Note: This post is poorly written and need heavy editing. Read at your own risk.
Which profession garners more respect: Lawyer or Scientist?
I think most people would choose Scientist. In fact, most polls put Scientist in the top 3 but Lawyers somewhere in the mid-low range. But why? Both professions require extensive education and qualifications; both do a lot of research, and use reasoning as part of their daily jobs. What makes one so much more respectable than the other?
How much of the perception is influenced by the second hand Hollywood stereotype of the slick talking, self-serving, win-at-all-cost image vs. the smart, honest, socially-awkward nerd, and how much of that sterotyping is real?
This is what I think. Regardless of stereotypes, the professions use similar tools but serve very different purposes. The job of a lawyer is to protect the client’s interest; the job of a scientist is to pursue knowledge scientifically, wherever that may lead. Given the same information, a competent lawyer will cherry-pick the evidence beneficial to his client to build his case and arguments, and formulate defending arguments against the detremental evidence against his client (that was conveniently ignored). The lawyer is paid to win, to protect his client’s interest, not to pursue the truth. A competent scientist will look at everything and base his opinion on the quality of the available evidence.
If both are merely doing their jobs, why are lawyers so looked down upon?
Let’s say a top-notch tax lawyer is able to exploit all the loopholes in the system and save a billionaire obscene amounts of money. Many would find that disgusting. However, assuming that no law is broken, is it really the lawyer’s fault for being excellent at his job (protecting the client’s interest)? How about a criminal defense lawyer who is able to get a serial child molester/murderer off the hook? Is it morally reprehensible to be good at what is legally required of the profession?
The only thing that remains is the conscious choice of this particular profession, which one can hardly criticize.
Let’s take an air force pilot as another example. Say he is ordered to drop a few MOABs on some villages suspected to harbor high-value terrorists, and is exceptionally accurate and inadvertently wipes out a few orphanages, hospitals, endangered species (a.k.a. collateral damage), along with suspected high-value terrorists. We do not generally make moral judgements on the pilot for following orders.
The difference between lawyers and pilots would be mainly, one is doing his job and killing for our country, and one is doing his job and making a killing for himself. The reasoning in professional respect typically goes like this: each dime that shyster helps that rich guy save (cheat) on taxes is a dime stolen from Uncle Sam, which is like stealing from the people, which is stealing from me, those thieves. Those cratered former zip codes are far away, in a country I can’t spell, and rampant with terrorist-ridden towelheads anyway. We pay the armed forces = working for me. Saving on taxes = stealing from me. And it goes without saying, can’t respect a thief. Cognitive dissonance wins.