go-to guru goes to TO

Richard Florida, “author”, “speaker”, “entrepreneur”, “researcher” and, not least, “go-to guru” as well as inventor of the bohemian gay index (or as Colbert calls it, the San Francisco phone book) has just been hired by the Rotman School of Business at UofT. The Globe and Mail ran not one but two gushing stories on the move.

Via Bergh, I see (here, here and here) that Florida has been receiving much attention of late in Sweden as well. Academic superstars, or rather, so-called public intellectuals who enjoy the media spotlight and catch the eye of policy makers, appear from time to time. Bob Putnam comes to mind. Like Putnam, Florida is a good speaker who writes accessible books with catchy titles that present neatly packaged sexy little findings such as concentrations of creative gay people being correlated with economic growth (cf the decline of bowling leagues being correlated with declines in trust). The problem is just that these findings (like those of Putnam) don’t stand up very well to rigourous scrutiny. Ed Glaeser, for instance, in his criticism points out that much of the bohemian effect touted by Florida is explained simply by education.

Glaeser also makes the point that the source of many academics’ critical reactions to Florida and others like him is that they are jealous. But what is it we are envious of, if we actually are envious? Is it the money? If I am going to be jealous of someone’s money, I would chose someone richer than Florida, despite the fact that he has, I assume, become a millionaire several times over. It’s not the impact of Florida’s research on the academic world since it is not large; nor the prestigious places he has published, since they are not, really. Is it his impact on policy makers? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I don’t think it is envy. I think part of my reaction and others like it has to do with snobbery. But how could one take the academic credentials of someone who on his own splashy website refers to himself as a “go-to guru” seriously?

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