Poch Peralta

Freelance Writer / Blogger,


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Is the academic promotion system inherently flawed?

Is Academia Getting In the Way of Today’s Geniuses?
Should citations alone be used to judge scholarly performance? Or should merit include a qualitative review of a scholar’s work by their peers?

'...two of this year’s laureates have stepped forward, alleging that the academic publishing and promotion system is inherently flawed. Whatever your career, everyone wants to advance further and see financial rewards for their hard work. But according to Peter Higgs and Randy Shekman, the academic game isn’t as much about merit as it is about quotas. If their argument is valid, it implies career-changing consequences for the scholars of today.

'Peter Higgs was already famous before winning his Nobel, as one of the researchers who discovered the origin of mass. In an interview with “The Guardian,” Higgs says he wouldn’t even be employable at a university today because he’s not considered productive enough for the system...'

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    Jan 14 2014: What Happens When Kids Leave Traditional Education
    One example of a student who claims to be thriving as a homeschooled student is Logan Laplante. After leaving traditional education at age 9, he feels he was given the opportunity to create the type of life all kids want, “to be happy and healthy”. Now 13-years-old, he shared at a recent TEDx event how hack-schooling (as he calls it) is allowing him to make his vision possible.
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    Jan 13 2014: You've started a great topic, Poch.

    When I was a teen I was accepted in one of the most tough European science colleges. I left it after 3 years disappointing
    my scholarly teachers (they thought I was "brilliant"). Why did I leave?The teaching in schools is ultimately stiff and the teachers even those with high positions and degrees cannot really teach but sort of Tame students minds. Moreover, even philosophy teachers commonly never read A. Schopenhauer, do not know W. Heisenberg as a great philosopher. None of my questions since I was a very young student in my elementary school were answered, so I've never got them in college. Well, I've never been a normal student as you might guess and if I stayed within the academy surrounded by its thick walls I would never be able to do my fascinating work.. I've learned endlessly more since have been conducting my education on my own.

    If one is driven to make a revolution or an important contribution to sciences or philosophy or arts this person must stay away from that formal education. It is always outdated in every way - the process of approving what is suitable or not to the old institution takes a long time..

    New research is impossible without some investment and it is commonly the government here, who decides what to finance.. Well, to do your own research takes not only great courage and knowledge, but money.

    Therefore, our sciences are getting more and more obese, however, the mentality of the majority is still "rooted" in old Descartes times, and philosophy is still dancing around mathematics which is "built" upon endless logical mistakes (which Bertrand Russell could not solve)

    Perhaps there is no place for me, as a pioneering researcher, a common story, but I'm wondering if it is ever possible to give students more freedom to think on their own, or at least find someone among them who can do this. Remember the ancient genius teacher Socrates who encouraged people to think on their own
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      Jan 13 2014: You are Brilliant indeed Vera. You know what real 'education' is and
      you refused the taming of your mind. The creativity of mind is always choked with strict rules.
      And you were a rare young female bird interested in philosophy!

      '...person must stay away from that formal education...'
      I even say that formal education isn't useful for everyone anymore:

      '...philosophy is still dancing around mathematics which is "built" upon endless logical mistakes...'
      Again, formality and strict rules are the culprit.

      Of course it's possible to give students more freedom to think on their own. There are a few
      wise professors and schools who are proud doing that. The problem is, like Socrates, they
      are treated as rebels and persecuted by corrupt groups.
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        Jan 14 2014: Thank you for thinking along! You reminded me something about what my college teacher told me " I advise you to stay in college, obey the rules and follow all traditional methods until you'll have a respectable position, which will allow you to become a 'noticeable rebel.' " But he meant a "rebel" within an institution. He also meant
        if I have no "respectable position" no one would notice my work, neither within nor without.

        Pretty classical case! If you try to change, "shake" the established for decades (sometimes for ages) rules, you're a "rebel". I was too shy and quite for a rebel and in deep depression then, for years.

        I think if we want to make grand changes we shall stop fighting the editing institutions and build a new one. Even starting with a few knowledgable individuals and a small space, even a virtual space.

