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Ronin Institute for masterless scholars


As readers may know, I, along with a great many other researchers, have no permanent position, making do with casual work to get by. This is an increasing problem around the world as educational institutions transition from being a public good to a service provider to government and economic goals. Jon Wilkins (no close relation), latterly of the Santa Fe Institute, has started the Ronin Institute, and is seeking funding for us to help us do our research. Here is a letter he is sending around:

Happy New Year,

I wanted to take just a moment to introduce you to my new venture, the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship.

I founded the Ronin Institute in 2012 in order to create a new model for doing scholarly research outside of the traditional academic system. While the traditonal system has a number of strengths, it also comes with serious limitations. These limitations include artifical barriers to interdisciplinary research and collaboration arising from departmental boundaries, large bureaucratic and teaching loads placed on faculty, and the financial demands involved in supporting the infrastructure of the university.

The fact is, in many fields, the independent scholar with access to library resources can pursue research at the highest levels, often at a fraction of the cost of a university researcher. Furthermore, in the United States alone, there are tens of thousands of underemployed PhDs, representing a vast, untapped resource. We are identifying the most highly motivated independent scholars and working to ensure that they are able to make productive use of their expertise.

At the moment, there are about twenty five Ronin Institute Research Scholars, representing fields from Physics to Biology to History to Philosophy. A number of us are engaged in full-time research. Others are pursuing a model of “fractional scholarship,” engaging part time in academic research while working at another career, fulfilling family obligations, etc. Our goal is to create new career paths and funding opportunities to support a diversity of ways of engaging in scholarship.

This fall, we recieved approval of our 501c3 nonprofit status from the IRS, meaning that we are now ready to move forward with raising funds to support individual projects, help send independent scholars to conferences, and providing small pilot grants to help to restart research programs for people who have taken time off (e.g., to have kids).

I am hoping that you might be able to help us out, if not now, then at some point in the future. This could mean a financial donation, of course, and if you’re inclined to donate, you can do so online, or visit the Ronin Institute Donation page. We are strongly dedicated to following donor intent. If you would like to discuss directing your donation towards a specific project or program, feel free to contact us at

Alternatively, maybe you know someone who is a highly motivated independent scholar, and you would like to point them in our direction. Or maybe you are looking for a collaborator on an upcoming project, in which case you might have a look through the list of our Research Scholars, some of whom are actively seeking out collaborations, and all of whom are open to collaborating on the right project.

To find out more about the Ronin Institute more generally, you can check us out on the web, on Facebook and on Google+:

If you’re more of a listener, you can check out this radio interview that I did with WBUR in Boston over the summer.

You can also contact me with any questions you might have at

Wishing all the best for you in 2013,
Jon Wilkins

[The image above is my own, not Jon’s, but I’m trying to convince him to make it the RI logo…]


  1. Ronin huh?

    According to Wikipedia, “r?nin were often disreputable and festive”, so that’s a good start. Better than seppuku anyhow, which is what the masters thought preferable.

    Having a lot of un- or under-employed graduates around can become a serious issue, as was pointed out on the UK BBC programme “The Long View”, where an expansion in education without subsequent availability of suitable employment around 16th/17th century was likely one of the contributory factors to the English Civil War.

    The British also found this out in The Gold Coast (now Ghana) where many Africans had gained education during the 20th century, but then, denied work opportunities by their Imperial masters they naturally became discontented and agitated for freedom from the British yoke. And who can blame them?

  2. When I finished my first book, my publisher Wipf and Stock made me write my own author’s biography, as is the case with most books I suppose. All I could write for the author’s biography is that “James Goetz is an independent scholar.”

  3. If we did evolve with a predisposition towards rape (and I do not think this has even been shown to have a non-cultural component yet, so bear with me), surely to know this is not to justify it, but to forewarn and forearm?

    That’s the key isn’t. What happens if it’s massively over-stated? Like when John Walsh lied to Congress and said over 10,000 kids were kidnapped every year. When it’s closer to 125.

    What happens if a feminist, writing for Ms. magazine, makes up (out of whole cloth) a 25% of Women are Raped stat and it becomes accepted. That it isn’t challenged. So it becomes ‘fact’ instead of the ‘fiction’ it is…
    Society cannot deal with problems honestly and accurately when people, for political purposes, lie in order to make political points or to acquire and/or hold onto political power.

  4. In the US we have the National Crime Victimization Survey. Released every year, it’s a rolling average of all crimes. Not those reported to the police. But all crimes — reported and unreported — gathered on a statistical basis by unbiased experts in the field of criminology.

    Serious violent crime per 1,000 US Citizens, all genders, 12 and older:

    17.1 instances per 1,000 people. Broken down into categories:

    Rape/sexual assault 0.5
    Robbery 2.1

    Assault 14.5 broken down to two sub categories:

    Aggravated 3.2
    Simple 11.3

  5. Ok… How did these get here? I’m quoting, moving down the page, and posting…

    Anyway, rape is a terrible thing. But so is abusing the truth to where women are coached to live in fear of being raped and men are attacked and abused because they’re ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist.”

  6. John the Plumber John the Plumber

    John – Could your Ronon carry a pen,rather than a sword or spear?

  7. John the Plumber John the Plumber

    OK – I’m not one for subtlety in graphics – make it a nice big cartoon pen – so the geriatric visually challenged like me can get it first time.

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