Robin Hanson writes,
In academia, one often finds folks who are much more (or less) smart and insightful than their colleagues, where most who know them agree with this assessment. Since academia is primarily an institution for credentialling folks as intellectually impressive, so that others can affiliate with them, one might wonder how such mis-rankings can persist.
I added the bold font myself for emphasis. Granted, Robin is far from a typical economist. Nonetheless, that he would write such an extreme statement without even feeling the need to justify it (and, no, I don’t think it’s true, at least not in the “academia” that I know about) . . . that I see as a product of being in an economics department.
P.S. Robin definitely is correct about the “more (or less) smart and insightful” bit. But here I think there are two things going on. First, in any group of people you’ll see some variation, especially given that there are other factors going on than “smart and insightful” when it comes to selecting people in an academic environment. Second, there’s more to life–even to academic life–than being smart and insightful. Even setting aside teaching, advising, administration, etc., some other crucial qualities for academic research include working hard, having the “taste” to work on important problems, intellectual honesty, and caring enough about getting the right answer. I know some very smart and insightful people who have not made the contributions that they are capable of, because (I think) of gaps in some of these other important traits.