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Abstract

The U.S. has many distinguished universities and world-renowned research institutions. However, the “publish or perish” culture for faculty in American universities has reduced the relevance of academia to the larger society. The problem began in the 1960s when peer-reviewed publications became prime criteria for promotion and tenure in the sciences. Competition became demanding enough so that it left little room for producing and networking applied research relevant to the larger society – even for those motivated to engage in it. Applied research lost standing in comparison with basic research and became largely abandoned. An estimated 409,000 science and engineering articles and books a year were published in 2016 in the U.S. Many or most U.S. publications are neither designed for nor are used or usable by decisionmakers or the literate public. Their huge volume as well as cost for non-academic use mean that even potentially valuable data or ideas become buried. The proliferation of disciplinary research is a factor in university costs that have outstripped inflation. Faculty research interests may overly influence the education of students not planning academic careers. In short, The United States has a condition of academic information pollution that does not promote a better-informed public. With exceptions, talent drawn into university faculty is constrained from helping resolve national problems. This paper briefly reviews weaknesses that have grown since the 60s. Special attention is given to the origin of the decline in public literacy, the “public or perish” syndrome, and developments in political science as an example of trends in the social sciences.

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Information pollution and academic leadership in America

The U.S. has many distinguished universities and world-renowned research institutions. However, the “publish or perish” culture for faculty in American universities has reduced the relevance of academia to the larger society. The problem began in the 1960s when peer-reviewed publications became prime criteria for promotion and tenure in the sciences. Competition became demanding enough so that it left little room for producing and networking applied research relevant to the larger society – even for those motivated to engage in it. Applied research lost standing in comparison with basic research and became largely abandoned. An estimated 409,000 science and engineering articles and books a year were published in 2016 in the U.S. Many or most U.S. publications are neither designed for nor are used or usable by decisionmakers or the literate public. Their huge volume as well as cost for non-academic use mean that even potentially valuable data or ideas become buried. The proliferation of disciplinary research is a factor in university costs that have outstripped inflation. Faculty research interests may overly influence the education of students not planning academic careers. In short, The United States has a condition of academic information pollution that does not promote a better-informed public. With exceptions, talent drawn into university faculty is constrained from helping resolve national problems. This paper briefly reviews weaknesses that have grown since the 60s. Special attention is given to the origin of the decline in public literacy, the “public or perish” syndrome, and developments in political science as an example of trends in the social sciences.

 

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