I tend to loosely categorize people into "science types" and "non-science types." Like all binary distinctions, it's a bullshit overgeneralization, but I do it anyway. "Science types" are people whose academic backgrounds and careers have largely focused in math and/or the hard sciences. My ex, sometimes-commenter Allen, is a classic science type. "Non-science types" are people whose academic backgrounds and careers have focused on soft/social sciences or liberal arts. (See me, John, and most of our friends.) They're not perfect categories, but I find them useful to my outlook on the world nonetheless.
So, I have a theory, and here it is: Non-science types tend to place too much confidence/trust in the opinions of "expert" science types, and science types tend to place too little trust in the opinions of "expert" non-science types. Another way of putting this: Scientific expertise is overvalued in our culture, relative to its actual value and relative to the value of other types of expertise.
This is on my mind because of a quasi-debate I just had with a Twitter friend I know only by his pseudonym, @rotatingskull. I don't know his life story (or, indeed, if he's a he), but for whatever reason, I have always mentally categorized him as a science type, or more science than non-science anyway. The argument was about the capitalization of "web":
I assume this was a subtweet, because I had just used "the web" in a tweet, uncapped. I pointed out that this is a style issue, not a hard and fast rule, and most style guides now advocate lowercase "web." (Non-experts in the glories of copy often confuse grammar and style.) Rotating Skull insisted the style guides are "wrong," and then suggested that "web" is exactly as wrong as "mona lisa." I find this to be a silly strawman of a counterexample; no one anywhere questions the fact that the Mona Lisa is a singular artwork and as such must be capitalized. "Web" on the other hand is morphing into a common noun because in popular usage, it functions more like a generic than a proper noun. It's an unusual case; the closest analog I can think of is referring to Europe as "the continent." It's almost metonymical.
The conversation reminded me of a heated Wikipedia debate that has gotten some media attention lately, over the capitalization of "the" in "the Beatles." One side maintained that consensus among all major style guides and editors (the experts!) is that the "the" before most proper nouns is not capitalized when used in the flow of a sentence. (I say most because this applies to band names, organizations, and newspapers, but not necessarily works of art with "the" in the title.) The other side stubbornly rejected this expertise and insisted that the band itself had the final say in whether or not the "the" was capitalized.
When I mentioned this, Rotating Skull agreed with the naysayers: You have to write it the way that the band writes it. But this is a crazy principle. 99% of the time, the band wouldn't be self-consistent, and anyway you'll have no idea how a band refers to themselves in writing (what, in their correspondence? in their memoirs?) except for how it appears on album covers and posters and T-shirts, but in those cases the "the" will almost always be capitalized because it is functioning as a title or heading, and therefore follows the rules of title case (first word always capped). But capitalization, much like punctuation, is fluid; it depends on context. Just because it appears as "The New York Times" on the front of the paper (title case!) doesn't mean that you can't refer to it in a sentence as "the New York Times" (and NYT editors would agree).
What sticks out to me is this willful ignorance of the fact that the people who create and maintain style guides, and work as copyeditors (or have in the past, ahem!) have thought about this more than you. Science types tend to think that if something non-sciencey "feels wrong" intuitively it must be wrong, and they are not interested in the opinions of those with more expertise on the matter. (See the guy on Wikipedia arguing that the Encyclopedia Britannica is incorrect.) Whereas, it seems to me, non-science types are far more likely to give science types the benefit of the doubt, to trust that they've "done the math."
What do y'all think?