        Maybe a new school should be built, very small classes for a practical learning how to ethically coexist as members of small sustainable communities, where students are not trying to compete, but learn how to be helpful and exchange their knowledge and experience, be as helpful as possible for the sake of their tiny young society. Because the basic nature's laws is that every living form is unique and its uniqueness encourages it to find its own unique ways to do the best.

        I'd like to see this school as an enchanting quiet resort (noise is paralyzing our mental ability to learn and create), surrounded by the gardens. The architecture should be inspirational, perhaps shaped up similar to some ancient place of worship, where all our scholarly beginnings were born. A real rich library with real books, classical literature and philosophy, ancient writing, history of religion, original work of the great scientists.
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          Jan 14 2014: I think your college prof gave the better advice. In fact, I was one
          rebel inside college. But being a rebel inside is much harder. It's like trying
          to be like an addict just to be a drug undercover agent.

          I think I mentioned SOLE in my convo 'Is education still useful for everyone?'. It might
          be the kind of school you suggest to be built. I've read somewhere too about your
          fantasy school and I fantasize with you!

          It seems to me you're not a native English speaker. Are you European? Just curious.
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        Jan 14 2014: : I was born in Brussels and my first language was baby-French. My parents died when I was a very young girl. As a teenager I traveled "through" a few countries, but never found any peaceful place to stay and study.. My previous life was very unsafe, and very unstable. Well, I know I cannot speak any language well, because as I discovered I had problems with manmade languages in general, I feel languages are as very deceitful and illusive as human consciousness. Only a great poet might put some words together so I can trust it almost as I can trust graceful music. I like English - it's more direct and structured well, I also feel that it is more respectful towards the meaning of words and terms than other languages. (But who am I to judge?) English is the language of some of the greatest scientists and philosophers, writers and poets.
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          Jan 14 2014: Oh... don't worry about speaking any foreign language well.
          That only matters to nitpickers blast them. So...I guessed right that you're a rare
          survivor and you deserve to be.

          'I feel languages are as very deceitful and illusive as human consciousness...'
          You felt right Vera! We can never be sure how our readers will interpret what we

          I also prefer English over my native language. English is concise and easier to use.
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        Jan 14 2014: I'd like to know what you think about a first futuristic sustainable school that is to encourage young students to learn how to co-exist in a peaceful small society within natural environment. I do not suggest to completely get rid of large production and a few other systems - they can be very helpful in case of emergencies, but they shall be NOT prevailing - only supportive. I think about how to practically start making changes within small groups, and learn again about sustainability.

        (so many meaningful jobs can be created --- but by individuals themselves, and based on their skils and talents, while they are comprehending what is Really needed within their own communities and natural environment. The new menaingful ideas and skills and traditions, in combination with sound innovation will be praised - not those psychotic ideas which the brainless industries or corporate guys advertise..
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          Jan 14 2014: I can only say that I support your idea of 'a first futuristic sustainable
          school that is to encourage young students to learn how to co-exist in a
          peaceful small society within natural environment.' It's a great concept that
          should be implemented.

          Corporate ads about ideas are always suspect. Probably made just to
          rake in money.
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    Jan 7 2014: Hi Poch,
    In your introduction you note: "Should citations alone be used to judge scholarly performance?" I heard a statistic the other day - the average academic paper is only read by 8 people, all of whom are academics. So what's the point of all those quotas for outputs of academic writings?
    I left my secure academic post (my colleagues thought I was crazy) in the year 2000 because I wanted to see if I had anything creative, original and worthwhile in me to contribute to the world. It's slowly coming to fruition.
    I think Keith Henline's comment below is on the right track - we need practical skills and (I would add) practical ways for dealing with our psychology and the search for meaning in life.
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      Jan 7 2014: I'm glad your gamble is slowly coming to fruition Joshua.
      I also would love to say that your experience refutes the reference article but we have to wait
      for the fruition to complete first don't you think?

