Saturday, March 12, 2011

Academia Is Obsolete

And good riddance to it. It's all very simple. Academia has exactly three missions:

  1. educate students by
    • making books available, and
    • having teachers put on performances
  2. certify people's educations
  3. perform research

The first mission, as everyone knows, is obsolete. Youtube provides many excellent lectures which are 99.9% as good as live performances for 0.1% the price. The writing's on the wall.

For the same reasons, the time of physical paper libraries is fast approaching an end. And good riddance since textbook publishers have long been using yearly textbook revisions in order to extort money from their customers. All to great waste and expense.

That's not even counting the fact that online textbooks can contain copious internal and external electronic links as well as video and interactive simulations. Not to mention how small and easy to carry electronic books (and lectures) are compared to their physical counterparts.

The second mission is also obsolete. Harry Collins has noted the steady draining of all authority from academia. The only department invented in modern times, computer science, produces certificates that don't matter a damn in the real world.

It also produces journals that are designed to be as obsolete as possible on the grounds that nothing new in computer science could ever hope to be properly scientific. The paper describing the publishing industry is itself hopelessly obsolete. Everything it describes in such tedious language boils down to laws #6, #19, #20, and #32 of System-antics.

  • Le Chatelier's Principle: Complex systems tend to oppose their own proper function. As systems grow in complexity, they tend to oppose their stated function.
  • Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being.
  • Intra-system goals come first.
  • As systems grow in size, they tend to lose basic functions.

With blatantly obvious specifics such as that the purpose of academic publishing is to enhance careers, make hiring decisions easier, and to be picked up by library administrators. The paper specifically fails to mention any attempts, any publisher or publication system, trying to go beyond the university feudal system whose support is the real purpose of academic publishing. Arxiv and c2 wiki both veritably leap to mind.

Harry Collins believes or hopes that there is some way to recover the authority of academia. Preferably for academics no doubt. After all, he is one. Well there isn't. I know it's only obvious to me for reasons I'm not going to get into, but ... basically, the forces (for universality and democratization of authority) which Harry Collins has identified as so efficiently breaking down the academic system of authority. Forces which are greatly amplified and magnified by peer to peer horizontal communication and self-directed learning. These forces which are breaking down academia's authority will continue to do so until academia is ground to NOTHING because there is NO WAY to resolve them until some entirely different system replaces academia and crushes it.

What we are seeing here is the introduction of a genuinely new force in modernity that is causing one of the most basic functions of academia, its authority, to disappear. This dynamic embodies laws #6, #18, and #32 of systemantics.

  • The mode of failure of a complex system cannot ordinarily be predicted from its structure.
  • The Newtonian Law of Systems Inertia: A system that performs a certain way will continue to operate in that way regardless of the need or of changed conditions.
  • A complex system cannot be "made" to work. It either works or it doesn't.

Academic authority simply doesn't work. And the forces that are weakening academic authority will not stop doing so until they are resolved. And they will never be resolved from within academia or from anything that can ever be absorbed BY academia for the simple reason that these forces are already far bigger than academia. Not more powerful, just bigger, consisting of a larger fraction of all human life. So academic authority will continue to shrivel up until something entirely different from, and in its critical dimension far larger than, academia steps up to put a bullet through its head and make soap out of its body fat. Academic Authority will die a miserable and inglorious death leaving Academia weaker than a long-term concentration camp survivor.

I will be cheering.

The third mission is the only one that's left and the North American universities have undermined it badly with their recent love for the patent system. I say recent but it's really a couple of decades old. There have been ample studies that universities obtaining patents barely recoup the costs of filing for the patents, if at all.

(Quite aside the fact the only thing the patent system does is stifle innovation. And it's not even good at this outside of biochem (eg, pharmaceuticals) so all it really does is add unnecessary costs.)

Anyways, the point is that NA universities' love of corporate attitudes (probably from having corporate scum in charge) does nothing to bring money to universities and does everything to erode the reputation of universities as a public service. A reputation which took a lot longer to build up (or rebuild) than it will take to be destroyed.

So NA universities have turned basic research from a public mission funded by public monies into a private for-profit endeavour. How long can they expect to hold onto public monies?

Now you might say this isn't a problem for all universities everywhere, but once universities disappear off the north american continent, how long will it take for people elsewhere to start asking some hard questions?

If all you need is a public basic research lab, then the format of a university isn't a very good one, is it? Hell, professors don't even like teaching. Or publishing in peer-reviewed journals (which suck). Or seeking grants. Or subordinating their research goals to more senior researchers that control everything nowadays.

It's past time to nuke this system and start from scratch!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree, because though you're kind of right, it's more like centralized state/corporate funded academia is losing its all encompassing control over the domain of higher learning.

Certain courses are no longer needed at a university level, or not cost-effective compared to online alternatives, but some are. These could be the highly technical or abstruse topics unlikely to be covered by Khanacademy (or at least covered well). Also, though the content may be similar, the quality of the classroom experience is usually vastly better, because it provides more incentives to pay attention, and questions can get answered much more quickly. It's just a higher bandwidth mode of communication.

Also, in certain fields it is helpful to have some sort of certification regarding your expertise. The natural sciences would be an obvious choice, but it's still relevant in other faculties, too. If you look at arXiv, there's a striking correlation between the most cited contributors and the most highly accredited authors. It suggests that the current system of accreditation actual does still signify something.

Third, if you look at how research is done, it usually requires knowledgeable people in communication with each other such people. Universities provide a good setting for this. I know you take issue with the filing for patents of new discoveries, but the new discoveries themselves are the purpose of academia (everything else is administration). Argue with the wisdom of decades-long intellectual property rights, but I find it unlikely that we'd continue discovering interesting things at the present pace without well funded labs/research programs staffed by accredited people who themselves studied at a university.

I know you look at this from a systems perspective, but "academia" is not some monolithic entity doomed to fail or succeed as a whole. The parts that are effective/relevant in the new paradigm will continue to exist, and the stuff that is made irrelevant will become more and more evidently useless until it goes away.

As far as I can tell, public funding for universities is a positive thing for society. You educate people at a reasonable cost, accredit those people as knowledgeable in the subjects they learnt about, and provide a place for them to do research in their chosen field. If you have some sort of suggestion for a more organic, emergent style of mass education and certification (because some people end up doing things like operating heavy machinery and performing heart surgery, for which certification is pretty important) that also allows them to do research that can benefit everybody, I'm all ears, but it still seems that academia is far from obsolete.

Richard Kulisz said...

You're not actually engaging any of my arguments.

Your first "argument" is just minimizing mine in order to try to dismiss it. You admit that "certain courses" are no longer needed in universities. Without admitting that "certain courses" include all 1st and 2nd year uni courses, and even most 3rd and 4th year. Your claim that classrooms are higher bandwidth environments is the exact opposite of the truth at least for 1st and 2nd year.

You can see the prof better in a video and you are capable of rewinding, something which improves attention, as the stupid habit of note-taking certainly does not! And that's not taking into account online texts which are higher bandwidth since they are hyperlinked. Online courses allow online texts. Classroom courses do not.

The truth is you're just a fucking liar. It's not "certain" courses. It's MOST courses. And even THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of courses. And maybe even sometime soon ALMOST ALL courses. But you're not willing to admit that, are you? You put up a front of reasonableness by acknowledging what is blatantly obvious to everyone and try to downplay and hoodwink its significance, since the significance of the simple fact is less obvious than the fact itself. You then compound your lies with other "accepted" honker about an auditorium filled with 300 people is a better medium than a video which you can pause and rewind.

Your second argument about certification is just completely dismissing everything I've said on the topic. We are in an EVOLVING SITUATION where authority is DEGRADING. It doesn't matter for fuck all whether certification STILL matters somewhat. The only thing that matters is that it matters less today than it did yesterday, and it will matter less tomorrow than it does today. Harry Collins, perhaps the premiere authority on expertise, says exactly that. The only question is whether academic authority will degrade down to nothing. I state on my own authority (because I have no wish to discuss this in detail) that university certification authority will collapse to nothing. YOU, a twisty lying fucker, state otherwise. Who are people going to believe?

