When experts come off as idiots in the pages of the Washington Post, I wonder whether the problem is with bad ideas or bad expression. Or both? For example:
"No man is an island," said Nicholas A. Christakis, a professor of medicine and medical sociology at Harvard Medical SchoolI'm going to put together a study showing that even really bright people speak almost entirely in cliches. Although how bright are these guys? First they tell us our fat friends make us fat, but don't abandon them! ("'We are not suggesting that people should sever their ties with overweight friends,' Christakis adds. 'But we are suggesting that people are influenced by the behaviors of those around them, and if they're interested in losing weight, forming ties with people who are the proper weight is likely to be beneficial.'")
"Loneliness is more than just feeling bad," said Chris Segrin, a professor of communication and health at the University of Arizona
The researchers said the effect could not be the result of lonely people being more likely to associate with other lonely people because they showed the effect over time. "It's not a birds-of-a-feather-flock-together effect," Christakis said.
Uh huh. Now, they tell us that having lonely friends will make us lonely. In its lukewarm conclusion, the article does not advise against pushing these folks off on ice floes. At least, not per se. The implication, though, is clear.
These studies are heartbreakingly, essentially American. They present us with "experts" who affirm conventional wisdom, and they "prove" that losers have a social contagion. The fat, the lonely, everyone you instinctively avoided in high school (or else WERE in high school) -- all those weirdos -- they are not just repellent. They are bad for you.
As awful as these men should feel for wasting our society's time and resources, the editors of articles such as "Loneliness is transmittable from person to person" should feel worse.
Over in the New York Times, whatever editor was responsible for article juxtaposition shouldn't be feeling too great either. Roger Cohen's elegiac opinion piece (currently #3 on the Most Emailed List) ends extolling color-blindness in America, the Land of Opportunity:
Westminster, like Britain, has changed. Openness has grown. Bigotry’s faint refrain has grown fainter still. But I think my old school should throw more light on this episode. And I still believe the greatest strength of America, its core advantage over the old world, is its lack of interest in where you’re from and consuming interest in what you can do.Directly below it on the Most Emailed List, however, is the article "In Job Hunt, College Degree Can't Close Racial Gap." In other words, Cohen's words will totally apply to you -- unless you're black. Ouch, NYT.