It also helps to understand one of the institutions that shapes not only our worldview of economics, but that shapes the economists - I'm of course talking about the educational system of a specific country. In a real sense, the university system has somewhat converged internationally, especially in relation to higher degrees - while there may be specific differences (such as the habilitation system in Germanic countries and Poland, or the somewhat screwy Russian system of nauk and doktor and who knows what else), for the most part the tenets of academia are fairly similar.
And, according to this intrepid Swiss soul, it's a) a load of bunk, b) worthless at best and damaging at worst, and c) a cartel made for those on the inside to jealously guard against those on the outside. It's fascinating reading and, really, anyone who has spent any time with academics will agree with the bulk of what he has to say.
The discouraging thing is that, while he is a hard-core scientist, his words have applicability for all PhDs/academics:
“Professors with papers are like children,” a professor once told me. And, indeed, there seems to exist an unhealthy obsession among academics regarding their numbers of citations, impact factors, and numbers of publications. This leads to all sorts of nonsense, such as academics making “strategic citations”, writing “anonymous” peer reviews where they encourage the authors of the reviewed paper to cite their work, and gently trying to tell their colleagues about their recent work at conferences or other networking events or sometimes even trying to slip each other their papers with a “I’ll-read-yours-if-you-read-mine” wink and nod. No one, when asked if they care about their citations, will ever admit to it, and yet these same people will still know the numbers by heart. I admit that I’ve been there before, and hate myself for it.
Having only recently gone into the publishing game (remember, I came to my PhD much later in my career because, you know, I thought I would be doing my own research and not just kowtowing to 24-year-olds who had never done a days' work in their life), I agree with this entirely. Some of the other things he mentions are also true, given my short time dealing with reviewers who seem to make the point they want, even if it's already in the paper:
I often wonder if many people in academia come from insecure childhoods where they were never the strongest or the most popular among their peers, and, having studied more than their peers, are now out for revenge. I suspect that yes, since it is the only explanation I can give to explain why certain researchers attack, in the bad way, other researchers’ work. Perhaps the most common manifestation of this is via peer reviews, where these people abuse their anonymity to tell you, in no ambiguous terms, that you are an idiot and that your work isn’t worth a pile of dung. Occasionally, some have the gall to do the same during conferences, though I’ve yet to witness this latter manifestation personally.
Agree agree agree. The best manifestation of this was a paper I had rejected lately - I had extensively re-written it to comport with the first referee's three pages of notes (which, for the most part were excellent and helped the research become much better). The second referee wrote, in very poor English, about two paragraphs which were off-topic and dismissed the paper entirely. However, on the basis of the first referee, I went forward... after three months, it came back that the first referee was not satisfied, mainly on (oh the irony) the basis that the English wasn't up to snuff. But this wasn't the real dinger, the real humdinger was that, as an example of poor English, he cited a footnote that actually contained the words of Shakespeare.
To recap, this referee believed that Shakespeare was poor English. And THAT is everything you need to know about the ivory tower of Babel that academics have locked themselves into
Dr. Christopher Hartwell is an institutional economist and President of CASE Warsaw. All commentary on this page is exclusively his own and in no way represents the views of CASE, his wife, his dog, or anyone else. Especially not his wife or his dog.