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By Matt Stone

On Friday I received the following review on my new book Eat for Heat?

?It alarms me that the author of this book has no credentials at all. He seems to just search out other peoples research and then puts it together into what he believes to be true. Perhaps if he were to somehow get a study funded into his nutritional beliefs it might be better then just printing a book which anyone can do.?

Grammar and punctuation errors aside, this brings up an extremely important erroneous belief that many people in the modern world simply cannot think their way beyond. Credentials are almost completely meaningless.

Anyone with mediocre intellect, some spare time, and some money (or student loans) can obtain credentials. Credentials are mostly obtained through committing lots of ?facts? as defined by a pre-established school of thought, into the short-term memory in order to answer enough of the questions correctly to obtain a passing grade. The information itself may or may not even be correct. Even the information dispersed from some of the world’s most respected learning institutions is just as prone to error, blindness, corruption, and manipulation as any other.

In the fields of health, nutrition, and fitness this is particularly so. Anyone can pursue any health ideology and obtain some form of certification from it. Certification, and formal education, are both big businesses – and?most are funded by large corporatations with their own?interests in mind. Any moron can obtain a degree in ?Nutrition? or get themselves a fancy Crossfit certification. There is absolutely no reassurance that the information taught is accurate or even safe.

Consider the field of nutrition for example.

In 2007 I once considered pursuing formal credentials to reassure both myself and others that I was qualified somehow to discuss health matters. I wasn’t too excited about this prospect, especially with my suspicions that nutrition education and much of the health field had long ago been hijacked by commercial interests. But I gave it a looksee. Not one to short-change myself, I decided to look first at what is considered to be the finest Nutrition institution in the United States ? perhaps the world? Tufts University.

I browsed through the program they offer for a Master’s in Nutrition Communication, as that seemed the best fit for a writer. They promised that the program was ?designed to prepare graduates for the growing job opportunities available to professionals trained to communicate sound nutrition information effectively. I scrolled through the list of mundane and uninspiring superficial courses in the curriculum, already nodding off just like I was back in school, and then something quite dramatic caught my attention. To get your degree, you had to complete an internship ‘to give students practical field experience that complements academic study, to give students experience in an institution where they might work in the future, to allow students to determine the kinds of jobs they wish to find after graduation, and to give them an opportunity to make contacts in the professional sphere where they will seek employment.

What caught my attention was the list of ?past Nutrition Communication internships??

  • American Dietetic Association
  • Burson-Marsteller Public Relations
  • Cooking Light magazine
  • Eating Well magazine
  • General Mills, Inc.
  • Healthgate.com
  • Kellogg USA, Inc.
  • Ketchum Public Relations
  • Kraft Corporation
  • Massachusetts Department of Public Health
  • Nestle
  • Porter Novelli Public Relations
  • National Cancer Institute
  • Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter

No bias or commercial influence there! Just the straight facts! The real story! The scoop, or two scoops rather if you are to intern with Kellogg’s.

Of course, such an education would have done nothing for me but put me to sleep. Worse, I might have, like so many others often do, have bought into the idea that the information I was receiving was the best of the best, blindly and diligently downloaded every shred of it to my brain, and then going on to believe that my credentials made me too knowledgeable to give conflicting information the time of day.

Credentials and knowledge are not the same thing. And even the accumulation of vast amounts of knowledge doesn’t yield the only true metric of having acquired useful information ? expertise. Expertise comes from learning broadly and passionately, subjecting that information to the intense scrutiny of critical thinking and differing opinion, keenly observing the real-world application of that information, building useful skills along the way, and then communicating it in a relatable way.

Yes, anyone can do that. But only few have, in large part because the archaic, commercially-tainted, and watered-down educational system that most people have enslaved themselves to forms a tremendous barrier between information and the achievement of expertise. The few who have taken such an expedient route to attaining expertise through their own self-guided, curiosity-driven, knowledge-hungry pursuits are the pioneers and leaders in their respected fields. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come to mind. Their expertise is sought because it is valuable, not because they have obtained the same meaningless credentials as many thousands of others.

I learned this long ago when I passionately pursued the culinary arts by working under the most prestigious chefs all across the country. After only a year of work I found myself frustratingly having to train graduates from the top culinary schools how to cook, which wasn’t easy because they all assumed they had expertise because of a piece of paper they paid for in exchange for learning from instructors with minimal talent and expertise themselves. I can still hear this one kid saying… “That’s not how you make dauphinois” right before the’ticket machine started spewing dozens of little pieces of paper at him. He froze like the stiff in the freezer in The Goonies. An hour later he was ushered down to the “Garde-Manger” station where he remained a salad bitch for the rest of his tenure there.

Credentials are becoming increasingly irrelevant in today’s modern information age. Go to college?? Are you kidding me?? Going to college to learn something is like wearing headphones to a concert. I mean, ?Mr. Borophyll is up there talking about god knows what? when you could be reading dozens of studies, watching informational videos, communicating directly with dozens of leading pioneers in any field and asking specific questions, and even perusing the curricula of Ivy League?classes ? all with a few clicks of a button at hyperspeed. Not only that, but you can be learning about what you are interested in, precisely when you are interested in it, which yields accelerated learning and greatly-heightened retention and comprehension of the information learned.

The good news for you reading this is that one such pioneer, Clare Graves, actually identified someone’s inability to judge information based on its own merits ? but instead having to have it approved by some authority to be valid, as a definitive characteristic of a more primitive level of cognitive maturity.

The other good news is that you don’t have to sit through boring classes, shell out tens of thousands of dollars, get a bunch of certifications and a bunch of letters by your name to acquire skills, expertise, or financial and vocational success. You just have to spend your time in active pursuit of skills and knowledge in your greatest area of interest, and keep doing it for many years.

The other other good news is that even if you get absolutely nowhere in terms of fame and success, never even use your expertise to benefit others in any way, and never make a damn dime with all your passionate exploration, you will still have spent most of your life immersing yourself in your greatest area of interest. Few are so fortunate.