A friend of mine sent along a link to a brand new blog written by a former Professor at Georgia Tech. He only has 6 posts up but I’m already intrigued. He takes on the Southern Poverty Law Center (which he once supported monetarily) and he also has a pretty biting review of academia, an institution within which he spent 40 years. His metaphor for academia, as the title states, isn’t that of an ivory tower, but instead that of the plantation:
The proper metaphor for the university is no longer the “ivory tower,” a shining refuge from daily life that promotes creative thought—if it ever was. A better metaphor is something more down-and-dirty. Like any metaphor, it only goes so far, but in its limited way may aid our understanding.
The modern university is a plantation.
I’m defining “plantation” as a large agricultural enterprise that raises and sells livestock and crops for profit. Antebellum Southern plantations were defined by slaveholding; after the War Between the States those that were left shifted to a different but hardly more moral system. This is what characterizes modern public research universities. Consider the parallels between universities and plantations:
Undergraduates are livestock. In an actual plantation, livestock are raised and sold for profit.
How much profit depends on quality, numbers and value. Undergraduates bring money in two ways. First is tuition and fees, and is the lesser contribution. The last estimate I heard, from two separate schools, was that tuition and fees accounted for 15% of the operating budget.* The greater contribution comes from State funding, which pays some number of dollars per student credit hour. This accounts for 35% of the annual budget, according to the same sources.
So the “livestock” are, in reality, a rather minor portion of the money coming in (tuition and fees) but worth a lot because of the government funding tied to the credit hours taken.
How is that a function of govenment again? And why, if that’s going on, have tuition and fees become so outrageous? Why are student loans so high?
To answer that question, it is high because it can be. Low interest loans actually don’t help the process and students, and more problematic, parents, have fallen for the siren song of academia – “we’re vital for you child’s future and success”.
Of course, the government end of it provides another incentive that’s not particularly good.
What’s important here is that moving undergrads through the system is how universities make a great deal of money. The better the students and the more of them, the more funding.
Some schools depend more on quality to attract students (or a reputation for quality, which isn’t the same thing), some more on perceived value for tuition money, whether that includes classes or party time. The principle is the same regardless. Profit (how much is left over from direct expenses for salaries, new buildings, fancy office furniture and so forth) depends on spending as little as possible on livestock production while maintaining a salable product. What’s the outcome? Large classes taught by the cheapest employees. Dependence on online services instead of real (and responsive) human contact. Discarding hands-on laboratories in favor of computer simulations. All of these make undergraduate production easier and cheaper.
Plantations not only have livestock, but they raise crops. And what are the “crops” of academia?
Research grants and contracts. Not research itself, but research done in order to receive outside money. Most people outside the university don’t know that grants, whether from Federal or State agencies, foundations or industry, cover not only direct costs such as equipment and salaries, but “indirect costs,” expressed as “overhead.” Overhead was originally intended to cover such necessities as building maintenance, lights, water, heat and so forth. Today overhead may add 45% or more to the cost of a grant. If, for example, direct costs amount to $1,000,000, the grant must be written for $1,450,000 or more. This $450,000, minus actual overhead, is what corresponds to profit, and can be used by administrators for pretty much whatever they want. Overhead from grants and contracts amounts to another 35% of operating budgets.
In the modern research university, obtaining grants is a requisite for employment. Yes, one can do research without external funding, but that doesn’t count, at least not for much. An assistant professor in science or engineering must obtain grant funds to receive tenure, regardless of other contributions. A tenured associate or full professor can’t be fired out of hand (most places) for a lack of funding, but can be punished in other ways. Forgoing raises, for instance. Having one’s teaching load increased and being assigned to basic undergrad classes, for another. Losing office space, lab space, or travel funding for conferences. Having fewer grad students. These may not seem terribly severe penalties to non-academics, but trust me, they’re very effective.
While there is nothing wrong with making a profit, this points to how government has again had a hand in distorting a market.
He goes on to discuss a lot more in the post that deals with academia today (to include recommended solutions). Worth the read and a new blogger to keep an eye on. Seems he’s gone through the halls of academia, survived there for quite a while and is now looking back and saying WTF? A valuable look and some interesting analysis.
