From letters to the editor, NewScientist, 27 October 2010
The interview with Jon Richfield, who has answered over 150 Last Word questions, was fascinating (9 October, p 50). However, by assuming that he must therefore be "great at pub quizzes", the interviewer confuses facts with knowledge. Pub quizzes and game shows rely on remembering individual disconnected facts, with harder questions normally meaning more obscure facts.
Jon Richfield, like many experts in their field, does not necessarily hold vast reams of facts in his head but has the skills to construct knowledge, understanding and meaning through analysis, thought and deduction. Unfortunately, our school and examination systems all too often focus on the memorisation and recall of facts rather than the acquisition of an in-depth understanding, and therefore knowledge of, the subject in question.