Harriet Swain is on the ball about the dearth of "passionate intellectuals" ("How does an expert join the ranks of the fame academy?", THES , January 3).
As I am 86, I can go back a few years. It was a different academic world when I was a student at University College London and King's College London and a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Leading intellectuals were passionate about their subjects and were highly respected. Like most others of my generation, I looked on them almost reverentially as "gods".
This was before the brain-washing duo of Marxism and television opened the gates to political correctness and mediocrity. What intellectuals are passionate and caring about today are their own skins.
Take smoking. In earlier times, the top thinkers were all chain smokers and, if this assisted their intellectual creativity, even though they knew of the potential dangers, they would have not cared a jot.
Today our smoke-free academies and their slavish so-called academics put scholarship nowhere to avoid a whiff of smoke. No one can serve two masters. O, for those lovely Havana cigars after the loyal toast at the end-of-term dinner.
Take drinking. A regular binge was part of the game. Now even this has to struggle to survive. Everyone from the government down wants to tell everyone else what they can and cannot do and, worse, they impose it by draconian sanctions.
That is the simple reason why there are no passionate academics. They are all too busy obeying the rules and satisfying the thought police to be passionate about anything except their self-preservation, least of all their academic subjects.