Saturday, January 09, 2010

Utopia and Dystopia of Academia

"Scenarios for the future of the Higher Education sector: Where will we be in 25 years' time?" is the title of a short paper by Eddie Blass, Anne Jasman, and Steve Shelley. One should add they are concerned with the Higher Education sector in the UK in particular. The authors offer 5 dystopian future scenarios as a warning, and with this hope to prevent the developments outlined. The paper is so short it's pointless to summarize it, you can read the PDF here, it's only 2 pages. If that's still too long, The Times Higher Education offers a 1 page summary of the 2 page paper.

The authors say they wrote in a "deliberately provocative language to evoke an emotional response." Maybe there's something wrong with me, but my only "emotional response" is that Brits have a funny idea of what's "provocative." They could probably learn a thing or two from reading certain blogs, but let's not name names. Anyway, this inspired me to come up with a worst case scenario. And since that depressed me, I'll add a best case scenario. Feel free to offer your scenario in the comments. Or, even better, post it on your blog, I'll add a link below. Rules of the game are: One utopian and one dystopian future scenario for academia in 25 years from now in less than 500 words each. (You can count words online here.)


Global competition of universities and research institutes is ranked by a tightly defined metric for scientific success (that grows out of the UK's Research Assessment Exercise). University departments turn into clubs that make deals on recruitment of star scientists. The universities have professional marketing departments that hype every paper, patent, award, and conference. Research performance as defined by The Metric becomes a prime interest of national politics and with that public accountability for all and every pen stroke spells the death for academic freedom. International companies pour money into the leading places to improve their company's image and get a hand on those scientists willing to join the industrial workforce.

Since success becomes a matter of attention rather than quality, public outreach departments schmooze their way into major newspapers and magazines. Star scientists host talkshows and give public lectures in front of thousands of people with lots of technical finesse and no content. Bribery of editors of high impact journals frequently makes headlines. Extreme competitive pressure renders unbiased peer review impossible, so it becomes replaced by "external review" from so-called "unbiased independent experts" frequently recruited among science journalists and research departments of major companies . The media wants its share of the money and eternally celebrates progress that is none, causing frustration and cynicism among the public. Like on the fish market, the winner is who screams the loudest and smells the least. Leading scientists find their private life rewritten in cheap magazines next to Hollywood starlets and members of the royal families.

One part of researchers conforms to the new rules and accordingly optimizes their output, connections and social skills. However, a small but increasing fraction of researchers finds higher education has turned into a farce. They refuse to participate in what they argue will eventually entirely stifle knowledge discovery and cause a breakdown of modern societies who are in need of constant innovation. These researchers form a scientific underground, a globally operating association of scientists most of which have to finance themselves from non-research jobs. Belittled by the star scientists, the scientific underground is helped by a few philanthropists' generous donations that allows to maintain online networks and occasional meetings. The resentment on both sides grows.

John had just handed out the second hot-dog when Lisa's cab came to a screeching halt directly under the no-parking sign. She jumped out and waved her flexiscreen: "Look at this!" John focused on the mustard to prevent his eyes from rolling heavenward. "That's 1.99," he said.

Getting a little carried away here ;-)


Fed up with the inefficient use of resources in academia, scientists decide to take matters of management into their own hand. Instead of further conforming to nonsensical policies and wasting time being swept away by emergent community trends, they systematically study and monitor the dynamics of knowledge discovery itself. Based on scientific models that are constantly refined, they put into place a decentralized application- and hiring system that makes only moderate use of metrics and instead relies on accountability of peer's judgement. All research results are available open access, and suggested research projects and proposals are frequently openly available too, though many of these feature remain subject to constant flow and debate.

Transformative research is implemented depending on the field and stage of research where a community sees the need, and measures are taken to balance competition with collaboration. Social networking tools are refined to optimally filter information and connect dispersed knowledge and researchers all over the globe. Not only national boundaries dissolve: also the educational boundaries of academia soften and participation in research projects more often encompasses a variety of contributors with different background.

But most importantly, scientists' skills and interests become individually recognized, supported, and put to best use. The earlier one-size-fits-all positions that combined the duties of teaching, researching, reviewing, communicating, mentoring, administrating and managing are broken down into different education and career paths. This way, duties other than research are significantly reduced and talents are optimally utilized.

These improvements unleash innovative power that overhauls some sleepy research areas and creates several new ones. Inspired by this success, leaders of a few future-oriented democracies decide to base their increasingly dysfunctional opinion- and decision making processes on modern scientific models. This results in particular in a dramatically different approach to the communication of information, the aggregation of opinions, and significant changes to the content and structure of the educational system.

This era would later become known as the 2nd scientific revolution, but John didn't know that. He was sitting in a seminar and had just decided the women speaking was clearly insane. But he liked the theme she used for the slides; he had not seen it before and wondered where to get it. She flipped to the next slide. "I'm not insane," John read "The theme is called "Sparkles in red" and is shareware."

More visions:


  1. Hi Bee,

    good description of what Utopia and Dystopia are. Especially your description of Dystopia leads me to the hope, that it will not come that far.

    Best Kay

  2. Hi Bee,

    I think scientists have it in their hands to reach a state as close as possible to your Utopia scenario.

    Best Kay

  3. Getting a little carried away here ;-)

    IN the perfect Lisi Utopian then, Artistic freedom should never be thought "less then a free hotdog" or, more then, "one with mustard" or it will then lead to Dsytopia(no such word because under correction in firefox it displays it's opposite)?

    You gave Steven heck for such rambling text(just kidding):)but on the other hand, I can understand how one might have gotten carried away by being "in the zone."