A recently published study has found that many college and university students aren’t taught critical thinking skills while enrolled in their course of study. The study "followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective."
What they found was that about 45% of those students showed no significant improvement in their critical thinking skills during the first two years of enrollment. After 4 years, 35% showed no significant improvement.
The study is unique in that it is the first time a group of students was followed through their college careers to determine if they learned specific skills. As might be expected, academia is not at all pleased with the results.
"These findings are extremely valuable for those of us deeply concerned about the state of undergraduate learning and student intellectual engagement," said Brian D. Casey, the president of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. "They will surely shape discussions about curriculum and campus life for years to come."
The students involved in the study were tested using a standard test used to measure critical thinking ability:
The study used data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a 90-minute essay-type test that attempts to measure what liberal arts colleges teach and that more than 400 colleges and universities have used since 2002. The test is voluntary and includes real world problem-solving tasks, such as determining the cause of an airplane crash, that require reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports.
As noted a significant number of students were unable to break out fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or "objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event", the study found. In fact those students who fell into this category had a tendency to be swayed by emotion and political spin.
An interesting finding of the study was that students majored in liberal arts courses of study were more likely to develop critical thinking skills than were those that majored in courses of study such as business, education, social work and communications.
Other findings were that students who study alone, rather than in groups, tend to develop critical thinking skills and that courses (such as the liberal arts) which require heavy loads of reading and writing also help develop those skills.
Obviously the answer, if the study is to be believed, is to increase the reading and writing workload of all students. The study found some obvious problems as it is today in many of the universities and colleges included:
The study’s authors also found that large numbers of students didn’t enroll in courses requiring substantial work. In a typical semester, a third of students took no courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week. Half didn’t take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the semester.
While it would be easy to fob this off on students seeking the easiest path to graduation, it is the school that puts the curriculum together and designs and approves the classes taught. The bottom line is the school is being paid handsomely to turn out graduates that can indeed think critically – a skill in high demand everywhere. Failing in that area at the percentages noted isn’t a student problem – it is a problem of academia.
The findings shot that colleges need to be acutely aware of how instruction relates to the learning of critical-thinking and related skills, said Daniel J. Bradley, the president of Indiana State University and one of 71 college presidents who recently signed a pledge to improve student learning.
"We haven’t spent enough time making sure we are indeed teaching — and students are learning — these skills," Bradley said.
Indeed. And it appears a "back to basics" approach would be most appropriate to bring the students not being taught those skills up to the level they need to be when they graduate. That means tough courses which test those skills routinely. That also means more work for those teaching the courses. The question is will colleges and universities take these findings seriously and do the work for which they are being paid? Or will it, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, remain as it is today, with universities and colleges turning out a high percentage of graduates for whom critical thinking is still an unknown skill?
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Irony alert – “Mean-spirited” Chancellor of UC Berkeley uses “hateful rhetoric” to attack political opponents
The LA Times brings us yet another example of the apparent immunity to irony most folks on the liberal side of the house tend to exhibit. This time it is the Chancellor of UC Berkeley – an institution probably considered the cherry on top of the sundae of liberal academia.
Apparently Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau sent out a campus-wide email in which he blamed the shooting of Rep. Giffords in Tucson on Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants and the failure to pass the DREAM act. The email was sent out Monday. Giffords was shot the previous Saturday.
In the email, Birgeneau said, "I believe that it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons."
Well, as a matter of fact, it is a coincidence that it happened in Arizona regardless of anyone’s views on the immigration enforcement law the state passed. In fact, it appears immigration wasn’t even on Loughner’s rather weirded-out radar screen.
Birgenau also made it clear he believed a "climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech is tolerated" was also partly responsible for the shooting. Subsequent revelations seem to pretty much debunk this theory. 0 for 2.
Speaking of demonization and hateful speech, Birgenau went on to say, "this same mean-spirited xenophobia played a major role in the defeat of the DREAM Act by legislators in Washington, leaving many exceptionally talented and deserving young people, including our own undocumented students, painfully in limbo with regard to their futures in this country,"
“Mean-spirited xenophobia”? It couldn’t be that many who opposed the legislation saw it as giving an unfair advantage to those who had chosen to ignore our laws over those who were playing by the rules could it? It couldn’t be that those who oppose the law have absolutely no problem with legal immigration and actually agree our system is broken and needs to be fixed, could it?
