We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Two words

Over at Instapundit (and at various other places), Glenn Reynolds has recently spent a lot of time discussing the question of whether Higher Education (and particularly Higher Education in the US) is essentially yet another debt fueled bubble in the process of popping. His reader Peter Galamga recently said the following, implicitely condemning quite a few fields of study and the academic departments associated with them

I think the days of spending the equivalent of a mortgage on one of the many two-word degrees (the second word is usually “Studies”) are coming to a close.

Although the second word might often be “Studies”, I think “usually” is too strong. In particular, one should also be extremely suspicious of courses and fields where the second word is “Science”. These are very seldom worthwhile, and are even less often actually science. “Biology” is good. “Plant Science” is bad. “Statistics” is good. “Political Science”, less so. “Meteorology” and possibly even “Climatology” is likely good. “Climate Science”, I will leave to you.

That said, I think things are much more likely to be okay of the second word is “sciences”. In particular, I can think of one or two truly formidable “Natural Sciences” programs. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

27 comments to Two words

  • Well, I hope “Chemical Physics” survives the cut. It’s about “a BSc and a half” (not a Double Honours) where you pretty much drop Organic Chemistry and Particle Physics after the first year, but carry on doing everything else.

    I’m not just voicing my approval of this degree because I happen to have it among my qualifications (honest).

    I agree on the NatSci front; the Cambridge one is reportedly brilliant. Which other ones came to your mind?

  • My only thought on this is that now, when it has become clear to me that my son will never excel in math, I am truly hoping that he will forgo “higher education” altogether. Waste of time, money, energy and brain cells.

  • Computer Science still seems a decent field of study to me.

  • Magson: Yes, I agree well enough on that one. It’s not a hard and fast rule. (Not science, in fact).

  • Bill Johnson

    tend to agree. any field where irreproducible results are anything but a joke is _not_ science.

    Take PoliSci. Please. Maybe call it PoliPhilo – make it art, not science. economics – black art.

  • Tom

    It’s a bit like those countries that call themselves ‘People’s Democratic Republics’.

    They’re neither democratic nor republics, and sure as hell not run by ‘the People’.


  • pete

    The bubble will burst but in the UK it will burst only for some sections of society.

    Many moderately affluent parents will still send their average ability kids to downmarket universities to study all these dubious subjects simply because they can afford to and because ‘uni’ has very quickly become to be seen almost as a right for the children of such people.

    We need to return to what we had in the 1960s-1980s when our universities were populated by the brightest youngsters, not those with parents who could afford to send them.

  • bob

    The reaction is not against the ‘studies’ discplines per se, but the general academic environment that is disengenuous about their external utility.

    Every Comp Lit department should have a written disclaimer on their prospectus that 95% of our majors work at Border’s. Parents are sickened by both the cost of secondary education and the results. Students graduate with 30k in debt for a flagship State school or almost 100k in debt for a good, private school and have only a smattering of literary theory and a middle-school mastery of Spanish to show for it. Granted, it’s the student’s fault but the public education system, funded by tax dollars, does collude in perpetuating itself.

    It is a generational conflict as well. The generation before me paid about 3.5k per semester. I paid 12.5k. Currently, the bill stands at 22.5k. And for what other than to support the teachers and the staff. My University is the biggest employer and land owner in West Philly. It provides subsedized housing for its employees, cherry-picks the businesses they let to, offers subsidized elementary schooling to the local community through a charter school, operates a convention center…It is not in the business of schooling undergraduates, but of making money.

  • Scooby

    I guess ______ Engineering degrees do not fall into this? I can’t think of any engineering degrees that are not titled with at least two words (Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering) or even more (Electrical and Computer Engineering, Aerospace and Aeronautical Engineering).

  • Valerie

    Pete has hit the nail on the head. The hard sciences will always be in demand, pay the most and contribute more overall to any country. The wealthy can afford to send Jr. off to major in Ethnic Studies and the like, but it is a waste of hard earned money for most. I can only wonder how much college tuition is jacked up by having these courses in the curricula.

