Subject: Re: Open Source in E-Commerce
From: Lynn Winebarger <owinebar@free-expression.org>
Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 21:36:20 -0500 (EST)


   This is completely off-topic, but...

On Tue, 14 Mar 2000, Crispin Cowan wrote:

> Lynn Winebarger wrote:
> 
> >    Maybe I'm just a bright-eyed grad student, but it seems to me that,
> 
> Thought so :-)
> 
   That obvious, huh?
> 
> > while his description may capture a sizable number of academics, there are
> > probably those who are really doing it because, well, because they're
> > academics.
> 
> That is tautological.  The "cynical" description provides a deeper understanding
> of what it means to be "well, academic."  An academic's goals are:
> 
>    * to contribute to the field by adding *new* knowledge to the field
>    * to that end, you want to have *influence* so that others will agree with your
>      views
   See my grad student idealism shine through, as I tend to think it's the
truth and/or explanatory power of one's theories that ultimately
determines their acceptance or rejection.  (though I suppose we're talking
about their immediate acceptance or rejection).

>    * to that end, you get influence by reviewing works, and accepting those works
>      that conform to your version of the truth
    I don't know what fields are being referred to, so I can only imagine
what the standards of "truth" are.  Maybe you're more likely to get
conflicts in areas like comparative literature than math.  

>    * you also gain influence by providing *service* to the community, so that your
>      works will receive a better hearing when presented to others

> Who said anything about your own gain?  We're talking meme theory here:  academics
> do the above not for their own gain, but rather for the gain of the memes that
> they are pushing.  Academic research is just competative meme theory.  You can't
> make your contribution if you can't get your results published.
> 
   Well, when someone says "for the benefit of their clique", I infer they
include themselves in "their clique".  In particular, by influencing
things like where grants go (by controlling the flow of the discussion).  

> Nor should it.  The cynical description does not necessitate a conspiracy, unless
> you regard the clique of people pushing ideas like a spherical earth or evolution
> as a "conspiracy."  The only conspiracy is the clique of like-minded individuals.
> 
   "conspiracy" was used tongue-in-cheek.  

> Like subatomic physics, motive is not directly observable, but is inferrable.  You
> hypothesize motive, and see if it correctly predicts behavior.  A motive theory
> that correctly predicts behavior is considered "true" until an even more accurate
> theory comes along.  This is very basic science:  Newton's theory of gravitation
> was "true" so far as it went, until Eintstein's theory replaced it by being more
> "true".

   It also means that when there's more than one motive to explain the
observable behaviour, it's incorrect to pick one and claim that it is the
case.

> Recapping the topic: I see nothing wrong with "to have influence" as a motive for
> doing reviews.  Keeping idiots from publishing crap is an important part of the
> scientific process :-)
> 
     I agree with the second, but disagree with the first.  I'll
acknowledge the inability of humans to be completely impassive in their
judgement of others' arguments, but I'd still like to believe some of them
value sound arguments over "influence".  Indeed, I'd like to believe
that's more generally what drives them into academia in the first place.
   
Lynn