Flying and academic quality

Using the University of British Columbia as a case study, we investigated whether the faculty at our institution who flew the most were also the most successful. We found that beyond a small threshold there was no relationship between scholarly output and how much an individual academic flies…

We certainly did find evidence that researchers fly more than is likely necessary. In the portion of our sample composed of only fulltime faculty, we categorized 10% of trips as “easily avoidable”. These were trips like going to your destination and flying back in the same day or flying a short distance trip that could have been replaced by ground travel. Interestingly, green academics (those studying subjects like climate change or sustainability) not only had the same level of emissions from air travel as their peers, but they were indistinguishable in the category of “easily avoidable” trips as well.

But success isn’t just measured by scholarly output, and so we also checked for relationships between how much academics flew and their annual salaries (which are publicly available). We did find a significant relationship: people who fly more, get paid more. Causation though, could lie in the other direction. Prestigious scholars with more grant money may have extra funds with which to book air travel, for instance.

Here is the full post by Seth Wynes, via Anecdotal.

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'we categorized 10% of trips as “easily avoidable”. These were trips like going to your destination and flying back in the same day'

How does that make a trip "easily avoidable"? Are they assuming that it could be replaced with ground travel? The air travel might take less time, and would certainly take less of the traveller's concentration than driving: while flying one can read or work.

Conference calls: saving a planet near you!

Oh, that's easy - if someone else is doing it, its easily avoidable.

If you're doing it then its absolutely necessary.

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while flying one can read or work.

The same dopey canard used to justify autonomous cars.

It's not a canard, I actually read or work all the time I'm in the airport and whatever I can do without Internet on the flight.

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"Causation though, could lie in the other direction."

This shit actually got published?

You've never been in academia have you? Publish or perish.

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Academic papers are apparently also subject to the rule that when you subsidize something you get too much of it.

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I'm eagerly anticipating the scholarly study on academic achievement and flatulence.

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The world is run by Frequent Fliers.

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This study's sample is just one university.

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Flying burns about 5 liters of kerosene per 100 km per passenger. That's roughly half what a gasoline burning US passenger car would consume per kilometer. Given that planes travel in much straighter lines you might need 3 people in a passenger car for its emissions to beat flying.

Just think. The Paris Accord couldn't have been conceived if people had to drive there for the meetings. Flying is going to save the world.

I get the sense there wouldn't be much of an "accord" if it had to be located in, say, Shreveport or Martinsville rather than Paris.

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Bingo

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1) I dated a girl who went to NYU. Part of her work study was doing admin work for the NYU econ department. According to her, the most of the department were very "undisciplined" in how they used department money to travel. She said that 25 percent of the trips had nothing to do with anything academic but leisure. The wine bills were a whole other story...

2) I know of a professional events coordinator for a climate change advocacy group. She basically puts together fund raisers for donations. I know her husband and he tells me that the amount of unessecary travel would make anyone sick. And it is not just the air travel to stroke egos into making donations, but the air travel to stroke the egos inside the institution itself.

I only share these things because I just atteneded a dinner party where a bunch of zombie liberals who own private jets competed with each other in who could be more aggrieved in climate change and the republican party.

I just atteneded a dinner party where a bunch of zombie liberals who own private jets competed with each other in who could be more aggrieved in climate change and the republican party.

Sure, but let's stipulate that the entire human race finds a way to make GW someone else's problem. Often while blaming what they see as "the other side."

Perhaps that's true in a way but the reality is that concern over global climate change is an example of a religion. Most religions have the view that those who don't follow the wishes of God will bring down his wrath on everyone, not just the unredeemed, ergo it's proper to force them to accept the tenets of that religion. Or get rid of them. This line of thinking is what inspires the climate doomsayers.

I'm just glad we earthlings have the gravity religion too, so we don't fall off.

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". . . .the amount of unessecary travel would make anyone sick. And it is not just the air travel to stroke egos into making donations . . . "

See what I mean about 'if its for someone else its unnecessary but if its for yourself its essential'?

I mean, the point of fundraising staff is fundraising. So they do what is necessary to raise funds. Hence they think the flights are necessary.

You, on the other hand, are completely unassociated - so to you, they're not necessary. Because it doesn't matter to you one whit whether or not funds are raised.

I was just pointing out the irony of the situation. Those who are most vocal and front and center about climate change politics are the worst abusers. They are the worst abusers for reasons that have to do with their own narcissism.

I was told of a situation in which an event was planned in Greece. It was 3 days (I think). After the event wrapped up, the senior leadesrhip of the organization used institutional funds for a 4 day vaca in Italy. The principal reason for the trip (as it was explained to me) is because the 16 year old daughter of someone high up wanted to go.

These sorts of long gettaways are very common, espeically as an add-on to "work realted travel."

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These people actually find the prospect of flying appealing? How can the hell of the air travel experience be less of a disincentive than cost or environmental concerns? Are they in first class or something?

+1

Commercial air travel these days is one of the least pleasant activities of modern life.

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Surely the data was normalized for the fact that this was studied at the U of BC?

I mean, how else is one supposed to get to Kamloops?

Kamloops at least can be reached by car (4 hours) if its not winter. But BC's capital city is not reachable by roads as its on an island. There's robust service between Vancouver and Victoria, both jet and floatplane and all in between. You can take your car by ferry for about $US 200 plus about 8 hours of ferry plus wait time.

