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Publish or perish
February 16, 2014 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Look Who Nick Kristof’s Saving Now. Political scientist Corey Robin on today's public intellectuals, an "entire economy of unsung writers with PhDs," and what Nicholas Kristof doesn't understand when he writes academics have marginalizes themselves and "just don’t matter in today’s great debates." As Aaron Bady wrote, ”He only reads The New Yorker, and then complains that everyone doesn’t write for The New Yorker.”
posted by spamandkimchi (51 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yep.

Also -- as was pointed out on Twitter when Krystof's piece came out -- people of color from academia in particular have been deeply engaged in public debate on social media and blogs for a long time now. Krystof just didn't notice.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:29 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Even if I didn't have a long list of counterexamples, writing like this (Kristof's, quoted by Robin) would warn me against the point it's supposed to support:
A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.
No evidence, no data, no analysis, and certainly no originality. This is just repeating what the guy on the next barstool said already.
posted by homerica at 7:30 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]


Can we just marginalize Nicholas Kristof out of the conversation? Writing for the NYT Editorial Page should no longer have any more status than "highway construction guy holding the SLOW/STOP sign"...
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:34 PM on February 16 [6 favorites]


Nick Kristof is out of touch with everybody but latte liberals. I didn't need Aaron Bady to tell me that.

America's left wing academia is out of touch with everybody but America's left wing academia. I didn't need Nick Kristof to tell me that.

Corey Robin tells us that academia is in fact not out of touch by listing a bunch of friends of his who I've never heard of. (Except Aaron Bady, who I've only heard of because he's friends with my ex.)

Let the circle jerk be unbroken.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 7:34 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]


Oh man "Publish or Perish", a phrase I never want to hear again
-PhD student withdrawing from program
posted by jroger2908 at 7:42 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.

Yep, I'm sitting here writing this paper, trying to make it so that nobody can read it, can't be bothered to make it interesting, and who knows if anyone will want to read it.

Oh wait, no, I'm spending tons of effort to do exactly the opposite of those things. I guess I'm not getting enough "culture of exclusivity" transmitted to me.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:46 PM on February 16 [13 favorites]


It's been really interesting watching this unfold. Chuck Pearson, a Physics prof. at Virginia Intermont College, is an old friend. I've been his go-to server monkey for more than a decade or so as he experimented with blogs, Moodle, lightweight community tools, and so on to engage with his students and with other educators. He's been active on Facebook and Twitter since the early days because they were tools to make his work more effective, and his public writing has been really interesting to read.

Chuck was the one who saw Kristof's column and started the #engagedacademics hashtag in a fit of weekend frustration, gathering stories of educators and academics who are out there in the ways Kristof seems oblivious to.

The interesting part is that, having known Chuck for all these years and encountering his fellow-travelers in the academic world, the traditional stereotypes of the "ivory tower" seem particularly silly. Those images are like imagining Kristof himself as a chain-smoking reporter from a 1940s film, wearing a fedora with a press card in the brim and pounding out columns on a Smith Corona. I guess that's the point -- the way you understand the "problems" of a particular domain are shaped by the people you know, and the version of that world you see through them.
posted by verb at 7:53 PM on February 16 [11 favorites]


Kristof also taken down here with some good factual counters.

I think that Kristof means well, and there is surely something to the general themes he touches upon. I am not saying that all is well in the land of pol-sci academia. Yet, the piece is just a merciless exercise in stereotyping. It’s like saying that op-ed writers just get their stories from cab drivers and pay little or no attention to facts.
posted by Rumple at 7:54 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Fixed link from verb's comment.
posted by divabat at 7:56 PM on February 16


MBATR, I'm not sure how the fact that you haven't heard of any of the "public intellectuals" listed is more proof of the circle jerk, even if some of them are Robin's friends. I'm sure everyone in the MeFi community is much more broadly read than Kristof, but that doesn't mean we know all the awesomeness there is to know.*

On the other hand, I think Nicole Ouimette has an interesting point when she chastises academics for collecting knowledge and without worrying about its application.
Liberal academics and social scientists are more concerned about developing the wealth of academic literature than addressing the immediate material concerns of the communities they research.
Of course, that's my bias as someone in an applied social science.

*The ability to find good blogs by academics that are accessible to non-experts is a higher level form of Google Fu I aspire to. I suspect it is a more link-to-link treasure hunt than anything else.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:57 PM on February 16


Fixed link from verb's comment.
Thanks, divabat, fixed that in the comment. Too fast on the paste, I am...
posted by verb at 7:58 PM on February 16


America's left wing academia academias isare out of touch with everybody but America's left wing academia academias. I didn't need Nick Kristof to tell me that.