Your third "argument" is just continuing your total dismissal and lack of engagement of everything I've said. You totally dismiss the fact that a university is primarily a fucking lot more than just a research lab. And that if ALL you want to do is research then you DON'T FUCKING NEED a university for that! Moron. Liar. Fucking asshole.

I fucking despise people who put up a front of "reasonableness" to push blatant fucking lies. There is nothing more despicable. And what makes it particularly ironic is that IT IS THE ESSENCE OF ACADEMIA. "reasonableness" is what being an academic is all about. Not LOGIC or TRUTH which are more or less anathema to most of academia and frowned upon by the rest.

Richard Kulisz said...

> The parts that are effective/relevant in the new paradigm will continue to exist, and the stuff that is made irrelevant will become more and more evidently useless until it goes away.

This is total fucking crap that violates all the laws of system-antics and the empirical evolution of systems. Systems evolve by accretion, they do not junk subparts of themselves even after these are obsolete.

Human systems do not have scavengers, do not have garbage collectors. There is no provision made in any of them for obsolete and irrelevant things to be dismantled. The only such provisions that exist are DESTRUCTION and BANKRUPTCY.

In any case you fucking moron, I never said that academia would disappear. Lots of universities have plenty of money to continue their useless activities essentially forever. But they are no less obsolete for it.

(The only thing worse than lying about blatantly obvious facts is lying about my intentions.)

> As far as I can tell, public funding for universities is a positive thing for society.

Assuming that the Opportunity Cost of not investigating alternatives is 0.00$. Since I peg the opportunity cost at about 10 trillion USD, the cost of educating 1 billion people, I obviously disagree. And actually, I peg the opportunity cost at something in excess of 100 trillion.

I'm convinced that if we had no brick and mortar universities, and we had a robust online system that was universally available, than > 1 billion people could be educated for no more than 10 million dollars in invested capital. In other words, practically for free! I'm also convinced there would be side-benefits and knock-on benefits which would far outweigh the cost savings of getting rid of a shitty inefficient horrible system.

You're just a knee-jerk reactionary that's mindlessly defending academia because it spawned you and you are beholden to it. You're mindlessly defending your patron! It's disgusting and repulsive.

You're even arguing from ignorance! "I can't see how academia's bad so it must be good", ugh, disgusting.

> If you have some sort of suggestion for a more organic, emergent style of mass education and certification

If I had such a suggestion I would be a target for assassination. No thanks.

Anything that makes education ridiculously cheap is automatically a tool of the poor. Automatically shifts the balance of power towards the poor away from the rich. Automatically democratizes the field.

Anything that makes education ridiculously cheap automatically has side-benefits for political & world education. Automatically serves to curtain, constrain and dethrone the corrupt political overclass.

Anything that makes education ridiculously cheap is automatically a threat to the status quo. And anyone who has the slightest fucking clue how to make education cheap will automatically be targeted for assassination.

Or in the case of assholes like you, their idea will be "appropriated" so as to water it down and make it more "compatible" with the existing status quo. Yes, I'm sure you're "all ears"!! Aren't you, fucker?

It's telling that you want to keep all parts of academia together as a monolithic whole at all cost when I've already suggested they will be cannibalized and parted out. It's telling you're begging me for any idea whatsoever that could keep academia together LONGER than it will. Not ideas for accelerating the cutting up of its diseased carcass. Fucker.

I fucking hate evil (like academia), I fucking hate people who further evil (like academics), and I fucking hate people who profit from and mindlessly defend evil (like you).

Richard Kulisz said...

And I fucking hate smarmy greasy lying fucking assholes like you that lie about both your own intentions and mine.

Claiming that academia isn't monolithic while begging me for any idea that would keep it whole!

You are a disgusting repulsive fucker and a waste of perfectly good oxygen. Remove yourself from civilization you piece of diarrheal shit!

GW said...

You seem to be laboring under a false notion of what "academia" exists for. Education is only secondary to it's purpose, and science (or knowledge collection and creation if you will) doubly so.

No, academia exists in order to provide a living for and power and position to academics. That is it's first and foremost raison d'être. Once, in the dark and distant past, it's purpose may have been primarily educational, but that has not been the case at least since the beginning of the Progressive era, in which the Mugwumps offered Sauron's Ring to the professoriate, who willingly wore it.