Nope, they must be “mean-spirited xenophobes” if they opposed the law. The irony impaired say so.
By the way, this is also a great example of “projection” – another thing the left seems to be unable to spot. Blame the other side for doing what you’re caught doing, i.e. using overgeneralizations, demonization and hateful speech to attack your opponent – while in the middle of decrying it.
It just doesn’t get much better than this.
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Because, you know, its all about war and stuff.
The Washington Post rolled out what I consider an inevitable op/ed today about keeping ROTC off the campuses of Ivy League schools who banned it when DADT was in effect. Colman McCarthy, a former Post columnist who directs the Center for Teaching Peace claims that ROTC is essentially an anti-intellectual endeavor which can be opposed on moral grounds:
It should not be forgotten that schools have legitimate and moral reasons for keeping the military at bay, regardless of the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell." They can stand with those who for reasons of conscience reject military solutions to conflicts.
Another on the left wanting to limit your choices.
Of course those who reject military solutions to conflicts for reasons of conscience don’t mind being protected by those who graduate from other ROTC programs, one supposes. And so they are. It is always fun and easy to be against war if others are willing to fight them for you. And you won’t find the military against peace either – they’re the ones who have to fight a war and suffer the losses. However, they’re also some hard-bitten realists who recognize that there are evil people in the world who want to do us harm. They also recognize that you can be for peace all you want to, but if the other guy chooses war, you either fight or capitulate and live by his dictates for your life. I assume McCarthy rejects “just war” as a challenge to his “peace for reasons of conscience” as well.
But if you look closely at the words above, you get an inkling of the depth of ignorance Mr. McCarthy displays in his piece. In this country, “military solutions” are dictated by civilian authorities. That may have slipped past him when he was studying “Peacenik 101”. It isn’t the military that decides when to enter a conflict, it is, for the most part, civilian graduates of Ivy league schools who’ve made those decisions. I know – irony.
Anyway, I thought that was a bit humorous.
McCarthy, if you haven’t guessed, is a product of the ‘60s. And it shows in the smug shallowness of his presentation and the bits of stereotypical nonsense with which his piece is studded. It’s also a pitch for more “peace studies”, because, you know, we have women’s studies, and black studies, and LGBT studies. I assume he believes ROTC to be war studies and filled with Neanderthals and knuckle-draggers who want to be indoctrinated, given a weapon and pointed in the right direction with orders to kill everything in sight.
As a proud ROTC grad (and Distinguished Military Graduate) I owe a debt to the course of study. Like most who graduated from the program, I learned the basics of something our present CiC hasn’t yet learned – leadership. And the Army took it from there to the point that when I retired, I was both a pretty fair leader and darn sure a good evaluator of leadership. Other than perhaps a few on-campus organizations, it was the only opportunity to learn about leadership and to apply it in a real world environment. I don’t know about you, but watching Obama founder on the leadership rocks, I think it is a pretty critical skill.
But McCarthy’s objection doesn’t even consider that. He’s stuck in the ‘60s Vietnam time warp by which he evaluates everything now. And he’s really concerned about the Ivies becoming tainted now that DADT has been repealed:
However, being the good PC creature he is, he knows he’s got to be careful. Read this and shake your head in wonder:
To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home. In recent years, I’ve had several Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans in my college classes. If only the peace movement were as populated by people of such resolve and daring.
It isn’t “anti-soldier”? Well of course not – check out the moral equivalency in the next line. Your young son who joined the Army is now the equivalent of a Taliban terrorist who blinds young girls with acid, executes village leaders for cooperation with the Afghan government and uses the sports arena in Kabul to execute women who’ve offended its bizarre codes.
His reasons for “admiring” soldiers are just as tatty – for their discipline, loyalty, principles and sacrifices. Most of us assume these to be good traits. Admirable traits as McCarthy says. Where in the world does he think such things are taught? Certainly not in his peace studies apparently. Uh, Mr. McCarthy, try “ROTC”. Yup – it’s stock and trade.
