The delicate issue of professional snobbery

An administrator for a small trade association invited me to participate in a panel discussion on issues related to the Affordable Care Act as it affects the small businesses of the member firms. The brief biography of the other invitees was underwhelming. The offer was extended by telephone where I had no time to prepare a smarter response. I simply declined but suggested that if they wished to have a keynote speaker on the topic that might be a better approach for me. I felt quite awkward in trying to explain why I did not feel that it would be useful for anyone to position my comments alongside a local insurance agent and other product sales representatives to have an open discussion on the topic. The administrator meant no insult but he clearly did not recognize the differences in expectations between the invitees to this program.

I attempted to recover from this awkward moment by giving examples of other programs and webinars I had prepared that might be of interest to his group. Later I actually felt guilty by implying that my presentation was somehow more valuable than the opinions of others on a panel.

Is there a more appropriate way to convey the distinctions between professionals or so-called “experts”?

I recall hearing a story from a neighbor, a well-respected scientist who had been asked to deliver an address at one of New Jersey’s early climate change response meetings. While other eastern seaboard states are well along in the sea level rise response planning process, New Jersey is just getting started in opening a public dialogue. The scientist relayed his story of dismay about how the conference was opened by a local small town mayor, a Republican, who proclaimed in his opening remarks that he had spent almost the last three days reading up on climate change and that he thought it was nonsense.

Why should a scientific authority need to follow an opening comment like that? It was unprofessional and unfair. A presentation in this setting could not possibly get the attention it deserves.

I also recalled a speech by an industry leader who said that only those who are experts in an industry are truly qualified to recognize and evaluate the work of other experts. The scientific community relies on this principle in its process of peer review where one person’s comments are considered at a different value than the comments of another.

At this point, the issue of how to handle what I’ve dubbed “professional snobbery” is an open-ended question. As always, I’ll be looking for some input.


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