Friday, November 20, 2009

Feeling Technical?

I have an enormous problem communicating with the academic liberals--particularly the social scientists. I'm not talking about the sociologists who have creative, seminal minds like David Riesman or Robert Park. I'm talking about the ones who are just sort of electronic accessories to computers. They suffer from verbal diarrhea and mental constipation--I don't know any other way to describe it politely.
--Saul Alinsky, Quoted in Horwitt
Someone close to me is in a Ph.D. program that essentially drives their students into the ground with work (50-60 hours a week). The stats classes are actually a class and a half squeezed into one without any pretense of actual pedagogy. ("Here's another powerpoint, and another, and yes another. See how they relate? Good. Moving on . . . .) This is the usual approach of many in lower-level universities (like mine) that have to prove their mojo by making their students suffer.

Seems to me like this is likely to produce technicians, not scholars.

Another reason why social foundations are important: to defend the world against academics created in programs like this.

Talk amongst yourselves . . .


Adam Gurri said...

I concur. Taleb calls such people "idiot savants" rather than technicians.

Economics is by far the worst about this. In the field today, writing the way that Adam Smith or David Hume did is not considered theoretical work--it's only "theory" if it involves specifying some mathematical model.

Aaron Schutz said...

I'm sure there is a better way to distinguish, but I've been thinking of this as the difference between "theories" which are rich, must be appropriated into actual contexts to use, and derived out of rich experience, and "mechanisms" which are derived from theories about interacting measurable "factors."

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

Ugh. You said it. There is a critical difference between churning out technicians versus scholars. I'm not so sure it's really a result of you being at a low-level university. I'd say it's just an overall trend. The ones I know who have succeeded (not all of them, mind you) are bores and technicians.