I admit to being a hopelessly disorganized individual, and working in a cluttered corner “office” in my home. The “logical (to me) chaos” of my workspace right now says something meaningful about the state of academic rigor today, thanks to a couple of completely coincidental items. On my desk there is a pile of paper that represents the first 50 or so pages of a nearly 500-page manuscript, and an iPad with a somewhat related book in my Kindle queue waiting for me to complete.
The book is The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols, and the manuscript is on a theory of “political Darwinism.” They are definitely polar opposites on just about any scale one would like to use to compare them, which makes them remarkably similar. Nichols is pointing out how society — particularly America — has shifted to a point where all experts are considered untrustworthy. The author of the manuscript is showing how the shifting trends in politics are actually following a fairly logical evolutionary process that needs a severe interruption if we prize freedom at all. The similarity between them lies in both their serious tones of warning against the track our society is following now, and their extreme attention to detail in an academic sense. The other item of note about them is that the book is authored by someone who is generally conservative, and the manuscript’s author is essentially a libertarian.
One statement that Nichols repeats often in his tome is that no matter how the public views experts, there will always be some in our society. He is absolutely right, even if he generally restricts that comment to the context of obvious professionals like medical doctors and lawyers. Of course, he suggests that experts like himself — on politics and military studies — will continue as well. But at least in my interpretation of his writing, he is at least a little hesitant about assuming experts will perpetually exist in areas that do not require professional licenses to be employed. Who can blame him, in a time when publications like The New Criterion are offering examples of laissez-faire scholarship involving theories about the human penis being merely a social construct, as opposed to an anatomical organ?
Of course, this is yet another example of what the left considers serious academic work today, and because so many from that portion of the political spectrum hold positions of power in the academy, we should be concerned about the future of academic rigor in general. But the manuscript that I’m currently tasked with reviewing is a strong indication that all is not lost in the world of academia. While it has not yet been accepted for publication, at least one refusal was offered grudgingly because the publishing house lacked intellectual resources to verify its validity. So, the search is on to find a publishing house with an expert on Darwinian theory, or at least one which is willing to accept the comments of an outside expert. That sounds like anything but the death of expertise and academic rigor, and it is thanks to a writer and researcher who did not get pulled into the maelstrom of leftist politics.
I’ve offered this here as nothing more than something to think about, when the headlines about the death of true intellectualism are too depressing to consider anymore. There is some hope for the future of academia, and it lies somewhere other than the left-wing political agenda driven drivel we see so often today in academia. Those elder pseudo-scholars are aging out, and while they did manage to indoctrinate some of the next generation, they haven’t managed to get them all. Hold onto that thought, and put the funeral dirges for academic rigor on hold, at least for a few more decades.