Quality of work and fame: correlation or causation? How much credence should be given to famous people’s opinions? [Hint: fame doesn’t come with free IQ points.]
The quality of one’s work is only a small part of fame. In fact the reason for fame may in fact have nothing to do with work and everything to do with luck. But we conflate the two.
We pay attention to the sentiments of prominent actors and politicians because they are prominent more than because of the presence of substance.
Where fame is the result of one’s work, there is the issue of incentive to float the boat of that work and not do or say anything controversial that may change current perception of it or of the creator.
Most people like to believe they wouldn’t have helped Hitler exterminate the jews, either by being informants or actual soldiers; and many of those people believe they would have stood up for the Jews.
But that’s what all the Germans thought pre-Hitler. The reality is that most people today would have conformed out of fear, and many would have been persuaded by Hitler.1 I say this because it highlights something fundamental about human nature, namely that we don’t like to stick out.
True contrarians are rare.
When a person becomes famous because of their work they’ll likely forever be known for that work: generally, it’s fear not laziness which prevents further groundbreaking work being done.
It’s not even that one needs to be a true contrarian to not fall victim to this tendency; it’s just that the tendency is so, so strong.
The quality of one’s work is only a small part of fame. Realising this will not only encourage more critical parsing of information spouted by those in the spotlight but also better align your own incentives to produce great work, whatever your domain.