Thorstein Veblen might have gloated that this 2011 article — about the uselessness of law schools and legal scholarship — so thoroughly supports what he wrote in a book published in 1899 (see the last chapter of The Theory of the Leisure Class). Why are law schools useless? Because law professors feel compelled to imitate the rest of academia, which glorifies uselessness:
“Law school has a kind of intellectual inferiority complex, and it’s built into the idea of law school itself,” says W. Bradley Wendel of the Cornell University Law School, a professor who has written about landing a law school teaching job. “People who teach at law school are part of a profession and part of a university. So we’re always worried that other parts of the academy are going to look down on us and say: ‘You’re just a trade school, like those schools that advertise on late-night TV. You don’t write dissertations. You don’t write articles that nobody reads.’ And the response of law school professors is to say: ‘That’s not true. We do all of that. We’re scholars [i.e., useless], just like you.’ ”
Yeah. As I’ve said, there’s a reason for the term ivory tower. And seemingly useless research has value. Glorifying useless research has the useful result of diversifying research, causing a wider range of research directions to be explored. Many of my highly-useful self-experimental findings started or received a big boost from apparently useless research.
The pendulum can swing too far, however, and it has. A large fraction of health researchers, especially medical school researchers, have spent their entire careers refusing to admit, at least in public, the uselessness of what they do. Biology professors have some justification for useless research; medical school professors have none, especially given all the public money they get. Like law professors, they prefer prestige and conformity. The rest of us pay an enormous price for their self-satisfaction (“I’m scientific!” they tell themselves) and peace of mind. The price we pay is stagnation in the understanding of health. Like clockwork, every year the Nobel Prize in Medicine is given to research that has done nothing or very close to nothing to improve our health. And every year, like clockwork, science journalists (all of them!) fail to notice this. If someone can write the article I just quoted about law schools, why can’t even one science journalist write the same thing about medical schools — where it matters far more? What’s their excuse?