But of course, crossing those borders is hard. (Convincing folks studying AI, for instance, to talk to philosophers is just as hard as convincing philosophers that they should be talking to folks studying AI. It's much easier getting folks in the general public to think that they should listen to people in both groups.) And, arguably, in a world where public intellectuals make themselves known by having blogs that are then linked to by blogs cited by other public intellectuals, the problem is harder. Of course we segment. But in the end everyone has to be willing to do a bit more outreach and the public must be told (ideally by a Nicholas Kristoff) where to find all the new material. What will be sad is if these particular academic communities blow up with outrage and the general public doesn't realize that the blow-up has occurred.

Yep, I'm sitting here writing this paper, trying to make it so that nobody can read it, can't be bothered to make it interesting, and who knows if anyone will want to read it.

I ask this in sincerity: what is the flow by which your paper will reach the public?
posted by Going To Maine at 7:58 PM on February 16


I'm going to take a contrarian position, and say that Kristof is actually mostly right (at least for my field of computer science research... I know Kristof is targeting social sciences primarily, but I think the analogy to CompSci is fairly similar). In our community, we've seen over and over lots of great ideas and great software that have been completely ignored or just re-invented by industry.

For example, there was a huge body of research on group collaborations, computer mediated communication, video conferencing, and more. How much impact has it had on practice, or on inventions like Skype, or Cisco's vidconf system, or FaceTime? Probably close to zero. I've heard similar stories about Kinect, hypertext, authentication, operating systems, and more. Hell, Apple doesn't even go to the main research conference on human-computer interaction, but they are probably the first thing most people think of when they think of great design.

Now, clearly, some research has had huge success. But for the most part, academia is not well-geared for targeting its work at the general public (or companies, software developers, or whatever your specific target is). One reason is that the main currency is papers, which require a certain style of writing, long and often tedious positioning relative to related past work, statistics that the general public often doesn't understand, and novelty over all other things.

The reward structure in academia is also not well-attuned to the needs outside of research. Publish or perish isn't just a phrase, it really is a lifestyle. However, using Kinect as an example, I've heard that most of the developers for Kinect just re-invented almost everything that they needed, ignoring a lot of the past research. Why? Because they had deadlines, because the papers didn't directly address the problems they faced, because the developers didn't know about the research, and because there was so much information already, and sifting through it all is incredibly hard.

I also strongly disagree with Robin's argument about the sheer quantity of public intellectuals out there today. Again, using computer science as an example, I bet that a typical software developer couldn't name any researcher in computer science. However, rather than blaming the software developer, I think it is better for my field to think more deeply about how to reach those software developers, and how to solve problems that those developers directly face. Those developers have deadlines, have urgent needs, and have information overload, and it should be our job to help them, rather than assuming that they should find us.

Engagement is really hard, and it takes away from doing the research, but just having a blog or doing talks isn't sufficient. I remember the faculty at Berkeley saying that even when you have a great idea, often times you'll have to fight hard to get industry to steal it. (And these were the folks that invented RISC, RAID, and networks of workstations)
posted by jasonhong at 8:01 PM on February 16 [16 favorites]


I feel this is connected: from Andrea Plaid: ” ‘No, I Would Follow the Porn Star’s Advice’: A Case Study in Educational Privilege and Kyriarchy”, in the book Feminism For REAL which critiques feminism and academia:
The linchpin in all of this and what I’m signaling to others by my degrees is that I’m capable of talking about complex ideas and issues, like the various schools of feminism, because I’m trained to do it, based on the “virtue” of the “right” knowledge and furthermore, take my complex notions to “the masses” who need to hear it and embrace it as part of their lives. (This notion is one of the rawest forms of educational privilege.) Because that, from what we’re told in these social-class incubators called four-year colleges and advanced degrees, is the great responsibility that comes from the great advantage – and promise – of being an “educated person.” The more subtle lesson passed to us in college is The Degreed are the only ones worth listening to – the more degreed, the more you’re worth listening to, because you’re an “expert” due to all those years of studying.
posted by divabat at 8:06 PM on February 16 [6 favorites]


Going To Maine, I get why you did those strike throughs. FWIW, I didn't do them because it seemed like left wing academics in social fields were really the only ones Kristof would actually want to stop being out of touch.

