08 August 2007

What it means to be an exiled academic

A piece I wrote some years ago

Recently I was interviewed by an undergraduate for Cherwell [the Oxford University student newspaper]. He first told me what I thought, and then told me that, in the light of my other views, I shouldn't think it. I said he was quite right; I didn't think what he said I thought, I actually thought what he said I ought to think. But I have no reason to think he was listening.

When the Cherwell undergraduate came, he asked me how we considered ourselves different from normal academics. I didn't think he would publish the answer, even if I said it, so I didn't. But maybe I ought to write down these things that other people won't publish and publish them myself.

Well, of course, I don't think of myself as different from an academic.

From the time I was about eleven, when I realised that the academic world was where you did theoretical scientific research, I expected to spend my life in the academic world and thought of myself accordingly. The fact that my education was ruined so that I couldn't be a socially accredited academic doesn't change that. One still has the same standards that one would have if one were able to have one's career inside the academic world instead of outside it.

I don't think there is anything in my life that wouldn't be in it if I were having a career in the academic world.

Of course the difference is that as a non-socially accredited academic you are debarred from earning a living, from eligibility for research grants, and from use of laboratory facilities unless you can get enough money to set up a laboratory of your own.

Another difference is that a group of private sector academics is free to do research in areas which, although not explicitly ruled out by the. professed scientific ideal, actually are ruled out by the implicit adherence to a certain ideology of the socially accredited academic world.

If that sounds like an advantage, it may be pointed out that in practice it is likely to be cancelled out by the previously mentioned disadvantages. If you could get the money, you would be free to do research in areas that a socially accredited academic probably wouldn't feel free to work in. But you can't get the money, so everyone is pretty safe really from anything that doesn't support the ideology getting done.