    Number of words(83)


  4. Yeah, but unlike Steve's I've given up trying to understand your comments long ago.

  5. Kay: Yes, we have it in our hands. Unfortunately, too many people use these hands for nothing else than scratching their private parts if you allow this figure of speech. Best,


  6. "21st century academic scientific success is the number of grant funding applications approved - zero risk, zero innovation, least-publishable bits, PERT-charted inevitability; a punctiliously spreadsheeted business plan woven of Official Truth. Academic scientific success is perfect process uncontaminated by insubordinate perfidies of product except as predicted insignificant infinitesimal increments or safely untestable theory spun from faery dust. More's the pity and póg mo thóin."

    Diversity enforces Procrustes' solution - with a very short bed and and a Brobdingnagian excess of vigorous enforcement.

  7. Dystopia:
    See the Chicago School of Economics.
    (e.g., Paul Krugman

    Scientists know that Utopian beliefs are unscientific.

  8. Arun: For the credibility of the authors of the paper I mentioned let me point out that they didn't mean their dystopias to be predictive. I think one should understand them as extreme versions of worrisome trends. It's scenarios comparable to: "Obesity, where will we be in 25 years?" outlining frequent plane crashes caused by misestimated boarding weight, fat kids unable to use playgrounds because they wreck the equipment designed a decade earlier, and so on. You get the theme. It's not meant to be realistic, it's meant to tell a story and get attention. (They could have done a better job with the storytelling though.) Best,


  9. Hi Bee,
    Extrapolation of a current trend in a system to unreasonable lengths in order to expose a current weakness is a well-known technique, and I have no complaint with that.

    You asked us to describe dystopia and utopia in 500 words or less, and that was my response. :) The Chicago school of economics seems to be guilty of evading reality. Similarly, utopian thinking is usually unrealistic :)


  10. 1. ‘Leading knowledge creation’
    2. ‘Responsive knowledge creation’
    3. ‘Regional conglomerates’
    4. ‘No government funding’
    5. ‘Full government funding’

    We can eliminate 5., as governments are notorious for screwing things up. Although 5. would be the only option in Communist countries, which have bigger problems, given they're Communist.

    4. will never work, quite unfortunately, because all the Lazaridis' and Bransons in the world haven't the money Governments can pump in. So deals with the devil so to speak will be needed, at least partially.

    3. describes America, today. The UK has its eye on its cousin-children across the big pond, though they hate to admit it.

    1. describes where the UK probably fears America is headed. There are signs, to be sure, but it's wholly dystopic in my view.

    We are then left with 2., which is probably where the US will be headed. Interesting. "Global Corporations" now carry more weight than "Nations," for the first time in a long time. 'Tis a brave new world, with less pure research.

  11. Dystopia

    To address the unemployment problem attaining an undergraduate degree is made part of the current public education funding responsibility and the age of majority is raised to being 24 years from whatever is the existing. This lessens the official unemployment figures while lessening the demand for new housing as more will remain at home for even a greater period then they already do. At the same time it will boast the number of tenured positions offered which will have tempt less to take the risk of looking to research as a career as a means of supporting themselves. The net effect is to have the older generation never able to afford retirement, the quality of a higher education to drop, minimizing the quanity of new knowledge attained, followed by a general collapse of society so severe as to enter a new dark age.


    To address unemployment and to avoid a entire new generation from having to face a dismal future, attending a university is made mandatory for all those over fifty, where they will be paid only if they maintain their grades and no other means of support other then hostels and soup kitchens are offered if they leave before obtaining a degree. This in effect has lots of positions open up for the young, while giving the baby boomers an opportunity to learn as to exactly where and how they screwed up as to create such problems in the first place. This has the added benefit as to have them then able to instruct free of charge the next generation in how they might avoid being such complete idiots. The long term effect is to have humanity ushered into a second enlightenment.

  12. Hello Bee,

    Thank you for your interesting challenge. I posted my answer there:

    Both texts answers are less than 500 words.

    Best wishes,

    Jérôme Chauvet

  13. What's sad is that right now, we seem to be much closer to your dystopian version than your utopian version.

    A sign of your discontent? Or a sign that the current situation is highly suboptimal?

    The way the wind is blowing always seems to be more towards your dystopia as well. Yes, there are some encouraging signs in the direction of open access, but I've seen *no* signs in the direction of individualization, and lots of signs in the direction of one-size-fits-all metrics coupled with horrible things that get called "accountability".

  14. Regarding Utopia:

    Hmmm, there's a little rebel in everybody.

    Let's change the corrupt post-modern pseudoscience system from within and from without.

    Up against the wall, charlatans.

    Tewanda! [or something like that]

    Could be fun,

  15. Rob: It is a sign of my discontent, which originates in the situation being highly suboptimal. The sad thing is that at least in my experience, most of our colleagues would agree it is suboptimal, but don't see the need to act. Best,


  16. Bee: Anyway, as long as money will set the rules of the scientific game, there will be no change at all in it... And it seems like the dynamics which brings some scientists up to stardom does contain in itself probabilistic variables. E.g., our great Pierre-Gilles de Gennes constantly said: "I was lucky to..." when he told about his success. I think he knew already what I am meaning here with probability.

    So, why is superstrings theory today's paradigm in physics, and why was Kaluza's fifth cylindrical dimension (from what superstrings has its origin) laughed at in the past?... It seems like it would be a matter of chance which no one can control. There was an achievement in it for begining something, like there are so much good achievements in thousands of papers to begin something with. However, this was the focus of great physicists at a time, and everybody had to go for it.

    So is hierarchy of ideas in the science world, and attaining utopia will certainly begin with accepting organizations of concepts other than a pyramidal one.


