Monday, Inside Higher Ed published an article breathlessly reporting that a "major new study" [summary, pdf] conducted by three Northwestern professors for the National Bureau of Economic Research had shown that "new students at Northwestern University learn more when their instructors are adjuncts than when they are tenure-track professors." Unfortunately, the uptake by IHE and others ignores the one salient fact about Northwestern's 'adjunct' pool that the authors let creep into one of their footnotes: "[a]lmost all classes taught by non-tenure track faculty at Northwestern are taught by those with a longer-term relationship with the university" (p. 9n8 my emphasis).
The study itself is flawed in other ways: 1) the narrow basis upon which these claims are grounded; 2) the authors' failure to consider specific factors about the faculty being studied, their relationship to the courses being taught, or the contracts under they were hired; and 3) the generalizability of the results being presented. Indeed, the authors' provide very little reason to think that 'non-tenure track' faculty at Northwestern are comparable to a similarly named group of faculty at other institutions. As such, the study provides a poor rejoinder to the large body of research that suggests that adjunctification is as bad for students as it demonstrably has been for faculty.
It may well be irrational to believe that history is progress after the unprecedented moral and political calamities of the twentieth century. But it does not follow, as [John] Gray apparently assumes, that history has no meaning. There is another possibility. To my knowledge Gray never endorses it, and it extremely difficult for a post-Darwinian mind to grap, but it has been presumed true by most civilizations and philosophies of the past, and is still so regarded by many non-Westernized cultures today. The possibility is that history does indeed have a meaning, purpose and end, and that these can easily be discerned by human beings, but that the direction of history's development is backward not forwards. History is not progress but regress, not advance but decline, and it leads to destruction rather than to utopia.--David Hawkes reviewing John Gray "The Silence of Animals" in TLS (30 August, 2013).
Let's distinguish four main conceptions of history:
Eternal Return. Within philosophy this goes back to Book 3 of Plato's Laws. It was revived by Nietzsche (and is part of the sub-structure of much continental philosophy and via Ian Hacking it is seeping into philosophy of science). It accords well with a cyclical conception of history with a rise and fall narrative or with periodic destruction of civilization(s) (think of the Atlantis story in the Timaeus and Bacon's riff on it). I expect it to become increasingly attractive to people as we head for man-made environmental catastrophe.
What follows a little bit after the jump is shamelessly plagiarized from a couple of years ago post from my old blog.
I'd initially wanted to write something today new about how soul destroying I'm finding having to write a proposal for Sabbatical Leave for Fall 2014, but I realized I was probably just cranky. . .
The thing is, it's not that big a deal if I don't get the sabbatical. And it's not that big a deal the way the non-academic suits lording it over us have changed the social contract, where these things used to be pretty guaranteed as long as you've been getting good annual reviews. Maybe they are still pretty much guaranteed, and the proposal is just more hoops for us to jump through. I don't know.
And I don't think that my general extreme discomfort with having to sell myself in this way is suitable for a post. [i.e. Why can't I just honestly say that
I'm competent most of the time? Sometimes I'm inspired, but about a
third of those times it turns out that I was inspired to do something terrible. In my experience, this describes just about everybody. What does
this do to our souls to have to constantly pretend otherwise when we sell ourselves to employers and administrative overlords? I don't know.] I suspect that this problem is both too specific (concerning my own social neuroses) and too general (in a capitalist society everyone has to violate all sorts of Gricean norms the while selling themselves).
Instead, what I'd like to post about concerns the presuppositions the designers of these reports make us assent to. For example, in my report I am specifically ordered to show how what I write will make a non-trivial contribution to LSU's own "flagship agenda." This is a classic case of lawyer's presupposition. "Are you going to contribute to the flagship agenda? Yes or no." is just as bad as "Have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or no."
During deconstructionisms's heyday Is there a text in this class? served an important function, and in graduate school I quite enjoyed him as David Lodge's Morris Zapp character, though the joke is vastly less funny now that I'm in the biz for real.
Anyhow, TNR's Russell Jacoby (HERE) has Fish's monotonous schtick dead to rights:
The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders missed this obsessive-compulsive disorder of literary professors: repeating sans cesse the pedestrian observation that everything is contextual and contingent. Fish has taken this historicist principle and run with it forever. He is still agog over it.
