PhD, jobs, de-skilling

Joe Teodoro teodoro at
Tue Sep 19 06:59:11 EST 1995

[Much deleted]

>I know of only two ways how you can "be in science":
>(1) To be independently wealthy
>(2) To have employment which provides you the
>opportunity to do science you want to do 
>If YOUR generation will be able to work out some 
>sensible replacement to the idea of a "faculty position"
>(as a present prime mean "to do science"), so the 
>item (2) can be availbale to those who genuinly seek it,
>than, I would say, you will make it.
>But don't expect US [ 50+ folks ] to provide you 
>with this - this is YOUR problem, not ours. 
>And YOU have to start solving it NOW. 
>(I anticipate your answer: "we are already
>doing it" - than amen & good fortuna).

Yes, quite true.  There are many legacies from your generation which mine,
and those following must learn to cope.  Government profligacy and
pollution notwithstanding.  The problems which you describe with academia
may well be the least of our worries.  But the reality may be that many
young scientists wishing to continue to do science may have to settle with
being employed by one of the two classifications you descibed above.  

>> >Contary to many high-tech-sci prophecies,
>> >what actually is happening know is
>> >a massive DE-skilling phenomenon, which
>> >recently was well attended in several
>> >serious studies.
>> >
>> >For as long as more and more things are
>> >get "packaged", people are replaced more
>> >and more by all sort of boxes and actually
>> >need to know LESS, not more. (Again, this
>> >is not just my dissenting view, there is
>> >abundant recent litereture on this).
>> Surley Alex, a scientist and professor such as 
>> yourself could not espose such nonsense. 
>Joe, here we again run on the same. PRECISELY
>because I am "an older" professor, I am sort of
>long ago passed the stage of a school kid who
>just visited Disney World Science Centre (EPCO
>Centre, I believe) and in a state of euphoria
>by high tech and all that. 

It precisely because you are ³an older² scientist (and I¹m giving you the
benefit of the doubt than you have acquired a wisdom matching your years)
that I continue this thread.  I would very much like to believe that my
idealism, stems from more than youth and inexperience. (I¹ve never been to
EPCOT but I here it¹s nice).  I would not wish to end up a grizzled old
cynic spending time om usent deterring young undergrads from pursuing
scientific careers.  Any insights on avoiding such a fate would be greatly

>> How could people using packaged and stolen concepts ever
>> deliver sound academic research?  
>They do it for 300 years. Some even managed to 
>get Nobel Prizes doing exactly this.
>> How could people  without a complete understanding 
>> of the concepts and literature of their field do anything
>> else other than grope in the dark? 
>Ask them - insighting experience.

OK, how have you done it?

>> Simple logic demands that such a system
>> could never amount to anything productive.  
>Glad you used this term (simple logic). 
>The point is that the "logic" of what we
>call science enterprise is NOT (and never was)
>anything like "simple logic".
>My suggestion is to read some few recent books
>on fuzzy logic.
>> It is true that many long and tedious scientific
>> manipulations are being "packaged" but these only work
>> to make research time more efficient. It does not 
>> imply that knowledge can
>> be created where none existed before.
>Again, trap of the appearence of the obvious.
>The catch in the above is the word "knowledge". 
>Suggested reading: Karl Popper, Paul Feyerabend.

As an undergrad I attended the public Ph.D. defence of a biochemistry
student out of curiosity.  The Ph.D. candidate handled all questions well
until the very end when the external member of his committee asked him if
he knew who Karl Popper was.  The grad student stood there quite
dumbfounded and replied that he did not.  At first, not knowing who this
person was myself, I wondered what compelled the examiner to ask a
question of such apparent irrelevance.  Intrigued, I looked up who Popper
was and later was quite amazed that anyone who could received the title
³Doctor of Philosophy² would not know of this man. (The student received
his Ph.D. anyway) Since then I have made it a point to know Popper¹s work
very well and in the process became familiar with others such as
Feyerabend.  I believe your ideas (and others of similar opinions)
concerning ³packaged knowledge² would find very little refuge in the work
of either of these men.  I don¹t believe that knowledge is becoming
³packaged² so much as extremely specialized.  Investigators and grad
students today are so engrossed in their own specific problems and
scientific trivia that they develop a myopic view of knowledge.  Such a
trend is not so much detrimental as it is necessary.  The exists far more
knowledge today than any brain pan can hold. 

>> >Now even some high school kids can do
>> >molecular biology using various lab kits,
>> >etc. Soon you will be able to bye them in
>> >a catalogue store.
>> No doubt such 17 year old wonders would formulate 
>> a molecular basis for
>> Alzheimer's between watching episodes of "Beverly 
>> Hills 90210" and "Ren and
>> Stimpy"?
>Yes, they can (and hope some of them will). Hegel 
>was a professor (sic-!) of philosophy at Gottingen 
>at the age of 20.   

Perhaps if Hegel were alive today and forced to wait longer before
obtaining such an influential position, he would have had time to
reconsider such unfortunate  theories as dialectical materialism.  It may
even have saved your homeland a great deal of grievous history.

Joe Teodoro
Dept. of Biochemisty
McGill University
Montreal,  Quebec
teodoro at

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