  17. Dystopia

    A closed, hierarchical, controlled system, serving the interests of big corporations and of the establishment.


    Open, transparent and embedded in society, serving the real interests of the people.

  18. Giotis: Well, your Dystopia is verbatim what is happening at the present time in the real life, I cannot see where you are exaggerating in your worst scenario... Figure out that this Dystopia is the Utopia of those who dominate you with it... Good God! I've just now realized we're all nothing but pieces of humanity constantly inventing the best way to survive through natural selection!... Utopias and Dystopias would then be the dreamed inventions we are willing to build or to escape from, in view of better days.

  19. Wouldn't be right if you knew me better then I knew myself:)

    Anyway...ahem..."IN the perfect Lisi Utopian then, Artistic freedom"...that should be Lisa.

    But as to Utopia..."being in the zone" is an ideal toward artistic freedom to "stream live" a whole barrage of comedic style connected wording whose audience should get immediately, or possibly, a creative writing flow that is not hampered by a dystopia view(still working on this definition)So, science(academia) has been added? So eventually, one builds a school, much like the Academy.

    Ramble has no preconceived notions of "ill will" just that the shape of it was never understood by some.

    So from an Utopian view on the "creative function in science" too....what are the things that would hamper such creativity to have it so so and a whole section of the scientific population repeating what others are doing, to have real honest efforts to blaze trail....has somehow become hampered.

    We seen enough of this kind of talk from the "science wars" as has been mentioned to loose sight of what each scientist already knew instead of moving forward.

    See, the Dystopia view recognizes a warring within science then? Some who have, or, have not, have revolted. You can't hide the feelings.

    Just for some historical correlations then....

    Bacon's Utopia: The New Atlantis

    In 1623 Bacon expressed his aspirations and ideals in The New Atlantis. Released in 1627, this was his creation of an ideal land where "generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit" were the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of Bensalem. In this work, he portrayed a vision of the future of human discovery and knowledge. The plan and organization of his ideal college, "Solomon's House", envisioned the modern research university in both applied and pure science.

    and to also mention for consideration.....

    Tommaso Campanella- See also:The City of the Sun


  20. Giotis and Jérôme CHAUVET, your two posts two posts back rank among the greatest one-two punch I've ever read in all of blogging. Awesome stuff, and in so few words. Points totally taken, thank you, and the kind of stuff I think Bee had in mind when she asked her questions (I have more to add to Giotis' Utopic viewpoint, but not today...)

    Plato, my friend. I think Bee was a bit strong in criticizing you, but her point is well taken. You're a bit TOO deep at times. Your stuff needs multiple readings. People generally hate that. I get you, but it's not easy. Re-read your stuff and ask yourself what if nobody knew you, would your post make sense? Makes sense to me, but it needs greater analysis than most people are used to. Just a tip, bro. You DO have a lot to say in a helpful manner. You've helped me for sure, and thanks for that. But please, re-read yourself, is all I'm saying.

  21. Thanks Steven,

    If you did not know me, yes I understand:) It take a lot of "prep work" in order for me to get you to know me.:)

    The "punch line" is, is that it will come later, and it will make sense then.

    And my latest post on utopia and dystopia "will" make sense with a little historical background correlation when one understands that this question has been asked before.:)

    Now isn't PI have some relation to what one might have wanted out of a educational system and research institution?

    Let's put it in context then. You see?


  22. Plato: You should write with a little more empathy, and first concentrate on universal notions before getting into minute details or erudite knowledges... By the way, after 3 times reading your post, I finally got what you meant with "science war". Yes, it surely is a war, but a war of ideas. The scientific world has been given the task to objectively provide descriptions about natural systems and ways to optimize and control them. However, it is never given one task : to perform as a feedback this sort of activity onto itself. Why is there a Political science and an Economical science, which study either systems as scientific objects, and not a "Science of Scientific systems"? My sense is that some new science is needed for estimating why superstrings theory is so hard to dethrone although not being satisfying.

  23. Hi Jerome,

    You should write with a little more empathy

    PLATO:See, the Dystopia view recognizes a warring within science then? Some who have, or, have not, have revolted. You can't hide the feelings.

    Sometimes we like to think we are all safe in our positions to judge another. I do realize how human we are "to have such feelings about." New research institutions are started with the idea of the best that can be given. A new era.

    Jerome, I have have been watching this debate for sometime now and understand the post which Bee has posted.

    Where does it come from and what inspired her to write these things? This is not a judgment but to understand the motivations come from another place as to see this view of society in a new light?

    The Lightcone Institute.

    I mean some of us know of Howard Burton's journey and Lazardis's contributions. What was the vision then?


  24. Plato: Why should those ideas "come from another place" ?... Bee has possibly enough mind to have thoughts of her own... And why don't you say frankly "Perimeter Institute"? Oh God, the way you write looks like Louis-Ferdinand Céline's writings. It's such an intricate mystery !

    Dear Plato, I don't feel safe in my positions when I am judging you and am asking you for more empathy... I meant that, to be able to discuss without misunderstanding, every one must feel unsafe about the information given, and make it as simple as possible. That's what I meant.

  25. Hi Bee,

    Peter Woit on his blog says, that now in the US the money for science projects is coming again from the industry like in the 18th century and not from the country. This is sad.

    Best Kay

  26. Kay: Hallo Kay, wie geht's dir?

    Well, there always has been much interactions between industry, business and science... No one imagine that the discovery of probability theory (we are talking about Jacques Bernouilli, 18th century), of which anyone would think it is nothing but fundamental research, was in fact motivated by knowing how to win at card games and dice (they were trendy at that time). No one imagine this, though it was so. I suppose J. Bernouilli got his works on this subject sponsored for this reason.


