Across disciplines, we find steep prestige hierarchies, in which only 9 to 14% of faculty are placed at institutions more prestigious than their doctorate... Furthermore, the extracted hierarchies are 19 to 33% stronger than expected from the observed inequality in faculty production rates alone...indicating a specific and significant preference for hiring faculty with prestigious doctorates... Together, these results are broadly consistent with an academic system organized in a classic core-periphery pattern..., in which increased prestige correlates with occupying a more central, better connected, and more influential network position..... A strong core-periphery pattern has profound implications for the free exchange of ideas. Research interests, collaboration networks, and academic norms are often cemented during doctoral training... Thus, the centralized and highly connected positions of higher-prestige institutions enable substantial influence, via doctoral placement, over the research agendas, research communities, and departmental norms throughout a discipline..The close proximity of the core to the entire network implies that ideas originating in the high-prestige core, regardless of their merit, spread more easily throughout the discipline, whereas ideas originating from low-prestige institutions must filter through many more intermediaries. Aaron Clauset, Samuel Arbesman, Daniel B. Larremore "Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks" Science Advances [HT Marcus Arvan]
The Clauset (et al.) study covers computer science, business, and history in North America. The best data we have about professional philosophy suggests we're no different in having a prestigious core-periphery dynamics (although, as I noted here and here, with interesting sub-networks that track alternative prestige hierarchies). The study also finds an outcome pattern that suggests bias against women in computer science and business. It is likely that in this respect we're more like these fields than history, alas. It is a bit of a shame the authors did not study fields with long established theoretical cores (physics, chemistry, biology, economics), but, perhaps, we'll see that soon. Their results imply that academic job-markets as well as the circulation and uptake of ideas within the republic of letters are best understood as rigged lotteries.
'Why a lottery?,' you may ask. Well, there is a huge supply of qualified PhDs and an increasingly unequal distribution in the quality (pay, teaching loads, benefits, etc.) and number of jobs. Too many insiders (administrators, state governments, high status academics, grant-bureaucrats etc.) benefit from an ample supply of cheap academic labor. The down-side is born not just by the underemployed and, perhaps, students, but also -- less tangibly -- collegiality and generosity in the academy. Indirectly, society is harmed. It is hard to say what the main causes are why the supply of technological and social innovations has slowed down (start here), but what this study reveals, in part, is that the modern academy and the societies that nourishes it are not giving promising ideas and people a fair chance. This is doubly unfortunate because while some big problems have been solved (e.g., how to organize public health, to provide sanitation, to generate open-ended economic growth, how to organize fairly just socities, etc.), some gigantic ones remain (environment, safe power, war, fanaticism, how to organize financial sector, etc.).
Hypothesis: the prestige-periphery trends are accentuated by the increasing fondness of grant-agencies and universities to pick academic winners. This habit reinforces the huge gap between academic insiders and outsiders. Even if grant-winners are fully deserving, the rewards they get -- yes, that includes me sometimes -- are so big relative to the non-winners that they automatically undermine the levels of equality that is required for collegiality and generosity, which are useful preconditions for risk-taking and an open, inquisitive intellectual environment. The system also undermines inquisitiveness because what gets rewarded is not the unexplored idea (the non-insider person), but trend-following at the top. All of this suggests philosophy as such is also harmed: anybody mention the fashion-driven nature of philosophical 'research' lately?*
* I suspect that the demand for application is another cause of the slowdown in innovation. But about that some other time.