I'm struck by the willingness of some contributors to this site to express, either consciously or unconsciously, views about the U.S. higher educational system that are little more than thinly vailed anti-American rants. For a specific example, see some of the comments left under the recent posting, Why are most of the top universities American?

What might explain these attitudes among otherwise well-educated folk? Is it just basic envy of the U.S. educational system? Sour grapes because they applied but didn't get admitted to a graduate program at a U.S.-based university, possibly years and years ago? A general inability to have non-polemical conversations? Plain old ignorance? Or is it actually considered to be good form to rail against anything and everything in and from the U.S.?

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    Alas, when it comes to compare different countries some people, even well-educated, simply cannot restrain from expressing anti-<put-your-most-hated-country-here> views. Sometimes it's US, sometimes it's France, Italy, Germany, UK etc. And it happens even when the critics have never been to that country or tried beforehand that system, whether educational, legal etc. Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 16:16
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    One data point: from all I've heard, read and seen about/from the US system, my conclusion is that it's heavily overrated. So it's not a per-se anti-American sentiment, as you seem to reflexively assume, but a data-driven conclusion. (That does not mean I'm right as I may be missing facts, but it means that your question may be ill-posed. In fact, I think it's a rant itself.)
    – Raphael
    Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 16:24
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    You seem to think that the basic assumption in order to leave a comment like that is "American universities are no good", rather than "American universities are great, but there are not enough of them at a high enough level that it would make sense that they make up 50% of a top 100 list". So your immediate assumption that they should in fact do so (despite the "raw" numbers speaking against it" seems to be just as "anti-European" or "anti-Asian" (or put it whatever continent/whatever) as the original comment is "anti-American". Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 10:34
  • @TobiasKildetoft - Is your comment directed at my posting or at one of the follow-up comments others have left? If it's the former, I must confess I'm not "getting" what you're trying to express. Please clarify.
    – Mico
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 11:17
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    I am simply getting at the fact that one does not need to be anti-American to look for answers to the linked question outside of what American universities do well, seeing as one can easily feel that American universities are among the best in the world without feeling that they "deserve" to represent 50% of the top 100 universities (note that if American universities were just "on par" with all others, they would have only a few in the top 100, based on pure numbers, so there is a big leap from that to 50%). Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


I think you might as well ask: "What causes occasional outbursts of pro-Americanism on this site?" A number of the answers on that question also indulge in poorly justified American exceptionalism (e.g., invoking "American spirit") or rank speculation. Basically, it's an inherently highly polarizing question and humans tend to have fairly parochial views on such things. I don't think it has anything to do with anti-Americanism per se.

Mix that with online disinhibition effect, and personally I'm quite happy at the degree of civility that's being maintained.

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    Wasn't the reference I added for the "American spirit" enough? (and it really does not necessarily qualify as a positive point, at least for a French ear, I actually was thought I got downvoted for accusing the average US Joe of blind optimism. But now I am reassured.) I was trying to stay neutral on it, just underlying cultural differences, which was easy as I personally don't have any opinion on it. Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 19:22
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    @FranckDernoncourt Not for me: if you'd said "cultural differences," I'd be more inclined to credit it, but in my experience the words "American spirit" are almost always an invocation of American exceptionalism, and thus inherently suspicious unless thoroughly explained to the contrary.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 14:45
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    Thanks for the link, sounds good, I changed "the American spirit tends to [...]" to "the American culture tends to [...]". Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:59

I'm struck by the willingness of some contributors to this site to express, either consciously or unconsciously, views about the U.S. higher educational system that are little more than thinly vailed anti-American rants.

In general, I think that the regular users of Academia.SE are quite respectful of each other. The problem is that we work in several different educational systems that might value different qualities in their students or in their research, or they might be different in the paths chosen to reach their objectives. Sometimes, we simply don't understand or accept these differences, and sometimes we fall into the trap of trying to convince others that our system is better than theirs.

Let me make a totally unrelated example. It's 1998, and I am a PhD student at his second trip to the US. A colleague of mine and I land in New York. Since we are both hungry, we decide to head for the nearest place to the hotel where we can get food: it's a McDonald. We look at the menus, and we find that something is missing. So from the middle of the queue, I ask loudly to one of the clerks: "Hey, do you have beer?". The room falls dead silent and everyone stare at us in disgust. The answer of the clerk is a sharp no, as though he can't even imagine how we dared asking such a thing (in many European countries you can buy beer in McDonalds). A few days later, we received the same look when in a supermarket we had asked where they kept the beers (then, we got the hint ;-) ).

So, it is clear that Europeans and North-Americans do not understand each other when it comes to buying alcohol: for most of Europeans it's quite normal to drink beer while eating a hamburger, or to buy beer, wine, whisky etc. in a supermarket, but for many North-Americans this sounds shocking.

In the same way, I think that there are things that we don't understand of our respective educational systems, and, sometimes, we find it difficult to accept.

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    "Let me make a totally unrelated example..." Perhaps they were disgusted that you hadn't seen Pulp Fiction, which by 1998 was one of the most foremost films in American culture. (Your larger point about culture strongly informing expectations is completely valid.) Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 10:00
  • @PeteL.Clark: Ha ha! At the time, I had seen Pulp Fiction, but I completely forgot this scene: shame on me! :-) Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 10:53
  • It's unclear how this anecdote relates to the question, or what exactly it's supposed to illustrate.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 7:24
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    @CapeCode It is supposed to illustrate, in a different, lighter, context that what might seem an anti-something is frequently just difficulty in understanding and accept different educational and research systems. Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 7:29

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