The Truth Hurts

Last week Donald posted a funny and all-to-true video jab at the the naivete of potential law school applicants.  Well this video hits close to home for those of us in the Humanities:

Hey, there are plenty of great options for PhDs.  I hear that political science factory is going to be opening any day now.

H/t: Scott W.

31 Responses to The Truth Hurts

  • Funny how they call it the Humanities. Based on much of the output over the last century or more it should be called the Inhumanities. ;)

  • I’ve joked with my wife for years about returning to school for a Phd in an obscure humanities specialty. She has found it progressively less amusing with the birth of each child.

  • I had a friend who owned a chain of McDonalds. He told me he always preferred Philosophy Phds for assistant managers and managers of his stores.

  • And I thought the legal business was bad. I suppose a law degree/PhD in humanities would be the double whammy!

  • Good thing I knew all that without having to ask my profs., which is exactly why I didn’t pursue a PhD. You can just observe it in their lives….

    More people will read this blog than ever will the journals a professor gets published in.

  • More people will read this blog today than ever will the journals a professor gets published in.

  • I should have posted this video as well:

  • More people will read this blog today than ever will the journals a professor gets published in.

    While I realize this is maybe slight exaggeration (people skim the journals in their own field to an extent in order to send in snippy little notes and put downs about each other’s articles, or see if their own work was cited) I have to wonder how we got to this point. Is it just the bloating of academia as compared to 100+ years ago? There’s limited space in truly selective and widely read journals, so second string journals spring up to publish those who can’t get published in the big ones?

    Did the concept of publish or perish originate back when it was a matter of writing for actual readers among the general, educated public, and then slowly depart from reality as the process became self sustaining and self justifying?

  • I have to disagree that no one reads journals. I was reading journal articles all the time in grad school, sometimes in depth. True, a lot of that reading is spent on the “influential” articles of the past, but presumably someone had to comb through them to decide which ones were good. Besides, it’s not just the influential ones that get read — in one’s particular field of research, how is it possible not to read (or at least scan) everything? You’d risk plagiarism otherwise. I had professors telling me all the time about recent articles they’d read pertaining to a subject…

  • I have to disagree that no one reads journals. I was reading journal articles all the time in grad school, sometimes in depth. True, a lot of that reading is spent on the “influential” articles of the past, but presumably someone had to comb through them to decide which ones were good. Besides, it’s not just the influential ones that get read — in one’s particular field of research, how is it possible not to read (or at least scan) everything? You’d risk plagiarism otherwise.

    Well, there were journals where I went to law school whose subscribers numbered under three digits (their articles were available electronically through Lexis or Westlaw, although they were not frequently viewed even there).

    It’s true that there are a number of articles in every field and sub-specialty that are (by academic standards) widely read. But that is a very small percentage of the total output. As a field develops, most of the new ideas inevitably deal with more and more specialized topics that are of interest to fewer and fewer people. Some journals are still widely read, as are some articles. But most journals and most articles are read by very few people.

  • More people will read this blog today than ever will the journals a professor gets published in.

    Hmmm. So instead of trying to publish my dissertation I would be better off releasing it piecemeal here. Interesting.

  • “I have to disagree that no one reads journals.”

    With who? No one said it. Pointing out that grad students and professors read journals is like pointing out that lonely teenage girls read horribly written fan fiction.

  • Ha. It depends on your goal, Paul. Professionally, of course, it’s still better to publish it in a journal. But if your goal is to maximize readership, it is quite possible there would be more readers piecemeal here. Of course, I’m making what is likely a false assumption – that your dissertation will not prove to be one of the groundbreaking works that all subsequent scholars need to cite.

  • As a field develops, most of the new ideas inevitably deal with more and more specialized topics that are of interest to fewer and fewer people. Some journals are still widely read, as are some articles. But most journals and most articles are read by very few people.

    This seems right to me. The purpose of an academic journal is not to publish material aimed at a general readership. Rather, the purpose is to publish short, highly specialized work aimed at a readership composed of specialists trained in a given field. That readership is relatively small (a few thousand for top journals). One typically cannot get published in a good academic journal unless one shows a strong familiarity with the up-to-date literature, so most people outside this readership presumably would not be equipped to understand the bulk of what’s in these journals. Academic books, while still largely specialized, tend to be aimed a larger readership, many of which reach a lot of non-specialists (e.g., Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene).

    More people will read this blog today than ever will the journals a professor gets published in.

    That’s too broad a claim. In my field (philosophy) alone, the top journals are read by thousands as they fall off the presses. A blog post at TAC? Read completely by a maybe a hundred to two, if you’re lucky. Now, there simply are too many journals out there, just as there are too many Ph.D. programs in virtually every field in the humanities. It’s very difficult to get published in a top journal, since the the demand for quality work is very high. Publishing at a blog…?

    Good thing I knew all that without having to ask my profs., which is exactly why I didn’t pursue a PhD. You can just observe it in their lives….

    More people will read this blog than ever will the journals a professor gets published in.

    If publishing journal articles were all one does with a Ph.D., then few would consider it worthwhile. But that’s only a small part of it. The teaching component, I think, makes it incredibly worthwhile. If you go to a decent Ph.D. program, you end up instructing tens of thousands of students across your career in person. I have met very few academics who are unsatisfied with their career choice (in fact, I am sure career satisfaction is much higher overall in academia than in fields like law or business). I am very happy (so far) with my decision to work toward a Ph.D.

  • Professionally, of course, it’s still better to publish it in a journal. But if your goal is to maximize readership, it is quite possible there would be more readers piecemeal here. Of course, I’m making what is likely a false assumption – that your dissertation will not prove to be one of the groundbreaking works that all subsequent scholars need to cite.