Jacoby also has a pretty nice discussion of just how unhelpful are Fish's attempted application of this observation to issues concerning the university. Though I disagree with Jacoby's dismissal of the academic study of pop culture, his conclusion does not rest on it.
Fish has been unable to uphold the liberal arts as anything more than a vehicle to provide jobs for liberal-arts professors, who do what they do. After all, the liberal tradition has served him and his friends quite nicely. “I believe fully in the core curriculum,” he wrote in one of his Times columns on the crisis of the humanities, “as a device of employment for me and my fellow humanists.” Bully for him. But if this is the best defense of the liberal arts by one of its most celebrated practitioners, who needs it?
Feh. . . Kurt Cobain didn't die so that fatuous millionaires could thumb their noses at the rest of us ad infinitum in the pages of the New York Times. Thank God for the Stone.
President Obama has just released his
Plan to Make College More Affordable and the critiques have been coming fast and furious (for instance). A major feature of the plan is the requirement for collecting and presenting data on student outcomes; adding a requirement for faculty work conditions data would make this a much better plan. Here's how.
Much of the student data the President is asking for—graduation
rates, average debt loads and earnings of graduates, percentages of students
who pursue advanced degrees, and the income levels of students who attend an
institution—is already easily available and factors into many of the rankings
that are currently published.
But the narrow focus on student data elides the factor that may well count the most when it comes to
good student outcomes: faculty working conditions. As the slogan goes "the
working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of students."
Rick Perlstein's latest at The Nation (HERE) makes for some pretty brutal reading. The first part is worth sharing if you have well meaning family members like mine, who for a decade or so hectored me to cold-call various department chairs so that I could get a job where my children (only potentially existing at the time) would have grandparents nearby.*
After recounting friend after friend debasing themselves in all sorts of ways in often futile attempts to get meaningful employment and/or tenure, Perlstein turns to the superstars he knows.
I think of one academic couple I know, of whom I am very fond, and whose contributions to teaching and scholarship and left-wing activism are exemplary. I don’t begrudge them their gorgeous home with the expansive deck overlooking mountains and ocean; I don’t begrudge one of them for letting slip—we all have moments of hubris—that they make $400,000 between them. I don’t begrudge another such couple the fancy catered dinner parties they’re able to throw in their fancy home, because, hell, I was the guest of honor at one of those dinner parties. In fact, I’ve been the guest of honor, as a visiting independent scholar, at fancy dinners at all sorts of fancy universities, and am invariably fond of my hosts, for the most part decent, dedicated people: 1960s veterans, mainly, who’ve done their best to keep their values intact.
But here’s their problem—a tragic flaw. They’re hardly aware that they’re aristocrats, and that they oversee an army of intellectual serfs.
Is the flaw really anything approximating a tragic one? Is the dereliction of those at the top (and those of us not at the top but with tenure protection) even really "structural" in the sense of Lance's post on complicity (HERE)? I don't know and would be interested in what people think. Maybe whatever personality traits make it the case that you are going to succeed in this kind of climate also tend to make you uniquely unsuited to do anything helpful once you are there. Perlstein himself describes how Kafkaesque the tenure process is and what this might do to one's soul. I'm sure that delivering the same paper dozens of times a year as an invited speaker does weird things too. Perhaps this is a structural facet along the lines of the manner in which anyone willing to do what politicians have to do to win elections in the United States now is a priori completely unsuited for public office. I don't know. . .
That's the closing line to this very important article from Matt Taibbi. Everyone in HE in the States (and in countries heading toward a US-like system) should read the piece. The take-away is something like this: "it's not the interest which crushes student loan debtors, it's the principal."
This is why the issue of student-loan interest rates pales in comparison with the larger problem of how anyone can repay such a huge debt – the average student now leaves school owing $27,000 – by entering an economy sluggishly jogging uphill at a fraction of the speed of climbing education costs.
Nature does nothing in vain, and in the use of means to her goals she is
not prodigal. Her giving to man reason and the freedom of the will
which depends upon it is clear indication of her purpose. Man
accordingly was not to be guided by instinct, not nurtured and
instructed with ready-made knowledge; rather, he should bring forth
everything out of his own resources. Securing his own food, shelter,
safety and defense...all amusement which can make life pleasant, insight and
intelligence, finally even goodness of heart-all this should be wholly
his own work. In this, Nature seems to have moved with the strictest
parsimony, and to have measured her animal gifts precisely to the most
stringent needs of a beginning existence, just as if she had willed
that, if man ever did advance from the lowest barbarity to the highest
skill and mental perfection and thereby worked himself up to happiness
(so far as it is possible on earth), he alone should have the credit and
should have only himself to thank-exactly as if she aimed more at his
rational self-esteem than at his well-being. For along this march of
human affairs, there was a host of troubles awaiting him. But it seems
not to have concerned Nature that he should live well, but only that he
should work himself upward so as to make himself, through his own
actions, worthy of life and of well-being.--I. Kant Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784). Translation by Lewis White Beck.
