[note: there may be a gap in posts, as I go off the grid - reluctantly - for a few days]
I suppose that academic scientists are just as likely as humanities professors to make generalizations about academia based on their own experience, but I was struck yesterday by a glaring example in the Sunday NY Times Magazine by Michael Ignatieff. The article ("Getting Iraq Wrong") is about Iraq, the war, and the experience of a war supporter changing his mind. It is written by an academic turned politician, and contains musings about the difference of perspective of an intellectual/academic as compared to a politician. For example:
In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with.
The author is writing about his experience as a political science professor, but it struck me that few science professors could write that sentence. Even those of us who do research that is not immediately applicable to society are aware that what we do is not completely disconnected from the world. I can appreciate that even 'false ideas' can be interesting to discuss intellectually, but obviously false ideas are quickly abandoned in science (though I may be quickly proved wrong by diligent commenters who can think of counter examples).
This essay therefore interested me, not only for its discussion of the Iraq situation, but for how it made me think about academia. I tend to think of science professors as disconnected from society because what we do can be so difficult for other people to understand. Yet, when I read about the difference between intellectuals (i.e., political scientists) and politicians, I wondered if the difference wasn't even greater for some fields of the humanities.
I don't have time to develop that thought further -- I am sitting at an airport gate during a flight delay as I type.
In closing, for now, I will add one more thought, so as not to disappoint those who like to accuse me of twisting everything through a gender filter.. here is an Ignatieff quotation that caught my eye:
An intellectual’s responsibility for his ideas is to follow their consequences wherever they may lead.
[yes, I know, it is awkward to interrupt a beautiful sentence with 'his or her'..]
6 months ago