      We both agree with Keith I'm glad.
  • Jan 5 2014: Do you want to know who deserves a Nobel prize? Let me explain... today I went into a home depot and there in the front taking up prime real estate space was a whole class of young school children and what were they doing? Building! Building this and building that with glue and little boards and little tools and painting their little projects and guess what? Not even one of them was bored, every single one of them totally absorbed in the project they were doing.
    Finally, what I saw today for the first time was an education system that was actually working and worth it's weight in Gold. Kids were learning something of practical use that they can build on (no pun intended). Before a child graduates from High school they should know how to build their own house, grow their own food, cook, balance a checkbook... things that matter.
    Today a high school graduate is not even qualified to sweep a floor, even though they way have to for the rest of their lives. Since most of them end up in Jail within a few years I surmise that is what they are teaching them!!
    A young couple (not married) are living next door, both graduated from high school, guess what kind of work they are doing? Yep cleaning floors, toilets and ash trays... there dream job? More money for cleaning floors and toilets, I bet you couldn't see that one coming, could you? They don't even have a computer or automobile but they have an old 50" TV. What's their future??
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      Jan 5 2014: When I was in the 5th or 6th grade in the 1960s, we had this subject
      called Home Economics. Boys were taught woodworking probably preparing us for building
      houses. We were also taught gardening.

      'Since most of them end up in Jail within a few years I surmise that is what
      they are teaching them!!...'
      You're probably surmising right. There are multiple allegations that some of those school
      mass shooters were trained or brainwashed by law enforcers to do exactly that. Circumstantial
      evidence are enough to convince you.

      There are young teenage couples I know who are worse. They don't get permanent jobs yet
      they continue to create children and ruin their reputation with social misdeeds. To me, they are
      hellbent on sending their children to hell like themselves.
      • Jan 5 2014: Poch I take the blame for the condition the world is in. We created it and maintain it. It is absolutely our fault, each and every one of us. If we were not personally involved we still knew about it and did nothing which is just as bad as doing it ourselves.
        "The only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for enough good men to do nothing."
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          Jan 5 2014: There goes apathy again. Weren't you the one who said
          'Taking responsibility -- that is the solution'?

          Yes sir I agree. We're all partly to blame.
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      Jan 5 2014: The large home repair shops (Home Depot, Lowe's...) have been doing this for years. It is typically not classes of school children but rather an open offering to which parents can bring their kids and may pay a small materials fee. I am sure they do this at least once a month. I too saw the proud kids leaving yesterday with their parents and their projects, but I see this often here. For example, from the website of one of them:
      "FREE hands-on workshops; designed for children ages 5 - 12.
      Offered the 1st Saturday of every month at all _____ stores between 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Please do not arrive before 9:00 a.m.
      Workshops teach children do-it-yourself skills, tool safety and instill a sense of pride and accomplishment.
      All kids get to keep their craft, receive a FREE certificate of achievement, a Workshop Apron, and a commemorative pin.
      One workshop kit, apron and pin per child, while supplies last.
      Children must be present at the store to participate in the workshop and receive the kit, apron and pin.
      Kids Workshop activities are scheduled on a first come/first served basis.
      Thank you for registering online to help us better plan our craft kit quantities needed."

      If you go to the website and check out the Workshop link, you will find separate free DIY workshops for women and others for anyone.
      • Jan 5 2014: Fritzie I may have seen it before for some reason this time it had a major impact on me when I realized that we are graduating high school kids with so little of the basic skills they need to live and so many skills that will only land them in jail. I am not talking about what the teacher thinks they are teaching like math or science, I am talking about what they see at school like gangs, drugs, violence and intolerance. It doesn't matter what the subject is if the kids in the back row are passing drugs and flashing gang signs to determine their next victim!
        Anyway I was totally impressed to watch how excited the kids were to be there, they really do want to learn if we just give them a safe environment to learn in. The kids are our only hope to end this insanity we call normal.
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    Jan 16 2014: Scholarly objections to TED
    'Research Isn’t Always Racy, and Value Is Not the Same as Profit
    The ubiquity and power of the TED brand and network could facilitate intellectual superficiality. It could lead to the unholy Gladwellification of complexity, in which self-promoters foist trendy but reductionistic arguments on a fawning and uncritical global network. Some TED talks are great; others are mediocre or underwhelming. And is there any real-world follow-through?

