A recent Nature article sheds new light on our decaying scientific institutions.
> There’s nothing unusual about this: In the premodern era, doctors were routinely mocked as worthless charlatans, and all areas of scientific inquiry were larded with total lunacy well through the eighteenth century.
It perhaps _is_ unusual that our scientific (really, scientistic) institutions now combine the charlatanism of the 18th century with the prestige of the 20th.
Joe: For the last time, I'm pretty sure what's killing the crops is this Brawndo stuff.
Secretary of State: But Brawndo's got what plants crave. It's got electrolytes.
Attorney General: So wait a minute. What you're saying is that you want us to put water on the crops.
Attorney General: Water. Like out the toilet?
Joe: Well, I mean, it doesn't have to be out of the toilet, but, yeah, that's the idea.
Secretary of State: But Brawndo's got what plants crave.
Attorney General: It's got electrolytes.
Joe: Okay, look. The plants aren't growing, so I'm pretty sure that the Brawndo's not working. Now, I'm no botanist, but I do know that if you put water on plants, they grow.
Secretary of Energy: Well, I've never seen no plants grow out of no toilet.
Secretary of State: Hey, that's good. You sure you ain't the smartest guy in the world?
Joe: Okay, look. You wanna solve this problem. I wanna get my pardon. So why don't we just try it, okay, and not worry about what plants crave?
Attorney General: Brawndo's got what plants crave.
Secretary of Energy: Yeah, it's got electrolytes.
Joe: What are electrolytes? Do you even know?
Secretary of State: It's what they use to make Brawndo.
Joe: Yeah, but why do they use them to make Brawndo?
Secretary of Defense: 'Cause Brawndo's got electrolytes.
This certainly matches my own experience, in which the 'revolutionary' work tends to be 'someone did a computer simulation and confirmed an idea that was first put forward in the 50s'. Time and again I'd come across old papers and think, wow, we're still debating exactly the same shit we were discussing two generations ago, using exactly the same paradigms, with the main differences being prettier graphics and huge computational resources invested into really nailing down those uncertainties.
I'm a little more sanguine about the future, though. As the academy pushes out the talented in favor of midwits with fashionable perversions, it will lose its ability to impose intellectual conformity on the geniuses, whose time will furthermore no longer be sucked up by precisely the unrewarding minutiae you opened the piece (justifiably) complaining about. Instead, they're going to start having much more interesting conversations in the ad hoc ersatz academy of Internet U. That intellectual ferment is likely to be productive.
Of course in the short term we'll see even stronger divergence between the hyperrealities of offialdom and the renaissancists. Attitudes towards all things corona are an obvious example of this. The wholesale, reflexive rejection of the ideas put forth by Hancock et al. within the legacy institutions, as compared to the interest and widespread acceptance of these concepts within alternative spheres, is another (not that Hancock is necessarily correct, just that the split in how the ideas are received is reflective of the pattern).
Society is going through a full schizoidal schism but in the long run I think the midwit Marxcissists are just gonna make themselves irrelevant due to how boring they are.
There´s also this aspect that technological progress is subject to political redefinitions. For example, if one accepts that reduction of CO2 emissions (or emissions for any allegedly climate-destroying chemical) for every particular technology is what now constitutes progress, then a lot of resources may be poured into the pursuit of such goals, with the results also leading to any number of papers and patents.
However, this kind of progress, with all the trappings historically associated with technological advances, would not result in the kind of improvement that the general public is used to from "progress". By defining essentially arbitrary goals, you can keep the technological progress circus continuing for a while.
Decline and fraud. Lack of original thought and innovation. Not just here. Look at the entertainment vertical. How much is recycled rebooted sequelled formulaic garbage?
You had me at "There are assistants who should in theory do this work for me, but I have learned that their involvement is to be minimised, as they’re just as likely to introduce more problems as they are to solve them". Yep, if it has to be done right these days, you're often stuck doing it yourself. I fully relate!
I can't help but wonder if part of this problem is the ever growing government grant system that has established guidelines for universities and corporations to meet in order to qualify for funding. This approach has created competition by new research students to meet the guidelines with something, anything that will qualify for funding. Grad students are pressed to come up with something, anything that will qualify for funding or they won't move forward. Overly narrow research gives less significant advances but it's a safe move and on the career path to success in the academic/corporate world I suspect. And each year the ball can be slowly moved down the field with follow on small advances. It's all about the career perhaps.
