I guess the big news in the climate blogosphere is that Judith Curry has resigned (retired from?) her tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech. One reason appears to be that Judith is disenchanted with today’s academia. I actually have some sympathy with this; there are many issues that I think we should be addressing. Univerisities have become much more corporate than they once were. What is valued isn’t always high quality research, or teaching. What is incentivised does not necessarily lead to high quality research or teaching. There’s also a tendency to over-hype some research results and we almost certainly publish too many papers. There are many issues that we should be addressing, some more serious than others.
Where I part ways with Judith is when she says
How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus career suicide
At this point, the private sector seems like a more ‘honest’ place for a scientist working in a politicized field than universities or government labs
Even though there are issues within academia/universities that we should – IMO – be addressing, I’ve seen little to indicate that there is some kind of tendency to sacrifice scientific integrity in order to build an academic career. It is quite a difficult career path, and some very good people don’t manage to build careers, while some who aren’t as good do, but that’s because it’s not perfect and really can’t be; it’s not because those who have built careers have done so by sacrificing their scientific integrity. There are some who value big grants and building research empires over quietly undertaking careful research, but not only are academics human – like everyone else – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all route to a successful academic career.
If anything, many of the problems we do face are probably because universities have tried to become more like private industry than they once were. There are buzzwords like impact and excellence that noone can really quantify but that we have to try and satisfy anyway. There are metrics that try to measure productivity and quality that few regards as reasonable but that are used anyway. There are games that universities play so as to score well on league tables that few actually trust.
However, this doesn’t really suggest to me that somehow universities are full of people who have sacrified scientific integrity so as to build a career, or that research in the private sector is somehow more honest than research in the university sector. Judith seems to lament her fall from the ivory tower and, although I have some sympathy, it’s hard to see why she would expect her colleagues to embrace her accusations that they lack scientific integrity and are working in an environment that is intrinsically dishonest. I don’t think that people who make accusations against others should be applauded simply because they claim to believe what they’ve said is true.
I guess it’s possible that Judith will eventually be vindicated and that we’ll discover that climate science (or academia in general) is rife with people who are putting their careers ahead of scientific integrity and honesty. However, that will probably be more by luck than design and, given what Judith seems comfortable promoting on her blog, I’d be extremely surprised if it were to happen.