Without academic freedom, we might never see the truth. Here’s why. | Nicholas Christakis


So when we think about academic freedom, we
might ask the question, “Well, what’s so special about academia?” Why might we have special rules of communication
and openness within academia? I think in approaching this, one might think
about other parts of our economy or other activities that we engage in in a society
in which we outline special rules of communication. So think about, for example, healthcare. When you go to your doctor, you have a couple
of expectations about how it is that you’re going to communicate with your doctor. And special rules apply to those kinds of
interactions. For example, rules of privacy. Doctors are supposed to keep things secret. When you tell your doctor something, those
aren’t supposed to be broadly advertised. Similarly, you have a kind of expectation
of openness. I mean, one of the principle ideas about how
you communicate effectively in a healthcare system is that you’re supposed to tell your
doctor anything that’s bothering you. How could a doctor diagnose and treat you
properly if you lied to your physician? So you’re supposed to reveal your secrets. You’re supposed to have the expectation that
that’s the right thing to do. In fact, it’s necessary for you to do that
and furthermore that the doctor will guard those secrets properly. Or think about, for example, in industry. There are certain industries that are engaged
in very competitive markets, let’s say, high-tech industries. And in those types of firms there’s an expectation
that things will be kept secret and private. Here, in fact, there’s not supposed to be
a lot of communication. Different groups within the firm aren’t supposed
to talk to each other. They’re supposed to work privately on their
own as they advance the technology. So in this situation we might have a different
kind of expectation about communication. Well, what about academia? What’s the mission of a university? The mission of a university is the preservation,
production, and communication of knowledge. The whole point of a university is to get
smart people talking to each other in the most unfettered ways so that they might stumble
on, discover, or co-create new ideas and new concepts. And furthermore, communicate them liberally
to outsiders, to everyone. The whole point of a university is to discover
new ideas and to disseminate them. And for that to take place optimally, we need
some kinds of rules that foster those activities. And this is, I think, the deepest origin of
the principle of academic freedom. We want people working in universities not
to feel constrained by any existing ideas. We want them to be open. We want them to talk to each other so that
their ideas get checked. If we’re really going to discover the truth,
we need me, when I say something stupid or foolish, to have someone else say wait a minute,
that’s not right. Have you thought about this fact, or have
you thought about this flaw in your argument. And that person needs to be at liberty to
say that to me without fear of losing their job, for example, or other kinds of severe
sanctions. We want to foster fluid communication so that
we can discover this knowledge, we can discover the truth and then communicate it, model that
for the broader society of which a university is a part. Any human activity — whether it’s in the
arts or in the sciences — is a kind of an activity in which egos get involved, right? And it’s the same in universities. People can get very passionate about their
ideas, and they can take them personally even if they shouldn’t. But this is inevitable, that the fact that
a human being is trying to discover new ideas about the cosmos or the fact that a person
is arguing for a particular policy with respect to health insurance that they think is going
to save lives and maybe that will advantage certain industries and disadvantage other
industries and people disagree about that. Or the fact that one artist wants to create
a kind of art that they think is very powerful or visually beautiful or provocative in some
way that they think is essential, but other people are offended by that and don’t agree
with that perspective. That kind of tension in the sciences, in the
social sciences, in the policy disciplines, in the arts is crucial for any kind of investigation
or attempt to arrive at the truth. And what this means is that sometimes people
will be made uncomfortable. They won’t like what the other person is saying. They’ll strongly disagree with it. They’ll think it’s a dangerous idea. They’ll be offended by it. But this is unavoidable in the pursuit of
truth. I mean you just think about what happened
to Galileo. If we had honored that idea of silencing someone
with whom we disagree, they would have put him to death, and we never would have found
or have benefitted from Galileo’s discoveries. So this happens in the sciences. The same thing happened, by the way, with
Darwin when Darwin’s ideas were initially advanced. Many people immediately saw their wisdom and
embraced them. Others were deeply offended by these ideas
and thought that those ideas should not be circulated. Once again, that kind of censorship would
have prevented us from seeing the truth about the world. And this continues to happen today. It happens in other places around the world
where autocratic regimes try to silence their opponents, and it even happens in the United
States, where people sometimes try to silence others in a university campus. And that type of activity plays no role, in
my view, if we’re really to honor what the purpose of a university is, which is again
the preservation, production and dissemination of knowledge. And actually, there’s a corollary to this
idea. A corollary to the idea that we have to foster
unfettered speech in order to discover the truth at universities. And that corollary is actually that sometimes
really to arrive at the optimal understanding of how the world is we need to have a diversity
of opinions. That is to say we actually want a kind of
creative abrasion. We want ideas in conflict with each other
because it’s only through this kind of conflict that we actually test the merit of the ideas
that are in conflict. So if you only have — J.S. Mill famously said he who only knows his side
of the case knows little of it — if you only know your side of the argument whether that
argument is about a scientific phenomenon or a policy point of view and you don’t know
or hear the argument that’s in opposition to yours, it means that you don’t really understand
your argument. So to make your argument better, it has to
be in conflict with other ideas