Welcome to the fine World of Cancel Culture where everyone just falls into line voluntarily.
I've heard reports that academic papers are now routinely encouraged (read: commanded) to cite purported academic authors who are "Persons of Color" or some other purportedly "marginalized" people, regardless of the value of that "research." I believe this is called "decolonizing" academia.
Add to that outright laziness and the result is as you report.
In one sense, this is to be expected. The universe always trends towards equilibrium. Disruptive research presumes disequilibrium.
In another sense, equilibrium, viewed from the perspective of the laws of thermodynamics, is "heat death"--change ends, and the system becomes static.
What the sciences need are the new agents of disequilibrium, the Einsteins, the Max Plancks, the Michaelson and Morley types, or the Watson and Crick types, in order to shake things up a bit.
A recent commentator (I can't remember who) said "we were promised flying cars and we got 80 characters". Thanks for this timely and important post - I've been worried about it in Physics as the last real breakthrough was a century ago and that was quantum theory. Lee Smolin (I think) said that string theory has cost tens of thousands of man-years and hasn't produced a single testable prediction. This is because you can get grants to do String Theory but not anything else.
If one good comes out of the Covid mess then it might be that it has awakened us to the failure of our scientific institutions: mainly biomedicine but more and more the other 'hard' sciences. The reasons for these failures are many and varied: but boil down to commercial, political and ideological interference combined with, as someone commented below, a culture of risk-aversion. We all need to man up.
Professional philosophy seems to be in the same boat, from my experience. I witnessed an acceleration in careerism just in my short (less than a decade) career as a philosopher. The overspecialization is also plague, and the two always seemed obviously connected to me. People make whole careers out of raising miniscule and useless objections to older, established views, and then supplying the solution to that useless objection. This is the general pattern to publication and it leads exactly nowhere. Attempting to publish anything that might actually sunder one of these established, dead-end views is either ignored or ridiculed (mostly the former).
Even worse is the proliferation of waman philosophers, who need their hands held through grad school but, brimming with conscientiousness and ass kissing, they make perfect early career professors. I taught in a dept that was 90% female and it was like living in some kind of bizarro world philosophy nut house where only affirmations were welcomed and where legitimate criticism got the silent treatment. I felt like I had been sucked through a wormhole and into some kind of Sunday school in hell.
There is so much fertile comment that may be made here. The politicisation of science, the policy based 'evidence', the extensive invalid modelling, all products and 'tools' of this conformist moment. If it is possible to generalise here, or perhaps at least capture a portion of the observed phenomenon with a generalised statement, perhaps one looks at "performance based research funding" (PBRF) as the means by which a careers are advanced and "output" (almost anything that sounds impressive of acquires through sleight of pen, an impressive metric) both individual and institutional becomes a metric for funding. Then there is the torture of grant application, the reams of nonsense to satisfy the exigencies of political correctness, neo-Marxist DIE ideology, rainbows, institutional and community unicorns. A further point, is that the methodologies of yore often left much to be desired, and the application of new methods to old processes of investigation frequently lead to new and valuable insights.
A while back I read a hypothesis that suggested we would enter a period of apparent stagnation, following the scintillating period of progress to which you allude. It was conjectured it would be a 'pause' a consolidation, prior to the next accelerando of insight and discovery.
Glass half full or half empty?
What's worse; is now the SYSTEM doesn't even require humans to select for these morons.
The system self selects.
The focus on footnotes is simply a way to create noise and distract, in order for conclusions to match the desired outcome.
One cause I haven't seen noted here is the Third Party Payor system of higher education. In my personal experience it began in Georgia with the Hope Scholarship, a program where anyone with a 3.0 was guaranteed an education. Well, the result(obvious in hindsight) was that it became very easy to get a B and required abject failure to get less than that because no professor wanted to be the one who knocked you off scholarship.
The next big hit was the jump in online classes, which are almost entirely worthless.
Once rigor and actual learning were gone, I think that they just replaced them with Indoctrination into the Woke Religion so that at least they were giving you SOMETHING.