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What are colleges and universities called the "Ivory Tower"?

Answers:1   |   LastAnswerAt:2009.12  

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-- tambourine 
Asked at 2009.12.21 17:51:37
The "Ivory Tower" refers to the phenomenon of college professors working in isolation from the surrounding community to some degree. We (professors, researchers, whatever you want to call us) don't answer to the local community or even our administration within the University when it comes to what we research or to some degree, even teach.

The phrase "Ivory Tower" has come to have a bit of a negative connotation over the years. People envision University professors researching meaningless phenomena while the world desperately needs those highly trained scientists to discover a cure for cancer or whatever your favorite cause is (global warming, etc.).

But the truth is that the "Ivory Tower" is a good thing in many ways. As a society, we ***need*** our scientists and other academics to have the freedom to pursue their own lines of reasoning and thinking for the simple fact that we're not all knowing.

Let's look at an example... Humans exhibit menstrual cycles, something that's fairly unusual among mammals. Several years ago, it became clear that more and more females (as a percentage) were experiencing early onset of menstrual cycles and also early onset of menopause. So this represents a problem... how do you research the factors that affect these phenomena in the laboratory?

In a society devoid of ethical and moral considerations, we'd gather up a set of human females and put them in the lab to study them. We obviously aren't going to do that... so we need the next best thing... an "animal model" to work with, something that we *can* put in the laboratory.

So like I said, menstrual cycles are unusual, so you have to look through the biology of all mammals to see if you can find a menstruating mammal that's not a human. Chimps don't do it... gorillas don't... neither do baboons or other monkeys... Oh! Whales exhibit menstrual cycles! But... they are a bit difficult to keep in the lab. Well, fortunately for us, some biologist from decades back worked in an "Ivory Tower" and spent their time researching Golden Teddy Bear Hamsters, the ones you buy at pet stores. In his research, he discovered that this species of hamster exhibits menstrual cycles (rather than estrous cycles), and as a consequence... the scientists researching menstruation in humans typically use these animals as models for problems in human reproduction.

So if you take the scientist (or other academician) *out* of the "Ivory Tower," you risk condemning our future due to unforeseen value or problems associated with prioritization. There are literally hundreds of examples of these sorts of fortunate "Ivory Tower" findings in every field, including political science, the humanities, history, and so on.

Last comment... The "Ivory Tower" also protects academic freedom. We *want* our children to be taught *new* ideas in addition to history. We want them to learn science, not just mythology (though that's also important). Remove the Ivory Tower... subject professors to community standards, and society will stagnate. Imagine how much more difficult it would be for biology to move forward if evolutionary theory couldn't be taught because it offended the locals. The children of that society would be forever handicapped in their learning...

Interesting question that's worthy of much more discussion. I hope you get lots of varied responses!
answer Dr. Evol  Answered at 2009.12.21 17:51:37
The "Ivory Tower" refers to the phenomenon of college professors working in isolation from the surrounding community to some degree. We (professors, researchers, whatever you want to call us) don't answer to the local community or even our administration within the University when it comes to what we research or to some degree, even teach.

The phrase "Ivory Tower" has come to have a bit of a negative connotation over the years. People envision University professors researching meaningless phenomena while the world desperately needs those highly trained scientists to discover a cure for cancer or whatever your favorite cause is (global warming, etc.).

But the truth is that the "Ivory Tower" is a good thing in many ways. As a society, we ***need*** our scientists and other academics to have the freedom to pursue their own lines of reasoning and thinking for the simple fact that we're not all knowing.

Let's look at an example... Humans exhibit menstrual cycles, something that's fairly unusual among mammals. Several years ago, it became clear that more and more females (as a percentage) were experiencing early onset of menstrual cycles and also early onset of menopause. So this represents a problem... how do you research the factors that affect these phenomena in the laboratory?

In a society devoid of ethical and moral considerations, we'd gather up a set of human females and put them in the lab to study them. We obviously aren't going to do that... so we need the next best thing... an "animal model" to work with, something that we *can* put in the laboratory.

So like I said, menstrual cycles are unusual, so you have to look through the biology of all mammals to see if you can find a menstruating mammal that's not a human. Chimps don't do it... gorillas don't... neither do baboons or other monkeys... Oh! Whales exhibit menstrual cycles! But... they are a bit difficult to keep in the lab. Well, fortunately for us, some biologist from decades back worked in an "Ivory Tower" and spent their time researching Golden Teddy Bear Hamsters, the ones you buy at pet stores. In his research, he discovered that this species of hamster exhibits menstrual cycles (rather than estrous cycles), and as a consequence... the scientists researching menstruation in humans typically use these animals as models for problems in human reproduction.

So if you take the scientist (or other academician) *out* of the "Ivory Tower," you risk condemning our future due to unforeseen value or problems associated with prioritization. There are literally hundreds of examples of these sorts of fortunate "Ivory Tower" findings in every field, including political science, the humanities, history, and so on.

Last comment... The "Ivory Tower" also protects academic freedom. We *want* our children to be taught *new* ideas in addition to history. We want them to learn science, not just mythology (though that's also important). Remove the Ivory Tower... subject professors to community standards, and society will stagnate. Imagine how much more difficult it would be for biology to move forward if evolutionary theory couldn't be taught because it offended the locals. The children of that society would be forever handicapped in their learning...

Interesting question that's worthy of much more discussion. I hope you get lots of varied responses!
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