Whilst I was away (don't ask: suffice to say I ended up envying Aung San Suu Kyi her house arrest) two of the main developments were Michael Gove's call to "inject greater rigour" into education and Ed Miliband's apology for Labour's immigration policy. The two are related.
I say this because rigorous academic studies - summarized by Jonathan - show that immigration from A8 countries had little effect upon natives' wages. Miliband's claim that there "was a direct effect on wages" is at best overstated and at worst plain wrong.
His attitude to immigration, then, is not greatly informed by academic rigour. In this, he is not alone. Tory attitudes to top taxes, housing benefit, "troubled families" and tax cuts are similarly uninformed.
Gove wants teachers to introduce pupils to "the best that has been thought and written". In politics, however, the "best" is ignored in favour of a pandering to the concerns of the mob.
This raises the question: if academic rigour is not a basis for policy-making, what use is it?
The benign possibility is that it is valuable in itself. It's a good thing that someone does social research even if it has no political utility - just as a study of medieval literature or Horace's odes are intrinsically good. Such a view rejects the Browne report's belief that higher education funding be directed towards "priority subjects" which have narrow and predictable economic utility.
Curiously, though, Gove hasn't said that his philosphy of education flatly contradicts Browne's.Which raises the suspicion that he wants "rigour" for another reason.Perhaps "rigour" might be just an attempt to legitimate a sharper class divide, with rich kids getting the chance to pursue academic qualifications whilst poor ones are abandoned.
And even the few poor kids who do get a chance face a cost here. Miliband says, correctly, that Labour became "disconnected from the concerns of working people." This is not just a political problem but an individual one for those of use who jumped through the Govean hoops of "rigour": we become socially isolated, geeks, weirdos and nerds. Academic success has big drawbacks.
It could, then, be that the costs of rigour outweigh the benefits.