Saturday, November 18, 2017

Academics or activists

Academics are professionals whose job is teaching and doing research. Their teaching and their research is evaluated ideally using objective high standards. Of course, academics, as well as citizens in other professions or without a clear profession, are entitled to their political opinions, like the author of this blog. However, academics in the field of social sciences are often in demand to produce opinions that are sold as scientific truths. There are some problems with this. Quite often, the same individual that uses very qualified and careful terms in a scholarly article on some topic, exudes self-confidence and even arrogance when addressing the same topic in some format addressed to the political arena. Probably the most well-known case in history, at least in economics, is the support of many members of the Chicago School to the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile. Authors who had top scientific articles on macroeconomics and microeconomics gave their full support to a bloody regime that violated all basic human rights. Of course, they could not publish any article defending the Pinochet regime with the same clarity as they supported it in real life. The problem arises when academic institutions create debate platforms where they encourage academics to express their political opinions. This has been made easier with the Internet and social networks. For example, a few days ago, an on-line platform of a well known higher education international institution contained an opinion piece by a Catalan pro-independence academic where he defended the argument that the current problems in Catalonia and Spain where caused by the "failure of Spanish federalism". Of course, the very imperfect quasi-federal system of Spain has many problems. Actually, many people like myself defend reforming it not to become less, but more federal. But it seems difficult to attribute responsibility for the current constitutional crisis to federalism, when the instability and aggressivity of the attack to the democratic rule of law by a pro-secession regional government has triggered the decision of more than 2000 large firms to move their headquarters, the opposition of all European leaders and institutions, and a serious threat to social cohesion. The period of quasi-federalism and decentralization between 1980 and at least 2006, although it could have been managed much better, has been the period of higher freedom, welfare and self-government in the history of Catalonia. It is impossible that the same author would have published a similar article in a scholarly journal. This is his opinion, which he holds not because he has reached it by using the scientific method, but just because his identity politics and ideology determines that he has this opinion. The same mechanism affects academics, sports players, clowns and anyone else.

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