Yet the world seems to be ignoring the experts – even actively contesting them, having judged them to be among the people whose headlong mistakes caused the international economic downturn. The credibility of the intellectual classes, including academics, has come under attack in the US and elsewhere. And while scholars such as Romer may be exasperated by this new reality, some concede that they and their institutions bear a portion of the blame.
Seeking to explain this anti-intellectual turn, Norman Nie, founder and director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, says: “It’s really a result of the loss of liberal arts education. There has been an explosion of what amount to trade schools and, even in (many) universities, a curriculum that is trade school-like. Social sciences and the humanities have melted away. Physicists don’t read the great works of history. The biggest problem is the loss of the background that a liberal arts education gives you in terms of context.”
The academy has to accept some responsibility for this lamentable state of affairs. Scholars seem reluctant to try to shake students out of their utilitarian, employment-driven mentality, which makes them disinclined to question and argue. Academics are often unwilling to stand up and be counted in some of the most contentious – and vital – debates on and off campus.
although mentioning that “climate-change denial and creationism emblematic of the malaise” appears to be not taking part in the debates himself, but the point about ‘Vocationalism’ is an important one.. to return to the main article:
The humanities are missing an important opportunity by not making the case that learning how to formulate arguments and move around in the world of ideas is an important idea.
Also of particular interest:
“There’s been a general debasement of the idea of evidence, the idea that looking at the facts can teach you something that you don’t know that forces you to rethink your position,” Dimitriadis says.
“In a sense, belief systems have become more important than evidence” – including in-campus cultures that encourage diversity – helped along by “that notion that everyone’s belief system is OK. We have this notion of balance, that your belief is as good as my belief. I believe that global warming is caused by X, and you believe that global warming is caused by Y.”
Expanding on this theme, Graff says higher education seems to have abandoned the concept of argument. “I blame the educational system for contributing to the flood of undigested information,” he says.
“What would focus that information for students would be well-focused debate. Controversy clarifies. But educational institutions fail to take advantage of presenting controversy.”
Academics, in their research and writing, practise robust debate, Graff says.
“But when we go into our classrooms, we don’t. In theory, higher education is an argument culture; it (certainly) is in our publications and conferences, but not in the curriculum. I suppose it’s rooted in a certain fear that, as we become more diverse in higher education, we don’t really know how to negotiate disagreement.”
A very thought provoking article, is belief or evidence more important?
Brammer says: “How do you refute personal experience? When arguments are based in the personal, questioning the evidence is questioning the person.”
She continues: “The simple truth is that the personal-experience argument makes argument accessible to everyone. It is compelling and easy, requires no research or work or reading, and ultimately makes it nearly impossible to engage in the meaningful deliberative discourse necessary to solve global and local problems. Unfortunately, via the media, the US has exported this to the world.”
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.