  27. Peter Woit on his blog says, that now in the US the money for science projects is coming again from the industry like in the 18th century and not from the country. This is sad.

    Oh, great. Bin Laden & Co. have pushed us back 1-1/2 centuries. That's 1.5 centuries in the can, 5 centuries to go before we're back in the 13th Century gathering thatch for a living, and that jerk can proclaim himself Caliph.

    Peter has a good point. Isn't the reason obvious? When the economy is stretched thin, budgets are cut, and given that politicians know next to nothing about Science and how it's done, the "theoretical" stuff is the easiest to axe.

    OUR contention is that "Theory" doesn't take a LOT of money. Or does it?

    When Einstein first got to Princeton and was asked what he required, he replied: a chair, a table or deck, some pencils ... and oh, a very large wastepaper basket in which to toss my mistakes.

    That was then, before the age of supercomputers. Computers are a bit pricey. Still, it's very small compared to the big Experimental machines.

  28. Um ... Other than the "bribery" and "external review" parts, how does your "dystopian" scenario differ from what we already have today?

  29. Bee:

    I have to agree with ErkDemon: your dystopia seems indistinguishable from the system as it exists today. I’m not even going to exempt bribery and sham external review. Just look at the IPCC...

    So my dystopian worst case scenario is that the various investigations now underway are conscripted as part of the cover-up and the prostitution of science by the global plutocratic oligopoly carries on exactly as it is today.

    Indeed, both your scenarios seem pretty dystopian to me. The second one (the supposedly utopian one) just seems like the official white-washed cover story for the ugly reality admitted openly by the first one.

    The whole idea of funding research by large organizations (state or corporate) is fatally flawed. The problem is that some kind of accountability to bureaucrats becomes unavoidable and the subversion and decadence that ultimately result are inescapable.

    Sir Joseph J. Thomson, Nobel Laureate and discoverer of the electron, put it this way (in words you may have heard before):

    If you pay a man a salary for doing research, he and you will want to have something to point to at the end of the year to show that the money has not been wasted. In promising work of the highest class, however, results do not come in this regular fashion, in fact years may pass without any tangible result being obtained, and the position of the paid worker would be very embarrassing and he would naturally take to work on a lower, or at any rate a different plane where he could be sure of getting year by year tangible results which would justify his salary. The position is this: You want one kind of research, but, if you pay a man to do it, it will drive him to research of a different kind. The only thing to do is to pay him for doing something else and give him enough leisure to do research for the love of it.

    -- quoted by Robert J. S. Rayleigh in his 1943 biography, “The Life of Sir J. J. Thomson”

    Thus my utopian best case is that Thomson’s vision is somehow realized. Perhaps we pay scientists to teach, and keep the teaching load so light that they have plenty of spare time. Those who have the talent and inclination will use the time for research. And those who don’t – better that they should go surfing or something rather than get in the way of real researchers. But those who can’t or won’t teach get fired.

    Very importantly, this way of doing things would be structurally ill-suited to provide gratification for organizational sociopaths of the kind that thrive at the senior levels of large organizations. So such people would migrate elsewhere of their own accord.

    And this alone would be enough to right many of the wrongs that plague academia today.

  30. Ain Soph: I'm not sure where you get your impression about the status of academic research today, but it's definitely not yet as bad as in my dystopia. In the USA they have clear signs of some aspects (hyping and marketing) while in the UK they have others (the ranking), but by and large there's still diversity in this (and some sunshiny places like PI and Nordita). What I'm afraid is going to happen is that we'll be globalizing the wrong things while discarding what should be kept.

    As to the utopia, I have written here on what I think is the only sensible thing to do, that is enabling peer review to actually work (as unbiased as possible) which is presently not the case for several reasons (see post). It is not entirely a bad thing (and not avoidable anyway) that scientists are accountable for their output. Whether that's a sensible thing to expect though depends on the type of research one is doing and this awareness is lacking. What distinguishes the utopia from the dystopia is that the solution cannot be to quantify all of this and to fix the rules (what I called "The Metric"), but this system needs to be dynamic. Basically, you're not going to win anything by externally controlling people who are the only ones able to judge on the quality of their work. All you can do is make sure they have all reasons to judge well.

    (Besides this, today's innovations in information technology have already and will likely continue to be beneficial for scientific research.)



  31. Plato:

    What inspires me to write these things? I'm future oriented. I see things going wrong and project them forward. Unfortunately, frequetnly what comes out is regress rather than progress. I don't believe neither in miraculous self-regulation nor in some higher power. We are the only ones who can improve the situation. I'm writing about this because I'm trying to create awareness. The more people understand the problem and know the solution the more likely this solution is to become reality.

    I think too many people miss the relevance a functioning academic system has for the well-being of our societies. If your politicians are corrupt, replace them. If your scientists are corrupt, you have no future. They hold both, innovation and education, in their hands. That many of my colleagues know the system is sick, inefficient, and frustrating but play along is simply irresponsible. Best,


  32. If your politicians are corrupt, replace them.

    That's the ideal in a utopic meritocratic democracy ... then there's the real world. There's no replacing a tyrant except through revolution or his death, and the system is more important (usually more corrupt) than the men (and it's almost always men ... Thatcher being one example and I don't know about Merkel).

    It almost doesn't doesn't matter at this point; many Global Corps wield more power than Nations, and GC's have zero accountability save to their shareholders. I'd drive to a rally protesting the acts of ExxonMobil but I'd have to use their product to get there.

