Thoughts by Richard Bleil
The movie has Dennis Quaid in it, and frankly, he did a movie many years ago that stole my heart in which he played a pilot in an interstellar war with an intelligent alien species. Since then, I’ll usually watch movies with him in it. The one I started watching (but couldn’t really finish) has him playing a university professor. But the role is just a bad one (although his portrayal is brilliant). The people who put the movie together (writer, director, producer) seem to have confused “smart” with “pompous”.
Through my life I have had the honor of knowing some brilliant people. Some are, unfortunately, pompous but for the most part they are warm, kind, genuine people who just happen to have a great curiosity and talent. And brilliant people are often uneducated. It’s sad that there is this assumption that you are automatically smart if you hold a degree, and unintelligent if not. Some of the most brilliant people I know have never been to college, and some of the dumbest people I know hold their doctorate. Having a degree is a function of circumstance, and stubbornness. When I was in graduate school, the graduate students almost held a coup because of one among us who was highly pompous (even going so far as to tell me, to my face, that people in my discipline are a waste of air), highly offensive and had no accomplishments at all to back up his attitude. The college had bent the rules for him more than once when he failed to achieve what was required for him to remain in the program, and he began telling people how he would be graduating early. The other graduate students were insisting that if he had done enough for his degree, they all deserved their degrees as well. I don’t know the results of this as I actually did graduate that year (and early at that with a degree that was a waste of time in his opinion) and do not know the outcome of the fracas. But I can tell you that this was a clear case of pompous without purpose.
In the movie, Dennis’ role seemed to be a professor who was driven to prove his superiority. Yes, there are those who feel the need to showboat their accomplishments. Like me. I have my degree on the wall where I can look at it, or its reflection, every morning. Who cares? I wanted to teach, and that was the best possible path for me to teach at the level I wanted and without restriction. I recently had a student tell me she is seeking her Masters’ degree because her adviser said that was all that was needed to teach, and it is to a point. If she wants to teach at the community or undergraduate college level, it will be all she needs, but if she has aspirations to teach at a university, she’ll discover that she needs her doctorate. And, yes, I tried to explain that to her, but she already knows more than I ever will.
While some of us are driven to accomplish for showboating purposes, it’s not the only driving force, and it can be quite harmful if that’s the goal. As a post-doc, I developed a computer algorithm for finding optimal solutions to complex mathematical constructs. Testing it against every other algorithm we could find, my algorithm (at the risk of sounding pompous myself) was at least twice as efficient as even the current most popular method. We had written a paper for publication, and it had been accepted in a major journal when a new post doc from my adviser’s home country joined the group. Although he never worked (and barely spoke) with me, I discovered that he had written a “rapid communication” on my method with a minor tweek. Although it used my algorithm, my name was not on the communication (which was turned down). Had it been published, he would have gotten credit for the idea, with no reference to me. As it turns out, to get better results than mine, he was breaking protocol on how efficiency was calculated. Eventually, his paper (this time without my name but at least referencing my paper) was published, which included his efficiency method that amounted to dishonesty. Other researchers tried to reproduce the results, with his tweeks, but of course couldn’t get the same results. This threw not only his publication into doubt, but mine as well. That adviser continues to publish papers today, but the experience drove my desire for publications out of me.
And yet, today, I am resuming my research. Now I’m retired, and frankly can never be published because I don’t have access to the publications I would need for a draft paper to be taken seriously. So, what drives the desire, indeed the need to continue to perform research? What I’m working on today takes me back to my programming days (only using Python instead of Fortran, but still utilizing that aforementioned algorithm). If it works, it will shift the paradigm of crime prediction software, but it’ll never be put into practice as I lack the corporate sponsors to be taken seriously should I present it. But I need to know. I need to know if this approach will be successful in the field of criminology. It’s like an itch that you can’t reach. Maybe it’ll work, and maybe it won’t, but I have to try, outside of the bounds of what most would consider “legitimate research”, and outside of the bounds of “profitability”. If it succeeds, I’ll probably take the knowledge with me to the grave, but either way I will know.
I will know.