The road from formulaic science writing to conformism.
I love science, but I abhor scientific writing. There may be no more boring reading in the world than a scientific paper. Its formulaic construction and regulated language can only be equated to the murderous Kalashnikov of creativity. To make matters worse, universities continue to train their science students into fitting in this corseted formula. Assignments are closely scrutinised for references to every claim made by the student. Among the several issues with this dissection of reports, it assumes that the writer cannot create a definition or reach a conclusion by themselves. As we go through academic life we read many books, articles and experience the world. At any moment our opinions are modulated by the influence of all the previous information that entered our minds and as such we are quite capable of creating new ideas, summaries or definitions of previously learnt concepts. Asking for a reference for this would be ridiculous. Assessors have to be trained in ascertaining which claims need a reference and which ones are no more than common sense or result from the inspired insight of the student. If there is no reference the assessor should take it as intellectual property of the writer. Requiring referencing for any claim, is assuming that the writer, in this case the student, is incapable of thinking creatively or independently. I wonder if Charles Darwin had to reference each claim he made in the Origin of Species, the book would never have been published and we would still be immerse on the darkness of creationism.
Universities are turning into factories of mass production of thought, cloning minds to continue with traditions that hamper creativity and ingenuity. Conforming to pre-established rules has hardly brought much innovation.
I had a student who was criticised for not referencing his claim that “false memories consist of remembering things or events that didn’t’ happen”. What’s next? Writing a space rocket paper referencing Newton that “things fall because of gravity”?
Everybody who reads or listen to the news has heard that court cases against
therapists have been raised because they suggested or induced false memories of childhood abuse. This is knowledge that has been put in the public domain by the media and popular books in psychology and found a place in the minds of the public. Cases that are widely known don’t need referencing. What’s next, referencing the Bible to justify why creationist don’t accept evolution? Or referencing Volta to explain how batteries work? There are items of knowledge that don’t need referencing and who ever marks assignments should be made aware of this.
This paper formulaic scientific writing is dull, dull, dull !!! Oh so dull!!
Peer review is turning into competition for the supremacy of opinions rather than an objective assessment of an author’s writing. This can also be seen in some comments made by exam and assignment markers when students are assessed poorly because their work doesn’t comply with the opinions of whoever created the aleatory rules that define a course. If this is not moulding students to a uniform mass of conformism, what is it then?
Between 2017 and 2018, James A. Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose submitted a series of academic bogus papers under fake names. In these papers the authors excelled in writing absolute nonsense as a means to test whether their papers would be accepted by “high ranked pay-to-publish” journals. Their goal was to expose the growing hypocrisy in academic publishing. According to the authors and their supporters, there is a trend among academic journals and universities to accept whoever conforms to their ideologies, independently of the quality of their work.Accordingly to the latest news (The Times, 9 Jan 2019) Boghossian is now under threat to lose his job as an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University.
The growing trend to create safe spaces and trigger warnings among academic institutions is infantilizing the students, and institutionalizing universities as temples of conformist ideologies rather than places where ALL ideas find a space to be freely challenged. This suggests that the clouds of a new dark age are lurking on the horizon. It starts quite innocently in the assessment of student’s work, and when we less expect it moves on to firing academics that think differently.