I’ve blogged many times about the desire of professors to show off and how it interferes with being useful. It doesn’t just make them bad teachers, it makes them bad scientists. Here’s an example from economics (via Marginal Revolution):
â€œThe mainstream of academic research in macroeconomics puts theoretical coherence and elegance first, and investigating the data second,â€ says Mr. Rogoff. For that reason, he says, much of the professionâ€™s celebrated work â€œwas not terribly useful in either predicting the financial crisis, or in assessing how it would it play out once it happened.â€
â€œ[Academic economists] almost pride themselves on not paying attention to current events,â€ he says.
Pure Veblen, who in Theory of the Leisure Class provided many examples of people, including professors, priding themselves on being useless. Men wear ties, he said, to show they don’t do manual labor (which is clearly useful).
My research is closer to biology, where you can say the same thing: much of the profession’s celebrated work has not been terribly useful. Yesterday I gave an example (the oncogene theory of cancer).