The problems with Academia

Adolfo Neto
2 min readJan 24, 2020


Excerpts from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game, which is part of Incerto. Read the book! These are just a reminder for me.

(…) one (now “resigned”) department head one day came to me and emitted the warning: “Just as, when a businessman and author you are judged by other businessmen and authors, here as an academic you are judged by other academics. Life is about peer assessment.”

No, businessmen as risk takers are not subjected to the judgment of other businessmen, only to that of their personal accountant.

You can define a free person precisely as someone whose fate is not centrally or directly dependent on peer assessment.

Being reviewed or assessed by others matters if and only if one is subjected to the judgment of future — not just present — others.

Contemporary peers are valuable collaborators, not final judges.

In fact, there is something worse than peer-assessment: the bureaucratization of the activity creates a class of new judges: university administrators, who have no clue what someone is doing except via external signals, yet become the actual arbiters.

Academia has a tendency, when unchecked (from lack of skin in the game), to evolve into a ritualistic self-referential publishing game.

Now, while academia has turned into an athletic contest, Wittgenstein held the exact opposite viewpoint: if anything, knowledge is the reverse of an athletic contest. In philosophy, the winner is the one who finishes last, he said.

Anything that smacks of competition destroys knowledge.

One should give more weight to research that, while being rigorous, contradicts other peers, particularly if it entails costs and reputational harm for its author.

Someone with a high public presence who is controversial and takes risks for his opinion is less likely to be a bull***t vendor.

The deprostitutionalization of research will eventually be done as follows. Force people who want to do “research” to do it on their own time, that is, to derive their income from other sources. Sacrifice is necessary.

For their research to be genuine, they should first have a real-world day job, or at least spend ten years as: lens maker, patent clerk, Mafia operator, professional gambler, postman, prison guard, medical doctor, limo driver, militia member, social security agent, trial lawyer, farmer, restaurant chef, high-volume waiter, firefighter (my favorite), lighthouse keeper, etc., while they are building their original ideas.

I have no sympathy for moaning professional researchers.

Remember, science is a minority rule: a few will run it, others are just back-office clerks.

Ideas need to have skin in the game. You know an idea will fail if it is not useful, and can be therefore vulnerable to the falsification of time.



Adolfo Neto

Associate Professor at UTFPR. Interested in programming (Elixir), logic and Deep Work.