Further to the new barrage of “social justice” arguments against academic freedom, a prof reflects on the current environment where writing nonsense (and, it seems, earnestly believing claptrap, though she doesn’t go that far) are the way to survive:
It may be that being a journalist makes it unusually hard for Kristof [who complained about the turgid bafflegab] to see what’s going on in academia. That’s because journalism, which is in the midst of its own transformation, is moving in a populist direction. There are more writers than ever before, writing for more outlets, including on their own blogs, Web sites, and Twitter streams. The pressure on established journalists is to generate traffic. New and clever forms of content are springing up all the time—GIFs, videos, “interactives,” and so on. Dissenters may publish op-eds encouraging journalists to abandon their “culture of populism” and write fewer listicles, but changes in the culture of journalism are, at best, only a part of the story. Just as important, if not more so, are economic and technological developments having to do with subscription models, revenue streams, apps, and devices.
In academia, by contrast, all the forces are pushing things the other way, toward insularity. As in journalism, good jobs are scarce—but, unlike in journalism, professors are their own audience. This means that, since the liberal-arts job market peaked, in the mid-seventies, the audience for academic work has been shrinking. Increasingly, to build a successful academic career you must serially impress very small groups of people (departmental colleagues, journal and book editors, tenure committees). Often, an academic writer is trying to fill a niche. Now, the niches are getting smaller. Academics may write for large audiences on their blogs or as journalists. But when it comes to their academic writing, and to the research that underpins it—to the main activities, in other words, of academic life—they have no choice but to aim for very small targets. Writing a first book, you may have in mind particular professors on a tenure committee; miss that mark and you may not have a job. Academics know which audiences—and, sometimes, which audience members—matter. More.
Dead theories, like dead logs, will keep you afloat in a typhoon. Screaming anything, including nonsense, helps keep people alive. There is no problem if you don’t mind achieving nothing, or believe there is nothing to be achieved in the long run.
The people who demand value are, given the circumstances, perceived as just troublemakers.
Significantly, in both journalism and academia, there are increasing demands for just plain control over what people are allowed to hear, think, and say.
See also: New social sciences scandal: Oft-cited paper is complete rubbish —again? (But, of course, it doesn’t matter, because as long as a point of view is within the guidelines of Correctness, its being nonsense makes no difference.)
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One Reply to “Some practical reasons why academics cling to dead theories”
Science is like religion. If you make a living from what you preach (teach), you are unlikely to change your mind even if you know you’re wrong. Dogma and doctrine are the names of the game. This is why Thomas Kuhn says that science progresses through revolutions. The world needs teachers and leaders who don’t have a lame pony in the race.