What will be sad is if these particular academic communities blow up with outrage and the general public doesn't realize that the blow-up has occurred.

Prepare to be sad.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:11 PM on February 16


Again, using computer science as an example, I bet that a typical software developer couldn't name any researcher in computer science.
The typical software developer can't write a sorting algorithm, and has never heard of Knuth. One can't claim, though, that this is due to a lack of accessible discussion about sorting algorithms or because Knuth is deliberately arcane and indecipherable.

There will always be a tension between the difficulty of engaging with complex, nuanced material and the need for that material's lessons to be disseminated. Kristof seems -- at least in this column -- to confuse that tension with deliberate, cynical obtuseness. It's a curious assumption of bad faith, especially given the immense pressure that the educational world has been under recently.
posted by verb at 8:12 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


The writering by NYT's stable of columnists is a good reminder that it's never a good idea to take what newspaper columnists write all that seriously.

Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman are the intellectual equivalent of pancakes with bananas and whipping cream.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:18 PM on February 16


Nick Kristof is out of touch with everybody but latte liberals. I didn't need Aaron Bady to tell me that.

What's so stupid about this piece is that even if you accept that Kristof has never heard of Aaron Bady because all he reads is the New Yorker, just off the top of my head, in addition to Jill Lepore -whom he mentions- you've got Louis Menand (PhD Columbia); Elif Batuman (PhD Stanford), Henry Louis Gates (PhD Cambridge) and James Wood (no PhD, but teaches at Harvard). I mean, come on!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:18 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I have spent too much time in the towers of academia. Trust me they are not ivory.
posted by srboisvert at 8:19 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


For example, there was a huge body of research on group collaborations, computer mediated communication, video conferencing, and more. How much impact has it had on practice, or on inventions like Skype, or Cisco's vidconf system, or FaceTime? Probably close to zero.

I don't think that that's the fault of academia. Most tech companies I know of, once they're a certain size (big enough to have their own experts, or people who can become experts), you could tell them there was a body of research, offer it on a silver platter, and there still would be little to no interest in using it. It might be of interest to help inform a general strategy (eg "Somebody tried to do it via A, and only got as far as B because of C issue, so currently it looks like doing it via D is worth investigating"), but otherwise not directly used.

There is very much a culture of doing the cutting-edge stuff in-house. Not only is it so much safer legally and in terms of avoiding potential future patent and IP bullshit (there is constant patent BS in the tech industry), but it makes a huge difference to developers when the maths is doing something unexpected (which is always the case), you can just walk down the hall right now and talk to the guy who actually developed the maths.

Even generic software tools are often developed in-house. When depending on licensed commercial software instead, when people hit a bug, they hate that they can't get it fixed in-house. Waiting on vendors to fix things... who knows if/when that'll happen. Sometimes they'll fix it in-house anyway (eg build plug-ins to work around).
posted by anonymisc at 8:21 PM on February 16


Lisa (Tiny) Gray-Garcia, founder of POOR Magazine, has written some critiques of scholarship and academia for being disconnected from reality, and proposes the notion of poverty scholars, which brings a different perspective on what makes a public intellectual:
But the one thing this poverty scholar must teach you is to re-think your notions of scholarship itself. Who is considered a great scholar? How is scholarship attained? How is greatness honored? And with what tools do we assess this canon?

At POOR Magazine we have a radical concept of scholarship: who deserves it, how it is attained, and how it is used. This scholarship has a new canon, with new designations for greatness. Survival itself, through extreme poverty and crisis, houselessness, racism, disability, and welfare, to name a few, are what you need to qualify for poverty scholarship.

Conversely, a person who is formally educated with a Master’s Degree and no poverty scholarship would be considered inexperienced and therefore, should not be writing, lecturing, or legislating for and about communities in poverty. The formally understood “signs” of scholarship, such as writing, researching, critiquing, publishing, require inherent privilege. These signs afford people an ability to be heard and recognized. Personal Journey.
She also expresses this through the poem The Poverty Scholar vs The Akademik.
posted by divabat at 8:37 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


The reward structure in academia is also not well-attuned to the needs outside of research. Publish or perish isn't just a phrase, it really is a lifestyle. However, using Kinect as an example, I've heard that most of the developers for Kinect just re-invented almost everything that they needed, ignoring a lot of the past research. Why? Because they had deadlines, because the papers didn't directly address the problems they faced, because the developers didn't know about the research, and because there was so much information already, and sifting through it all is incredibly hard.

