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As leaders of a field, are you not ultimately responsible for the state of your field?

You are constantly hearing individuals within various fields complaining about the lack of funding and respect for their work. Rarely do these individuals hold their leaders responsible. I have never heard Ed Witten take responsibility for the state of theoretical physics or leaders of the LHC take responsibility for how experimental physics is viewed. They always seem to blame the public.


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  • Feb 1 2013: I do not think you are responsible for the state of your field, but if you consider yourself a practitioner in a field, you have sort of a professional responsibility to see that it moves forward, expands, adapts, integrates and attempts to answer the questions and solve the challenges related to it today. The responsibility is to the next generation of practitioners. Fields are groups of bodies of knowledge, works, discoveries, technologies, theories and collections of both material and people...acquired over all time. It is up to the current generation of practitioners to see that it remains relevant, has lessons learned recorded and archived, fosters ideas and thoughts which might improve the field, and that the next generation is mentored into carrying the torch forward...in this field. As you stand on the shoulders of your teachers, mentors, and practitioners associated with your field, so should the next generation stand on your shoulders and build from your effort.
    • Feb 1 2013: Most people are practitioners in their field, I assume that's what it means to practice. The leaders are more than just practitioners because they set the methodology by which practices are carried out. With that in mind, they have a greater accountability to future generations.

      Free market accountability is, if your good or services is not competitive or effective with respect to the public, you as a leader and the practitioners will be out of work. This is an external check on a fields.

      When there is no free market accountability on a field, it becomes divorced from reality. This tends to be the case where some fields are depending completely on public funding. The fight is to keep the funding, not produce a better product or service. Note: There is no free market without competition.
      • Feb 1 2013: I know many that have a degree in a particular field, but work in another. At the time they were learning the skills they might have been thought of as Jr. practioners, students or something. Similarly, many that promote and practice are not degreed or recognized professionals. I guess you can also practice, but not be active in the professional advancement of the field.

        Leaders might be leaders that are the best and brightest researchers, the most politically successful at gaining consensus of opinion, the best fund raisers, the best recruiters for advocacy of the field, the best writers, the best speakers, or even the most popular. There are many aspects to leadership and it is doubtful any one person will be a leader in all aspects of any major field. Beyond this, there are cultural and geographic obstacles.

        The leaders do not necessarily set the methodology by which practices are carried out. They may lead committees or be influential, but "they' is usually a majority of all.

        As for levels of accountability, each gives what they are capable of giving to the next generation. Personal accountability is sort of a individual metric relative to your satisfaction with your contribution relative to what you have available to contribute, in any area.

        Free market competition and leading your field through higher profit margins is not the only group of practitioners. Perhaps in academia, but that is only one sector. At some point, most of the folks I know are pushing ideas and opportunities forward to improve the collective good because of personal satisfaction, because there is not often sufficient funding. These rewards are also worth the effort.

        Peer review, discussion, conferences and publications can also ground work in reality. Professional discourse usually strengthens the end product.

        Competition and funding are key, but serendipity, curiosity, determination and cross-pollenization of ideas also has provided their share of contributions to most fields.

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