Finally he panders a bit: combat veterans have lots of resolve and daring. Daring? Is there perhaps a bit of a yellow-streak peeking out from behind the word salad? And aren’t “resolve and daring” what has made this nation great? Wow – more admirable traits.
ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace. If a school such as Harvard does sell out to the military, let it at least be honest and add a sign at its Cambridge front portal: Harvard, a Pentagon Annex.
Yeah, that warrior ethic thing is a real “taint” on intellectual purity, isn’t it – if you define intellectual purity as “what I deem important and nothing else”. Let’s review – loyalty, daring, resolve, discipline, principle and sacrifice. I have to agree those traits contained in the warrior ethic would be a real drag on “intellectual purity” wouldn’t they?
McCarthy calls the classes taught in ROTC “softie classes” that don’t require much intellectually. Well they’re certainly not advanced nuclear physics, but then they’re not designed to be. They are classes which lay the ground work for what is to come in the military. They are an introduction to the schooling the military will incrementally give its officers as they go on active duty and progress through the ranks. When I entered the Army I went to the Infantry Officer Basic Course which picked up right where ROTC left off. Given a few years of experience I went to my branch’s Advanced course, then the Command and General Staff College, etc. – all part of a planned military schooling cycle that turns out the leaders that we have commanding our military today – most of whom could easily pit their intellect against that of McCarthy and come out miles ahead.
As for the intellectual purity of a school being compromised by ROTC, if this demonstrably misinformed op/ed is an example of what such intellectual purity produces, ROTC would most likely raise the intellectual level of the school this guy attended. It just makes you wonder what he’s so afraid of.
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Mark Hemingway at the Washington Examiner brings this little goodie to our attention:
The American public is still mired in doubt about the science and the economics of climate change, he said, but is ready for the kind of social shift that eventually brought success to the abolition movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.
“Just as few people saw a moral problem with slavery in the 18th century, few people in the 21st century see a moral problem with the burning of fossil fuels,” Professor [Andrew] Hoffman [of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources] said. “Will people in 100 years look at us with the same incomprehension we feel toward 18th-century defenders of slavery?”
So now skeptics of AGW are the moral equivalent of slavery defenders because they don’t agree that the science is there which supports the warmists view that man’s CO2 emissions are the driver of global climate change? Really?
If people might do anything during a 100 year retrospective it will be to look askance at the rhetoric this particular issue generated from one particular side. My guess is they’ll look at Hoffman’s analogy and shake their head in wonder at the absurdity of his claim.
I’m not sure what offends me more – Hoffman’s attempt to equate scientific skepticism with an immoral institution like slavery or his obvious ignorance of the fact that science is skepticism.
Hoffman needs to also get out more – there is little if any “social shift” in the making concerning this nonsense. The science is not settled (in fact it is badly discredited), there is no consensus and until there is much more solid evidence from the scientific community – not some divinity school drop out and failed presidential candidate – the public isn’t going to willingly sacrifice its economic well being on some incredibly expensive scheme concocted by warmists that most likely will have no effect whatsoever on the alleged problem.
But, then, what do we slavers know.
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Here is an amazing letter to the editor at a college newspaper from a person who gives himself the title of "academic professional". I’ve looked at it off and on for a couple of days trying to figure out how to excerpt it and talk about this, well, fool. As it turns out, the best way to present it is to present it whole since excerpting it only takes away from the totality of the nonsense this "academic professional" is spouting.
In fact, as I read it, I have to tell you that it immediately reminded me of another “academic professional” that visits the comment section of our blog fairly regularly. The only difference I can see is the “academic professional” I quote below actually is a part of a major university instead of some backwoods school. Other than that, either could have written this:
The vast majority of 9/11 observances in this country cannot be seen as politically neutral events. Implicit in their nature are the notions that lives lost at the World Trade Center are more valuable than lives lost in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere; that the motives of the 9/11 attackers had nothing to do with genuine grievances in the Islamic world regarding American imperialism; and that the U.S. has been justified in the subsequent killing of hundreds of thousands in so-called retaliation.
