Disciplined Minds

January 13, 2006

NOTE: this was published in Uncensored Magazine – At least I’m told it was – I never saw the actual issue it was in (issue 4 I think)

Disciplined Minds – A critical Look at the Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Lives.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Every time I read about issues like alternative health or fringe science there always come a point where the author attempts to explain why mainstream professionals in their particular field can not see the truth as they have presented it. Usually these explanations vary from hopeless right up to about average.

The best of these explanations show, for instance, how scientists in a particular field all receive their funding from corporate sources and may even go on to refer to research about the percentage of scientists who admit to being asked to falsify their data. They might point to one of the many examples of scientists who have had their careers destroyed because they spoke out at the wrong time but even with this argument (which is above average) I have always had this nagging feeling that the explanation hasn’t gone deep enough.

Well, I can now announce that that nagging sensation is gone. I discovered Jeff Schmidt’s ‘Disciplined Minds’ on the net one night and even before I read it I was pretty sure it was going to answer my questions for me. For one thing Jeff Schmidt was fired from his job at ‘Physics Today’ magazine for writing it and I figured that was a pretty good sign that he’d doing something right.

The basic thesis of ‘Disciplined Minds’ is that the first role of the professional is to serve society’s elites by maintaining and defending the status quo. Thus a doctor will defend ‘standard medical practice’ rather than do something different that will help a patient, a scientist will explore within the limits of mainstream thinking without daring to look at what’s happening on the fringes, or even take into account what is happening in other fields and a journalist will always filter out inconvenient facts and frame an article in a manner that suits their employer.

All of those examples sound slightly absurd on the face of it but also somehow familiar as well. Jeff Schmidt goes on to explain that while professionals may have liberal attitudes in many areas of their life they are actually very conservative when they’re at work – which is where they spend most of their waking hours and where they have their most effect on society. He also points out that despite their protestations to the contrary the role of a professional is actually a highly political one.

Disciplined Minds also deconstructs professional training by explaining that the main purpose of the training is to produce people that will take on their employer’s ideology and value system. A good professional will do this with ease and their employer can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that the decisions their professional employees make will be almost always be in accordance with their wishes.

As soon as I read this I was immediately able to explain the many insane and counterproductive things that occurred during my own professional training. I might add that despite my training being a miserable experience it failed to break me in and as a consequence I then spent 5 futile years working in a professional environment before finally giving up in disgust.

Jeff Schmidt himself trained as a physicist and uses that experience as a case study throughout the book and I have to say that I came away from reading it appalled at the implications for modern science since it would appear that virtually no one graduates without first being neutered of their curiosity and fascination. He says that the only way to properly survive the process is to actively resist and in an amusing last chapter he describes his own experience resisting his professors.

Also amusing, but at the same time alarming, is the chapter that uses US army prisoner of war resistance training as it’s main source of advice for students in professional training.
Disciplined Minds explains why many of the most innovative inventions of our time come from people with next to no training, people who are supposedly just ‘tinkerers’ and who always seem to say after they’ve invented something wondrous that they didn’t realise they weren’t supposed to be able to do what they did. It also explains why these inventions are so easily suppressed.

Disciplined Minds provides far and away the best explanation for the behaviour of professionals that I have seen and does so with sufficient academic rigour to prevent, I believe, any plausible objections being raised. Don’t let the idea of an academic book put you off though – Jeff Schmidt has, ever mindful of the need to enjoy our work, provided anecdotes and cartoons that compliments the academic nature of the text very effectively. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Aaron Mooar

Recovering Professional

There is also a letter that people can sign asking that Jeff Schmidt be reinstated to his old job at www.disciplined-minds.com/ . Just follow the ‘Update and Plea for Help’ link


  1. Aaron,

    I found this book at the public library and am really enjoying it – thanks for the recommendation. As an at-home mom – managing 5 years to not benefit the economy with the sale of my time, and with a husband finishing grad school, this book definitely corraborates our experiences. It’s nice to find it critiqued so roundly (the whole worker/professional/ university-military-industrial complex shebang) – most of which we assumed intuitively, but didn’t have anyone to comiserate with (as most people seem to just go along with it)….

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks.


    Posted by: Wendy | 04/02/2006

    By the way, Scmidt won a settlement with AIP – you should check out the website now. It’s really impressive, all that he accomplished. yes!

    Posted by: wendy | 04/03/2006

  2. […] is easily corruptible so I turn once again to the book ‘Disciplined Minds’ (which I reviewed here) to explain how all professionals are turned into neutered poodles that are very careful to not […]

  3. […] the past I’ve pinpointed schooling and university as two of the major institutions that push us toward obedience and despite having thought about […]

  4. […] mentioned this disconnect issue but couldn’t go anywhere useful with it is, as discussed in Disciplined Minds, that the professionals and scientists consulted in this article will be incapable of coming up […]

  5. […] Scientists may have an opinion on the state of our society but they never let it ‘interfere’ with their work. Yes that’s deliberate sarcasm –  scientists usually aren’t allowed to criticise society because that’s seen as ‘getting political’ or stepping outside their area of expertise. At the very least it’s opening a can of worms that most of them want to steer well clear of and so they are left with the options that the either parents are the cause or that the problem is inherant to the child – which they appear to oscillate between. For more about why scientists, pychiatrists and other professionals voluntarily shackle there minds like this I always reccommend the book Disciplined Minds. […]

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