Patents. That's why the roll their own rather than look at research.
posted by srboisvert at 8:46 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


If nothing else, this bit:
Many academic disciplines also reduce their influence by neglecting political diversity. Sociology, for example, should be central to so many national issues, but it is so dominated by the left that it is instinctively dismissed by the right.

In contrast, economics is a rare academic field with a significant Republican presence, and that helps tether economic debates to real-world debates. That may be one reason, along with empiricism and rigor, why economists (including my colleague in columny, Paul Krugman) shape debates on issues from health care to education.
will be very useful in future arguments about the "liberalism" of Kristof.

It's actually kind of interesting watching the anti quantitative-social-science views -- which had in past decades generally been from the left -- become adopted by the right and merged with their existing laments about postmodernism and deconstruction and all that other (leftwing) academic jargon. Now that the hard sciences like climate or evolution are turning against them, numbers get tarred with the same brush as big words used to be; should academic economics ever undergo a leftward turn, the right is really going to go ballistic. Not that Kristof is over on that side -- yet -- but he's already approaching Allan Bloom territory.
posted by chortly at 9:01 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Patents. That's why the roll their own rather than look at research.

But the existence of the prior research will (eventually) kill the patents. That should dampen the motivation for building a business on the idea of "We won't look for research! We'll patent it all like it's new!"

You also don't want to conflate the folks responsible for writing the code (& who might be able to save themselves some time by successfully locating a handy, pre-existing algorithm) with those who'd be most interesting in profiting from patent trolling. (Corporate.) Assuming that the people responsible for building the code just don't have time or tools for looking is perhaps a better fit for Occam's Razor. The fact that this reinvention opens up an opportunity for patent trolling can be thought of as a bonus.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:04 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Having been both in academia and in the applied world, I'd say the two are deeply codependent. Academia borrows the credibility from the applied people, but in return they need the legitimacy of academia.

Also I can't speak for other fields, but in mine there are a bunch of serious researchers with PhDs within agencies -- they occupy a position less abstracted than the people at universities, but also more free from implementation pressures. It's definitely not simplistic and legitimacy comes from different directions.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:10 PM on February 16


I love how almost everyone giving their opinion is a journalist. I know dozens, have planted stories and appeared on TV with them. They are pretty dumb as a lot. They are expert in nothing, so I ought to listen to them on some complex issue? Fucking Friedman is the worst of the lot. On the other hand, the Nobel winner seems to know something about his area.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:15 PM on February 16


Again, using computer science as an example, I bet that a typical software developer couldn't name any researcher in computer science.

Of the four software companies that I've worked for, three were founded by CS professors who wanted to take their research to the marketplace and many of the employees of those companies had been grad students of those professors. Many of the key developers had published.
posted by octothorpe at 9:16 PM on February 16


Again, using computer science as an example, I bet that a typical software developer couldn't name any researcher in computer science.

Well, it's not really about the personalities, is it?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:22 PM on February 16


But the existence of the prior research will (eventually) kill the patents.

Not if it's the researcher's institution that gets the patent.
posted by anonymisc at 9:30 PM on February 16


But the existence of the prior research will (eventually) kill the patents.

Not if it's the researcher's institution that gets the patent.


Well, yes, but I thought we were specifically covering the differences between programmers in industry and programmers in academia.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:44 PM on February 16


I suspect that some right-wing academics aren't becoming public intellectuals because that would dilute their influence.

Why go to the effort of branding yourself in order get access to a general audience where your ideas might not take hold when you can cultivate your best and brightest students for high positions in government, the policy establishment and the federal judiciary?
posted by ADave at 10:32 PM on February 16


I suspect that some right-wing academics aren't becoming public intellectuals because that would dilute their influence.

Why go to the effort of branding yourself in order get access to a general audience where your ideas might not take hold when you can cultivate your best and brightest students for high positions in government, the policy establishment and the federal judiciary?


This seems to assume that left-wing academics don't have access to this same set of methods - surely left-wing academics could also ignore the public and instead groom a different set of students for power.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:40 PM on February 16


I have neuroses that are more rigorous than economics
posted by thelonius at 12:16 AM on February 17


Krugman? Really? Krugman is a national treasure.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:38 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I also strongly disagree with Robin's argument about the sheer quantity of public intellectuals out there today. Again, using computer science as an example, I bet that a typical software developer couldn't name any researcher in computer science. However, rather than blaming the software developer, I think it is better for my field to think more deeply about how to reach those software developers, and how to solve problems that those developers directly face. Those developers have deadlines, have urgent needs, and have information overload, and it should be our job to help them, rather than assuming that they should find us.

