Sunday, July 29, 2012

Profs who can, PEER-REVIEW ; those who can't , THINK TANK : revenge of the second raters !

If the climate denial scam succeeds, the "second rate" , not the Meek, will inherit the Earth --- or what will be left of it

Think of today's thousands of advocacy think tanks as a "pollution by-product", cast off by the rapid expansion of the world's universities in the 1970s.
By the 1980s we had a huge population of second raters with pass grade degrees who had been burned by the parents' firm belief that anyone  ---anyone--- with a university degree had a job for life, regardless of their individual talent and drive.

Which was true - in their parents' 1940s and 1950s.

But by 1980, the market was flooded and once more talent and drive weighted more than a mere diploma : businesses had been burned too often with MBAs with no eye for business, newspapers with BJs with no ear for a great lead sentence.

And to be frank, too many universities, in their rush to expand, had hired too many profs with no talent for real teaching, real research or - most importantly - no real ability to get along in what is a very collegiate atmosphere.

Second rate minds combined with prickly personalities --- truly the bane of every university department.

Everybody it seemed - society and the university -  would be better off if has-bin profs joined their pass grade BA grads at the new libertarian think tanks springing up like, well like redbrick universities had in the previous decades.

These think tanks had lots of money, but could only flourish if they could lure a certain type of had-been academic to them.

They were needed to give a fig leaf of credibility to what, by all other measures, was just another lobbyist-group-for-hire.

The libertarian philosophy is very very attractive to people with second rate minds, but without the matching insight to realize and accept that fact.

I have a second rate mind but I hope my life shows I have accepted and adjusted to that fact : no life in the peer-reviewed fast-lane for me.

The chief characteristic of the other type of second rater is that, against all evidence, they still think they are right and it is mere jealousy by all the world's academic elites that has kept their work outside the best journals.

Finally the think tanks provide an attractive alternative : a bureaucratic sinecure for life .

Because the hurly-burly of the real business world is all very nice to write about for most libertarians; but in practise, as unattractive to the second rate as the peer-review fast-lane was.

Libertarian bureaucrats, (avoid the ironic obvious, dear reader !)  managing budgets of a cool $ 100 million a year.

 "Research" institutions, albeit in fancy big skyscrapers next to the White House, that let them say whatever they want for as long as they want.

Without the need for painstakingly long pesky original research or for enduring the formality of passing through the peer review portal for work that is, after all , self-evidently first rate.

But let us play the Devil's Advocate and ask if these institutions are not the peer-review equivalent of diploma mills .

 Four decades of huge budgets ( by most research institution standards)in some cases ----- and yet never an article published in a journal covered by The Web of Science or similar indices of quality research.

That is why I believe that advocacy think tanks are a scam : gullible senile billionaires being bilked out of hundreds of millions to support 'research' that has no credibility outside the think tank echo chamber.

The billionaires could have better spent this money on commissioning tenured, peer-reviewed, professors with libertarian views to produce nuanced libertarian-oriented articles in peer-reviewed journals.

These articles would have been far less strident, admittedly, but in the end, in the long term, far more credible......

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