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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Documentary that Ben Stein Could Have Made about Higher Education

A flood of ideas washes over me as I investigate the quirks of higher education, scholarly publishing, and peer review: namely, what the problems are, and what should be done about it.

More and more I am convinced that the distraction that is intelligent design has given self-styled gadflies something to talk, primarily (and self-righteously) to themselves about - and a means of leaving themselves out of the real conversations that are beginning to take place, and which should take place. Given their religious-political agenda, perhaps that's a good thing; but the unfortunate thing is that they're wasting time and money (not Jerry Falwell's money, but Ahmanson, Jr.'s money) on worthless "debates" and unethical pursuits. And that's tragic.

It's all the more tragic because there are a lot of problems with higher education, scholarly publishing, and scientific/historical/humanities peer review. Below is a list of my concerns, which are more than worthy of a documentary featuring a high-brow celebrity. Think of the honorable, gadfly reputation that Ben Stein could have received - a reputation that he, a mediocre actor, faux economist, and would-be religious leader, apparently now craves with all the zeal of a former-calypso-performer-turned-evangelist.

(I'm sorry, I can't resist another dig at the late Jerry Falwell - mostly for the "former" label, and also because Ben Stein in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed deliberately asked about funding of the Discovery Institute from Falwell in order to avoid asking about the funding of the Discovery Institute by Christian Reconstructionists. Clever feint, that.)

-Scholarly publication is the main vehicle for disseminating research results outside of specialized conferences, but the publishers have consolidated into a powerful few holding sway over a captive audience.

-Scientists and researchers, far from being the domineering bloc that Stein portrayed in Expelled, in order to publish (which builds reputations and is a requirement for tenure) are forced to sell one-time rights to their writings to scholarly journal publishers, and then purchase their own writings from these increasingly expensive journals.

-Almost every scientist and researcher has a horror story to tell about peer review - almost every single one. Legitimate scientists and researchers just don't whine and go drama-queen about it the way that the poseurs in Expelled did. (What a bunch of theatrics!) There is much to be fixed in peer review, although Stein's Final Solution would be (paradoxically, or appropriately) to commit genocide against the entire process. It would seem that the only person who should not complain is Richard Sternberg, who after all did get published because his article was rammed through to publication without any peer review!

-The price of scholarly journals have grown faster than the rate of inflation, imposing a heavy burden on libraries, colleges, and universities. (This is called the "crisis" in scholarly publishing.)


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