General Question

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

What do you do when you know your professor is, well, wrong?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (19054points) February 23rd, 2011
18 responses
“Great Question” (2points)

If you know your professor is wrong (or possibly telling you theories that are seen by most of the field as invalid, supported by controversial and weak evidence, etc), what do you (or would you) do? Correct them? Keep your mouth shut and figure out what they want, then forget everything they taught you? Report them to their superior immediately? Report them at the end of the semester?

Would you be bothered by this?

For those who need an example: Say a professor taught you that Queen Isabella didn’t want Columbus to set sail for India because she believed the world was flat. (No, that’s not a real example from my life. This is a hypothetical question, not me venting or gathering advice).

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cletrans2col's avatar

I would speak to the prof privately and if that does not work, speak to other profs in the department and see what they think.

theninth's avatar

Question them. As part of the class discussion, ask “but isn’t it also believed that…” or “but don’t other people think…” or “but doesn’t evidence support….”

If they don’t encourage discussion or insist that their view is the only correct view I’d just go with what they’re saying for the sake of the assigned work, and then let their supervisor/department chair/whoever know at the end of the semester.

gailcalled's avatar

Or, if you have the stomach for it, ask him privately what he would recommend as a technique if a student disagreed with him.

Addendum: If you are paying for the class, you have the right to expect excellent teaching and not lazy or sloppy stuff.

coffeenut's avatar

I’d just go along with it.

TexasDude's avatar

I always hear people say that you’re never supposed to call your professor out, because they are all spiteful ivory-tower dwellers who will ruin your life if you dare question their views.

From personal experience, I’d say that’s a crock of horseshit. I’ve called professors out on numerous occasions when I was sure they were wrong and most of the time, they thanked me and corrected themselves. My grades stayed in tact, too.

In your case, I’d talk to the professor in private. If they are glaringly wrong in class, call them on it. Your mileage may vary.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard Is that the smaller stuff – like they were incorrect in a date – or the larger stuff, like stating that the Sumerians invented algebra, and from this we know that they were a highly logical culture that valued exactness, detail, and abstract philosophy?

TexasDude's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs, both. I had a sociology professor who literally made up statistics about different stuff on the spot. She also flubbed some smaller things. She wound up loving me as a student. I’ve had history professors make big mistakes that I’ve corrected.

nikipedia's avatar

As a college-level instructor who has actually been wrong (believe it or not!)... the best way to handle this is to:

(1) Meet with the instructor privately. Don’t call him/her out in front of the class.
(2) Bring sources justifying your position.
(3) Be open to the possibility that you, as a student, are mistaken.

Last year, I was teaching a senior level neurobiology lab course that has a couple prerequisite courses. One of the principles I was testing the students on was the idea that an action potential is considered “all or none”—either the signal fires or it doesn’t, but there’s no such thing as a small or large AP. So I asked them if a very strong depolarizing pulse was given during a neuron’s relative refractory period, would the AP be smaller, larger, or the same size?

The answer I was looking for was, “if the pulse is strong enough to depolarize the neuron, the AP will always be the same size.” Yet about ¾ of the class answered that the AP would be smaller! So, I told them I would give extra credit to the first person who explained why this was wrong.

One of my students emailed me and said that he was still very certain it was the correct answer, and he quoted a section of a textbook he had used in a prerequisite course explaining why. It turns out that during the refractory period, conductance changes slightly in certain kinds of ion channels, which means that the AP really, truly is smaller during the refractory period.

I had been told for literally a decade that there was no such thing as a “smaller” AP, and none of the other TAs who taught this course had ever heard of it either. It turned out that in one of the prerequisite courses the students take, this was a special case they learned about, because the professor who teaches it studies this phenomenon in detail.

So, I apologized profusely, gave all the students points back, and gave extra credit to the student who corrected me.

Nullo's avatar

I’d confront the prof directly with a question (“So-And-So said this; what’s your take on it?”), usually in the middle of class. I was a bit of a disruptive student. I don’t know how effective I was.

everephebe's avatar

If you correct them in class, I would do it politely and delicately so as not to embarrass them. Or you could mention it after class, politely and delicately, telling them you didn’t want to embarrass them in class by speaking out. If that doesn’t seem to work, bring it up in class and get other students on your side, in what hopefully is a productive conversation. If that fails, report them to their immediate superior, but not necessarily immediately. Giving them time to think about it, before you go over their head, is considerate. If you have to report them do it before the end of the semester.

Would I be bothered by this? Yes. If when presented the facts, the professor fails to acknowledge the possibility of being wrong, then well… They need to be humbled.

I’ve done this, or the like, with good results by asking questions rather then issuing challenges.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I would do it privately and ask it in terms of a question.

cynicaldeath's avatar

I would ask him politely like “Isn’t there also this other theory that’s pretty popular too?? What do you think about it?”

choreplay's avatar

Before doing it privately I think you should consider the individual your dealing with, although it seems right they would appreciate it some wouldn’t.

cazzie's avatar

I need more specific information. But if you’re not arguing your masters or doctorate… just cruise to get by…. you can get him when you’re better qualified.

Jacob123's avatar

well frankly i would tell them that they were flat out wrong and explain why. this has happened to me a few times. they usualy apreciate the feed back.

holli's avatar

Remember that you are all there for the purpose of thought and knowledge. You are investing a lot in your education and you should do what will allow you to get the most out of it.

gailcalled's avatar

One last thought. Be really certain that you can back up your sense that he or she is wrong before you beard the lion in his den.

yankeetooter's avatar

My professor the last few semesters was pretty cool about the situation. He would the math on the board in his head (fairly quickly too) but would always tell us to double check him on our calculators. 99% of the time he was right, and we’re not talking addition problems here, either.

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