29 November 2016

Interdisciplinary incentives

Continuing from this morning's other post...

In my most recent newsletter (subscribe here!), I wrote:
I'll be presenting at an interdisciplinary education conference in Amsterdam in February. I'm still surprised and dismayed at how hard it is to get academics to talk outside their disciplines (like economists talking to hydrologists), let alone outside the ivory tower. The reason is (a) it takes work to translate jargon into the common tongue and (b) a total lack of professional incentives (i.e., publish or perish), which explains why so much academic research brings few insights (partial analysis is useless) or impacts (inaccessible means unconsidered).
To this, Ed Dolan replied:
I agree with your interdisciplinary comments. One of the pleasures of being retired is being liberated from some of those constraints. I have been giving a series of talks at a local discussion group of almost all retirees in our small town here. At the latest one (Free Trade under Fire) there were about 40 people, at least 10 with PhDs in various fields (only one other economist) and another dozen or so with advanced degrees in engineering, law, or medicine. More than an hour of lively and insightful discussion following the slideshow. In contrast to a discussion with students in the audience, the participants had not only opinion but experience. In contrast to a faculty seminar within an econ department, or at an econ conference, there was no feeling that the discussion was a competitive event in which the goal was to ask questions that made the discussant look brilliant and the presenter look stupid.

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