Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Passing On Our Narcissism

I recently read about the results of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) -- a nationwide survey of 16,475 college students conducted between 1982 and 2006. In a nutshell, the survey revealed that the narcissistic attitudes of our youth have risen steadily over the past 25 years. In its latest iteration, two-thirds of the students demonstrated above average narcissism -- up more that 30% since 1982.

Reading this reminded me of another survey conducted during the 1990s wherein a research group studying the state of American education released a report comparing the math scores of U.S. and Japanese high school students. The results were not surprising. The Japanese students scored significantly higher than their American counterparts on an equivalent test. But what was notable was the response to a question asked of both groups of students right after they had finished taking the test but before they had seen the results. The Japanese students overwhelmingly expressed dejection and embarrassment for what they considered to be a poor performance on the test. The American students were confident they had aced it.

On hearing the reports of this study, one well-known critic of the public school system in America remarked, “I think its safe to say we’ve done a good job of addressing any worries we might have had about our children’s self esteem.”

Where did these narcissistic tendencies originate -- and why?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Ironic Tyranny of Academic Intolerance

Today, the Ames (Iowa) Tribune reports that eminent astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez has been denied tenure at Iowa State University. This may seem unworthy of a news report ... unless you understand who Gonzalez is and why this is happening to him. Guillermo Gonzalez's simple shortcoming is that he has the audacity to not tote the party line along with his fellow scientists.

If that is a criterion for academic shunning, Copernicus, Einstein and Darwin should have been hog-tied, gagged and left to rot in a dungeon somewhere.

While the published criteria for receiving tenure at ISU consists:

"'primarily on evidence of scholarship in the faculty member's teaching, research/creative activities, and/or extension/professional practice' ... In addition to that, Gonzalez's department of astronomy and physics sets a benchmark for tenure candidates to author at least 15 peer-reviewed journal articles of quality."

Gonzalez has published 68 peer-reviewed articles -- 23 of those since he arrived at ISU in 2001.

No, Gonzalez's "problem" is not that he is deficient intellectually, academically or professionally. Gonzalez's "problem" is that, in the opinion of those who control the levers of power both within the scientific community in general and at ISU specifically, he doesn't think properly.