On the term “self-appointed” . . .

I was reflecting on what bugs me so much about people using the term “self-appointed” (for example, when disparaging “self-appointed data police” or “self-appointed chess historians“).

The obvious question when someone talks about “self-appointed” whatever is, Who self-appointed you to decide who is illegitimately self-appointed?

But my larger concern is with the idea that being a self-appointed whatever is a bad thing. Consider the alternative, which is to be appointed by some king or queen or governmental body or whatever. That wouldn’t do much to foster a culture of openness, would it? First, the kind of people who are appointed would be those who don’t offend the king/queen/government/etc, or else they’d need to hide their true colors until getting that appointment. Second, by restricting yourself to criticism coming from people with official appointments, you’re shutting out the vast majority of potential sources of valuable criticism.

Let’s consider the two examples above.

1. “Self-appointed data police.” To paraphrase Thomas Basboll, there are no data police. In any case, data should be available to all (except in cases of trade secrets, national security, confidentiality, etc.), and anyone should be able to “appoint themselves” the right to criticize data analyses.

2. “Self-appointed chess historians.” This one’s even funnier in that I don’t think there are any official chess historians. Here’s a list, but it includes one of the people criticized in the above quote as being “self-appointed” so that won’t really work.

So, next time you hear someone complain about “self-appointed” bla bla, consider the alternative . . . Should criticism only be allowed from those who have been officially appointed? That’s a recipe for disaster.

And, regarding questions regarding the personal motivations of critics (calling them “terrorists” etc.), recall the Javert paradox.