Saturday, July 28, 2012

Contrary thoughts on academic whining, part 2

Research today is solid but not pathbreaking: This is like, the most common whine I hear, and I hear it ALL THE TIME. There's no way to argue with it, just like there's no way to convince someone the world isn't going to end in November 2012. You just have to wait and see. It's a really stupid argument because the person making it has to convince you they know better than you what's really truly creative stuff. I just don't believe them. I suspect the research now is just as creative as it ever has been, if not more so, thanks to the faster exchange of ideas permitted by email.

Papers are shorter nowadays: This is a good thing. I'm in favor of shorter papers. People should write more efficiently. I hate old Journal of Neurophysiology papers with 10 numbered paragraphs in the Abstract. (Even if you disagree with me, have you considered that maybe people are splitting their papers up into smaller bites to increase their number of pubs, which is probably innocuous?)

"The picture we paint is, of course, stylized" - "We are just being whiny and we know it"

Modelling papers are replacing field-based papers: Or maybe the field research has produced so much data that the field of study can now support modelling papers? Why do you think they are replacing instead of augmenting?

"More papers focus on black-and-white analyses because there is no journal (or mental) space for nuanced discussions": I doubt this is true. It may be that people are picking up the NIH-style habit of couching their data in the framework of hypothesis-driven research.

But if there are fewer nuanced discussions in the literature, I bet some of those nuanced discussions are being shifted off-line towards in-person meetings, phone conversations, video chats, and emails. Conferences and lab visits are much cheaper and thus more common since airline deregulation in the late 1970's and the continued decline in airplane prices since then.

"Academics are increasingly busy with more papers, more grants, and more emails to keep the machinery going". While this line sounds like it comes from a Pink Floyd album, it is still from the same whiny paper. First of all, writing papers is fun, and if you disagree you are in the wrong job. More papers = more fun. More emails is a sign of increased efficiency. I can take some days and work from home because of email. It's made me much more efficient.

"The modern mantra of quantity is taking a heavy toll on two prerequisites for generating wisdom: creativity and reflection." I disagree with this 100%. First of all, everyone knows that the major pre-requisite for generating "wisdom" [which I will interpret to mean scientific knowledge] is improved technological methods, not more sitting around jerking off. Second of all, the fact that I can collect  more data faster means I can test hypotheses faster and learn more faster than before and make connections while the info is still fresh in my mind. If that results in more papers faster, so be it. I'll make them shorter so I can write more of them.

"Creativity suffers under excessive pressure" - true but it also suffers under lack of pressure. Just ask some deadwood tenured faculty in your department. There is an optimal amount of pressure.

Academics should live a good life, not be in a rat race: Uh... we should also have Phish Food for breakfast every morning, but not get fat. Who's in favor??

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