The observance at Saturday’s football game was no different. A moment of silence was followed by a military airplane flyover; in between, Block-I students chanted “USA, USA.” This was neither patriotism nor remembrance in any justifiable sense, but politicization, militarism, propaganda and bellicosity. The University is a public institution that encompasses the political views of all, not just the most (falsely) “patriotic.” Athletic planners should cease such exploitation for political purposes. They might at least consider how most Muslim students, American or otherwise, would respond to this nativist display; or better, Muslims and others that live their lives under the threat of our planes, drones and soldiers.
The overwhelmingly white, privileged, Block-I students should be ashamed of their obnoxious, fake-macho, chicken-hawk chant, while poverty-drafted members of their cohort fight and die in illegal and immoral wars for the control of oil. University administrators need to eliminate from all events such “patriotic” observances, which in this country cannot be separated from implicit justifications for state-sponsored killing.
University Academic Professional
You can dissect that to your heart’s content, and it is still, on whole, some of the most misguided stupidity you’re likely to see this side of Maine.
Of course 9.11 observances aren’t politically neutral. That neutrality died the day we lost 3,000 people to Islamic jihadist extremists who had been at war with us for years. How did this yahoo get stuck in time on September 10th, 2001 for heaven sake?
That sort of absurdly out-of-touch idiocy permeates the entire little screed. And if you want to see the definition of “non neutrality” at work, read this “academic professional’s” denigration of his student’s nationalism, patriotism and – yes, wait for it – color.
And then there’s the “stereotypes-r-us” portion. “Overwhelmingly white, privileged … students”. Wars fought by “poverty-drafted members of their cohort”. “Illegal” (authorized by Congress per the Constitution) and “immoral” (yeah, can’t hit back when smacked in the face with a sledge hammer – that’s immoral) and all for oil.
All the leftist canards rolled into one can be found in it – yeah, be ashamed of your country, your military, your patriotism and yourselves you bastards because it makes “David Green, academic professional” uneasy.
How freakin’ ‘60s of the dope.
Tell you what, David Green, academic professional – instead of you telling everyone what they’ve done to offend you, why don’t I tell you what about you offends me.
Your very existence offends me. Your smug but ignorant arrogance offends me. The fact that you don’t know the difference between grassroots patriotism and “nativism” offends me. The fact that you have no idea of who makes up our military (although it comes as no surprise, really) offends me. The fact that you clearly don’t know what the words “illegal” or “immoral” mean, but have no problem throwing them around like you do offends me.
But what offends me most is what you must be doing to the young minds which come under your power while attending your university. If what you’ve written is any indication of how you teach, then your students or their parents ought to demand an immediate refund. Because it is not only fact free, but shows absolutely no evidence of critical thinking.
One of the great things about America is everyone is free to express their opinion. However, doing so is not without consequence, because then those who don’t agree get to express theirs. My opinion of you, David Green, academic professional, is below that of the Congressional Democratic leadership. And I provide the bottom side of their 8% popularity rating.
The good news for you is you are precisely where you belong. Outside the academic ivory tower, facing the reality anyone else does, it’s my guess surviving for 15 minutes would be the high side of an estimate of how long you’d last.
Now, crawl back under your academic rock, where you belong, and hush.
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As with most good intentions, the American’s With Disabilities Act has grown into something which in some cases obviously violates that initial intent. Designed to provide equal access to Americans with both physical and mental disabilities, the common sense side of such an endeavor has begun to fall to the more absurd and, frankly, selfish interpretations of the law.
The benign intent – equal access – has become a more authoritarian application and is resulting in penalizing the able.
The latest illustration of that comes to us from the world of academia. And the result is a bureaucratic ruling which delayed, if not destroyed, a great idea.