    'But the deepest worry, I think, is that society could be duped into conflating any “idea worth exploring” with the sexiest, most of-the-moment topics that can be branded and sold by a speaker dressed like a cinematic ninja with a powerpoint presentation...'
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    Jan 14 2014: Are Charter Schools Undermining the Future of Public Education?
    In too many places, charters function more like deregulated “enterprise zones” than models of reform, providing subsidized spaces for a few at the expense of the many.
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    Jan 14 2014: Very encouraging!
  • Jan 13 2014: I left the academic world years ago for many reasons but one in particular was the publish or perish rules. Even if you had enough publications, if you made an enemy of a tenured professor, they would claim the quality was not enough. The politics and finance issues are worst than anything I saw in the corporate world. At least there was a common goal of making money, there was a feeling of every man for himself in academia.

    There was a great docu-drama of the discovery and isolation of insulin. It was the 1st Nobel prize won by a Canadian, I believe. The politics around the Nobel is immense and smart people get the Nobel but the true scientists many times do not. Another example is the identification of the HIV virus and Robert Gallo. It is interesting that he was not named for the Nobel while the others were for the identification of the HIV virus.
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      Jan 13 2014: Joshua did something related:
      'I left my secure academic post (my colleagues thought I was crazy) in the year 2000 because
      I wanted to see if I had anything creative, original and worthwhile in me to contribute to the world...'

      'The politics around the Nobel is immense and smart people get the Nobel but the true scientists
      many times do not...'
      Very true Wayne. In fact the primary reason I posted this convo is that I'm fed up reading so many
      articles about such incidents. The shamelessness of it all is it continues to happen!
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    Jan 7 2014: Quote from Ross Macdonald in 1965:
    'Students are more and more like assembly-line products, acquiring a thin veneer of education as they glide by us.'
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    Jan 3 2014: Poch, Not being personally involved in the process I can only guess. Please keep in mind that these are my opinions and I know that I will offend some.

    First I think the focus of universities has become very blurred. I suspect that it is no longer dedicated to the student but to making money. Using that as a base lets look at the academic promotion system. The big money to schools come from research grants ... If I can snag a national figure or noble winner in the area that the government or corporations are looking to fund ... who do I promote / fill the slot with .... the unknown who earned it ... or the one who will attract millions of dollars and billions in free advertisements and draw some of the best minds. (this is not to say he has not earned it) That is, IMO, what Higgs was referring to as being active.

    Then we have the budget issue. I saw a chart of the highest paid college staff ... in almost every state the highest paid person was the football coach ... why? National spotlight will be a recruitment factor ... your school get billions of dollars worth of free advertisement ... more students .... more money ....

    The University of Arizona is deeply involved in NASA projects ... they make national news over and over ... so if I want to make big government bucks ... I go there and make a name for myself and take a fat paycheck as the best / most knowledgeable person for the job.

    Just a question ... why would a college select you to receive a honorary Doctorate? Yep, they hope you and your company will become donors.

    I would like to have the merit VS quota argument expanded to ensure I understand what that means.

    Is it flawed? I would say that it definitely favors those that can contribute to the kitty.

    Always a pleasure ..... Bob.
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      Jan 4 2014: '... why would a college select you to receive a honorary Doctorate?
      Yep, they hope you and your company will become donors...'

      Now that is really sickening. I wonder if anyone would ever accept an honorary if every
      awardee knew that. And I wouldn't be surprised if some 'awardees' 'donate' before being

      It's bad enough when someone gets the award for his politics. Using the award to circulate
      cash is utterly shameless.
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        Jan 4 2014: Yeah ... sorry to see you focus on that comment ... how about the comment: Is it flawed? I would say that it definitely favors those that can contribute to the kitty.

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          Jan 4 2014: I agree with that and I thought that favoring those
          that can contribute to the kitty relates to 'using the award to circulate cash'.
  • Jan 3 2014: In American institutions, qualitative review is already officially part of the process. We see how little good that does.
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      Jan 3 2014: A viral issue. I'll probably add a list of revolting activist academics later.
      • Jan 3 2014: I'd say that most academics are revolting, whether activist or not. That's probably why they never leave academe.
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          Jan 3 2014: LOL I see sarcasm or a double entendre.