  • Preferring to remain anonymous

    Management Science.

    I’m in a “management “science”” department. It’s not a fucking science, it’s a junket for self entitled morons to pretend that they’re doing important work while generally fucking everyone’s shit up. And getting ‘uplifts’ greater than most of our salaries to do it.

    Hopefully the recession might decimate business schools too. That would be the first step to a more humane and productive management.

  • All good gets but the it has to be anything with “Social” in the title.

  • Chuckles


    Computer Science is a decent field of study, just not sure about the science bit.
    Stan Kelly Bootle described it rather well, as combining aspects of Numerology and Astrology, without the precision of the former, or the success of the latter.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The University of Illinois has 114 majors.

    Of these, 51 are one word.

    37 are two words. Of these, 7 are “x Engineering”, 4 are “x Education”, 4 are “x Studies”, and 8 are “x Science[s]”.

    10 are three words. Of these 3 are “x Management”, 3 are “x Engineering”, 3 are “x Science”, and 2 are “x Studies.”

    It looks to me like worthless and useful majors are mixed at all lengths of degree program title.

    15 are four words, including 6 “science” and “engineering” and 2 “studies”.

    8 are five words: 1 “sciences”, 1 “engineering”, 1 “technology”, and 2 “studies”.

    1 is six words, ending in “education”.

    Of the rest, some are oddball things like “Private Pilot”, “Landscape Architecture”,
    8 are five words;

  • Seneca III

    I read recently that a University (?) in Liverpool is offering a degree course in ‘Dance & Football Studies’. Now, there’s useful combination, particularly if one aspires to dive (elegently) for Club and Country.

  • the other rob

    Scooby – I can’t speak for anywhere else, but at Cambridge you get a BA in Engineering. Yep, a Bachelor of Arts, in just “Engineering” with no qualifiers. It can be very difficult explaining that to Yanks.

    On the wider point, I’m currently sojourning in the arse end of nowhere in the centre of CONUS and, to keep from going insane, am taking a MSc. It turns out that, by studying with a UK university, I can get a course that pushes me to develop my skills much more than a typical US institution, at about one sixth of the cost.

  • At Manchester you get either a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or Master of Engineering (MEng), but the course is called Mechanical Engineering.

    There is one thing great about studying mechanical engineering and holding a degree in the subject: whenever anyone asks you what you study/studied, your answer is immediately satisfactory and requires no further explanation. You’d be surprised how few people this applies to.

  • Other Rob: A Cambridge BA, in the context of scientific and engineering degrees, isn’t a “Bachelor of Arts”, it’s a “Baccalaureat Artificam” :-).

    I also agree with the folk arguing for the worthiness of two-word degrees with “Engineering” in them – although it’s fortunate that CompSci remains CompSci, since you normally need to be a little brave to ask a Civil / Electrical / etc engineer what he / she thinks of “Software Engineering”…

  • I think one might be able to come up with an improved theory here, which is that if the second of the two words is modifying or trying to embellish the first, then that is a bad sign. Management science, media studies, etc etc etc. On the other hand, if the first word is modifying the second, particularly if the second is a respected field itself – civil engineering, organic chemistry, theoretical physics – then this is probably good.

    As for engineering at Cambridge, I think the standard practice now is to award a BA after three years and a Master of Engineering after four years, and it being standard practice to do the four year course. I think this is likely to be less confusing to Americans (“I have a BA and a Master of Engineering”) than simply having a BA in Engineering. I think there has been a slight move in recent times for Cambridge degree titles to come more into line with the rest of the world. (The advanced law degree that used to be an LLB got renamed an LLM, although the normal law degree is still a BA, for instance).

  • Dale Amon

    Actually most of the engineering degrees are listed in a long form for the non-engineer. We’re really (more phonetically speaking) Double-ee’s, Mech-ee’s, CompSci’s, Civ-ee’s and Chem-ee’s!

    Now admittedly, ChemE once was more a mixture of Alchemy and Black Magic and Big Books of Tables with Here Be Dragons in the margins, but is now on a much more theoretically successful footing I hear.