    If your scientists are corrupt, you have no future.

    I wouldn't worry about this so much. There will always be competition in the Sciences, ala Hilbert vs. Einstein in developing the General Relativity Field Equations now 95 years past, or the current Verlinde vs Padmanabhan controversy regarding Jacobson's Entropothermodynamic Gravity speculations, and competition is good.

    In the long run, the truth will out. Internet democracy (still in its infancy) will force the truth through, in spite of the noise, and despite the efforts of intellectual tyrants to suppress dissent.

  33. Revolution or death was exactly what I was thinking about.

    You're representing exactly the sort of irresponsible optimism that I was talking about. You are assuming "there will always be" and "in the long run" miraculously everything is going to be alright. What you're missing is that there are developments that decrease rather than increase our possibilities for improvement. Once we're on this path, it's going downhills. I sometimes think we're on this path already thanks to people who, like you, believe they just need to sit around and wait for an invisible hand to fix our problems. Best,


  34. I don't believe there is or ever will be an invisible hand, and I'm far from optimistic regarding Academia and its future. If you read what I wrote I think the future of Physics has been wrested from the Universities and placed squarely in the hands of those who use that which Physics produces: Technology, to better their financial situation, and who further use that technology to brainwash the masses that War is good for the Economy and nothing is finer than dying for one's country. SCREW your family they say, make the ultimate sacrifice, for the good of the State. Bullshit.

    The Internet revolution we're currently in has only one parallel I can think of, and that is the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. OK fine, two if one considers the telegraph. The People's Republic of China is doing its damnedest to stifle free and open expression on-line, but will ultimately be unsuccessful.

    You're quite impatient, Bee; young people always are. Good for you. Young people like yourself change the world, always have. Keep it up, keep complaining, keep trying to change things. Viva la revolution. It's places like PI and Noridta that will lead the charge. Cornell has stifled ArXiv, but new sites spring up in response, etc.

    The English definitions of Young, Middle Age, and Old:

    0-36 - Young
    37-69 - Middle Aged
    70+ - Old

    My definition:

    People Younger than Me - Young
    People Older than Me - Old

    I've noted the world is getting younger. How about that? And Youth bring change. It's inevitable. Good for them.

  35. Fine. Your earlier comment seems to disagree with what you write now, so maybe I misunderstood, sorry. Best,


  36. No need to apologize, I may very well have contradicted myself, or more on point probably didn't express myself completely.

    In this world, Communication is greatest in terms of Quality, Miscommunication in terms of Quantity. The fault is entirely my own.

    Regarding Academia though (which I thought was overly political as an undergraduate and ever since) or any organization of humans, the following anonymous story best expresses my thoughts on the failure of things to change as rapidly as we wish they would. It's "like" a scientific experiment:

    The Way Things Are Done:

    Start with 5 monkeys locked in a cage.

    Hang a banana from the roof on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

    Before long the monkeys will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana.

    As soon as the first monkey touches the stairs, hose the other monkeys with cold water.

    After a while another monkey makes an attempt with the same result. All the other are sprayed with cold water.

    Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

    Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and goes to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

    Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

    Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

    Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

    After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water.

    Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

    Why not?

    "Because," say the monkeys, "That's the way it’s always been done around here." \

    And that is how company policy begins.

  37. Haha. This is exactly why I said recently to Phil above all other things if you want to see progress you have to keep asking.

    (The situation you describe is unstable in absence of the water.)

  38. :-)

    Well the absence of water thing is very important regarding the upcoming Quantum Gravity Experimentation conference you'll be running at Nordita. The devil is in the details, as they say, and the details will include "little things" like making sure there's enough coffee machines, coffee, and water. A cup of joe needs all three. Also, a backup caterer in case the primary craps out (which comes under the aegis of Shit Happens Theory).

    My point is people will ALWAYS talk about the inevitable things that DIDN'T work, like the failure of internet connectivity in Rome at Strings 2009.

    Back on point, Verlinde has published a noted paper on Holography/Entropy, and I'm surprised you haven't commented as yet. Also, we your adoring public eagerly await your next installment of "The Causal Diagram of the Black Hole." When should we expect that, and will it be the last or 3rd of 4 or something.

  39. Dystopia:

    1. Publish or perish is the rule, scientists are judged based on the number of publications and citations not on the quality of their work.

    2. Research on fundamental issues which takes years and may lead nowhere is too risky for those who want scientific career. Superficial science dominates.

    3. Under pressure to publish many scientists work on extremely speculative ideas often impossible to test even in principle.

    4. Eventually speculative areas with no link with experimental science at all come to dominate as they make publishing a lot much easier - no risk of having the results disapproved by experiment.

    5. Groups of scientists organize themselves and by citing themselves and referring their own work boost their own careers.

    6. Fresh scientists fight for membership in more successful groups and once accepted feverishly defend their group orthodoxy against others.

    7. With no objective means of deciding which ideas are right popularity is becoming the key factor.

    8. Community as a whole becomes extremely hostile to novel ideas since if successful they can undermine their lifetime achievements.

    9. Politics takes center stage in science and political instinct becomes the most important factor deciding who is successful and who fails.

    10. Groups increasingly focus on general public, fighting for influence to secure funding, celebrity culture develops.

    11. Science stagnates despite ever increasing spending.


    1. Scientists are judged based on a small number of their best publications from a given period which they themselves select. Such publications have to have the contribution of each author clearly defined at the time of publication.

    2. There are long term grants available early to those with best insight and intuition with the sole purpose of studying the very foundations of the disciple.

    3. Theories impossible to verify even in principle cannot be funded from public money. Funding should focus on ideas which can be experimentally tested now or which can be realistically expected to be withing experimental reach during the next 50 years.