Kant's nature is a brilliant economizing-social planner; one that designs circumstances that are conducive to the optimal social good, yet requiring a market failure in praise (I almost wrote 'credit', but decided that would cause the wrong kind of confusion).
What complicates the picture is the [Turkish] protests’ anti-capitalist thrust:
protesters intuitively sense that free-market fundamentalism and
fundamentalist Islam are not mutually exclusive. The privatisation of
public space by an Islamist government shows that the two forms of
fundamentalism can work hand in hand: it’s a clear sign that the
‘eternal’ marriage between democracy and capitalism is nearing divorce....Global capitalism is a complex process which affects different countries
in different ways. What unites the protests, for all their
multifariousness, is that they are all reactions against different
facets of capitalist globalisation. The general tendency of today’s
global capitalism is towards further expansion of the market, creeping
enclosure of public space, reduction of public services (healthcare,
education, culture), and increasingly authoritarian political power....Just because the underlying cause of the protests is global capitalism,
that doesn’t mean the only solution is directly to overthrow it. Nor is
it viable to pursue the pragmatic alternative, which is to deal with
individual problems and wait for a radical transformation. That ignores
the fact that global capitalism is necessarily inconsistent:--Slavoj Žižek in LRB [HT Jan Dumolyn]
[I] We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though
frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this
account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of
the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but
constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above
their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most
unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his
neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination,
because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things
which nobody ever hears of.--Adam Smith (1776) Wealth of Nations.
[II] Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far
greater part of every great political society. But what improves the
circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an
inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and
happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and
miserable. It is but equity,
besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the
people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as
to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.--Adam Smith (1776) Wealth of Nations.
This NYT article on the Detroit bankruptcy* is a perfect illustration of the pernicious effects of "localism" and "presentism" in political economy.** That is, here we see the unquestioning acceptance of a spatial scale focused on political boundaries (i.e., city limits) instead of the functional economic unit (i.e., the metro area), and a temporal scale focused on the short-term ("the crisis") rather than on the long-term (the processes allowing for the production of "the crisis"). Of course, the spatial and temporal scales are related; to understand the causes of the crisis you would have to understand post-war suburbanization and the concomitant ability of the surburbs to shift tax burdens while still benefitting from proximity to the city.
*This is an ongoing story of course: see here for a judge's ruling against the bankruptcy claim and here for targeting of the municipal art collection by the disaster capitalists.
**If you want to be fancy about it, you could say this is an example of the trouble you get into by focusing on the properties of a product while neglecting the production process. (See the "illusion" discussed at Difference and Repetition, 240E.)
The living-wage movement is a clever PR campaign (akin to "We're the 99%") that attempts to re-frame a political debate on behalf of the large number of folk that have seen incomes stagnate (or worse) since, say, the early 1970s (described by Tyler Cowen [no Leftie]). (Nobody doubts that the huge economic, political, and social forces that probably have caused this stagnation are beyond the immediate influence of the individuals principally affected.) Of course, political re-framing does not exhaust the non-economic potential of such campaigns--coining concepts can also make necessary, new self-conceptions and identities possible, including one's agency in an age of large anonymous forces, enormous concentrations of private wealth (in corporations and
corporate insiders), and public/ private poverty. Given the massive hardship the living wages campaign addresses in a peaceful way the proper stance for impartial spectators is a "wishful
participation that borders closely on enthusiasm” toward it even if one disagrees on a lot of details. (I prefer basic income schemes (a cause promoted by patriots as diverse as Tom Paine or Milton Friedman.))
I've never felt so much like an unreconstructed base-determines-superstructure Marxist as I have when reading about the events in Egypt these last few weeks.
