I’m sure that you, like me, have seen
some many infinity articles on how the coronavirus outbreak will forever change, well, everything (example).
I’ve linked to a couple of these in recent linkfests (for instance), noting a couple of problems that many of these articles share (and I’m not the only one to notice). One is recency bias: assuming that whatever changes have happened recently are going to be permanent. As Kieran Healy pointed out on Twitter, that’s like somebody in WW II London predicting that everyone will keep living in Underground tunnels after the Blitz ends. The other is wishful thinking: many “predictions” about how the coronavirus will change the world just so happen to line up precisely with how the author has long been predicting, or hoping, that the world will change. “Now more than ever…”, etc.
But it would surely be incorrect to assume that everything will go back to being exactly how it would have been in the absence of the pandemic.* And it can be fun, interesting, and sometimes even useful to speculate about the future. Hence my question for you: how, if at all, do you think the coronavirus pandemic will permanently change science and academia?
To kick things off, here are a few of my own tentative thoughts:
- I think it’ll be appreciably more common post-pandemic to invite visiting speakers to give remote seminars. Not just for departmental seminar series; individual lab groups will invite more remote visitors than they used to pre-pandemic. Now, I don’t think everyone’s going to stop flying in visiting speakers post-pandemic. Heck, I’m not even sure that flying in visiting speakers will be appreciably rarer than it was pre-pandemic. But I think remote visiting speakers will become appreciably more common.
- I do not think online-only courses are going to be much more prevalent post-pandemic than they were pre-pandemic
- I do not think that in-person scientific conferences are a thing of the past, or even that attendance at them is going to change all that much post-pandemic
- I do not think that, post-pandemic (and post-pandemic-generated-recession), people hired into tenure-track faculty positions are going to have much stronger on-paper qualifications (years of post-Ph.D. experience, # of publications, # of courses taught, etc.). See here if you want to know why I say that.
The common thread among the first three predictions is that I think things that people have been nudged/forced to do because of the pandemic, that they’ve discovered that they like for pandemic-independent reasons, are likely to persist in the long term after the pandemic. Other things that people have been nudged/forced to do because of the pandemic seem much less likely to be permanent.
But what do I know? I don’t have a crystal ball! Looking forward to reading your thoughts in the comments.
*Though if forced to choose between “the pandemic will change nothing” and “the pandemic will change everything”, I’d pick the former as much closer to the truth.