The desire to make academia more politically tolerant has blinded us to how underwhelming it actually is.
Great piece. It is ironic that as academia comes to be increasingly defined by mediocrity we are expected to deify its members.
"At the same time as an ever more bloated scientific bureaucracy churns out masses of research results, the majority of which are likely outright false, scientists themselves are lauded as heroes and science is upheld as the only legitimate basis for policy-making."
I'm late to this discussion but I really appreciate your writing here, Jonah.
I have a PhD in a social science and have taught in Communications and Public Administration. I recently retired after 35 years in these fields.
Much of my research methodology education involved the classic studies but also plenty of contemporary work and the focus was just as much on what NOT to do as what TO do and how it's best done. That, I think, was good. In the end I focused on the big effect size and real-world significance brass rings, neither of which I grasped very often.
Ethics committees/IRBs are necessary but cumbersome realities if a college or university is to avoid being cut off from Federal research funding.
The biggest problem that I see, in retrospect, is that in all scientific enterprise, whether in social or "natural" sciences, the peer review and editorial process is rife with corruption. Manuscripts that run counter to the official narrative of the journal (or book publisher) are rejected outright or get such bad reviews that the author has to withdraw and find a friendlier journal with a lower impact factor just to get a piece published.
In other words, it's all political. "Science", or the pursuit of knowing a thing, has Stage Four Cancer.
The same is true for the adminisphere in universities. More funds are expended on an ever-burgeoning administrative class than anything else.
All of my work amounted to...nothing, whether it was in research or administration. Teaching grad courses was quite rewarding, and students regularly reported my courses as life-changing. That was enough to counterbalance the other, very frustrating, aspects of that work.
The secret, I thought, was to do the exact opposite of what most of my professors usually did. That really did work. I was in a category of my own; I stood apart; and my students almost always responded by joining my maverick ethic.
Is it perhaps simply that there are too many social scientists chasing too little money and status in a field that will only achieve small incremental results? I think the same is true in fields such as literature (the study of, not the writing of).
I was a sociology major as an undergrad and while I enjoyed learning about the great theorists, when it came to writing a thesis, I couldn't think of a single study I could run that wouldn't end up with bullshit results. I think if someone is exceptionally perceptive and articulate, writing an essay or a piece of fiction based on observation is more likely to capture reality.
Interesting article. What are some companies you would recommend joining, other than the ones you mentioned?