Sunday, January 31, 2010


First of all, let me say that I'm really enjoying doing research.  And, for the first time in my life I really think I have something to say that might, actually, be worth other people hearing.  So, this isn't bitterness about having to write, research, publish.  I'm honestly enjoying this.

Having said that, I have to say that it seems to me publishing, at least in my field, has changed.  And not for the better.

When I was in graduate school, publishing was not expected (and lest you think this was just my school, two hotshots in philosophy were briefly at my grad institution (not as students) and neither of them published much (if anything) in graduate school.  The expectation these days is to publish, publish, publish.  At least by the time your finishing graduate school and, ideally, while you were an undergrad.  Now, seriously, after, say, 6 years in a field, how much can a person really have to say that's worthwhile?  I'm guessing that much of this is publishing just to be publishing.  Further, how can encouraging folks to publish with this little experience under their proverbial belts not, at the same time, encourage some arrogance?

A quick glance around the articles being published suggests not that these articles are horrible, but that they are, largely, inconsequential.  Maybe I'm overly cautious when I write, but I try to make sure that what I'm adding to the conversation is actually something new which means I have to do a fair amount of digging into the history of the topic (and related topics) to find out what's already been said.  And, I agonize that what I'm saying, in addition to being new, is not entirely trivial.  Again, I'm not saying that what's being published is bad but I wonder if there wasn't such a push to publish whether folks would actually be inclined to publish things.  Does every author who is publishing feel like what they're saying in the article needs to be said, is actually adding to the conversation and will move it in a helpful direction?

At least one of our graduates who went on to a very good graduate school ended up dropping out to go into business because he decided that much of the field was about focusing on very specific little problems that were mostly all about proving how smart the author was or capable of analysis but not about really contributing to the betterment of a conversation.

So, there's this on the one side.

On the other side, I really don't fully understand how the push to publish so much actually helps us to do our jobs.  Maybe I'm not a very good philospher, but I'm not seeing how the majority of articles published actually make the world a better place.  I'll grant, happily, that there is a role for academics in general and philosophers in particular in the world.  But writing highly specialized articles for other philosophers who are conversant in that highly specialized area doesn't seem to me to be adding much to the world.   I am more than happy to consider that this position of mine is mistaken, but I don't see how all of the time spent on research, writing, etc. by so many people is actually a good use of time.  Or, rather why it makes sense to spend large amounts of money paying people to do this with their time.  Is it just that given the vast quantity of stuff being produced more of value would be produced than if very little were being produced because we (writers) are fairly bad at recognizing what has value and what doesn't?

Then there's the sense I have that most people in academia (or maybe just my field - but I doubt it) view teaching as something that they have to do in order to do what they really want to be doing.  Or, even if they love teaching, they pretty much view teaching as something that you either know how to do or don''s basically a matter of mastering a couple basic concepts and then there's nothing left to learn.

As far as I can tell, the historical sources of academia are two: (a) monks and (b) artists/thinkers who had patrons.  The monks were working out some real problems in the church (or at least problems that they took to be real) and the artists/thinkers had patrons, I'm guessing, because the patrons thought that it'd be a nice feather in their cap to have been a patron to highly talented person G.  But once we add in the teaching part of this -- particularly teaching when the students are diverse and aren't going on to become monks -- that the rationale for research and writing begins to dwindle.

But, maybe the higher quantiy will produce more quality work (while also producing more lesser quality work) than low quantity would argument is the rationale.  It does make sense to me is a long term, utilitarian way even though it doesn't make sense on a individual, person to person, article to article way.

Another way, maybe, to think about it is who does more with their lives...a professional athlete or a high school coach?  But who do most athletes aspire to emulate?

I am now beginning to ramble and so I shall sign off and go do some writing!! :-)

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