Phil Schrodt on the State of the Discipline

pale_blue_dotI try to avoid too many “inside baseball” posts here, but today I make an exception. Phil Schrodt announced his retirement to the blogosphere last Thursday after giving notice in March. I had occasion to meet Phil at ISA in April and have enjoyed hearing and reading his thoughts on the discipline of political science and academia more generally. The whole post (actually, his whole blog) is worth a read, but here are a couple of points that stuck out to me.

On the influence of technology and the web:

Due to technological changes, I no longer really need the resources of a large institution. Computing power?—I’ve now got a machine with 8 Gb of memory (upgradeable to 32 Gb) and a 1.2 Ghz processor. And that’s just my phone. Cluster computing I can get from Amazon or Google using my credit card; dozens of companies can provide web hosting. Penn State—at least until someone reads this essay—has allowed me to maintain access to paywalled electronic resources but I use these only rarely: all of the reference material I need, particularly for technical support, is free on the Web. Despite the library being literally next door to my campus office, I rarely set foot in it. Those 46% indirect costs go for what???

(The 46 percent refers to the amount of overhead that institutions get from grants the researcher brings in.)

On trends in academia:

[F]inally, when you find yourself beginning to feel sympathetic with many of the stereotypical negative things people say about academia, it is time to go. You start to recognize just how much of what seems trendy and oh-so-cool right now, whether theory or methodology, is utterly transient, with an expected lifespan approximating that of a gerbil, and on the theoretical side, often as not is merely a poorly updated re-hash of some school of thought current 3,000 or more years ago….

Academic institutions have changed little since the post-WWII expansions of the 1950s, while the world around them has changed dramatically.  What little change has occurred appears focused on the proliferation of pointless administrative positions whose sole purpose is to make the institution more expensive and less efficient. An imitation of the US auto industry in the 1960s. We know how that turned out.

Those left with a lingering “so what?” should see yesterday’s post.

See also: “Seven Deadly Sins of Contemporary Quantitative Political Analysis” (pdf)