    I don’t think one would maximize readership by posting at TAC, especially if the work is from a dissertation. Your target audience (academics) won’t read it and I doubt the typical reader at TAC would be interested in a specialized, academic piece (dissertations are supposed to make original contributions to a given field).

  • that your dissertation will not prove to be one of the groundbreaking works that all subsequent scholars need to cite.

    Oh, I am deeply hurt. Clearly my work will completely revolutionize the way we view Thomas Jefferson, and in turn the way we view American political thought, leading to a paradigm shift in American politics.

    That is if I even look at the thing again.

  • More people will read this blog today than ever will the journals a professor gets published in.

    That’s too broad a claim. In my field (philosophy) alone, the top journals are read by thousands as they fall off the presses. A blog post at TAC? Read completely by a maybe a hundred to two, if you’re lucky.

    It was intended to be a humorous exaggeration, so I freely concede it was overbroad. Although, this blog will be viewed by around two thousand people today – and on a good day around 8,000, so it wasn’t that much of an exaggeration. Notice I said the blog, not an individual post.

  • It was intended to be a humorous exaggeration, so I freely concede it was overbroad. Although, this blog will be viewed by around two thousand people today – and on a good day around 8,000, so it wasn’t that much of an exaggeration. Notice I said the blog, not an individual post.

    You did say blog, sorry.

  • All kidding aside, there’s sort of some truth behind the exaggeration, but Michael’s right in that the actual number of people who are probably reading the entirety of these academic sort of posts is much smaller than our average total readership.

  • If it makes you feel better, more people will read a humanities journal piece than they will a student-written article in a law review.

  • Let me just take this opportunity to plug my best-selling academic work, An Overview of Past Proposals for Military Retirement Reform
    .

    Download it today for free – all royalties go to me!

  • “and I doubt the typical reader at TAC would be interested in a specialized, academic piece (dissertations are supposed to make original contributions to a given field).”

    Depends. I’ve been surprised by how many hits some of the more technical legal posts I have done have gotten.

    Paul, as an experiment you should post a small section of your dissertation here and on Almost Chosen People and see how many hits you get.

    I have a friend who is a professor of history at a Big Ten School, and he also writes popular military history under a pen name, some of which have sold quite well. He has told me that the research for his academic work and his popular military histories is completely the same. He merely wrings out the academic jargon from the work that he publishes for profit and writes in a clear style, something he said which is frowned on when attempting to publish a piece in an academic journal.

  • He merely wrings out the academic jargon from the work that he publishes for profit and writes in a clear style, something he said which is frowned on when attempting to publish a piece in an academic journal.

    I wish more academics did this. They are the experts in their respective fields, yet so few will distill their best work so that a general readership will benefit.

  • “Hmm. So instead of trying to publishing my dissertaion I would be better off releasing it piecemeal here.”

    Perhaps. But would we be better off? :)

  • My guess is that for most academics writing in jargon is a matter of necessity rather than choice. It’s not that they wouldn’t like to write profitable popular treatments of their subject in a clear style; it’s that they either can’t write clearly (which is very difficult to do, truth be told), and/or their area of expertise is not one the general public would be interested in.

  • (in fact, I am sure career satisfaction is much higher overall in academia than in fields like law or business).

    FWIW (coming from someone who’s a bit of an outlier in his set in having gone into business rather than academia), my impression is that this is true for those who manage to land tenure track positions, but much less so for those who get trapped long term in post-doc or adjunct land, and finally end up having to look for a substitute career in the mid to late 30s. For those folks, their run at academia has already landed them deep in debt, disrupted their personal lives and left them with the same earning potential in the business world as a BA right out of college. I think a lot of the bitterness expressed about academia comes from those folks rather than the ones who make it into tenure track positions.

  • I think a lot of the bitterness expressed about academia comes from those folks rather than the ones who make it into tenure track positions.

    You’re right; I was sloppy in speaking so generally about career satisfaction in academia. Those who land tenure-track positions or hold relatively stable renewable positions do seem to me, on the whole, to be very happy where they’re at.

  • …Which is to Darwin’s earlier point, that the publish-or-perish system for tenure departs from reality. There are probably many young academics who would prefer to have a stable career based mainly on teaching, not research, but the system doesn’t reward that. Personally, what deterred me from the academic rat race was the prospect of having to rely on my cleverness* (or lack thereof) to put food on the table.

    * If you read economics or public policy journals, you know what I mean. It’s those cute, clever twists on a tired, old subject that get you published. “Hey, look! I found an instrumental variable! Let’s do a pointless empirical paper on something nobody cares about!”

  • I may also have an especially jaded view being from a particularly overcrowded discipline (Classics) and having a couple good friends, smarter than me, who tried to do the academic thing and are just now at thirty hitting the point of realizing they’re never going to get tenure track.

  • Based on the article that David Jones linked to today about the conference assembling to understand the great mystery of the day, the Tea Party Movement, it seems there should be plenty of demand for humanities postgrads. For the sake of the civilized world this nut must be cracked! Who else can do it but the brightest and most learned? I would refer your alienated humanities friends to these orgs. Apparently they could use some good help.

    From the article:
    Co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, the Institute of Governmental Studies, the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science, the Sociology Department, the Gender and Women’s Studies Department, the Haas Diversity Research Center, the Townsend Center for Humanities, the Center for Race and Gender, the Center for the Study of Social Change, the American Cultures Center, and the Berkeley Undergraduate Political Science Association.

  • Wow, I didn’t know Pete Townsend had his own center for humanities!?!

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