Monday, March 3, 2014

Economy/Politics: Are Academics Irrelevant?

(Drivebycuriosity) - "Academics don´t matter in today’s great debates", claims New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. "Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors", he writes, but the profession is "irrelevant" (nytimes).

I agree, it seems that university scientists don´t participate in the public discussion. This is a huge shortfall. Science could be a great help to analyze problems and to develop solutions.

The Ukraine conflict is the newest example for this issue. You can find a lot of opinions from politicians, journalists, bank analysts and investment advisers, but there are not many contributions from the academic world - if any. Yet, the quarrel between Russia and the West (U.S. & Europe) and the possibility of sanctions against Putin would be the perfect field for game theorists who study the implications of action and response (wikipedia). Though, game theory - as it is researched & taught at universities - is highly abstract.  Game theorists usually work with mathematical models (equations) which don´t comply with practical current issues like the Ukraine conflict. The reality is too complex to fit into the streamlined models of these scientists.

I suppose that the focus on mathematical models is a general issue of university economics and other sciences.  I used to work as a science editor for a German economic magazine and tried to build bridges from the academic world (university economists) to the public (readers of the magazine). But the academics weren´t very cooperative. It seems to me that the majority of the academics is more interested in the elegance of their theories than in their practicability.

The majority of academics seems not to care about their public influence. They focus on writing highly academic papers which are relevant for their careers. These papers are published in extremely specialized - and very expensive - academic journals which are only read by other academics - a somewhat incestuous system. The focus on publishing academic papers, which is very time-consuming, also hinders academics to respond to current issues. When I asked them about a current problem, they told me that this is interesting but they didn´t have the time to deal with that.

But I also learned as a science editor that the public (the majority of the readers ) isn`t much interested in scientific articles anyway - even when they are written in a graspable manner. Science has the reputation of being too complicated and boring. It seems to me that there is an insurmountable gap between university academics and the public.

No comments:

Post a Comment