Set Knowledge Free: The University as a Public Good « The Return of the Public

Let’s take social science first. What is the most prestigious social science? Put it another way – which social science has a Nobel Prize all of its own? OK. The Nobel Prize for Media Studies? … No. It’s the Nobel Prize for economics. Economics is the top predator – economists are the physicists of social science. And who determines the content of economics and related research in accountancy and business studies? The financial sector. As the financier-turned-reformer Philip Augar has pointed out over the last thirty years ‘finance wrapped its tentacles around the relevant parts of the academic world … under these circumstances it is little wonder that so much academic research was supportive of the financial system’.

So academics supported the financial system and the consequences were disastrous – for the discipline, but, more importantly, for the wider society. Most academic economists had no idea that there was trouble ahead. In the words of Joseph Stiglitz – Nobel Prize-winner in, anyone? – in economics, that’s right –

‘If science is defined by its ability to forecast the future, the failure of much of the economics profession to see the crisis coming should be a cause of great concern’.

Given the performance of the economists it is not clear that the discipline qualifies as a science at all. It is as though physicists spent ages pushing an elephant up the stairs of the physics department and then expressed surprise at what happened when they heaved it off the roof.

Set Knowledge Free: The University as a Public Good « The Return of the Public

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