As we all know, college is an expensive proposition. So anything which helps reduce that cost is something which should be at least explored to see if its viable. A few schools were engaged in just such a project involving the Amazon Kindle – an e-book reader that users can download books onto. In this case the books were text books:
Last year, the schools — among them Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve — wanted to know if e-book readers would be more convenient and less costly than traditional textbooks. The environmentally conscious educators also wanted to reduce the huge amount of paper students use to print files from their laptops.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Reduced cost for text books. Reduced paper usage. It would seem a perfectly sensible project for schools to undertake. Well, it did until the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped in based on a complaint from the National Federation of the Blind:
The Civil Rights Division informed the schools they were under investigation. In subsequent talks, the Justice Department demanded the universities stop distributing the Kindle; if blind students couldn’t use the device, then nobody could. The Federation made the same demand in a separate lawsuit against Arizona State.
In short the Federation is saying, “if we can’t use the Kindle, no one can”. Interestingly, there wasn’t a single blind student in any of the project courses.
The Kindle, of course, is speech capable. It will read to you. However, as it was configured then, it required a sighted person to get to that part of the menu. So while one can understand the complaint to a point, I don’t understand the reaction. Why must everyone be banned from this common sense approach to saving money and resources because a very small segment of the population couldn’t yet avail themselves of the technology? Key word – ‘yet’.
It goes to a premise that we see constantly espoused on the left – only government is capable of adjudicating and enforcing “fairness”, even when such an adjudication is absurd and, as it turns out, an over reaction.
School officials were a bit baffled by the ruling:
Given the speed of technological development and the reality of competition among technology companies — Apple products were already fully text-to-speech capable — wasn’t this a problem the market would solve?
Of course it would. And competition would drive it – such as Apple. But the Justice Department decided if the blind can’t have it, neither can the sighted.
In early 2010, after most of the courses were over, the Justice Department reached agreement with the schools, and the federation settled with Arizona State. The schools denied violating the ADA but agreed that until the Kindle was fully accessible, nobody would use it.
Kindle knew the idea for saving money through using e-text books was a good one. They also knew, given Apple’s entry, that they would lose out if it wasn’t accessible to the blind. So they developed a Kindle – the latest version – that is fully accessible to the blind. And, it was a project which had already been in the works prior to the intrusion of the government.
That, however, didn’t stop the Civil Rights Division from again warning educators:
But as Amazon was unveiling the new Kindle last week, Perez was sending a letter to educators warning them they must use technology "in a manner that is permissible under federal law."
So here we have a problem that was in the process of being solved by the market when the need was identified. In the mean time, as that problem was being solved, the project could have moved forward and eventually benefitted any number of students with lower cost text books and less paper usage. Instead, no one was able to use the technological tool, and now that the problem has been solved, the federal government is still warning schools about the use of such devices.
There are those who will claim, some in our comment section, that this would have never happened had it not been for government. That is simply not true. As noted, the revised Kindle that would accommodate the blind was already on the drawing board for the next revision. Instead what we saw is unnecessary government intervention. Instead of warning the schools off of the project, had the government checked with Amazon, they’d have discovered that the desired product was under development.
They didn’t. They instead decided to use the authoritarian approach and threaten the schools with the law. As one person said:
"As a blind person, I would never want to be associated with any movement that punished sighted students, particularly for nothing they had ever done," says Russell Redenbaugh, a California investor who lost his sight in a childhood accident and later served for 15 years on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "It’s a gross injustice to disadvantage one group, and it’s bad policy that breeds resentment, not compassion."
It is bad policy, and as it was used in this case, bad law. Anyone who has made it into adulthood knows that life is not fair, never has been and will never be. We each, to some degree or another and in varying degrees of severity, have disabilities for which we have to compensate. Most of us have no problem with reasonable and common sense accommodations which enable those among us with more severe disabilities the chance to participate more fully. However, when you begin to penalize the able because the disabled don’t have the same opportunity to participate for whatever reason, then it is a level of intrusion that is both unwelcome and unwarranted. Unfortunately, though, it is all too common.
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It’s a fairly obvious reason that Kenneth P. Green and Hiwa Alaghebandian, writing in the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, point to as the problem – in some areas, science and scientists have gone from being neutral observers of facts and purveyors of information developed through the scientific method to attempting to assume an authoritarian and activist role in our lives. Not all of science, obviously, but certainly a visible and loud minority. And that causes problems for all of science:
In the past, scientists were generally neutral on questions of what to do. Instead, they just told people what they found, such as “we have discovered that smoking vastly increases your risk of lung cancer” or “we have discovered that some people will have adverse health effects from consuming high levels of salt.” Or “we have found that obesity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.” Those were simply neutral observations that people could find empowering, useful, interesting, etc., but did not place demands on them. In fact, this kind of objectivity was the entire basis for trusting scientific claims.
