Nice interview with Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson is an incredible scientist. I imagine he, Terrance Tao, Paul Erdos and a number of others are all woven from the same cloth. Dyson has done some amazing work, and probably will do some more amazing work. The interview is here.

One of the comments he made really struck me as being dead on correct …

You became a professor at Cornell without ever having received a Ph.D. You seem almost proud of that fact.

Oh, yes. I?m very proud of not having a Ph.D. I think the Ph.D. system is an abomination. It was invented as a system for educating German professors in the 19th century, and it works well under those conditions. It?s good for a very small number of people who are going to spend their lives being professors. But it has become now a kind of union card that you have to have in order to have a job, whether it?s being a professor or other things, and it?s quite inappropriate for that. It forces people to waste years and years of their lives sort of pretending to do research for which they?re not at all well-suited. In the end, they have this piece of paper which says they?re qualified, but it really doesn?t mean anything. The Ph.D. takes far too long and discourages women from becoming scientists, which I consider a great tragedy. So I have opposed it all my life without any success at all.

I’ve used similar language, describing a Ph.D. as a union card. And I agree it takes far too long in physics. You are in your late 20s to early 30s when you finish up. Then you start your postdoc(s). Which are just queuing and filtering systems for the very small number of open faculty spots ever year. So often, you are in your late 30s, early 40s before you start your tenure track, and if things work out, you’ll get tenure 5-ish years later. If not, you get to find a job in the real world, with little practical experience, and a set of degrees and training which mean you are an expensive resource.

For 20+ years I’ve been thinking we are approaching this incorrectly, that the system in place was engineered for a different time. Its nice to see that confirmed.

Oh … and if you are a strong supporter of/believer in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (e.g. you are of the opinion that IPCC and related bits are actually representative of reality), you will be quite disappointed in Mr Dyson. But that is life, and in real science, which is never, ever settled, you have opinions across the spectrum from strong support to strong rejection. Its refreshing to see a bold statement from such an esteemed scientist.

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