Disconnect Between Academia And The Real World

Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball

There are many parallels between the Jonathan Gruber story and what has occurred in climate science. Gruber used a computer model to produce justification for a US national healthcare system. This parallels the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) use of computer models produced to justify the need for international climate control. They both claim their models are accurate and solid as the basis for draconian policy changes. They both fail to understand that playing with models in a university requires they satisfy research and scientific standards. We don’t know if they do, because so much of

what they produce that is critical to proper analysis, such as computer codes, is proprietary. Gruber’s models are proprietary, even if the taxpayer pays him and they are the basis for public policy. They both fail to understand that a different set of standards and responsibilities are applied when you take your lab work in to the public forum.

From The University To the Real World

There are social consequences, as Gruber discovered when he appeared before Congress on December 9, 2014. Paul Driessen has written on the consequences often on WUWT. Gruber’s appearance underscored the distance between academia and the real world. It is a distance I have experienced and confronted during my 25-year academic career. A distance demonstrated by Gruber and throughout the 6000 emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and countless other horror stories that never reach the public.

I was aware of this distance as a mature student going back to university after military service. I experienced the distance as a faculty member and did many things to bring the world into the university for students. It is a gap academia wants to exist, because if people knew how little they do and what is actually going on, funding would be mostly withdrawn. Faculty does very little teaching. They produce very little research, most of which is to further their career. Other faculty members judge their performance, in a truly incestuous, backbiting system. I could fill a book with my personal knowledge of faculty and academic horror stories.



3 thoughts on “Disconnect Between Academia And The Real World

  1. Reblogged this on dan allosso's blog and commented:
    I don’t have a thing to say about Gruber, since I don’t follow him or the Obamacare issue. But I’m also trying to straddle the big chasm between the academy and the real world, and get a conversation going. The challenge, in my experience, is to speak/write in a way that on the one hand engages and interests the audience, and on the other does justice to the complexity of issues.

    Saying that climate scientists are a bunch of isolated elitists living in ivory towers drinking their own kool-aid may be satisfying, but it really doesn’t address the issues. It might even be suggested that it’s something you do when you lack the ability to win in a fair fight over the issues. Let’s also trace the money that has flowed from the petrochemical industry into the war chests of organizations dedicated to debunking any suggestion humans have altered the climate. Maybe unlike the venal scientists, the people giving this money are saints who are only interested in the truth. Or maybe the issue is more complex.

    But in any case, I agree at least that academics regularly fail to communicate in ways that connect with regular people. I’m not talking about overtly insulting them like Gruber — most academics I know don’t despise the people. They just get so used to talking to people with the same backgrounds, that they forget. It’s like the argument Bob and I have had over definitions (specifically, of the word socialist). Sometimes it helps to talk to someone outside that community of shared vocabulary. Helps you to see the assumptions buried in your terminology, and that not everyone has signed off on them.

    I’m going to continue talking about two issues (environmental history and inequality), across political boundaries, because I think there’s a possibility of finding some common ground. But I’ll tell you from the outset, where I’m coming from. I do think enough of the impartial, peer-reviewed evidence points to climate change. Skepticism is good, and it’s always useful to admit we might be wrong. But it’s also important to evaluate the actual evidence and act.


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