    4. All science is open access.

  40. Bee:

    “What I'm afraid is going to happen is that we’ll be globalizing the wrong things while discarding what should be kept.”

    Sadly, this is precisely what I see happening – and not just in academia. It’s the main reason I’m opposed to globalization and everything associated with it.

    “... you're not going to win anything by externally controlling people ... all you can do is make sure they have all reasons to judge well.”

    I couldn’t agree more. My utopian scenario suggests the foundations of a structure that might actually accomplish that in practice. The most important aspect, I think, is to structure it in such a way that no advantage can be gained by subverting it.

    I honestly don’t know if that can be achieved in practice. But it is what we must strive for.

  41. Arrow:

    Reading your dystopia scenario, I’m yet again struck by how much it resembles the actual state of affairs in academia today.

    Today’s real world seems to be almost everyone’s worst nightmare.


  42. Arrow:

    Reading your dystopia scenario, I’m yet again struck by how much it resembles the actual state of affairs in academia today.

    Today’s real world seems to be almost everyone’s worst nightmare.


  43. Oops... I don't know how that happened...

  44. Bee:

    “That many of my colleagues know the system is sick, inefficient, and frustrating but play along is simply irresponsible.”

    Bee, these people are cowards. They are cowards because they have spent their lives in one institution after another, all of which are designed to inculcate cowardice, subservience and sycophancy.

    And if they lack the courage to stand up for what’s right in a departmental staff meeting, review board, or faculty search committee, where do you suppose they will get the courage to foment a revolution?

    I recall you posting something about “locking the keys in the trunk” some time ago.

    We may be there already... politically, economically, academically, and culturally.

  45. Jerome:Why should those ideas "come from another place" ?... Bee has possibly enough mind to have thoughts of her own...

    Not for one minute do I perceive any of the things she writes as apart from Bee:)

    Just like education, one's understanding of the issues needs some familiarity. How, even amongst the intellectualized and students of, I see it necessary to understand the "emotive part of our being" as representing this "other place."

    When I attention was drawn to the emphatic value of, I believe it is very important to undertake how we human beings tick. Scientists included.

    While all appears an intellectual pursuance what is coming from the "other place" is a revolution of sorts in the subjective sense.

    I do not believe we can ever section off this part of our humanity, while it may seem that this is the dystopia and deterioration of the society, it is necessary to understand how intellectually our emotions are being used.

    This is the recognition of the humanness with which a scientist must come to terms with, while holding to the standard of science. One does not even for a minute ever forsake that standard but at the same time seeks to understand our relation to this emotive side. How it can rule our minds.

    This really takes an effort to know who we are inside. As much education as it takes to demonstrate the knowledge of the sciences we have today.

    The finality of ones happiness is as if drinking water will necessitate the survival of, supports the human body to be able to work. Sustenance in food in order to think properly, and safe haven and a place to sinks roots in order to be a productive contributor. Any of these are thought mundane in their description, are recognizable conditions about which productivity can ensue out the "gathering creative group" tackling the science problems of the day.


  46. Bee:What inspires me to write these things? I'm future oriented. I see things going wrong and project them forward. Unfortunately, frequently what comes out is regress rather than progress.

    Thanks Bee for explaining. This self assessment is and sometimes is correlated to how we see society. I see nothing wrong with that projection. Perfecting ourselves along with the methods toward scientific evolution "is" a real truth facing reality. Is the revolution.

    Bee:I don't believe neither in miraculous self-regulation nor in some higher power. We are the only ones who can improve the situation.

    AS to being the one's to improve the situation, most certainly Bee. I couldn't agree more...but, as to "miraculous projections forward" had to have something(some fact about the science or oneself) in which to calculate and project to that future. That is miraculous to me and a very dynamical interaction to the reality as to what is self-evident.( you could be wrong or right but it is about taking on that responsibility). We do not ever "stop progressing" by doing such things.

    Bee:I'm writing about this because I'm trying to create awareness. The more people understand the problem and know the solution the more likely this solution is to become reality.

    This is very honorable of you Bee.

    Bee:I think too many people miss the relevance a functioning academic system has for the well-being of our societies.

    Again a very intellectualized effort, depends greatly on how we can support science toward the success of innovation and ingenuity as outcomes of science at work.

    If the mundane(heat and warmth of a place one can call home) can be thought of as a "necessary part of productivity," is to understand we all have this responsibility to feed our selves and to project forward the stability of envisioning oneself as happy and all looking good.

    If you can create this success , then it is safe to assume you can provide an environment for the creativity that will come out of one's own independence "without" relying on the system.

    Once this is secured, there is a bold confidence with which to attack these issues as they are presented. It naturally seeps through ones pores.:)These are to me qualities of leaders of the day. Politically, and scientifically good, at what they do. They live by example.


  47. Plato: I fear the fact that you meant Bee has no idea of her own merely because she is a she, and not a he... In your last post, you have been constantly talking about "emotion", referring to what should be typically of a female in her...

    Seems like men naturally think of women as always subordinate in the way they think. That's the reason why I was pointing this out.

    Sorry Plato, I have long enough been myself a man to be able to read between lines, even among excellent writing and thinking abilities. But I am convinced you are not aware of this. It is not your fault, but the one of our lack of X gene. Our Y chromosomes are truncated ex-X chromosomes, and the Dystopia is also when the one that has less claims he has more, and uses this argument to dominate and spare himself the complicatedness of things. In the science world, those who appear to be weak are useful to others, they serve as an easy pedestal. New scientifc ideas may be rejected solely because the one who proposes it is not a warrior, and only wishes to participate in the Great Debate of Science. Here is to me the very point.


