he concept of credibility came up in my post on critical thinking and spirituality
yesterday. I think part of our issue today with all of the misinformation floating around is that a lot of people don’t really understand what credibility means. Today I’m going to give you a rundown of what makes someone credible in the realms of science and journalism, and how to apply that to spirituality.
For those who may not know me, my current day job is as a marketing director and science writer/editor for a private research university on the East Coast. I write about and promote scientific research across the gamut of science and engineering, including quantum mechanics and computing, biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity, robotics, data science, electrical and computer engineering, and environmental science. I graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism–one of the top three programs in the country–in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a minor in sociology. I worked for four years at various advertising agencies as a writer and account executive, then I moved on to the tech realm for another seven years where I helped develop, brand, and market social media platforms, apps, and other technology-centric businesses. I also did a six-year stint volunteering for an animal welfare organization in one of the most impoverished cities in the country helping them with marketing, branding, and other external communications. And finally, most of you know me because I’ve been writing a little spirituality blog for the past six years.
These are my credentials. Credentials are what constitutes credibility in a specific area. My credentials provide me with at least some credibility in the areas of journalism, animal welfare, not-for-profit marketing, social systems, constructs, and behavior, science and technology, marketing and advertising, and spirituality, as these are areas that I have years of direct experience in, as well as an educational background.
In the world of academia you have to have A LOT of credentials to be considered credible, especially in science due to the technical nature of the subject matter. It’s not enough to simply have a bachelor’s degree in engineering or chemistry–that makes you credible to the layman, but not to other scientists and engineers. To have credibility among other scientists and engineers, one needs to have at the very least a Ph.D. in the subject matter in which they are attempting to speak on, and people with Ph.D.s who work in academia are quick to tell you, “I can’t speak on that. I’m not an expert in that area” when it comes to media inquiries. I work with a guy who is developing a mask that’s made of anti-viral materials for potential applications with COVID, and he can’t (and won’t) speak to the efficiency of regular medical masks, because his expertise is in chemically-based materials (materials science), not disease transmission (virology, epidemiology, microbiology).
Most folks with a Ph.D. spend their lives studying one-two specific problems that fall within their general area. For example, I work with a quantum physicist who specializes in quantum entanglement. Everything he does is relative to entanglement and nothing else. Another quantum physicist works in the area of gravity. He only researches theories related to gravity and nothing else. Another quantum physicist I work with researches ways to engineer quantum computing technology. He only researches quantum computing and nothing else. The guy who does quantum computing doesn’t consider himself an expert in gravity, and the guy who is an expert in gravity doesn’t consider himself qualified to speak about quantum computing, even though they both have a Ph.D. in physics. The guy who is an expert on quantum entanglement? His work overlaps both areas. This is why scientists often collaborate–they bring in people who have the same level of expertise as they do, but in a closely related area.
To be honest, though, lots of people have Ph.D.s and some are really good at what they do and others not so much, just like any other vocation. What makes a scientist with a Ph.D. highly credible is how many peer-reviewed papers they’ve published, the prestige of the organizations from which they’ve been awarded funding, the amount of funding, and the impact factor of the peer-reviewed Journals they’ve been published in. Science and Nature are the holy grails of science publications. If you make it in there, it’s really special. (Peer review means that your published research is sent out to a group of other scientists with expertise in your same area, and they try to disprove your findings. If none of them can disprove your findings, your work is considered good until some other research comes along that refutes it. This is the scientific process at work.)
Scientific misconduct–a.k.a. faking or stealing your research results–does happen occasionally within the scientific community, as well as flukes and accidents, and that’s why the peer-review process exists. It’s meant to be a filter to catch anything that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If a scientific paper has not been through the peer-review process, it’s considered far less credible than one that has, because it hasn’t been put to the test.
In the scientific community, when someone has engaged in scientific misconduct, they lose any and all credibility. How can anyone ever trust what you’re saying if you’ve lied about your results, stolen another researcher’s work (which they’ve often been working on their entire adult lives), or constantly put out sloppy test results? This is the problem with Judy Mikovits (Plandemic). Mikovits lied multiple times in her documentary, she also lied about her research, and she stole research. Even though she has a Ph.D., she’s not considered a credible source by anyone in the scientific community (note the publication of this article is 2011, years before Mikovits went viral) due to all of the above, and her research results having been refuted by peer-review. No one could replicate it, and for science to be proven, it has to have a repeatable result.
As a journalist writing about science or any other subject, you have to be able to digest and understand what the experts are talking about, but you, yourself, do not carry the credibility in the subject matter–the credibility lies with the people you interview. That’s why you interview subject-matter experts. For you, the credibility comes with whether or not you are presenting the information from the interview accurately, within its proper context, citing credible sources, and presenting the information in a balanced way (i.e. presenting multiple, and especially opposing perspectives on an issue). Anything that doesn’t do this can be considered biased.
Credible sources for a journalist would be people with academic credentials, credible eye-witnesses, business people with many years of experience, etc. It’s a journalist’s job to check and verify the credentials of a source. It’s also that journalist’s job to cite that person’s credentials in the story. A journalist should also directly verify every piece of information included in an article before it’s published.
It’s an editor’s job to ensure that this happens and that all quality control measures are in place prior to a publication–similar to the peer-review process. It’s also their job to make sure a piece is marketable to their target audience. Is this content the audience cares about? Is this something they’ll want to read? Is this a headline they will click on?
If a journalist repeatedly publishes content that doesn’t meet good journalism standards, they risk losing their professional credibility. If an editor repeatedly allows content to be published that doesn’t meet good journalism standards, they risk losing their professional credibility. A couple of editors at the New York Times have recently resigned after publishing articles that they DIDN’T EVEN READ. (You had ONE job…literally, what are you being paid for?)
It’s no secret that certain publications prioritize pandering to their audiences above good journalism. We all know exactly which publications those are. Everyone likes to blame the media, but the truth is, if the audience didn’t click on it, read it, and share it, it wouldn’t make money, there wouldn’t be a market for it, and it wouldn’t happen. Marketability is everything. The media gives people what they want. And people want information that reaffirms their (often biased) worldview. It’s precisely why they read those publications, specifically, in the first place. If you cared about non-biased news, you’d read NPR all day every day, avoid 24-hour cable news networks, and that would be the end of it. (As an aside, documentaries are not necessarily a source of unbiased material, as documentary makers are film-makers, ultimately for entertainment purposes, and under no legal or moral obligation to present an unbiased story and often make documentaries to tell a very specific narrative.)
That now leads us to spirituality… how does one deconstruct their worldview from being so biased? Self-awareness and shadow work! There’s lots of spiritual teachers out there that can help you do that, but how many of them are credible?
Spirituality isn’t something you can really learn from getting a certificate or taking an online course. I personally don’t trust people who tout those kinds of credentials, because experience is hard-earned, and it’s the only thing that gives us true spiritual knowledge. You also can’t go to school to embody spirituality. So what about people who woke up one day and suddenly started channeling? Isn’t that a god-given gift for them to use? Honestly, no. And this is where we come back to hard-earned experience.
Shadow work doesn’t happen overnight or when you complete an online course, it happens over the course of a lifetime. You’ll be able to evaluate a credible spiritual teacher because they will embody the following qualities and behaviors:
A good spiritual teacher has been through hell and come out the other side, humbled. A good spiritual teacher has the ability to see situations (and the world) from multiple angles and understand how everyone arrived at their conclusions, but also see the middle ground. A good spiritual teacher knows they are never done learning. Most importantly, a good spiritual teacher doesn’t avoid discomfort, confrontation, or negativity, but handles those situations constructively and with grace.
Not only are these qualities to measure a spiritual teacher by, they’re qualities to measure a good leader by. These qualities are what gives someone’s character credibility. You can have professional credibility and you can have intellectual credibility, but as a spiritual teacher, if you don’t have credibility of character, you really have nothing, because character is the thing you are building through self-awareness, and it’s the thing you are becoming an expert in through your own healing process process.