Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Underutilization Of Academia

Yglesias wonders how Amity Shlaes managed to become a senior fellow in economic history at the Council for Foreign Relations. Her academic credentials end at a bachelors' degree in English from Yale. She also has a book on the Depression which Publishers' Weekly calls "plausible history, if not authoritative, novel or deeply analytical."

The academic world contains multitudes of well-trained historians who can produce material that is authoritative, novel, and deeply analytical, and who can relate current events to a history that they've rigorously studied for their entire professional lives. These are the people who should be getting senior fellowships in economic history at the CFR, not authors of ideologically charged popular books.

Academia is full of very smart researchers who have spent decades of their lives doing meticulous research on every topic under the sun. It's a shame that so much of our expertise in fields like history and sociology just sits where it is, churning out papers for other academics to read, instead of being used to help people understand issues that matter.

3 comments:

Mosh Pit Mom said...

Yes, yes, yes. I have a degree in Classical Studies, and was interrupted in my quest for the doctorate by the arrival of my daughter. I always have believed that there was a vital role for academia to play in understanding and developing the modern world, no matter how seemingly obscure the knowledge being developed.

On the other hand, understanding ancient history (my particular thing) is kind of depressing - people really HAVE been making the same butt-stupid mistakes since literal time immemorial.

eric said...

It's a shame that so much of our expertise in fields like history and sociology just sits where it is, churning out papers for other academics to read, instead of being used to help people understand issues that matter.

Say, have you read our blog? I think you might like it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know enough about the internal politics of the Council for Foreign Relations, but my guess is that she knew someone, and that was enough to make up for her thin academic resume.