Thursday, February 04, 2010

Indoctrination is not higher education

I recently responded to a commentary in the National Post that was lamenting the openness of debate in academia around climate change. In the same discussion thread another academic using the moniker "scate" posted a series of comments that illustrated the wide gulf that exists between my own perspective on academia and the role of higher education, and the attitude of many within the halls of academia itself.

Scate's comments were equal part arrogance and self-serving conceit. They reflect a belief that many subjects, especially any involving science, are "tough" and "difficult for the non-expert to grasp". The corollary is that even undergraduates are incapable of understanding the nuances and subtleties of these tough subjects and thus must be "instructed" and "trained" on how to think,lest they mis-understand things. It is only after they have been "taught" how to think correctly, that they are allowed to consider material for themselves, safe in the knowledge that they too will concur with the prevailing paradigm on all matters. Then, the bright few who have shown the ability to conform well to this model are allowed passage into graduate programs where they can receive advanced "training" within the accepted parameters.

Advanced recognition and awe is reserved for those members of the academy who show a capacity for explaining "tough" subject matter in a way that is obtuse and re-inforces the internal vocabulary of the elite within any discipline. Simplicity and clarity of expression are not encouraged, especially when jargon, disciplinary dependent definitions, abbreviations and expressions may be employed to further confer an aura of authority and complexity on any aspect of enquiry.

It is within this conceited, arrogant and mis-guided perspective of "higher education" that the whole IPCC, Climategate, Himalaya-gate and ecomyth fraud resides, festered and continues to be fostered.
It is not surprising that the revelations of abuse and malfeasance were initially documented by bloggers and from those outside the world of academia. Those with the temerity to question the prevailing system from within are quickly and deeply ostracized by the academy. If an academic of the standing and accomplishment of Freeman Dyson can have his intellect suddenly besmirched solely because he allied his free thought with the "wrong" perspective, then it can happen to any academic (most of whom have nothing close to the list of academic accomplishments, awards and publications of the esteemed Dyson).

The whole point here is not whether AGW is "right" or "wrong". The question is how we as a supposedly advanced civilization utilize our best and brightest to examine such complex topics and even more profoundly, how we as an advanced civilization determine who and what constitutes our best and brightest minds.

I would contend that the ability to conform, to parrot correctly the prevailing mantra of any controlling elite, is not the desired nor defining characteristic of the best and brightest intellect. Higher education should be about the fostering and facilitation of lateral thinking, new innovations and intellectual freedom. Sadly, it has become a bastion of political correctness, conformity and intellectual compliance.

Climategate is not surprising, nor is it the exception. Something is indeed rotten in Denmark and it is not solely the science of climate change: it is the prevailing attitude of those who constitute the scientific body and are presently training their adherents.

Still think I am exaggerating? At the next ecomyth demonstration, ask any of the young, committed idealists on the front-lines of the protest what they are protesting and why. Whatever their answer, ask them "and why do you think that?". Their inability to provide a cogent, principled answer with an understanding of underlying constructs and concepts is a powerful indictment of their "training" and the inability of indoctrination to foster free-thinking individuals.

Indoctrination is not designed to produce free-thought. It produces a conformity of thought. Is today's academic training evident in the indoctrinated mantra and dogma of its converts or the insightful questioning of young enquiring minds?

Read any blog discussion thread and you will find academics like "scate" not just defending a system of academic indoctrination but blithely promoting it as higher education. You will also find many zealots who have graduated from this school and carry its message forward with fervour. 

Nothing scares a conformist society as much as a free mind that is actively engaged in the pursuit of its own learning.  What we do not understand, we fear.  What we fear, we seek to destroy.