  48. Plato: "Living by example" is necessary but not sufficient. You can live by example all you like in a hut in the mountains without creating any change whatsoever. Best,


  49. Jérôme CHAUVET: Plato: I fear the fact that you meant Bee has no idea of her own merely because she is a she, and not a he...

    You fear too much. Where, specifically, does Plato say Bee has no idea of her own? And while you're at it, do tell how any of us can predict the future, because none of us can. We study history to understand the present, then based on our knowledge of Past and Present extrapolate into the future to make predictions, but none of us actually KNOW ... and most of us know that.

    Jérôme CHAUVET: In your last post, you have been constantly talking about "emotion", referring to what should be typically of a female in her...

    Wow and holy crap, am I the ONLY one who didn't get that feeling from Plato whatsoever? Are you projecting your own repressed male chauvinistic feelings that you may well be unaware of as they reside in your subconscious, onto Plato? I think you are, and I think you owe Plato an apology.

    Dude, men have emotions too, what's the big deal?

    I mean nothing personal by my criticism, Jérôme CHAUVET, I just don't like people being attacked for the wrong reasons.

    Jérôme CHAUVET: Seems like men naturally think of women as always subordinate in the way they think. That's the reason why I was pointing this out.

    Fortunately, men aren't teenagers forever. The rest of your post means nothing when seen in this light.

  50. Jerome:Seems like men naturally think of women as always subordinate in the way they think. That's the reason why I was pointing this out.

    I do not think this way so this is a point in which not to assume any further.I consider the female gender my equal.


  51. Bee:You can live by example all you like in a hut in the mountains without creating any change whatsoever

    But this is not what I advocate but on the contrary a presence within the group of one's peers.

    Again leadership and self confidence seep through as independence and balance is sought when pushing toward the relationship with reality. It is not easy thing and is a constant work in motion.

    Removing the dependence of the mundane concerns paves the way for working in full awareness, having accomplished this comfort on ones own.

  52. Plato & Steven: Okay, okay... Next time, I will keep that sort of thought in the closet. It came from a certain way of saying things, which I'd better forget for the time being.

    Sorry, Plato.

  53. Plato: I maintain my opinion that to create real change there is more than can and should be done than living by example. Best,


  54. Jerome:Next time, I will keep that sort of thought in the closet.

    This serves no ones interest for you to continue to believe and carry this with you while not having dealt with it. This can ooze from people too, while they think they are being diplomatic.

    Preconceived notions on what we call a man(culturally and in family this might be influenced) should not be held in context in the way one might of thought of the female gender, to assigned them to a specific compartment either.

    Thank you for presenting the opportunity to progress.


  55. What men are like and up to is, to me, fundamental in what we are discussing here about, i.e., a worst case scenario and a best case scenario for Academia. Men are a lot more numerous than women in research fields. However, women think in a different way, may it be for cultural or genetic reason. Most of the time, women share work rather than compete for success. And women do work well this way. For this reason, I do not think competition is essential for a good science to exist.


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  57. Jérôme CHAUVET: Plato & Steven: Okay, okay... Next time, I will keep that sort of thought in the closet. It came from a certain way of saying things, which I'd better forget for the time being.
    Sorry, Plato.

    Well, now you see? It takes a REAL man to admit he was too emotional and made a mistake. I already admired your writings for your excellent response to this article on your blog. I admire you more so now.

    I feel I owe you. How shall I pay you back? By answering your deep questions at your blog? Yes, let's give it a go:

    Jérôme CHAUVET:
    I have 4 basic unanswered fundamental issues that, in this life, I wish to definitely solve. Here they are:

    (1) Can one hope to extrapolate existence of properties and/or limit states in systems that self-generate information?

    What do you mean by self-generation? That electrons and other fundies behave the same way experiment after experiment, which in itself is weird?

    People extrapolate all sorts of things, too much IMO, frankly. Guilty as charged your honor.

    (2) In complex processes, is ordering of singular events some unvoidable feature in the description of those processes?

    Did you mean unAvoidable? Unvoidable is actually a word, hmm. I could answer differently depending on what you meant to say.

    (3) Is determinism the only end dot to any satisfying theory?

    I must say with shear confidence: Maybe. Nobody knows. I tend towards Determinism (being of the Planck/Einstein/DeBroglie/Schrodinger school that I am), and I think Nonlinear Dynamics aka Nonlinear Dynamical Feedback Analysis, better know the public as "Chaos Theory," will point the way, maybe, of explaining Quantum Mechanics' randomness, someday.

    But it's such a young theory, ND/CT. Much work to be done. Toward that end, I have ordered "Nonlinear Dynamics And Chaos: With Applications To Physics, Biology, Chemistry, And Engineering (Studies in Nonlinearity)" by
    Steven H. Strogatz from Amazon. Is this a good book?

    (4) Is everything an equilibrium of pros and cons?

    Yes (the answer to every question isn't hard .. lol)

    Just kidding. I don't know. :-)

    Well, I know THIS: If something isn't in a state of equilibrium, then it's moving toward it. Take that as you will.

  58. Steven: To me, an electron is typically not a system that self-generates information because it is an electron and always be one. It is stable over time. That is the reason why we study it with stable models, though we know not it in every possible situations. The universe or a growing organism (I mean, from embryo to developed person) are to me self-generating systems: they are evolving systems from a low-information state towards a high-information state. They increase in complexity. According to this, it is not trivial to model them with stable theories, though we name those objects and recognize them as if they were the same over time: universe, hen,bird, whatever...

