I often attend talks given by famous presenters in which I’m pretty sure that the presenter has no idea about the topic. By have no idea I mean if you are an attendee that just attracted to this talk because of its title or somebody else told you this is a interesting talk you will be impressed deeply by the high quality of talk, pictures, video, etc. But for me cause I’m part of that research I know that’s just a show and the presenter is not aware about our real problems, concerns, accomplishments, etc. So I would say the whole presentation is just like a movie show not something really scientific. I could understand sometimes these kind of presentations will be given to broader audience to just impress people and maybe attract new opportunities like funding. At the end of the talk I have a lot of questions about the topic and how the things works and I know a lot of things are not clear, accurate, or simply is just wrong, but I give up my question cause I know it will not change anything and it will just create a bad reputation for me.

So my question is should I give up my question because of fear of creating bad reputation or politely ask my question which in most cases I know a general answer without any details will be given by the presenter and no further discussion is possible cause again will create bad reputation that I don’t agree presenter and may think I know more than him/her. Any idea or suggestion is appreciated to give a method to how to deal with this kind of situations.

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    This comes across as more of a rant than a question. – Jon Custer Nov 15 '18 at 19:19
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    Some "old" speakers are being honored for their past, not current, contribution. Be very careful before you denigrate someone who is famous, but not up to date, when they are famous because they helped create the field you work in. – Buffy Nov 15 '18 at 19:25
  • @Buffy of course if they talk about their old stuff that they’re good at or they got their reputation that would be fine but these guys use their network to build a whole new research topic that they have no idea about! That’s the problem! – Alone Programmer Nov 15 '18 at 19:28
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    I took the liberty of editing your question; feel free to edit what I wrote if you think I changed something important. I strongly suggest you spend some time working on your writing skills -- this is an interesting question, but people were having a hard time getting through the long rambling wall of text. – cag51 Nov 15 '18 at 19:35
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    I agree with @cag51 and I think your re-edit has again muddied the question, it is very difficult to read. – Bryan Krause Nov 15 '18 at 20:04

I often attend talks given by famous presenters in which I’m pretty sure that the presenter has no idea about the topic.

The fact that you say the presenter "often" has "no idea" about the topic does not have the ring of truth.

  • I can believe this happening occasionally
  • I can believe famous professors giving talks without enough preparation, making simple mistakes, etc.

But for them to "very often" have "no idea" about the entire topic under discussion is difficult to believe. Is it possible that you are fixating on a few minor errors or a poor presentation and missing the significance of the talk?

So, my question is: what should audience members do in such a situation?

For now, let's assume that you're right and the talk is truly awful. I wouldn't comment on low-quality talks; everyone in the room likely knows that the talk sucked, no need to point it out. Instead, I would ask "clarifying" questions.

  • "I was under the impression that..."
  • "Didn't [blah] show that..."
  • "How does this topic relate to..."
  • "Sorry, I'm not understanding. Are you saying that...? What about...?"

that kind of thing.

It's worth giving the speaker a chance to address your questions and perhaps they'll be able to connect the "missing link" that was preventing you from enjoying the talk. But if they can't address your concerns satisfactorily after one or two questions, then I wouldn't engage further; either you are talking past one another or the presenter is an idiot, but debating in the conference will not accomplish anything.

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  • I think now it’s more clear. Please edit your answer to align to the edited question. – Alone Programmer Nov 15 '18 at 20:03
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    @AloneProgrammer - I don't think it's clearer at all, and I think you have a lot to learn about technical writing. Good luck! – cag51 Nov 15 '18 at 20:24
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    "for them to have "no idea" about the entire topic under discussion is difficult to believe" - I've seen it quite a few times, often along the lines depicted in xkcd.com/793. Somebody becomes eminent in one field and starts thinking they're an expert in everything. See e.g. Linus Pauling's foray into quack medicine, or That Rocket Guy in diving rescue, or Unnamed Celebrity Astrophysicist occasionally trying to reinvent entire disciplines in humanities without acknowledging what's already been done. – Geoffrey Brent Nov 15 '18 at 20:36
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    oh I agree -- my favorite example is the unfortunate, recent talk at CERN in which a physicist became an armchair sociologist and gave a talk about how women are inherently less capable to do physics (!). But I suspect OP is conflating this with just giving poorly-prepared talks. – cag51 Nov 16 '18 at 0:46

Something similar to this happened recently. Michael Atiyah, a famous mathematician who has won the Fields Medal & the Abel Prize, claimed to have proven the Riemann hypothesis. He gave a talk on it. Suffice to say, few others believed him. You can read about how others dealt with it at e.g. Science and New Scientist.

My summary would be, you're allowed to be critical, but you don't have to point it out to the speaker in person during the talk.

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    IMHO this depends very much on context. In the case you mention, this advice is fine. But if a distinguished speaker is promoting something likely to cause real harm (say, a phony cancer cure) that ought to be challenged on the spot. – Geoffrey Brent Nov 15 '18 at 20:43

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