But along the way, an assortment of publicity-seeking, and often socially activist, scientists stopped saying, “Here are our findings. Read it and believe.” Instead, activist scientists such as NASA’s James Hansen, heads of quasi-scientific governmental organizations such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editors of major scientific journals, and heads of the various national scientific academies are more inclined to say, “Here are our findings, and those findings say that you must change your life in this way, that way, or the other way.”
The two authors took a look at phrases scientists have been quoted as using over the years in statements they’ve released or how the media has interpreted them. And make no mistake – in many cases the media aided and abetted these activist scientists.
So here’s what they found:
[A]round the end of the 1980s, science (at least science reporting) took on a distinctly authoritarian tone. Whether because of funding availability or a desire by some senior academics for greater relevance, or just the spread of activism through the university, scientists stopped speaking objectively and started telling people what to do. And people don’t take well to that, particularly when they’re unable to evaluate the information that supposedly requires them to give up their SUV, their celebratory cigar, or their chicken nuggets.
In essence we had the confluence of “save the world” journalism meeting activist “save the world” scientists and the result was more agenda driven partisanship (and partnership) than objectivity. Some scientists felt compelled to save us from ourselves and many journalists shared that desire. The most obvious result of that has been the sham science of “global warming”.
The authors conclude by pointing out how science has, in some cases, become the “regulatory state’s” lap dog and what it has to do to redeem itself:
If science wants to redeem itself and regain its place with the public’s affection, scientists need to come out every time some politician says, “The science says we must…” and reply, “Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.” If they say that often enough, and loudly enough, they might be able to reclaim the mantle of objectivity that they’ve given up over the last 40 years by letting themselves become the regulatory state’s ultimate appeal to authority.
They’re absolutely right – and, every time we see an activist scientist getting into the “what we must or should do” nonsense, we need to call him or her on it. And we need to continue to be highly skeptical of the state’s appeal to science as the final authority when doing so is decidedly in the state’s favor.
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ver since the internet has thrown the private journalistic business model into disarray, the idea that perhaps public funding should be used to "save" private journalism has found purchase among some.
I, as you might guess, wouldn’t be one of the "some".
This time it is Lee Bollinger, Columbia University’s president, pushing the "public/private partnership" necessary to "save" journalism. He cites the BBC and NPR as examples of the sort of partnership he’s talking about. However, he wants to expand that, obviously, across the board. His rational for such an expansion is to claim we’re essentially doing that now anyway. His examples?
Meanwhile, the broadcast news industry was deliberately designed to have private owners operating within an elaborate system of public regulation, including requirements that stations cover public issues and expand the range of voices that could be heard. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld this system in the 1969 Red Lion decision as constitutional, even though it would have been entirely possible to limit government involvement simply to auctioning off the airwaves and letting the market dictate the news. In the 1960s, our network of public broadcasting was launched with direct public grants and a mission to produce high quality journalism free of government propaganda or censorship.
The institutions of the press we have inherited are the result of a mixed system of public and private cooperation. Trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown—a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance.
You have to love this convoluted thinking evident here – letting the market alone provide all the news coverage is “unknown” and “risky”. Getting government more deeply involved in regulating and subsidizing “journalism”, however, apparently isn’t.
What Bollinger really doesn’t want, much like the priests and monks of Gutenberg’s era, is to loose their monopoly on providing the news, just as the priests didn’t want to lose their monopoly on the possession of and therefore the interpretation of the bible. Unfortunately the printing press changed that dynamic forever.
In this era the internet has forever destroyed the journalistic business model that provided monopoly power to “journalistic” institutions by removing the barriers to entry. For minimal cost, anyone can publish on the internet. And the proliferation on the internet of sources and opinions on the news – some far better than the traditional outlets provided – have decimated their advertising revenue base as readers turn from high cost alternatives to low cost ones.
