FOM: the need for standards
Stephen G Simpson
simpson at math.psu.edu
Thu Aug 13 15:23:45 EDT 1998
Martin Davis writes:
> In a social setting where enough resources are found to permit
> talented people to do what they find interesting and worthwhile all
> of this is a non-issue.
This land of milk and honey is irrelevant to the real world. In the
real world, resources are limited and research programs must be
evaluated. This is a metaphysical fact.
Given this fact, what standards are to be applied? I have tried to
uphold a standard of general intellectual interest, but the Hardy-like
advocates of pure mathematics find even this very broadly drawn
standard too restrictive. The question remains, what standards are
appropriate? Is it enough that some talented people develop a vested
interest in a subject? I don't think so. Talent is a slippery
concept (e.g. are we talking about inspiration or perspiration?), and
in any case there is no necessary correlation between the a
researcher's talent and the value of his narrow research program.
There is a need for standards.
Incidentally, let me clear up one misunderstanding. There is no
question of telling people what to do. If the talented Professor X
wishes to spend his life classifying orthocomplemented widgets, so be
it, and I hope he finds happiness. The question we are talking about
is, how are such research programs to be evaluated? What standards
are appropriate in deciding whether to publish a paper, issue an
invitation, confer an honor, etc etc? If general intellectual
interest isn't an appropriate standard, what is? Political power?
Pull? Friends in high places? The existence of a clique of people
with similar interests? Tell me, I'd like to know.
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