Richard Kulisz said...

Ironically enough, you're not telling me anything I don't already know. Or that I haven't already publicly spit on academics for being in articles on this very blog.

In fact, the laws of systemantics make this a general statement about any system. Or nearly any system since Semco SA seems driven to do otherwise.

And of course, as a universal statement applicable to ALL systems everywhere, or near enough, it's not very interesting. Unless to spit on academics for the pretentious maggots they are.

What is interesting is that the external functions of academia are disappearing. And this is independent of the question of whether or not academia fulfills these functions well or at all.

GW said...

Well, since at least the 1930s, academia's primary external purpose has been to provide a brain for the elite power structure (i.e. "make policy" and provide "expert leadership"). Education is vestigial, and sometimes even counter to this purpose, so it has atrophied and become neglected.

Richard Kulisz said...

Half and half. What you say is blatantly true in political science, economics, and the social sciences. Physics, engineering, and computer science? Not so much.

You're forgetting the 40s war years that stretched out and ended with ARPANET in the 60s and 70s. Of course, those are ended and nowadays computer science is fucking useless.

Biology also degraded, turning from Victorian research & development (botanical gardens being R&D labs) to social policy wonking. You can see it in the "biodiversity" assault against water development projects starting in the 60s and now this line of crap about "climate change" and "species decline" providing a capper to it.

Which doesn't mean there isn't any good work being done. How to reseed a rainforest using ~100 species comes to mind. But the bulk of biology is total crap.

So I would say there's definitely been an inflection point in the downwards direction around the 1960s. Which would coincide with the end of authoritarian regimes and the rise of popular power. Suddenly it became an issue what people thought and academia got turned to brainwashing them.

GW said...

Even the hard sciences have been completely corrupted by the wearing of the Ring of Power. Research is beholden to federal and corporate grants. Scientism has become rife as it has been fully established as the official state religion. Physicists may not move back and forth between the ivory tower and halls of DC as do poly sci majors, but they are just as enmeshed in the system ad everybody else (and just as prone to it's corruption and politicization - look at "climate science" for some of the worst, but you find it in theoretical physics too. The Ring cares not for such petty distinctions as "hard" or "soft." It rules them all, and ringwraiths of academe - physicists, economists, mathematicians, whateverists - are all equally in it's thrall.

Richard Kulisz said...

Climate science has fuck-all to do with physics. It doesn't even have anything to do with climate since it's fluid dynamics period. I supposed that makes it applied physics maybe.

Look, I've got no love lost with physicists. I think they are moronic utterly retarded dirtbags that reverted to creationism because they were uncomfortable with the implications of an infinite universe. Especially the plurality of physical existence. For the same reason, they reject the so-called 'mathematical universe hypothesis' (which is blatantly obvious and blatantly true) and also many-worlds.

Physicists are incapable of wrapping their teeny tiny minds around the idea that reality is plural, that it is non-singular, and that the 'physical' universe is that part of reality which you experience subjectively. So instead of accepting reality as it is, they glom onto mystical notions like Creationism and Non-Determinism and the A Priori Nature Of Physical Reality.

I fucking despise physicists individually and as a group because they refuse to teach physics in an understandable manner. And why? Because they're too stupid to understand physics themselves. Or care to. And are intent on going through the motions & perpetuating the abuse they've gone through.

I really fucking hate these guys. I'd love nothing better to cripple them at the kneecaps or even to punch them in the nuts.

But you know what? I can't really think of any politicized physics other than ITER. Which of course is a totally useless piece of crap. But it's only ONE project. I suppose if I thought the stubborn clinging to copenhagen and big bang theory were political in nature, I would be pissed. No wait, I am pissed because I hate pretentious idiocy as much as politics. Huh, that's actually why I hate politics.

But it's not politics. It's ... these guys are honestly, genuinely, that fucking moronic.

Richard Kulisz said...

Oh and when I said it's not politics, I meant that it's not even internal politics. Let alone external politics which was the indictment.

GW said...

Run a quick Google search on "physics and public policy" and hear the voice of Sauron.