The short answer: not so much these days

A PhD candidate quits academia and explains how professional academics have ruined science:

(1) Academia: It’s Not Science, It’s Business
I’m going to start with the supposition that the goal of “science”
is to search for truth, to improve our understanding of the universe
around us, and to somehow use this understanding to move the world
towards a better tomorrow. At least, this is the propaganda that we’ve
often been fed while still young, and this is generally the propaganda
that universities that do research use to put themselves on lofty moral
ground, to decorate their websites, and to recruit naïve youngsters like
I’m also going to suppose that in order to find truth, the basic
prerequisite is that you, as a researcher, have to be brutally honest –
first and foremost, with yourself and about the quality of your own
work. Here one immediately encounters a contradiction, as such honesty
appears to have a very minor role in many people’s agendas. Very quickly
after your initiation in the academic world, you learn that being “too
honest” about your work is a bad thing and that stating your research’s
shortcomings “too openly” is a big faux pas. Instead, you are
taught to “sell” your work, to worry about your “image”, and to be
strategic in your vocabulary and where you use it. Preference is given
to good presentation over good content – a priority that, though
understandable at times, has now gone overboard. The “evil” kind of
networking (see, e.g.,
seems to be openly encouraged. With so many business-esque things to
worry about, it’s actually surprising that *any* scientific research
still gets done these days. Or perhaps not, since it’s precisely the
naïve PhDs, still new to the ropes, who do almost all of it.
(2) Academia: Work Hard, Young Padawan, So That One Day You Too May Manage!
I sometimes find it both funny and frightening that the majority of
the world’s academic research is actually being done by people like me,
who don’t even have a PhD degree. Many advisors, whom you would expect
to truly be pushing science forward with their decades of experience, do
surprisingly little and only appear to manage the PhD students, who
slave away on papers that their advisors then put their names on as a
sort of “fee” for having taken the time to read the document (sometimes,
in particularly desperate cases, they may even try to steal first
authorship). Rarely do I hear of advisors who actually go through their
students’ work in full rigor and detail, with many apparently having
adopted the “if it looks fine, we can submit it for publication”

Apart from feeling the gross unfairness of the whole thing – the
students, who do the real work, are paid/rewarded amazingly little,
while those who manage it, however superficially, are paid/rewarded
amazingly much – the PhD student is often left wondering if they are
only doing science now so that they may themselves manage later. The
worst is when a PhD who wants to stay in academia accepts this and
begins to play on the other side of the table. Every PhD student reading
this will inevitably know someone unlucky enough to have fallen upon an
advisor who has accepted this sort of management and is now inflicting
it on their own students – forcing them to write paper after paper and
to work ridiculous hours so that the advisor may advance his/her career
or, as if often the case, obtain tenure. This is unacceptable and needs
to stop….

(8) Academia: The Greatest Trick It Ever Pulled was Convincing the World That It was Necessary
Perhaps the most crucial, piercing question that the people in
academia should ask themselves is this: “Are we really needed?” Year
after year, the system takes in tons of money via all sorts of grants.
Much of this money then goes to pay underpaid and underappreciated PhD
students who, with or without the help of their advisors, produce some
results. In many cases, these results are incomprehensible to all except
a small circle, which makes their value difficult to evaluate in any
sort of objective manner. In some rare cases, the incomprehensibility is
actually justified – the result may be very powerful but may, for
example, require a lot of mathematical development that you really do
need a PhD to understand. In many cases, however, the result, though
requiring a lot of very cool math, is close to useless in application.

This is fine, because real progress is slow. What’s bothersome,
however, is how long a purely theoretical result can be milked for
grants before the researchers decide to produce something practically
useful. Worse yet, there often does not appear to be a strong urge for
people in academia to go and apply their result, even when this becomes
possible, which most likely stems from the fear of failure – you are
morally comfortable researching your method as long as it works in
theory, but nothing would hurt more than to try to apply it and to learn
that it doesn’t work in reality.

This is written by a PhD candidate at a European university, but the problems he cites are, for the most part, imported from American universities, in which the problems are reportedly even more severe.  It is worth recalling that most of the great scientific discoveries throughout history were made by amateur scientists, not the professional academic guild that tries to claim ownership of a method and a knowledge base that long pre-dated it.

And it’s not just sour grapes from a non-finisher either. One commenter adds: “I agree with everything the author said and more. I am just extremely
disappointed at myself for not having seen it all this clearly earlier.
It took a Master’s degree, a Ph.D degree and a post-doc at the best
institutions in the world, until I started to see academia for what it
is: a paper publishing business driven mostly by people who care nothing
for the advancement of knowledge.”

I think this is why it is helpful to think about science in the tripartite terms I labeled in TIA. One should never confuse scientage or scientody for scientistry.  “Science”, as it exists today, is something of a bait-and-switch. What the PhD candidate is describing is scientistry, the practitioners of which have tried to elevate themselves on the basis of the public’s high regard for scientage and scientody. This has led to observably absurd statements such as PZ Myers’s claiming that “science is what scientists do”.

The answer is simple. Defund scientistry. Get rid of the third-rate bureaucrats and managers that have increasingly replaced the first-rate minds that used to dominate science. Return science to the technicians and the amateurs of an earlier, more successful, age.

Another commenter adds an important observation: “Science is NOT a business, science is a charitable venture funded by
government. And government is famously incompetent at getting ANYTHING
done efficiently or sensibly, because government is also not a business,
it lives off the taxpayer, few of whom even follow what their money is
being spent on. So science is a big charade where bureaucrats hire
committees of “respected” academics to make collective judgments on
distributing the government funds, so all the conniving and deal-making
and back-stabbing are a natural part of the process. It happens wherever
government spends money, not just in science.”

That also explains why so many scientists hate libertarians.  They know we see through their scam.