A modest question: Should we abolish the PhD degree?

Koen Holtman koen@hep.caltech.edu
Wed, 29 Aug 2001 01:00:36 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 29 Aug 2001, Jeff Bone wrote:

> Let's be concise if somewhat over the top:  the academy somewhat
> endorses the notion of "pay for brains," though it relies on external
> and (IMHO) ethically questionable methods of raising monies for said
> brains.  The private sector pays for accomplishment.

Jeff, if I am reading you right you are saying that the system by which
academia assigns value to activities is less perfect in your view than the
system by which business assigns value.

I'd submit that, as events like the .com bubble inflation and deflation
show all too plainly, the mechanisms by which business assigns value to
activities are spectacularly imperfect too.  So I am not holding the value
assigning mechanisms in business in any higher regard, especially not when
it comes to value in the technology area.

> Both of these are over-simplifications, but the question remains:  
> should anyone be able to support themselves indefinitely through
> publically-funded and purely intellectual creations which remain
> indirectly- or under- or unexploited / uncommercialized / unvalued
> (and culturally and definitionally un- or invaluable) in the public
> marketplace?

In both business and academia you have the case of people being able to
support their activities, sometimes indefinately, by reference to
admittedly imperfect systems of assigning value to these activities.

I see no problem with all of this as long as a majority of voters remains
convinced that the use of each of these value assigning systems in their
particular domains averages out to an allocation of resources that does a
reasonable job at maximising beneficial effects to them in the long run.  
Of course by the same reasoning the voters have an inherent right to
tinker with these value assigning systems as much as they see fit.