Academic Insults

13 June 2006 at 8:01 am 9 comments

| Nicolai Foss | 

I was once told by a prominent German economist over (an otherwise pleasant) dinner: “Nicolai, you have the potential to become a rigorous scientist” (a colleague dryly commented that “at least he said you had the potential”). Well, I ended up doing muzzy management stuff, and, hence, never realized any such potential.

Does anyone out there have any good stories of academic insults that you want to share with the readership of O&M? Perhaps with a little effort we may end with something akin to George Stigler’s Conference Handbook.

Update 1: Here is nice poisonous comment that I received only yesterday but forgot to mention: “Nicolai, you are the master of academic economies of scope” (i.e., excessive recycling).

Update 2: Joe Mahoney reminded me of this classic: “No one can think higher of Professor Z’s paper than I do — and I think the paper is a complete mess.”

Update 3: I just recalled that the German economist mentioned above at a later occasion, a conference dinner, told me: “You know, Nicolai, it is actually really funny, but it turns out — giggle, giggle — that you have more citations than I have, heh-heh-heh.” Oh, the absurdities of this world.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Ephemera.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lasse  |  14 June 2006 at 4:56 am

    Here is one received from you, Nicolai:

    “You make great paper titles” (while the rest of your papers are, well…)

  • 2. David Gordon  |  14 June 2006 at 10:14 am

    Bob Nozick once told me about a classic negative book review:

    “This book fills a much needed gap in the literature.”

  • 3. Peter Boettke  |  14 June 2006 at 9:51 pm

    A colleague once told me that he divides his research into (a) theoretical work, (b) empirical work, and (c) prose economics. About 2 weeks later he ran into me and said, “Hey I read that recent paper of yours on Buchanan, it was good.” I responded, remembering our conversation, I guess you would classify that as prose economics. He looked at my puzzled and then said “No, I wouldn’t call what you did economics.”

  • 4. Peter Klein  |  15 June 2006 at 8:33 am

    This doesn't pertain to any particular academic, but is one of my favorite quotes about higher education more generally. From H.L. Mencken, "The War Upon Intelligence," Baltimore Evening Sun, December 31, 1928:

    "[T]he great majority of American colleges are so incompetent and vicious that, in any really civilized country, they would be closed by the police. . . . In the typical American state they are staffed by quacks and hag-ridden by fanatics. Everywhere they tend to become, not centers of enlightenment, but simply reservoirs of idiocy. Not one professional pedagogue out of twenty is a man of any genuine intelligence. The profession mainly attracts, not young men of quick minds and force of character, but flabby, feeble fellows who yearn for easy jobs. The childish mumbo-jumbo that passes for technique among them scarcely goes beyond the capacities of a moron. To take a Ph.D. in education, at most American seminaries, is an enterprise that requires no more real acumen or information than taking a degree in window dressing. . . . Their programs of study sound like the fantastic inventions of comedians gone insane."

  • 5. Dana Minbaeva  |  16 June 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Once Nicolai Foss was talking about a very bright Assistant Professor from USA and her recent publication at AMJ. Suddenly he turned to me and said “That is something you, Dana, would never be able to do”. Then he thought about what he said for a moment and added “But that’s ok. You have great social skills”

  • […] Organizations and markets by the professors Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein with guest blogger Joe Mahoney is also very interesting; right now, I just mention Nicolai J. Foss’ post on academic insults by a German scientist … Organizational theory is the field in which I did my dissertation on structural and cultural change in companies which come from the organizational field of “Deutschland AG” which is done with the example of Bayer. So, I believe, there is quite a bit of knowledge that might be exchanged. […]

  • 7. Fabio  |  16 June 2006 at 11:27 pm

    The academic insult I remember best was in a book review by mathematician Giancarlo Rota. I can’t remember the exact context, but in reference to the exaggerated reputation of another, he said that “only late in the day could a dwarf cast a long shadow.”

  • 8. Peter Klein  |  22 June 2006 at 5:25 pm

    From this review of a book debunking string theory I learn of "Not Even Wrong,"

    an epithet created by Wolfgang Pauli, an irascible early 20th-century German physicist. Pauli had three escalating levels of insult for colleagues he deemed to be talking nonsense: “Wrong!”, “Completely wrong!” and finally “Not even wrong!”. By which he meant that a proposal was so completely outside the scientific ballpark as not to merit the least consideration.

  • 9. Lars Smith  |  5 July 2006 at 5:46 pm

    “I have considerable sympathy with Professor X’s view. After all, I held that view till about five years ago…”

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
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