Thus the idea of information literacy, which is critical in almost every area of study -- the "information firehose" pressure keeps increasing, but people aren't getting trained how to cope with that or, worse, are trained in techniques designed for a time of information scarcity.

If researchers, developers, etc are not going to learn and/or use these skills, the institution might want to consider hiring some librarians, like
They used to, before "it's all on the net" became a mantra for downsizing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:43 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


This seems to assume that left-wing academics don't have access to this same set of methods - surely left-wing academics could also ignore the public and instead groom a different set of students for power.

Except that the academic left -- which is far to the left of, say, the Democratic party -- doesn't have the same sorts of conduits into the halls of power as the academic right -- which is often capable of alignment with elements of the Republican party. There's also the problem that much of the academic left is entrenched in the humanities, while fields such as political science, economics, and the (non-social) sciences that connect more directly to the kinds of government offices we're discussing tend to better represent a spectrum of views from progressivism to conservatism with a lot of libertarianism thrown in.

Social sciences are one of the few places where you find a robust, largely unchallenged left consensus in the academy…but do name a leftist thinker who's ended up in charge of policy lately the way that Patrick Henry and Liberty University graduates were fast-tracked into public policy jobs. What you're describing really doesn't appear to happen on the left, and it's a much to do with the kinds of disciplines as with anything Kristof is talking about.
posted by kewb at 5:15 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


But do name a leftist thinker who's ended up in charge of policy lately the way that Patrick Henry and Liberty University graduates were fast-tracked into public policy jobs.

Well, Barrack Obama's the President, and you've got the "liberal" wing of the supreme court, who should certainly be thought of as intellectuals. You've also got his cabinet... there are pretty generous chunks of those groups who would qualify as intellectuals with power.

That said, I would be very interested in a study looking at the degrees held by different members of the bureaucracy at different points in time. It would be quite informative - though I think it would less reveal a secret strategy by members of particular schools to vet individuals and more that, in some departments, different administrations will prioritize different hires. (I mean, if you're being hired as a climate scientist at NOAA, people won't give two hoots about your politics unless you're good at science.)
posted by Going To Maine at 6:09 AM on February 17


I think your definition of leftist and mine are very much out of sync.
posted by kewb at 6:14 AM on February 17


True! We are about to tumble down the ol' what-is-the-American-left hole, which is better avoided. But I will fully agree that we're certainly not seeing a lot of out Marxists and Socialists wandering the halls of power.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:17 AM on February 17


In the Sunday Review section in which Kristof's piece appeared, I counted 10 pieces not by NYT contributors. 5 were by academics. DATA!
posted by Xalf at 6:24 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I am not going to blame academics for the fact that major newspapers and magazines draw their columnists from glib writers and journalists rather than academics or the fact that reporters prefer to depend on talking-points-drafting think tanks rather than scholars for expert advice on their stories.

As far as leveraging research in the tech industry, many computer science programs do not cultivate a culture of "research" in their curriculum. Students need to be given experience in reading and interpreting research papers, and if they aren't given this experience, they will never develop it on their own.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 6:27 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


True! We are about to tumble down the ol' what-is-the-American-left hole, which is better avoided. But I will fully agree that we're certainly not seeing a lot of out Marxists and Socialists wandering the halls of power.

Yes, whereas we do see out Dominionists and Objectivists and so on wandering them. The elements of the American left that we can discern in positions of power are only those which are generally amenable to neoliberal consensus. The elements of the American right that we see in such positions are often well to the right of the liberal (in the broad, poli-sci sense) consensus.

We needn't argue about who is truly Leftiest of them all to agree on that obvious truth; if the academic Left is marginalized, it's largely because they break the taboo by criticizing liberalism from the "wrong" side of the spectrum. And people like Kristof who accuse the Left of "marginalizing itself" are, by the very writing or saying of that, actively working to marginalize any criticism of liberalism and neoliberalism.
posted by kewb at 7:04 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


The core incoherence of the essay is just breathtaking.

*A problem with modern social science research is that it has so much math and so much quantitative analysis, which turns out to be stupid, and is written so impenetrably.

*Except for economics. That shit rocks. Blissfully free of quantitative work, written in sterling prose in articles that don't at all have three different sub- and superscripted forms of xi to distinguish between. That's econ through and through!

Dipshit.

It's also frustrating that he refuses to recognize the media's own complicity in this "problem." I mean, if I were writing an op-ed on partisan polarization, it would take literally literally less than five minutes to dump the search "partisan polarization political science" into google and fire off emails to Ansolabehere, Jacobson, McCarty, Carmines, Druckman, Poole, or other people who appear in the first page or two of google results. Not necessarily the best list in the world, but all people who know a damn thing or two about it. How often do they do that? Not bloody very.* And of course that ties into another common problem, at least for the local reporters that want to talk to me from time to time: calling three hours before your deadline.

*Why am I confident of this? Because they so often write things that are so obviously wrong that either they didn't talk to anyone who knows something about it or they just decided to completely ignore them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:32 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


The core incoherence of the essay is just breathtaking.

*A problem with modern social science research is that it has so much math and so much quantitative analysis, which turns out to be stupid, and is written so impenetrably.

*Except for economics. That shit rocks. Blissfully free of quantitative work, written in sterling prose in articles that don't at all have three different sub- and superscripted forms of xi to distinguish between. That's econ through and through!

Dipshit.


What Atrios Said.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:07 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


This kind of debate (the relevance/accessibility of academic research) is alive and well in some circles. The Association for Psychology Science (APS) has a series Psychological Science in the Public Interest that takes on issues of direct relevance to real life. The series is not popular science of the sort Steve Pinker writes but is generally accessible to a non-academic audience (generally). The debates include hot button issues like pre-school education, PTSD treatments, eyewitness testimony and so on. PDFs are made available to the public and the series part of the commitment of APS to 'giving psychological science away'. The research that is reviewed is of the dry academic sort that is criticized (and I would argue that the dry academic discourse primarily reflects conventions so that people in the field know what they are talking about when they use specific terms) but is synthesized in a way that tries to inform.
posted by bluesky43 at 12:07 PM on February 17


One problem with CS research is that it's often useless in practice, unreproducible, or it's just not related closely enough to real problems. Look at MapReduce, which was ultimately built by industry (i.e. Google) and is sold as a commodity (Amazon Elastic MapReduce) and whose dominant implementation is a pretty non-academic product (Hadoop). It's also a continuation of a trend in the industry to use "commercial" languages for everything rather than a language which academics would insist is better suited to the problem (Hadoop is in Java).

There are interesting papers about large cluster computing... but what we're actually getting are large numbers of virtual machines running industry standard software that get created dynamically at need. Useful, but pretty much the equivalent of brute force.

"Software Engineering" research is a total joke, of course, as is evidenced by the abject failure of the "evidence based software engineering" stuff, which invariably just... moulders, because nothing is repeatable.

Then there's static typing, which just makes me sad. There is always a language that's going to replace Java, with its joke of a type system that doesn't even have higher-kinded parametric polymorphism!, that never pans out. (Alas, Scala. Everyone hates you now.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:22 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I like static typing. Sometimes.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:46 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Where Have All the Public Intellectuals Gone?
In fairness to Kristof, however, none of the observations refute his basic claim. That’s because he isn’t actually talking about “public intellectuals”. Rather, he means old-fashioned mandarins, who move easily between Harvard Yard and Washington, usually without encountering many members of the public along the way. In a followup on Facebook, Kristof observes that “Mac Bundy was appointed professor of government at Harvard and then dean of the faculty with only a B.A.–impossible to imagine now.” After nearly a decade as dean, Bundy joined the Kennedy administration as National Security advisor, where his vast intellectual firepower led him to promote and defend the Vietnam War

What Kristof really offers, then, is less an argument for public engagement by scholars than a plea for another crop of Wise Men who lend conventional wisdom the authority of the academy. Not coincidentally, he presents as an exception to the trend toward academic self-marginalization the former Princeton professor and State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose resume is as perfect a reflection of the meritocratic elite that Bundy helped create as Bundy’s own pedigree was of the old Establishment.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:54 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Frank Rich is the Writer-at-Large for New York Magazine now, btw.
posted by homunculus at 10:29 PM on February 17


Daniel Drezner: What Nick Kristof Doesn't Get About the Ivory Tower
But when it comes to my little patch of academe, international relations, I think Kristof has it mostly wrong. And I think I’m in a unique position to shed some light on why the three tribes that dominate the discussion of foreign affairs—academics, Beltway types and money folks—don’t always get along.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:26 PM on February 26


More from Corey Robin: The responsibility of adjunct intellectuals. Academics write for the public more than ever before but are hampered by precariousness of their profession
posted by homunculus at 11:59 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


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