[ExI] What's Wrong With Academic Futurists?

Robin D Hanson rhanson at gmu.edu
Tue Jan 28 15:58:55 UTC 2014

I had asked:
There is an academic specialty of futurism. That is, there are professors, journals, and even some departments which specialize in that topic. Do people here often read or cite such folks? It seems not, but then the question is why not.

Anders responded:
I think future oriented people can be oriented towards it in different ways.
At the simplest there is the entertainment/escapism aspect: the future is gonna be cool/horrifying, and talking about that is fun. From this perspective the academics are too boring.
Then there is the future-oriented community: it is nice to be around others interested in similar things, so we flock together. But this social function works best when everybody can participate - and there is a threshold of entry to any more academic topic. Hence the emphasis of recent popularizations of the future.
Then there is the informative aspect: we take the future seriously, we might want information that help us make better decisions. This is where good academic insights might be helpful. Except of course that most academic stuff is not directly useful: besides Sturegon's law and the problem of judging quality if you are an outsider, thresholds of entry problems (whether academic jargon, math or gated journals), a lot of the research is focused (for various internal reasons) on less actionable or low-priority issues. These factors are multiplicative: individually not too strong, but together they make a pretty big filtering effect. This is where the "wrong" of the academics is located, but it is also about the interface to academia.

So, folks here don't talk about academic futurism much because such academics use jargon and math, are mostly low quality and neglect the high priority actionable issues, and don't present the future as cool or horrifying?

But lots of other academic work gets mentioned here, also stuff that uses jargon and math, and those are in fields where most work is also low quality. If those factors don't explain it, I'd guess it comes down to a disagreement about what are actionable priorities, and their refusal to overplay things as cool or horrifying?

Another possible explanation comes from your other message, where you said you didn't publish in academic futurism journals because:
 It would be too easy to get our stuff into Futures.

That is, that field has lower academic prestige than the other academic fields that people do talk about here.
This would be my guess - people here mainly don't talk about academic futurism because it is lower status.

Robin Hanson  http://hanson.gmu.edu
Res. Assoc., Future of Humanity Inst., Oxford Univ.
Assoc. Professor, George Mason University
Chief Scientist, Consensus Point
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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