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  61. Jérôme CHAUVET: Men are a lot more numerous than women in research fields. However, women think in a different way, may it be for cultural or genetic reason. Most of the time, women share work rather than compete for success. And women do work well this way. For this reason, I do not think competition is essential for a good science to exist.

    It it is for genetic reasons more so than cultural, as I will explain.

    Before that and regarding your last sentence though, competition can be VERY essential, for example Heisenberg vs Schrodinger in the late 1920's, or Hilbert vs Einstein in November of 1915.

    But ultimately, you're right that it doesn't HAVE to be that way.

    Regarding your first part, I strongly recommend reading "Anatomy of Love" by Rutgers Social Anthropologist Helen Fisher to answer both the Socratic "How?' and the Platonic "Why?", because while Physicists were sleeping or digging into their equations, Biologists dug on the gifts that Physics gave them, and answered them in the 1990's.

    Briefly and my paraphrasing from Helen's book:

    Women have no less brain cells than men, but they have far more connections between the brain's hemispheres: the emotional half and the rational half.

    What this means is that women can switch between the two far quicker. What it also means is that men can focus on one thing far longer than women. From a woman's point of view we men seem to go though life as if we had a horse's blinders on.

    We can also switch hemispheres, it just takes men a bit longer. For women, the switch is very fast and natural, in comparison.

    So in conclusion, I state all managers should be women, and all workers should be men, with exceptions. ;-}

  62. Steven: You got it exactly... Neurology showed this very well, and psychologists are aware of that either. We, men, are "penetrators", we get deeply into things. That is the reason why we kill with knives, study subjects for long, and have that "thing" to use in our sexuality... Funny to see how that whole record of things all come together so clearly...

  63. Hmmmm....okay lets say there is a white-board/blackboard and you have genders sitting contributing to the problems of talk. Research.

    Is there a fundamental difference between these genders as to what they contribute?? Why not say race? Is there a difference?

    No, I do not think so.

    How you use your brain and how you use the emotive side of your own being is just as relevant between these genders, that we cannot say that woman are this way or that, so this contributes to the work being done in a certain way.

    Such categorization do not serve to raise the idea of "equality within academia" to see that such distinctions determine what is contributed or not, as to only male deep thinkers?

    Better a psychological association then to ascertain categorization that does not show these distinctions in gender but more the idea that we are a combination of both and possible configurations of gender alike?:)

    Just thinking out loud here.


  64. Here is an example then?:)

    Have fun with it.

    Now seriously, just a thought about how one should look at their fellow scientist in a Utopian world instead of reducing and configuring the sharing according to that particular scientific research. Or shall we acquiesce to it, knowing the scientific value?

    We all know what had happened to Summers when he headed Harvard on such notes of gender bias research??


  65. Guys:

    I certainly don't mean to question your superior ability to "penetrate deeply," but you're getting a little carried away here. Could we please stick to the topic? Thanks,


  66. I think that 5 page paper is not well thought-out and poorly written. And rather than being "provocative" is disjointed and unfocused.


    The authors seems to focus on a transitory blip in the economy (the so-called "credit crisis") as a major factor in predicting the next 25 years in academia! That's absurd.

    And then, they create an Everett-like All Worlds Scenario and project the future to possibly embody everything that they can imagine.


    Prediction: there will be no utopia, no dystopia .. rather a continuing status quo, which will gradually evolve and adapt over the next 25 years. Some changes are mentioned below:

    Web-based Education:

    A significant driving force for change will be the availability of web-based education to replace traditional undergraduate and graduate level education.

    An insightful quote of a Ph.D., regarding assisting others with web-based self-education: "It is my intention to search on the web where the really useful papers and books are, preferably downloadable as well. This way, the costs of becoming a theoretical physicist should not exceed much the price of a computer with Internet connection, a printer, and lots of paper and pens." [...] "I am sure that anyone can do this, if one is gifted with a certain amount of intelligence, interest and determination." - by Gerard 't Hooft source

    Economic Changes:

    As a result of cheap fossil fuels, over the next 25 years, economies of the world will continuously be stressed and forced to adapt to downward pressures on gross national product (GNP), and GNP per capita. This will cause inflation of the cost of goods and services to exceed the increase in worker's salaries, resulting in long-term erosion of purchasing power. But, that does not necessitate significantly abnormal unemployment rates or financial crisis. So, as applied to academia, inflation-adjusted salaries will decline, while the cost of education will increase.

    These stresses will forces adaptations such as: more economical use of facilities, larger classes, more web-based education, decreased expenditures for the sports activities which do not produce net income for the institution, more campus maintenance jobs allocated to students (at low pay), and closer alliances with industry to increase corporate-supported work-study programs.

    Wild-card factors:

    * Advent of "The Singularity":
    Artificial Intelligence (AI) program (not robots, per se) which exceed human intelligence, and are indistinguishable from humans, may occur within the next 25 years. The implications for education are dramatic, along with the implications for all of human society. Overall, it could be boon to education, but human teachers may be replaced to some degree, possibly completely, by AI programs. REF: Why We Can Be Confident of Turing Test Capability Within a Quarter Century. But we aren't quite there yet, as can be seen at this link, lol: Raomona-AI

    * World pandemic of high lethality, similar to the Spanish Flu:
    The World Health Organization has said that this is just a matter of time, where the question is not "if", but "when". The impact on education could be very severe, as societal functioning in all areas is disrupted by high levels of illness, death and quarantine. The disruption and its after-effects could impact education for several semesters to more than several years, depending on many factors ... something which merits further research.

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  68. Correction to prior post: should have read: ...

    Economic Changes:

    As a result of THE END of cheap fossil fuels, ...


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