The cost of superficial metrics

It’s no wonder that academia has been on the intellectual decline for decades. Publish or perish is a ludicrous way to judge people, especially when there is absolutely no quality control for publishing other than a mutual back-scratching system.

Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough.

The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.

He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today’s academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”

Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.

Edinburgh University’s authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he “might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn’t we can always get rid of him”.

Furthermore, think about what sort of people are perfectly happy to spend their time jumping through stupid, irrelevant hoops in the place of doing anything substantial.  Credentialism and monolithic left-wing bias are not the only problems plaguing the intellectual world today.

On the other hand, Higgs does sound rather like a lazy, nasty old man, so perhaps getting rid of him after he published in 1964 paper wouldn’t have been the worst idea.