I'm not really all that mysterious

Just Because You're a Neurosurgeon Doesn't Automatically Mean You Know Everything

I think it’s hilarious that the people who defend Ben Carson also tend to be the same people who don’t believe formal education makes you automatically smarter than people without formal education.

I do agree with the idea that “formal education ≠ smart” to a certain extent. But there’s also some ridiculous hypocrisy in taking a neurosurgeon’s word as Gospel truth because he’s a neurosurgeon so he must obviously be a genius.

Now, I’ve seen neurosurgeons save lots of people’s lives: a lot of my patients, and also my dad.

And, sure, the average person might not be able to hack the four years of premed, the four years of med school, the five years of neurosurgery residency, and the one year of pediatric neurosurgery fellowship. But this is mainly a gauntlet of endurance first and foremost. Like in much of the rest of medicine, a strong work ethic will get you much further than innate intelligence. (As my father who is also a physician has opined to me on numerous times, if you were really intelligent, you wouldn’t have gone into medicine in the first place.)

But there’s nothing magical about the process. You’re probably smarter than the average person[^1], but you don’t have to be an all-around supergenius to be a good surgeon. (And there are good surgeons and there are not-so-good surgeons, but typically even the not-so-good surgeons are good enough in that they won’t automatically kill you and might actually succeed in forestalling the inevitable a least for a little while.)

But Orac says it best: Most doctors are not scientists… • 2015 Sep 24 • Respectful Insolence • Science Blogs

Doctors occupy a highly privileged position in society, and because of it their opinions are often given great deference, even on topics about which they are clearly not an expert. For all their accomplishments, it’s nonetheless important to remember that physicians are human and thus prone to the same cognitive shortcomings to which all human beings are prone. All too often, they are also given a status in society as all-purpose experts about all things that can be related to human biology or medicine, including evolutionary biology.

Their pronouncements outside of their areas of expertise should be judged as you would judge anyone else’s. On matters of science outside of their specialty most doctors are probably no more knowledgeable than an educated lay person and all too often let their professional status delude them into having undue confidence in their conclusions.

Orac also mentions this satiric piece by Andy Borowitz:

Ben Carson Shattering Stereotypes About Surgeons Being Smart • 2015 Sep 21 • The New Yorker

In summary, there is nothing about being a neurosurgeon that automatically makes you an expert about archaeology.

Fact check: Ben Carson’s claim that the pyramids were used to store grain • We put the Republican presidential candidate’s ancient wonder-as-corn-silo theory to the test, along with similar Egypt-based insights he may have had • 2015 Nov 5 • The Guardian

(Although, hilariously, I just remembered that in Civilization 2, building the Great Pyramid of Giza World Wonder actually grants you granaries in all of your cities. I remember it being one of the earlier wonders you can build with the fewest tech prereqs. I also remember being consistently irritated by the AI always beating me in the race to build it.)

initially published online on:
page regenerated on: