There is one argument for doing a thing; the rest are for doing nothing.
May 20, 2014 4:59 AM   Subscribe

“The Principle of Sound Learning is that the noise of vulgar fame should never trouble the cloistered calm of academic existence. Hence, learning is called sound when no one has ever heard of it… If you should write a book (you had better not), be sure that it is unreadable; otherwise you will be called ‘brilliant’ and forfeit all respect.” - The Microcosmographia Academica (pdf), FM Cornford’s cynical 1908 guide to the academic life, including detailed instructions on obstructing progress. (via the excellent Alex Reinhart, previously)
posted by anotherpanacea (6 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I've always liked Cornford's suggestion that the best way to persuade an academic to do something is to argue weakly against it:
The method of Prevarication is based upon a very characteristic trait of the academic mind, which comes in the common remark, ‘I was in favour of the proposal until I heard Mr ——’s argument in support of it’. The principle is, that a few bad reasons for doing something neutralise all the good reasons for doing it. Since this is devoutly believed, it is often the best policy to argue weakly against the side you favour.
If Cornford were alive today and a member of MetaFilter he would call this the method of Derailing.
posted by verstegan at 6:14 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't know why, but it reminded me of this book.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:08 AM on May 20, 2014

Jebus, it's kind of too accurate to be funny

At first I wished I'd seen this 20 years ago...

Then I realized that, as a Young Man In A Hurry, I probably would have dismissed it as some amusing crotchety silliness.

Now it strikes rather too close to home

Maybe that'll go away on a second reading...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:18 AM on May 20, 2014

I would like to learn more about this cloistered clam of academic existence.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone working at a university, on the upper end of the age bracket Cornford advises read his essay, I found it to be startlingly true. I'm still a Young Man in a Hurry, but I'm going to try to heed his advice. If quid pro quo is the only way to make things happen in the world, so be it. After all, there's no fighting it.
posted by mike_sol at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2014

This seems somewhat similar to the Gervais Principle.
posted by nelsnelson at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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