A vanishingly small number of press stories report how badly food insecurity has gotten in Egypt these last few years (go through THIS SLIDE SHOW by the World Food Programme for statistics, including the fact that 31% of Egyptian children in 2011 are stunted due to insufficient caloric intake), and even less about how this is in part the result of the leading edge of global warming caused environmental catastrophe which, given the inaction of the world's polluters these last few decades, is certain to get much worse.
Superstructure debates about constitutions, islamism, majoritarian "democracy," etc. are essential (please take time to see the kid to right if you haven't). But unless people have enough food, they can lead to a misunderstanding about what must be done. The problem is that when someone's child is in danger of starving, they have absolutely nothing to lose, and when enough people have nothing to lose all bets are off.
When American reporters talk about "economic stagnation" in Europe, readers are likely to think of their 401k's losing value and their home values decreasing, not about inability to feed their kids (though that happens here too, just not to the average reader of the Wall Street Journal).
Historically, massive food insecurity produces a set of horrible options: (1) wars to attempt to steal other people's resources and that also function to kill off the hungry populations, (2) revolutions that usually lead to (1) (this happened in France from the food riots under Louis the XVIth leading inexorably to Napoleon), or (3) a state that uses so much violence that people with dying kids are convinced they in fact still have something to lose (Ireland, China, the Soviet Union).
These kinds of factors seem to me to have far more power historically than the kinds of debates being covered in the American press. This is particularly galling because if we discussed these things honestly there might be some realization that the United States would do much better to send food and agricultural help, and to do something about global warming. But instead we send weapons.
For the state colleges and the University of California it is recommended that: The two governing boards reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.
Please see the letter sent today from Alisa Messer, President of AFT 2121, which represents ALL faculty (over 1,000) at City College of San Francisco. This attack, among many other things, is an attack on some of the best conditions that have been won for contingent faculty (and therefore for their students) anywhere in the USA.
you could do much worse than Graham Harman's blog (the American Press, as well as Al Jazeera, are pretty hopeless thus-far).
In addition to what's happening outside of his window, his posts today have links to the most important twitter feeds of people out and about in the protests. The twitter posts also have some really good links to long-form essays explaining what's been going on.
This is the most beautifully haunting song ever recorded.
The title is from an older gospel song that is about the day Jesus died. I'm also pretty sure that Ry Cooder studied it intensely while preparing the Paris, Texas soundtrack, musical accompaniment to another sad story.
I was talking a couple of months ago with a very close friend of mine who works in commercial information technology and we were comparing the ways that academia and industry differed. One of the ways surprised me a great deal.
In academia, when you get a job offer from another institution, you are expected to go to the administrators in your institution and see if they'll make a counter-offer. If the counter-offer is big enough, you might stay. I should note that in an era of flat pay, this is a perfectly rational thing for employees to do. But my friend has made me worry whether it is rational for administrators to make counteroffers. My friend said that a lot of managers in I.T. refuse to make counteroffers, for the following sorts of reasons:
The skills involved in getting a job offer and actually doing excellent work are not tightly correlated enough for it to be rational for managers to play the game. If you always meet counteroffers the end result is that you'll be overpaying all of the "Mr. Hair and Teeth" (I"m not being faceitous when I say that this is actually a technical term in indusrial I.T.) types and underpaying the weird people who actually do the work.
I.T. work is collaborative and great pay disparities on working teams is profoundly destructive to the kind of esprit de corps necessary for doing a great job.
Lots of people don't go on the job market because they are happy with how you are running the company; if you waste your payroll rewarding job hoppers you are punishing the very people who are happy with how you are doing things.
It takes a lot of effort to go on the market; if you make counteroffers you are effectively paying people for not working.
Independent of whether the prospective job hopper thinks she is acting in good faith, if you as a manager reward it you are encouraging massive dishonesty. People will string along other companies just to get a pay raise in your company. This will justifiably make other companies angry with you the manager for fostering an environment that encourages duplicity and wastes time (which equals money) of everyone concerned. It also infuriates the other employees who are clearer about when they are acting in good faith and refuse to play the game of stringing along other companies.
My friend was really emphatic about the above and in fact tells his employees not to come to him for counteroffers, and whenever one of them gets a job offer says "that sounds like a very good opportunity, you should think carefully about it."
The thing is, everything he said makes sense to me as applied to the practice in academia. I should also say that in our case the counteroffer practice seems to have leaked down from the job hopping administrative class (the average tenure for a provost is under three years, at which point they take another job) and is one of the ways they inflate their salaries so much beyond market value.