38 thoughts on “Without academic freedom, we might never see the truth. Here’s why. | Nicholas Christakis

  • The rabid Left and the frothing Bolsheviks do not tolerate Academic Expression and Freedom.
    Because their positions are indefensible, historically failed and logically unsound, they only want the reproduction of their own ideological fixations.

  • It is the academics that create the tyranny of experts, who go on to control the narrative in every field in a way that commodifies the knowledge while taking me most disruptive ideas and removing what is what is most threatening to established institutions of power.

  • Leftst teachers/students with help of antifa are trying to silence anyone who challenge their narrative, many schools have zero academic freedom left.
    It seems people need to start new schools that have free speech and doesn't tolerate silencing others for wrong think, political correctness should be frowned upon.

  • I'm not sure if I will keep my subscription of Big think, since that it’s seems to have been taking over by right wing think tanks… Before It was a plurality of ideas who were put forward, now it's just what the big business interests of America want us to think that is put forward. I am very much disappointed. For the most part, the people who agree with this crap are : the few rich people from the business interests who are for the most part libertarians and the stupids trolls who use this platform for getting their hate out of themselves. The question that I have is as follow: when and by who. When did this channel has been bought, I mean financed and by who: the Koch brother, Lumina foundation… Most Americans hate big money interest who are polluting the debates, most people don't like what it have to say. So now, they LOVE freedom of speech because they know that at the core of what they try to sell us, it stinks for us and it's great for them. That's just another way to corrupt the system just like with big donors are corrupting the government with their dark money. One more thing, if your truly for freedom of speech, you will not block this comment.

  • There's a gap between universities and the public and societies, until the gap been filled, the Academic arguments will be useless!!!
    Cheers 🙂

  • Can we start with giving free access to academic information? I shouldn't have to pay for a psych study in order to study it in more detail than the abstract. Science currently has a very strained relationship with society, we rly need to fix this asap.

  • True. So stop pandering to politicians and the mainstream flavour of the time and start speaking out against horseshit like "97% of scientists agree on anything" and the fact that scientists pander to grant money and careers instead of doing real science.

  • The biggest problem in academics is that it's about improving yourself though learning and not learning.
    About getting qualifications and not the skills they are intended to pertain to.
    About being a "good scholar" instead of doing scholarly work.
    About following procedures instead of spontaneous action.
    About teaching to the exam instead of examining what was taught.

    The systems of control that have allowed us to standardize and education an implement it on a large scale has led to mediocrity, a misalignment of talent to skill, and a curriculum so inflexible in could only hope to elicit engagement from a robot.

    The old way of educating people was dynamic. The teacher, who was most likely also your parent, taught and interacted with the student in a way that was human and specific to the needs of the situation.
    The obvious problem was that it was marred by nepotism and didn't share the benefits of a global academic establishment that could integrate all of the available pedagogical resources. But the core issue now is the machine is so massive and unwieldy it can only hope to keep track of the student by approximation. like a subatomic particle.
     
    Is there a way to get the best of both worlds?
    The fact that the world hasn't broken down completely in the absence of competent educated people alone shows that we're getting by and the wider world that schools are intended to simulate to a degree has a way of straightening things out.
    But it's imperfect and leads to a great deal of suffering.