Welcome to creative destruction – a lynch pin of capitalism and the engine for advancements in technology and the delivery of goods and services. Lower cost and better delivery will usually always win out over higher cost and poorer delivery.
If you want the news as quickly as you can get it (assuming the internet didn’t exist) and your choices were newspaper, network news and cable news, which would you most likely choose?
Obviously – and the ratings and subscription info seems to support this – you’d choose cable news. Who wants stale stories delivered the next morning via newspaper, or appointment TV, where you have to take time to sit down and watch when they decide to broadcast to catch a half hour capsule of the news?
So this revolutionary change didn’t start with the internet. The internet has simply expanded the choices and put the “traditional” outlets in even more disarray.
It isn’t the job of government or the taxpayer to subsidize the old and discredited business models to which the Lee Bollingers of this world cling. What Bollinger should do, instead, is join the legions of owners, publishers and other experts working hard day and night to find a viable new business model that will preserve at least part of the “traditional media”.
But all government subsidy will do is intrude in a dynamic changing market and distort it. And journalists of the traditional media will simply become one more rent seeker among many. We don’t need to be moving toward more crony capitalism, we need to be moving away from it as quickly as possible.
Bollinger is sure that the system he envisions could easily be kept free of government interference and journalistic integrity would be maintained. He sites various examples that he’s sure proves his point. But that’s not the point – at least not the one that is important (even if I don’t believe his point to be true in the long run). What is important is the government should have no role whatsoever in subsidizing a “free press”. When it does, no matter how benign the subsidy, the word “free” disappears from “free press”.
And intellectually that’s a non-negotiable point.
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I’ve been chuckling my way through this article as it reminds me of a certain denizen of the comment section here. It’s just too freakin’ funny (and accurate) not to share:
Many academics not only envy people with money, but also those who enjoy political authority. Professors are more confident than most that they have the truth and are convinced that, if given the opportunity, they would rule with intelligence, justice, and compassion. The trouble is that few Americans, at least since the time of Andrew Jackson, will vote for intellectuals. (The widespread assumption that Presidents who have Ivy League degrees are intellectuals is highly debatable. The Left declared consistently that George W. Bush, who had diplomas from Yale and Harvard, was mentally challenged. Barak Obama, who was not really a professor, has sealed his academic records.) How many professors run City Hall anywhere? How many would like to? How many humanities and social science professors are consulted when great civic issues are discussed and decided? Who would even invite them to join the Elks?
Instead of steering the machinery of local, state, and national politics, academics are relegated to writing angry articles in journals and websites read by the already converted and pouring their well-considered opinions into the ears of young people who are mostly eager to get drunk, listen to rap, watch ESPN, and find a suitable, or at least willing, bed partner for the night.
On the Left and Right money means power, and we “pointy heads” and “eggheads” are on the outside looking in. One thinks of Arthur Schlesinger Jr swooning over the Kennedys for the rest of his life because they gave him a title and a silent seat in some White House deliberations. Those making as much money as, say, an experienced furnace repairman account for little in this world, despite the PhD. How many academics even sit on the governing board that sets policies for their campus? It is all most humiliating. (To see how intelligently and objectively academics use the authority they have, examine the political correctness the suffocates the employment practices and intellectual lives of almost all American campuses. Aberlour’s Fifth Law: “Political correctness is totalitarianism with a diploma.”)
One way to compensate for this bleak and futureless existence is to become involved in left-wing causes. They give us a sense of identity in a world seemingly owned and operated by Rotarians. And they provide us with hope. In big government we trust, for with the election of sufficiently enlightened officials, we might gain full medical coverage, employment for our children, and good pensions. These same leftist leaders might redistribute income “fairly,” by taking wealth from the “greedy” and giving it to those of us who want more of everything. A “just” world might be created in which sociologists, political scientists, botanists, and romance language professors would achieve the greatness that should be theirs. It’s all a matter of educating the public. And hurling anathemas at people of position and affluence we deeply envy.
Bingo. Those that can, do. And those that can’t … seek tenure.
[HT: Maggies Farm]
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