I think in some ways academia is where bad management ideas come to die. Anyone who has been subject to "strategic planning" or "assessment" knows that any business that went in for such nonsense would get decimated by competition that didn't. I think that this business of counteroffers is something similar. When I've seen it happen the relevant administrators all too often act like bad movie imitations of business people.
Am I missing anything? This is I hope merely academic (in the pejorative sense) for me since one of my prayers is that I'll never be a chair.
After burning part of my summer writing "assessment reports," it is a relief to find kindred spirits. In the middle of an epic rant about E. Gorden Gee, Paul Campos writes:
One thing that rarely gets asked in the context of all this getting and spending is: What exactly is that money supposed to be for? In theory, of course, it’s for “education.” In practice, a whole lot of it goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine after being on a research university’s faculty for nearly a quarter-century, consist of inventing justifications for their own existence, while harassing faculty to fill out evaluations of various kinds (in a particularly Kafkaesque twist, many of these evaluations are supposed to be of the administrators’ own job performance).
The thing I hated most about church camp when I was a kid was feeling pressured to partake in totalitarian pretend happiness. Everybody is singing an overwhelmingly hokey and in fact manifestly stupid song like "Rise and Shine" (I refuse to provide a link) while vying with themselves to exceed one another in amounts of phoney enthusiasm for Dear Leader.
As an adult I actually don't feel this way in church any more (the purpose of liturgical conservatism is to prevent the kind of thing manifest in the song to right). And I'm sure part of the reason I became an academic is because it's one of the few places where you might find yourself colleagues with an older Holden Caufield (and s/he's thriving, doing cool stuff and with an equally grumpy spouse). But my God these assessment meetings bring back unhappy memories. Too many otherwise intelligent people go to ridiculous links to demonstrate that they buy into the pretense that God Assessment could possibly intervene to improve the lot of their unit. It's submental.
I've been reading Walter Cerf's wonderful preface to the Harris and Cerf edition of Hegel'sDifferenzschrift. The nicest thing about it is the long speech that Cerf imagines Schelling and Hegel making upon a visit to Kant, explaining to the snoozing man how critical philosophy leads to speculative philosophy. It's just a wonderful pulling together of so many important dialectical strands in German Idealism.
Another thing kind of weirded me out though. Cerf really interestingly notes how the conceptual divisions that Hegel attempted to overcome were not some kind of abstract game but in some sense constitutive anxieties of the age. The root distinction between particular and universal has all sorts of historical resonances such as issues concerning the relation between an autonomous, yet alienated, individual and the community that both nurtures and stifles him (and it is a "him" with Hegel). In order to be able to be intellectuals, the young Hegel and friends lived in a kind of painful monastic self-denial that exacerbated these tensions (cf. Kierkegaard), and they (unlike Soren) really did for a time at least hope that the French Revolution would somehow be the historical overcoming of them.
Of course existentialism turned necessity into a virtue, taking the very tensions that Hegel and friends analyzed to not be things that could be sublimated, but instead things just constitutive of the human condition. Some strains of Speculative Realism go this one better, and see these tensions as inscribed in the non-human universe itself. Tristan Garcia is to some extent a metaphysical (that is British, not American) Hegelian with no Aufhebung.
Reading Garcia and Cerf together made me wonder if our current time has any constitutive tensions analogous to all of the particular/universal dichotomies that haunted Hegel. With Garcia, I think many of Hegel's are still with us. But to some extent we are used to many of them now. Again, the tension between liberal autonomism and communitarianism, and crap aspects of both, are just facts of life we all unsuccessfully navigate now in ways big and little. What interests me tonight is whether there is anything like this that future Walter Cerfs might describe as distinctive of our point in history? I realize that this is probably a silly game, but I'm interested if anyone has any suggestions.
Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It's part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.
The Economist's takeaway:
That is to say, students have faced rapidly rising tuition costs not due to large increases in the cost of instruction, but mostly due to the dramatic, rapid growth of the university bureaucratic class, which offers nothing of obvious worth to the education of their universities' increasingly cash-strapped and indebted students.
According to a 2010 study on administrative bloat from the libertarian Goldwater Institute, tuition tripled from 1993 to 2007 at my own school, the University of Houston. Over that period, instructional spending per student changed not at all, while administrative spending per pupil nearly doubled. This is fairly representative of the national pattern. This seems to me to suggest that state university systems might first seek savings in leaner management before outsourcing instruction to glorified versions of YouTube.
