Thursday, September 15, 2005

"Nutty professor"

(Edited quite a bit on Sept. 16th)

The Chronicles of higher Ed ran a story earlier this week about academics who are socially compromised:

Ask anybody what adjective goes best with the word "professor," and the answer will almost certainly be "absent-minded," or possibly "nutty." Popular culture is full of addlebrained academics....

The idea that scientists and artists are basically nuts is almost universally accepted, and popular studies linking odd behavior and creativity (in this case referring to schizotype personalities) seem to pop up every few months or so. There have been some efforts to actually measure rates of mental illness among creative professionals.. There are some interesting trends, including an apparent correlation between scientific eminence and rates of measurable pathology. But I think the equation of the two has become badly shopworn to the detriment of both groups. Not all scientists are crazy-- and certainly not everyone suffering from mental illness is going to be doing science or art. I think scientists can handle the moderate contempt implicit in this linkage, but people with mental illness must really despise the "beautiful mind" expectation that they start spouting equations.

The Chornicles of Higher Education article goes on to what I consider a more interesting topic-- the response of the faculty community to new hires suffering from moderate psychological disturbance. As with any other disruptive personality (some of which are considered normal) entering a small workplace, these people become "hot potatoes," passed on by glossing over their seriously marginal behaviors. But this part of the discussion is essentially about hiring and firing. I think it could have been pruned away from the nutty professor trope fairly well. I acually wish the essay had gone on longer in this vein-- the author seems only to recommend great care in hiring and probationary periods.

UPDATE: See another ambivalent reader, and comments, over at Crooked Timber

No comments: