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Is Elon Musk right in saying most academic papers are useless?


Yes. Nobody reads them. Ever. Unless they’re looking for a lead-in for their own never-to-be-read (because not worthy of being read) recycle-job.

Go ahead and read some recent ‘work’ on the mind-body problem, or (God forbid) on ‘ethics’, and you will truly understand the concept of nothingness.

And nobody reads them because they’re boring, and they’re boring because they’re bad, because academia, with some minor qualifications (that don’t apply to you have if you have to ask) is not where the action is now.

Those papers are for show only. They look nice—as in the covers and typography and lay-out all look nice. But there’s not very much there.

Back in the day, when I was in that rat-race, I published some journal articles that actually contained succinct resolutions of technical questions for which other scholars were supposedly looking for answers. I mean—nice little proofs. And on the rare occasions that were any responses, they were either slimy and political or were just as props for some other professor who wanted support for his own ideas.

Setting aside medical journals and few other journals of that ilk, they literally cannot give away copies of the most ‘prestigious’ journals. They cannot even give away e-copies. They get spam complaints. Mind, Philosophical Review, the Journal of Philosophy—-it turns out that, when readership-levels are independently assessed, their readerships are quite literally non-existent. (Not an overstatement. Do an Amazon search. You’ll see.) And they’re non-existent because those journals are not journals; they’re nice little hunks of processed wood, which have about as much meaning as that mug of yours that says “World’s Best Dad.”

100 years ago, academic journals served a function. Crelle’s Journal, the Monatshrifte in which Einstein and Gödel published their results—yes, these were nice sources of information. But academic journals now are about circling the wagons and bestowing in-house titles on other members of a dying and now totally irrelevant club.

Just for show. Just a front. No there there.

But don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and try to read one page of one article in the top journal in religious studies or history or (medicine aside) any other field.

The obvious response to all this is that academic journals are not for general consumption. This seems reasonable enough—but when I say nobody reads them, I mean nobody. Real thinkers don’t go there for ideas; they flee from the journals, as from wild bees. If anyone thinks otherwise, I invite them to show me peer-reviewed publication list, and I will then show them mine.

I stopped publishing in the journals, and even stopped publishing with academic publishers, because that is no longer how ideas are disseminated. They are at this point purely token, and they don’t engage anything. The idea that they service small but important niches is an invidious lie.

These papers are just markers in slimy bureaucracy-internal games; and because people think otherwise, the pathetically slow distribution mechanisms to which they belong get to keep on jamming up thought.

Finally, there is old saw that these various papers are like atoms jostling against one another—what a given one does tends to be negligible, but, so it is alleged, they collectively constitute a rich discourse out of which great things sometimes come.

Totally false. Nothing is innovated in the journal-space. Nothing gets published if it has so much as a shred of merit. The journals are about as responsible for intellectual ferment as real estate agents are for building houses. Beware the standard rationalizations.

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