Obviously leaner management isn't going to happen anywhere in this country any time soon, but there's some consolation that even otherwise reliable neo-liberals realize that there might be some limit to how much of our time and wealth our overlords can hoover away from us.
*At some point I'll try to describe assessment processes in all of their surreality and also try to discern the effects on all of us that these various collective dishonesties this kind of bureaucratic makework requires, but right now the whole thing has made me too stupid to say anything intelligent about anything at all.]
It's not helpful to make the arguments of labor’s enemies for them. So please don’t trumpet efficiency on behalf of the owners when its an argument that is almost always used as a cudgel against the rights of labor. We all know what efficiency really means: less money for labor and more for management and owners.... When management trumpets efficiency as the justification for subcontracting or any other labor practice [JP: such as changing the TT vs precarious labor ratio in HE] it's usually a front for disenfranchising labor and increasing management importance and scope.
I'm reminded of Jeff Nealon's biting and insightful "The Associate Vice-Provost in the Gray Flannel Suit" (here and here), an example of outsmarting in which he says we should welcome honest management consultants into universities, because the fat they would cut would be administration, not faculty. The trick is to find the honest management consultants!
Christ, it's depressing how smart one can be in one area while believing the most transparently idiotic things in others (especially when moral culpability is involved).
Read THIS COLUMN ("MOOC Professors Claim No Responsibility for How Courses Are Used") for yet more evidence concerning the correctness of John Calvin on innate depravity.
Even from a self-interested perspective it's risible. Just how short-termed can one's thinking be? If this continues much longer not enough of their own students are going to be able to get enough good jobs to keep the scam going.
I want to keep public higher education public in a sense [in which] for-profit content disseminated on the internet is not. A large part of Coursera's appeal lies in your own nearly-socialist vision of an informational Common to which access should no longer be restricted based on the scarcity of places at existing universities and colleges. I personally wish that this part of your vision were coming from the leaders of UC. Instead they are trying to sell students on paying higher tuition because of the demonstrated role of elite universities in generating income inequality while also persuading the legislature to increase “access” so we can generate even more revenue from the tuition we charge.
Here I agree with your and Coursera’s business logic’s implicit criticism of public higher education. Public education has all but lost sight of its egalitarian mission while raising its prices at three times the rate of inflation.
I disagree, however, with Coursera’s implicit claim that privately-financed MOOCs can fulfill the promise once made, and now abandoned, by public systems to be an engine for reducing social and economic hierarchy.
If you want the Biblical version: we have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.
The idea that there is something like an efficient market in scientific ideas (EMISI), supporting a ruling 'paradigm,' is very dangerous in the policy sciences. Even if we assume that scientists are individually pure truth-seekers,
imperfections in scientific markets can produce non-epistemic
(and epistemic) externalities (recall here, including criticism of a famous paper by Aumann). EMISI provides cover for 'The Everybody Did It' (TEDI) Syndrome (recall here). With Merel Lefevere, I have been exploring in what circumstances the presence of TEDI Syndrome is indicative of collective negligence (or a negative externalities). One possible consequence of our approach is that those scientists/institutions that interface with policy should seek out critics and critical alternatives to the existing paradigm. Jon Faust, an economist, sometimes acts as such an in-house critic at the United States Federal Reserve (the Fed) and the Riksbank. Two of his relatively non-technical papers (here and here) prompted this post.
Central Banks rely, in part, on models developed by academic economists to set monetary policy. Yet, Faust notes two problems in the way the intellectual supply-chain works: (i) there is almost no venue for "high-level conversation" about "academic work and its relation to actual practice." (53) (ii) State of the art models are often applied without full knowledge of all their possible consequences in the real world because these models models "have substantial areas of omission and coarse approximation" (55) In light of (i) and (ii), Faust's aim (iii) is to help central bankers and the modellers develop "a formal literature on best methods and practices for using materially flawed models in practical policymaking," (55) or "how to make the most responsible use in policymaking of what we now know." (60) My first reaction was, 'it is about time;' my second, more generous response was warmth in my philosophical heart that Faust is engaging in philosophy of scientific methodology and non-ideal regime/institution construction. His main idea is to adapt a kind of policy protocol from a literature that "goes under names like “human relevance of animal studies” and “interspecies extrapolation” (57) in the practice(s) of Toxicology.