Is university research a guarantee for accuracy of theory?

I think and speculate that no and on the contrary the "status" of academic degrees and university relationships are used to "validate" even weak and "pretentious" theory, particularly in humanities, social sciences, economics.

I've read some articles written by Ph. Ds in Pol. Science that I (undergrad in math/CS) consider rudimentarily argued and biased. A layman might interpret that the "Ph. D in Pol. Science" gives such texts legitimacy, because they come from someone, who is expected to be an expert. However, to me it really, really doesn't seem like so.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Apr 17, 2018 at 20:42
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    As you have surmised, an academic training is no guarantee of quality of work.
    – user20253
    Apr 19, 2019 at 12:43

4 Answers 4


This seems like a simplistic "The perfect is the enemy of the good" fallacy. "Experts aren't perfect, therefore my lay opinion is as good as any other". Of course a PhD is no guarantee of accuracy--there are no such guarantees in philosophy or in life, and no one has ever suggested there were. But randomly selecting among theories of laymen and theories of experts, the probability that the experts are correct is quite a bit higher. Experts do have knowledge and experience that laymen do not. The bell curves overlap, but the peak of the experts' curve is significantly to the right of the peak of the laymen's curve. (And if you don't understand probabilities and bell curves, your opinion on this matter is likely to be less valuable).


It seems obvious that if university research created true statements, it would be done already. All kinds of study are by nature an endless succession of refinements, divergences and reversals.

For the sciences this is best captured by Popper's notion that a scientific theory only has value to the degree that it risks being wrong.

Other disciplines all have some part of that same character. Repeating what is already certain is the thing academics have to do rather little of, or we would need very many fewer academics of all sorts.


University research is not a guarantee for accuracy of theory.

Any theory can get to be widely accepted and then something else comes in that invalidates the initial theory. It's how science evolves.

Given this and how today's science and specially physics tends to work, I'd rather trust an independent research of a small group of scientists than that of an university's research.

The logic is most of the time university projects are bound to comply by the very restrictive already established theories (there are exceptions, but they do not form a majority) while independent research can practically dig in any direction unrestricted.

So far this approach worked very well for my research teams.


As others have said, universities exist to turn out graduates primarily. But occasionally a thesis arrives out of the blue that really shakes things up.

My favourite example is a seemingly innocent attempt to point out that the existing protocols of the worldwide web could be leveraged for machine to machine communication.

The thesis irself is light on detail and clearly just an almost casual observation, but its impact on my industry has been transformative.

Sadly a lot of people using this idea (what came to be known as REST) have never read the thesis, and have implemented Fieldings ideas in just about every wrong way imaginable.

Universities are where bright young people are. That garauntees nothing, except perhaps an above average chance of occasionally turning up genuine innovation.

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