I realized early on that the academy and the literary world alike -- and I don't think there really is a distinction between the two -- are always dominated by fools, knaves, charlatans and bureaucrats. And that being the case, any human being, male or female, of whatever status, who has a voice of her or his own, is not going to be liked.
An interesting post over at NCBI ROFL highlights an editorial that looks into the question “Why are modern scientists so dull?” The theory is basically that the academic filtering process selects people who have moderately high IQs and are high in Conscientious and Agreeableness. Conscientiousness is also preferred to high IQ, as fine attention to detail in projects and tests is driven more by hard work than by brilliance. Agreeableness helps future professors work their way through the bureaucratic politics of modern academia. This process weeds out Psychoticism, which is correlated to creativity. The really high IQ people are also weeded out, as they will not necessarily have high conscientiousness or agreeableness. This may be true, but if this was always the case then things aren’t getting worse, it is just another instance of someone recognizing a problem in their own time and thinking that it has gotten worse due to a romanticism of the past. So in order to find out the truth of things, we must analyze what has changed.1. The increasing importance of the grant process and money driving research:
- Scientists who can get grants are rewarded over brilliant scientists.
- Due to the incentives of grant givers, there will be more type leads to more type II errors in which brilliant scientists are denied grants because the grant committee is afraid of being taken in by a charlatan.
- Specific grants lead to less open ended research, though this effect would have to be measured.
- Researchers generally don’t get tenure and control of their own research agenda until their fluid intelligence is on the wane.
- Decreased willingness to criticize high status professors who review the grants in specific fields.
- The monitoring of subsets of mostly self-contained fields is checked by others in the same small circle.
- It is harder for outsiders with revolutionary theories to get published in specialized journals.
- The increased number of scientists in general makes brilliant patent clerks harder to pick out of the hay stack.
- Most academic journals are still walled off from the general population, but this is much more of a continuing problem than it is a new issue.
- The reaction of Berkeley’s campus to the research of Arthur Jensen as described by Victor Niederhoffer is one example. The sociology and psychology professors who were protesting his work could not have read his research because the only two copies of the journal were checked out by genetics professors; they opposed it based on ideology alone. Other supposedly academic bodies have been found promoting false ideas for ideological instead of scientific motivations.
- Due to ethical restrictions, Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiments and Milgram’s experiment could never be duplicated today. A lot of interesting psychological research is off limits, perhaps for good reason.
- These ethics restrictions have been taken to logical extremes, where experiments testing whether making doctors and nurses use checklists improved health outcomes were stopped by the HHS because patient permission was not obtained.
- When I was at UCSD, my professors would tell me that when the FDA started regulating medical devices progress on these devices slowed to a crawl. Research became much more burdensome and expensive after it was regulated.
One theory is that while a lot of these distortions started in the 1950’s they had a positive impact before they had a negative impact. The positive impact came from throwing money at an academia with a sizable fraction of geniuses who were doing brilliant work in their fields. The negative impact of this money was lagged by quite a few years as the structure academia pushed out more and more of the creative types.
In terms of how to build a better University (Antiversity?) starting from scratch and a lot of money: The problem of picking creative geniuses instead of bureaucrats while avoiding the charlatans is potentially solvable. The problem of increased specialization could be solved partially if polymaths were the right type of people to solve the first problem. If those two issues were solved, it is likely that ideological blinders are a function of the bureaucratic mindset and this issue would also fall by the wayside. Finally, the joint issue of ethics and regulation do not seem solvable in the jurisdiction of the developed world, so perhaps they’d have to go somewhere else to address these issues. Potentially solvable does not mean easy, so this issue deserves a lot of thought.