Culture Magazine

It’s That Time of Year Again. [Yawn] The MacArthur Fellows Have Been Announced for 2019.

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
It’s that time of year again. [Yawn] The MacArthur Fellows have been announced for 2019.
And no doubt they are a worthy bunch. But the foundation keeps doing it, by which I mean they award the majority of their Big Mac fellowships to people who already have secure jobs at good places, mostly colleges and universities. Some of these are the kinds of places that prompt rich people to hire consultants who then fake test results and/or bribe officials on behalf of their students.
I started keeping track of this in 2013, when 63% of the fellowships went to fellows with secure gigs. This year it’s 65% (17 out or 25), up from 52% last year. Here’s how it’s gone since 2013:
2013: 63%
2014: 52%
2015: 54%
2016: 57%
2017: 50%
2018: 52%
2019: 65%
What, you ask, is wrong with that? Well, the original intent was to fund very creative people whose very creativity made it difficult or impossible for them to get such jobs, people who had to wait tables, do temp office work, and who knows, maybe work in an Amazon warehouse schlepping orders. The idea was to fund people who really need the money in order to exercise their creativity.
These aren’t those people. They have secure gigs. My suggestion was and remains simple: Don’t fund people who don’t need the money (in order to survive). Stop taking the easy way out by funding people with university gigs. Take more risks.
In previous years I’ve gone to the trouble of making a table of the winners and listing their field, their place of employment (for most of them, though a few don’t have regular gigs), and classifying into secure university posts (guaranteed employment), pre-tenure university (not yet guaranteed), other-employed, and self-employed. This year I’ve not done that. It’s tiring and pointless.
This year the foundation gave out 26 awards, of which 17 went to people at universities, colleges, or research institutes. I’ve not bothered to check for academic rank.
Here’s the list:
Bard College (2)
Boston University School of Law
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Columbia University
Duke University
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Montclair State University.
The Rockefeller University
University of California

University of California-Berkeley
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
University of Michigan
University of Pennsylvania
University of Wisconsin-Madison (2)
If you want to read my arguments, you can check out my working paper, which includes year-by-year commentary along with more general commentary on the program and on talent search:
The Genius Chronicles: Going Boldly Where None Have Gone Before? Version 6, Working Paper, October 2018, 61 pp.

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