UBC is on a peninsula, in a city that is in a valley constrained by mountains and the US border. Travel most anywhere is difficult. And British Columbia itself is massive. The northern border (near Alaska) is about 18 hours by car.

Not a good school to study for air vs. land travel.

'zactly. Thanks for fleshing out my snarky point

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I hope their next study examines the correlation between air travel and productivity for university administrators.

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"...there was no relationship between scholarly output and how much an individual academic flies…"

So the number of papers equals academic quality, according to this study. Seems that assumption is worth studying; I would wager that more publications often is correlated with lower quality publications, or lower amounts of input into said publications.

"We certainly did find evidence that researchers fly more than is likely necessary."

And who elected these people to be the final arbiters of what's necessary? The assumption is that duration is the significant factor. In many cases, it is not. First, the value of face-to-face meetings is not just underestimated, it's ignored, which is a fatal flaw. Second, sometimes "researcher" and "research subject" need to be physically in the same place at the same time, even for a short duration. It's really hard to study, say, a thin section of lunar rock material without having access to that material.

I call this "physics envy": the notion that all science works the way physics does. Sure, you can share equations and experimental data with anyone. You can't do that with a rock, or a squirrel, or the like. And sometimes, given the difficulties involved in maintaining chain of custody (are the authors even aware of these issues?) traveling with the specimen is the easiest way.

"But success isn’t just measured by scholarly output, and so we also checked for relationships between how much academics flew and their annual salaries..."

Again, this is hardly a measure of success in research. Yes, we can assume these are correlated to some degree, but we all have stories of highly-paid people who are coasting on achievements from 20 years ago. I'd pay Peter Ward more to come out to give a lecture than I would a random grad student, sure, but given the highly-politicized nature of academic pay it's hard to believe that there's a simple correlation between academic success and pay.

Nothing about this abstract gives any indication that these researchers are capable of evaluating what they claim to be evaluating. They are using simplifying, proxy measures for something they appear to be incapable of identifying, and those proxy measures are simply not valid. They may as well toss these out and use impact factor; it wouldn't make their research protocol any less valid.

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I doubt Tyler takes this study seriously, but I can see why he thinks it's funny.

Isn't Tyler the guy with a recreational travel carbon footprint to which most people can only aspire?

"Carbon footprint" is a quaint idea.

It peaked 2007-2009 and then crashed, with slight comeback recently.

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That would be disappointing if so, and I would have to adjust my estimation of him accordingly.

At first glance I'd be in favor of grounding all academics, but of course that would snare some folks doing incredible things that necessitate travel, as Dinwar points out.

The charge, or taunt really, of hypocrisy is so much less compelling than people suppose. It doesn't prove people are wrong. Whether someone gets in a plane or doesn’t is irrelevant to whether climate change is real - or any other important question.

But to engage this paper on its own terms, the "green academics" - his colleagues - that are the author's only *actual* concern, must live as the rest of us do in a world that runs on money, not trade-able credits based on jet fuel consumption. It may well be that "a plane trip back and forth in the same day" saves $ on a hotel stay.

I've witnessed the environmental movement, during my adult life, go from being dominated by nature-loving Boomers and older-than-Boomers who tended to be frugal, who though some of them may have been wealthy did not need to have "rich people's experiences" like a stay at a boutique hotel to be coaxed to attend board meetings (indeed, at least in my state, get-togethers in the past more often than not took place in a campground, or doing service work at a preserve) or to donate money or land (rare, now, is the once-common, true philanthropist interested in protecting nature without an eye on the tax break, or getting compensated in some way); to being dominated by rather ineffectual and decidedly uninspiring MBAs and clothes-obsessed women with marketing degrees, themselves chasing the few people who are even alert to the natural world anymore. I regret this change, but they "aren't making any more" of the kind of people I met in those early days.

The issues remain.

Follow Joseph Majkut for an antidote, but I'm afraid public consensus is pretty lax.

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Academia thus has contributed directly to the advent of Technogenic Climate Change for entire decades, no huge surprise. (Our Cognitive Elites contributed mightily to atmospheric testing of atomic and nuclear weaponry for decades.)

What academic with a working sense of curiosity might have learned entire decades ago about ozone degradation? (Need not have been an academic with a working sense of curiosity on his or her way to academic conferences concerning the advent of Technogenic Climate Change, necessarily.)

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I really hope this paper catches on and the authors get invited to give talks all over the world on its results and ramifications.

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Academics can't hold a candle to celebrities. Let's dig up a few old headlines just for fun:

Leonardo DiCaprio flies 8,000 miles in private jet to accept ‘green award'

Trudie Styler: saving the world one private jet at a time (that's the musician Sting's wife)

The "award" is so he could be the draw to raise money: $1.6 million that night. He did the organization a favor.

That's fair. If only the green groups were capable of such cost/benefit analysis when it came to their proposed solutions to climate change. Until then, we can keep judging the green celebrities based on one-dimensional and simplistic cost-only analysis.

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Back when I was applying to graduate school (well before universal email, much less Google or smartphones), I read a book about grad school including a section on figuring out which professors to impress.

The author (an anonymous psychology professor, if I remember correctly), said there's an inverse relationship between a professor's power and the amount of time he or she is in town.

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Good article.Thanks for info.

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