For a year or so, I hung out on the sidelines, content with occasional commenting (and carping). I will admit that now that I am actively posting, I have a somewhat better impression. Some of the answers show real expertise. (Obviously I will never be an expert -- not even an expert practitioner -- as I have no qualifications, no relevant education, and no work experience.)

About a year and a half ago, someone started a Poll - how many among the users are "professional" historians?. The results were that no one identified as a full-time working historian, but several admitted to qualifications in the field.

Would it help to improve History.SE's reputation if all the users with academic credentials listed them on their profile page? And perhaps those who are presently posting under pseudonym should consider using their real names instead. Somehow an answer from Joe Smith carries more authority than an answer from flurbugget784...

  • Who is flurbugget784? Name sounds familiar... – user2590 Aug 30 '13 at 1:35

No, I don't really see how that would help much.

Posts on StackExchange sites should stand on their own merits. It should not matter one bit whether it was posted by David McCullough or a high-school student, as long as the contents are quality. The only credential that counts for anything here is site reputation, and that's as it should be.

If I'm on StackOverflow and post a question about particularly thorny problem I'm having with serial I/O, I don't care one whit about the credentials of the person who gives me the solution. If Donald Knuth himself posts a unhelpful answer, he's useless to me. Give me the 12-yo hacker who knows the answer, please.

For what its worth, I think you should take this attitude into real life, for the most part. My favorite set of history references, which I refer to constantly in answers here, were written by Colin McEvedy, a professional psychiatrist.

  • 2
    I find site rep to be a very unreliable guide. All you have to do to get thousands of site rep is to post like mad. Every upvote on an Answer gives you +10, every downvote only costs -2. – Eugene Seidel Jun 14 '13 at 17:45
  • @EugeneSeidel - As the holder one of the highest reps on this stack, I agree completely. Really, answers are best judged by their content alone. Every so often I get a comment apologizing for downvoting me. No apology's nessecary. You aren't downvoting me, you're downvoting a post. If something I write sucks, it deserves to be downvoted. – T.E.D. Jun 14 '13 at 18:36
  • Rep is definitely NOT a great proxy, but it is a better one than a - possibly, or even likely - faked name on the profile. Rep tends to give some/many false positive on per-user level - TED or myself being a good example - but very few false negatives on a post level; in other words, a real expert's answers will almost invariably be upvoted very highly even if said expert posts infrequently. At least that's how things work on StackOverflow, for most part. – DVK Jun 14 '13 at 19:04
  • The qualtity of an answer is best judged by considering the answer. There are people without academic credentials who succeed. There are people with strong academic credentials that I wouldn't trust to tell me if the sun was shining. It would be lovely if credentials were related, but the truth is that autodidacts can contribute as much as "institutionally approved" historians. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 18 '13 at 13:31
  • @MarkC.Wallace Anyone can answer a historical trivia question, all it takes is time and effort to dig into sources. In fact, an amateur is more likely to supply an answer, as a historian probably finds this not worth their time. However, some questions require a broader understanding of history, and that is where people trained in rigorous application of historical analysis have the advantage. – Eugene Seidel Jun 21 '13 at 4:42
  • What you say is true, and the expertise and training will be manifest in the answers they provide. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 21 '13 at 10:38

Short answer: Could be a little beneficial.

Long answer:

At the risk of offending a lot of people on this site whose contributions I respect, I think it could have some benefit. Assuming someone is credentialed, which is of variable value, you can at least know they went through some sort of program where their understanding of material was tested, and hopefully challenged.

One of the difficulties for autodidacts in the humanities, as opposed to the sciences, is that there is often no right answer. As such, if you want to pass yourself off as an expert historian you pretty much only need to be well-read and able to rattle off sources. If you tried to pass yourself off as an expert on say, Physics SE, you would be downvoted into oblivion if you don't actually know your stuff. I'm not sure downvoting of that nature happens with the same frequency on the softer stacks like ours.

The whole point, I think, is that it is a lot harder to tell on this site if someone has done their "due diligence" before posting an answer than it is on a science stack. That could be an indictment of the site, or I could be overly paranoid. Also, I could be falling prey to an appeal to authority.

I think it is an interesting idea, but I think realistically unless we start attracting professional historians, or the community demands it, we probably aren't going to see such a system.


To add to TED's already almost perfect answer, it's very easy to tell answers by an expert: they are always meticulously referenced. If you (as a reader of an answer) can't tell a well referenced answer from one that is not, having a poster add a blurb about his qualifications won't really help you much.

  • 1
    An Answer given by someone knowledgeable with zero references can be much more valuable than an Answer listing a dozen references, if the latter employs cherry-picking, specious reasoning, or a complete misunderstanding of the topic. – Eugene Seidel Jun 14 '13 at 17:48
  • @EugeneSeidel - Do you possess a special expertise to figure out that Joe Random Wannabe didn't just create an account called "David McCullough"? Do you possess some mental reading apparatus to prove that some historian who's a partisan of political party "X" didn't post a spin-filled, cherry picked answer designed to benefit his political party? (never mind the more common, simply wasn't able to get past his biases and NOT label his least politically favorite leader "bad" due to his views). – DVK Jun 14 '13 at 18:56
  • 1
    Are you no longer contending that "it's very easy to tell answers by an expert: they are always meticulously referenced"? Just checking. I don't know where your fear of impostors comes from. Been on physics.SE for >1 yr and this has never happened once. All the named physicists -- including at least one Nobel prize winner, several famous and numerous well-known people -- are who they say they are. Any impostor would be found out almost instantly. – Eugene Seidel Jun 15 '13 at 8:03
  • 1
    As far as biases go, I expect that historians, regardless of their political leanings, have more integrity than some hack journalist writing for The Socialist Worker or the New York Post. I am not an adherent of Marxism ("historical materialism") but I recognize that some Marxist historians have done good work. And despite being an economic liberal myself, I understand that some historians who are politically compatible with me have produced work that panders to their audience's prejudices and intellectual laziness. Regardless, being able to look up what else someone has written can be useful. – Eugene Seidel Jun 15 '13 at 8:16
  • @EugeneSeidel - leaving aside intellectual integrity (which varies hugely between individuals), any historian who was professionally raised in a specific political leaning environment may not even be able to recognize his/her biases. Witness anthropologists and their "noble savages" idee fix. They were born and bred on progressive "greed is bad" thing, and they universally all agreed that primitive societies were egalitarian until material possessions perverted that ideal (till Amazon tribes proved them wrong) – DVK Jun 15 '13 at 12:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .