Saturday, December 14, 2013

Off-Scale Scholars. Quality Inflation.

Sam Schweber refers to Feynman, Dyson, Bethe, and some others as off-scale scientists. I was thinking about this when I came upon the CV of one of our electrical engineering faculty members. It is stellar, and the faculty member is still in the middle of their career. I am not sure off-scale applies in this case, but we might think of this scholar as extraordinarily productive and creative (call them PC++). When I look around at most faculty at reasonably strong universities, they are well below such a level. Keep in mind that almost all members of the National Academies are at best PC+. And most faculty at most strong universities, if you are lucky, are PC (although many might be PC-).

So it behooves us to deflate most letters of reference, most assessments made at promotion and tenure committee meetings, and realize that we are assessing good-enough performance, almost always, and whether or not it is present.

Is someone reasonably productive and is their work recognized by their community and peers?
Is their work good, in that there are no major flaws, and the claims are well grounded.
Have they made a coherent contribution to scholarship?
Do they have a future path that is likely to be productive, recognized, and coherent?

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