Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

May 25, 2017

Why many academic departments should be replaced with “think tanks”

Filed under: academia — Razib Khan @ 3:56 pm

Glenn Loury has an important essay up on his website, Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of “Political Correctness” and Related Phenomena”. A classic “read the whole thing.” But I want to highlight one section:

Sociologist James Coleman, perhaps the world’s leading scholar of educational policy, recalls that in 1976 the president and a number of prominent memembers of the American Sociological Association (ASA) tried to have him censured for the “crime” of discovering, and announcing, that citywide busing for school desegregation purposes caused White flight. This claim had been denied for years prior to Coleman’s research, and far reaching social policies had been erected on the presumption that it was not true.

40 years later the same attitude is prevalent in much of sociology and has spread to anthropology and other fields. The reality is that the idea of objective scholarship is an illusion. We all know that “think tanks” exist to promote certain ideas and viewpoints, often due to funding strings attached. I know of people who have changed their views, and so have had to change their affiliation (or, simply not published in areas that they knew would not be well received by their institution).

Academia, with the freedom of tenure should be different. But it’s not. The reason it’s not is that it is a social enterprise, and the esteem of one’s colleagues is more important than the abstract idea of freedom to explore what you want. There are strong incentives in many disciplines to toe a particular line, and humans are conformists and they do as they’re expected to.

If all debates come down to politics and power, then putting them in the domain of think tanks makes it more honest and clean.

August 26, 2012

America, these are (some) your graduate students

Filed under: academia,History — Razib Khan @ 7:19 pm

If you haven’t, you should check out The Shadow Scholar, The man who writes your students’ papers tells his story. This is the conclusion:

“Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:

“‘The hypothesis is interesting but I’d like to see it a bit more focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.’

“What shoudwe say?”

This happens a lot. I get paid per assignment. But with longer papers, the student starts to think of me as a personal educational counselor. She paid me to write a one-page response to her professor, and then she paid me to revise her paper. I completed each of these assignments, sustaining the voice that the student had established and maintaining the front of competence from some invisible location far beneath the ivory tower.

The 75-page paper on business ethics ultimately expanded into a 160-page graduate thesis, every word of which was written by me. I can’t remember the name of my client, but it’s her name on my work. We collaborated for months. As with so many other topics I tackle, the connection between unethical business practices and ...

June 27, 2012

Do consumatory scholars need tenure?

Filed under: academia,Education — Razib Khan @ 11:27 pm

John Hawks pointed me to this really strange article, Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working:

We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship. We are, and should be, consuming the scholarship of others. Consuming scholarship includes preparatory time for teaching but is much broader. We need a name for this ubiquitous activity. I offer “consumatory scholarship.”

I suppose the arguments is that by consuming the production of others you become a better teacher and communicator. But is this good bang-for-the-buck? One could argue that argue that I’m a “consumatory scholar,” but at least I have 10 years of a huge amount of text production of commentary which is widely circulated (e.g., I’ve been cited in a few books, just query “Razib Khan”).

Obviously there is some truth to the charge that publish-or-perish leads to a surfeit of crap. Quantity over quality. But this seems to take it to the extreme level. Publications do end up being ...

January 30, 2012

Boycott Elsevier

Filed under: academia,Science and Society — Sean Carroll @ 8:56 am

While I have the blog open, let me throw in a quick two cents to support the Boycott Elsevier movement. As most working scientists know, Elsevier is a publishing company that controls many important journals, and uses their position to charge amazingly exorbitant prices to university libraries — and then makes the published papers very hard to access for anyone not at one of the universities. In physics their journals include Nuclear Physics, Physics Letters, and other biggies. It’s exactly the opposite of what should be the model, in which scientific papers are shared freely and openly.

So now an official boycott has been organized, and is gaining steam — if you’re a working scientist, feel free to add your signature. Many bloggers have chimed in, e.g. Cosma Shalizi and Scott Aaronson. Almost all scientists want their papers to be widely accessible — given all the readily available alternatives to Elsevier (including the new Physical Review X), all we need to do is self-organize a bit and we can make it happen.


December 14, 2009

Who argues the most from authority?

Filed under: academia,Sociology — agnostic @ 1:00 pm

Google results for +”nobel laureate” +X, where X is one of the following:

Chemistry: 317,000
Physics: 415,000
Medicine: 467,000
Economics: 484,000

Of course, there are more winners to refer to in Physics than in Economics, so we should control for that. Dividing the number of Google results by the number of winners gives these per capita rates:

Chemistry: 2032
Physics: 2231
Medicine: 2395
Economics: 7446

If the intellectual merit of a body of ideas is not so well established, you’re more likely to deflect attention by reassuring everyone that, hey, it can’t be that crazy — after all, the guy is a Nobel laureate. Perhaps that’s why physics ranks above chemistry here, what with string theory etc. taking it further into speculation compared to more grounded chemistry.

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