What motivates academics?

Back on March 21st, a NYT story (in the Arts section) — “TV Digs Will Harm Patrimony, Scholars Say” by Bill Carter — on the tv show “American Digger”. Along the way, a common belief about academics and what motivates them.

The background:

Ric Savage is accustomed to wrestling, but for most of his career it was against guys named the Junkyard Dog and Skull Von Krush.

Now he’s facing opponents like Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida who is on the board of the American Anthropological Association.

That’s because Mr. Savage, known as Heavy Metal in his pro wrestling days, is on different turf now. Or, to be more precise, he is digging into different turf as the star of a new show that has its premiere on the cable channel Spike on Wednesday night: “American Digger.”

The series, which Spike hopes will be a hit along the lines of its tattoo competition “Ink Master,” features Mr. Savage and his team traveling the country, digging up people’s lawns in search of historical artifacts.

Later in the story we get Savage on academics:

“I understand where the archaeologists are coming from,” he said. “You’ve got two groups of people who want to be part of history, to dig it up and hold it in their hand. The only difference is I’m doing it to make a living. They’re doing it to write papers and make it to associate professor and get tenure.”

This is a common attitude about scholars and scientists: that they are motivated entirely by personal advancement (so that what they say and write is intrinsically biased, and no weightier than anyone else’s self-interested opinion). The problem is with the entirely.


One Response to “What motivates academics?”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    What exactly does he think writing papers, making it to associate professor, and getting tenure IS if not making a living?

    If it’s something different, then clearly it must be for a greater purpose. No?

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