  • naman

    I think you missed the point. Glenn R is referring mainly to a degree in African American Studies and yes, such a degree does exist in most American universities. What does one do with a degree in African American Studies? Maybe someone will explain that to me someday.

  • Paul Marks

    The government subsidy of higher education (via student loans and direct funding of colleges) has had the same effect as the government subsidy of health care – a MASSIVE inflation of costs.

    When Ronald Reagan studied economics at his small midwestern college (it is often forgotten that Reagan is the only President in American history to be an “economics major” as Americans say) he funded himself via his work as a life guard at a local swimming pool.

    That would be impossible today – it would be joke even to try and do this (because tuition fees are so vast – due to government subsidy and regulations).

    However, not so long ago some universervities (such as Rice down in Houston) charged no tuition fees at all (funding themselves via donations and via investments).

    “The government will pay your tuition” sounds nice – till one understands two things.

    The first being that tuition costs will EXPLODE over time under this principle.

    The second being the CONTROL this gives government – not control by elected politicians even, but control by the government ADMINISTRATIVE MACHINE over supposedly “private” universities.

    One of the first (perhaps the first) University in the United States to allow blacks (and women) to take degrees was Hillsdale in Michigan – founded by Free Will Babtists in the early 19th century.

    Did this save it from government regualtions? Of course not.

    Hillsdale faced a tidel wave of regulations – not just over race (endless paperwork and hidden distortions), but also over everthing else. And the excuse was “you accept taxpayer Dollers”.

    Only by refusing “aid” (not just direct aid, but government backed student “loans” also) was some measure of independence kept.

    And yes this does reflect on what is taught in a university and how it is taught.

    If your primary source of income is government (in one way or another), then you will not be so interested in what private donors (for example ex students) or current students want.

    They are not the ones paying you – at least not with their own money, so why should you give a toss what they want?

    So collectivism (mostly Marxism with the word “Marxist” carefully removed from the Marxist doctrines and background ASSUMPTIONS) gets taught – it comes to dominate.

    First the humanities and social sciences (with “critical” studies being oddly uncritical of any leftist assumptions in fields as varried as history, law and English Literature) – then off into the “hard sciences” also (with, yes, even the study of the climate being dominated by leftists who spend their free time singing 1930’s Communist Songs such as the Willie Guthrie “classic” “The times they are achanging” – I got that from the BBC Radio obituary show “Last Word” which each week gives glowing accounts of the lives of the dead leftists of that week, A. Clarke rightly calls the show “Dead Reds”).

    The “long march through the institutions” is continued, as more of the “cultural superstructure” falls under the inluence of the foe.

    In short – yes higher education is going to go bankrupt, and that is a good thing (given what higher eduction has become).

  • Paul, the song was written by Bob Dylan (who was influenced by Woody Guthrie) in the early 60s, and I see nothing specifically communist about it…

  • And what does the song have to do with climate “scientists”?

  • Paul Marks

    My apologoies Alisa – I thought that the Communist Guthrie originally sang the song and Dylan just repeated it.

    As for the connection to the climate change scientist – I thought I had explained.

    The recently died top climate change man used to sing the song (a lot) in his spare time.

    I got this from the BBC Radio Four “Last Word” obiturary show – which tends to specialize in the Reds who have died that week (if a conservative gets an obituary it will because he was corrupt, or was a “moderate”, or if neither corrupt or “moderate” their “right wingness” will be presented in an unsypathetic light).

    The show really is “Dead Reds” in content (if not name) – no socialist politician, scientist, cultural figure (such as an academic) can die without getting a spot on the show.

    And the bigger the scumbag they were the more sympathy the show will show for them.

  • I have my own rule on this: the more a field of study insists on being regarded as a science, the less likely that is to be true. Every introductory class I’ve seen in Economics, or Sociology, or Ethnology, or soft-science X, starts with the statement “X is the SCIENCE of blah blah blah”; often this is chalked on the board with multiple lines or other emphasis under the capitalized word SCIENCE. That doesn’t often happen in a physics class.