” a non-science-educated 23-year-old girl. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest picking it up. It’s even made me rethink many of my own behaviors and thoughts.

    Mike Eades recommended that one as well. It’s on my list, thanks.

  25. Ramona Denton

    I had a discussion the other day, telling a friend about how much I’ve learned about nutrition from blogs like Fathead, and how much my health has improved in the past two years. He said he’d rather trust his doctor than a *blogger*. Big surprise!

    In my non-professional opinion, the blogs I read give me far better nutritional information than any doctor I’ve ever been to for medical services. The blogosphere is the happenin’ place for low carb and paleo…

    Plus, as a college dropout, I have no initials to prove I’m cool. I’ve met many people who cannot regard me with the same level of respect they’d give to a person who partied his way through college while I worked hard, learned a trade and read hundreds of books.

    Keep up the good work, Tom!! You no gotta show them no stickin’ badges…

    If only your friend knew how little training most doctors have in nutrition. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges, indeed.

  26. Pokematic

    Tom you need the lab coat. People alwayse trust people in the while lab coats. As a social experiment I want to go around in one, tell people ovious lies about health and science and see if they believe me. I’ll let them in on it at the end of the interview, but just to see.


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