The quality of the material is horrible - long-winded, impenetrable tracts on topics that no one will ever bother reading.[/quote]
Unfortunately, many times you are right – the pressure to publish sometimes makes the quality suffer. However, don’t blame it on the academics: there’s a limited pool of stuff we can do in such short time and with the little resources that most academics have. Also, maybe it’s because they are so bored themselves with the stuff they are told to research on, they cannot make it interesting.
The truth is that there are many talented people that could be doing interesting stuff and publishing it but simply can’t convince anyone to sponsor it. Today, getting grants and generally research money is a highly political – and, hence, most of the time, unfair – game, based mostly on who you know rather than what you know. As most everything in the World anyway.
However, it’s been getting worse lately: whenever a Republican administration is in power, the only things you can really get sponsored are either related to biochem or defense. Which can get incredibly dumb: for example, the DoD is funding a project – with several millions of USD of taxpayer money – to research teleportation. Yes, you read it well: teleportation, something we know is highly unfeasible if not completely impossible, for many reasons. Maybe it’s something we can revisit in a few generations, when we can deal with the amounts of energy and information involved, and/or when we understand quantum entanglement better, but until then, it’s a complete waste of time and money, as most of the stuff the DoD sponsors.
Hence, don’t be surprised that most of us are liberals: Republican administrations waste so much precious money and make our life so much more frustrating that we can’t help but hate them.
Fortunately, we still get to do cool stuff – like the race we (Stanford) just won with our remote-control Touareg, or the now-infamous Schadenfreude study a colleague of mine here at Stanford did, but, well, not everything we do here is cool, even though we’re unusually well funded, mostly because we are excellent at atracting foreign investment; most institutions don’t have as much money so they don’t get to do as much cool stuff as we do. So there’s a lot of filler.
Basically, academia is no different from any other area, like food or IT: lots of crap, with only a few gems around.