Archive for September 22, 2010
Thanks to Janet Kolodner for sending this to me. I’m including two quotes from the letter to Physics Today. The first is the opening salvo, and the second points out that this “research obsession” is far broader than just physics and includes the humanities (and computer science?) as well.
In his review of Joseph Hermanowicz’s book Lives in Science: How Institutions Affect Academic Careers (University of Chicago, 2009), Robert Hilborn remarks, “The most important lesson [of the book] is that the science community’s obsession with research as the sole reason for recognition and reward leads to frustration and dissatisfaction when reality fails to match expectations. And that, as the sociologists would put it, ‘leads to anomie’ ” (PHYSICS TODAY, January 2010, page 48). Although that statement essentially describes my career in physics, I still find it shocking. How can brilliant people be so stupid?
The research obsession is both self-reinforcing and self-destructive. The eroding state of science and science education in the US today is at least partly due to that misguided and harmful attitude in our universities. It has disfigured the humanities into useless imitations of some kind of quantitative science and has made the exact sciences a shadow of what they ought to be as part of liberal education and knowledge. It’s tragic that at a time when science should be setting the standard for truth and understanding, science academics and administrators are too preoccupied with their own self-advancement to play the valuable and important leadership role.