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“Ultracrepidarianism” — A Helpful New Word for a Problem in Science and Elsewhere

David Klinghoffer
Photo: Ancient sandals, by Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Our friend Brian Keating, the world-renowned physicist at UC San Diego, interviewed Ben Shapiro for Dr. Keating’s podcast, “Into the Impossible.” They have a really enjoyable rapport, different from Keating’s relationship with Steve Meyer but equally stimulating. Shapiro introduces a new and helpful word — or at least a word that was new to me — “ultracrepidarianism.”

It means “noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise.” This is essentially the larger category of error to which a more familiar word, scientism, belongs. Scientism is what happens when scientists (or doctors, one might add) “give advice outside their area of expertise.” It’s an invitation to authoritarianism, trampling democracy because Science (or Whatever) Says, which is why Shapiro brings it up. His new book is The Authoritarian Moment. Enjoy Keating and Shapiro here:

And ah, by the way, I see it’s not a neologism at all. It says here that it first appears in the early 19th century, from the Latin ultra crepidam, “above the sole” of the shoe, alluding to an adage with roots in ancient Greece, “Let the cobbler not judge above the sandal.” That is, mind your own business.