False authority syndrome

Nonexpert opinion
Assumed authority
A person who gives opinions beyond his scope of knowledge.
Computer salesmen, consultants, repairmen, and college computer teachers often succumb to false authority syndrome. In many cases a person's job title sounds impressive, but his or her job description at most may only include references to vague technical abilities without serious authority in the subject. The job of a computer magazine editor [or reporter], for example, is to know a little about a lot in the computer field. He has a considerable breadth of knowledge but not a serious depth of knowledge, except perhaps in a couple of very narrow specialties.

Network administrators typically fall into this category. Most hold the title of "company virus expert" simply because their job description includes network security. They may have no real education in computer security, but their experience in the field of computer networking gives them confidence when talking about the unrelated field of computer viruses. This problem afflicts TV reporters as well. An NBC Nightly News story at the height of 1992's Michelangelo computer virus scare included an interview with a computer salesman. He mentioned his customers' panic and the reporter asked if "the panic is justified." The salesman responded: "yes." False Authority Syndrome contributes significantly to the spread of fear & myths about computer viruses. Many pseudo-experts tell users to erect defensive barriers where viruses seldom attack, often leaving typical lines of attack exposed.

1. People who suffer from false authority syndrome too often assert conclusions from insufficient data and they habitually label their assumptions as fact.

2. We jump to conclusions from too little evidence; we rely too much on 'samples of one' (our own experience); something happens twice the same way and we assume the ability to forecast. Unfortunately, our natural desire is to make positive, solid statements, and this desire encourages the asserted conclusion.

3. False authority syndrome plays on two important desires. First, people genuinely like to help others; second, they like to feel in control.

4. If people exercised greater discretion in who and how and to what degree they place their trust, we would know more as a community - and we would know it better. There would be fewer paths for bad or phony knowledge.

(E) Emanations of other problems