Monday, February 17, 2014

Relevant Academicians needed

Nicholas Kristoff Professors, we Need You "SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates." via Ramarao Kanneanti timeline. Ramarao remarks " But, we can surely simplify enough to explain to educated outsiders. By relating to the models that they are familiar with, we can even make it relevant." My response "What you said is possible in the usual sciences and there have been some excellent writers even at the blog level from Sean Caroll to Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong. Possibly people tend to emphasize their own areas and at the very small level our intutive concepts do not seem to work. Also there is the problem of university publicity machines pushing their own 'breakthroughs'. I have more problem with social sciences including economics. People like Mankiw and Krugman seem to start from the same basics, write clearly and say different things. It is not clear to me how sound the foundations are. Their conclusions probably come from their political biases. Dissenting views are ignored or suppressed. For example the empirical work of David Card or those of Marxist writers like Paul Mattick who long ago disagreed with Keynes. Now many seem to agree with some of his analysis and it is becoming clearer with the work of Thomas Piketty. Card explained his problems "I've subsequently stayed away from the minimum wage literature for a number of reasons. First, it cost me a lot of friends. People that I had known for many years, for instance, some of the ones I met at my first job at the University of Chicago, became very angry or disappointed. They thought that in publishing our work we were being traitors to the cause of economics as a whole." So politics seems to play a role in social science literature and makes it difficult for us to trust the experts even when they write clearly."

Some ancient wisdom about producing public intellectuals "VI-iv-18: He who wishes that a son should be born to him who would be a reputed scholar, frequenting the assemblies and speaking delightful words, would study all the Vedas and attain a full term of life, should have rice cooked with the meat of a vigorous bull or one more advanced in years, and he and his wife should eat it with clarified butter. Then they would be able to produce such a son."  from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad via   
An earlier article in Foreign Policy discusses "Why  does so much of the academic writing on international affairs seem to be of little practical value, mired in a "cult of irrelevance"? "
See also Atul Gawande article Cowboys and pit crews : " the reality that medicine’s complexity has exceeded our individual capabilities as doctors."

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