    If there is a way to get the ideal educational system (and I'm going to say right now that the answer is essentially, "no") it will be a system that accepts it's own limitations and encourages the student not to accept it's authority blindly and to seek their own path in life however they come to it. Such as system would support their development wherever possible, but would not seek to restrain it.
    It would prioritize that a student give just as much weight to their sense of interest and engagement as their grades. A student should not be satisfied with a high grade if the subject didn't intrigue them them, nor discouraged by a low grade if the task was enjoyable.
    All either of these outcomes imply is that the test can't adequately get at the question, "What makes a good student?"

    And that's really the crux of what I'm getting at.

    The key to knowledge is the acceptance and recognition of our ignorance; of both the necessity of defining the student's ability so that he can be graded at all, but also it's futility. There are ways of evaluating a student's progress and how they are to improve, but this is just using arbitrary measures to discuss arbitrary measures just as a dictionary can only define words in terms of other words. All it does is circumambulate the real issue because the procedure of analysis simply doesn't know when it's computations are beaten.

    The intuition of an individual can do a much better job on a case by case basis, but his opinion will nessessarily be subjective and it's impossible for Mr. So-and-So to be in a thousand different schools or universities at the same time.

    You cannot find the good student by subjecting him to a test because tests can only measure concepts and a "good student" is not a concept. It's a living, breathing, thinking reality.

    So that means that the only solution to the problem is that there is no solution because the problem is…well…let's see if whoever's reading this can figure that one out for themselves…

  • Universities should not have "safe spaces" – that idea goes against the idea of being exposed to ideas with which a person might disagree. Universities should have a diversity of ideas, not egalitarianism – the best should be allowed to rise to the top without regard to physical attributes. Will this happen when the Feminists and Manginas are in charge? Nope.

  • 1:43 No, it's to teach young people what the correct things to believe are, and allowing wrong ideas to be expressed hinders that mission.

  • The best example of academic ideology is the fact that dumb-dumb fields like Gender Studies are allowed to directly contradict real science like biology. Not just in academia, the olympics now allow men to compete against women. Completely ignoring biology in favor of the social sciences, where you can get anything published as long as it fits the ideology.

    These videos are good, but it annoys me how they never call out the particular cancer they are addressing – grievance studies. And I don't blame them, because if they did call them out, tomorrow they might be out of a job when the authoritarian jackboots show up to enforce their racist/sexist ideology.

  • Look at what Jorden Peterson has been going through. He didn’t actually insult people with a LGBT background, what did do was write an article about his concerns over Canada’s new ‘compelled speech’ laws. He was trying to warn about the danger of the government forcing people to only use specific words when referring to people’s identified gender. Peterson always showed respect to individuals in both is clinical practice and classroom and honored their preferred terms on an individual basis. However this was totally misreported by the media. 20 years ago Peterson would have been considered moderate or a liberal however in the last few years the academic community has polarized and he is considered hard right and being pushed out because he dares to question the system.

  • Nobody wants to be criticized but only those who can exercise their power upon others may extinguish critical thinking. That's why a real democracy is so important. One human, one vote…

  • Wow, talking about the importance of diversity of opinions? Sound, logical, and planned talking points?
    Did I accidentally wander into bizarro Big Think?

  • For academic freedom to work there is one important rule left out in the video, integrity. Arguments and counter arguments must be honest; dishonest arguments need to be policed.

  • Singapore Has No Academic Freedom – Thum Ping Tjin
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weNrN2glfJ4
    Yale campus reignites freedom debate in Singapore
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7dpdur0ldU
    People in Singapore are not educated
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LJ_K2FtA9Y

  • Would be interesting to actually see this guy saying this on a university campus. His ass would be labeled racist, sexist, bigot, nazi by protestors.

  • As an academic I totally agree. But I add the condition that evidence and argument from evidence needs to be in place to engage the rights. Otherwise you have mere opinion and that's no better than one of Trumps or Kellyanne's alt facts. Even informed opinion is still only opinion. One spouts it subject to the usual social constraints and norms.

    I am inclined to think that academic freedom might not be strongly defended for someone acting outside their area of expertise. But this is not straight forward. Obviously if they rely on their expertise in a non-relevant area, then you have a fallacy at play, namely appeal to authority. But that is not the main issue. The question is whether the arguments in support apply across any and all subjects a member f campus community cares about, or only to their field(s).

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