Reality strkes back

The two main political stories of the last forty-eight hours have been (1) Todd Akin making up biomedical findings and (2) Niall Ferguson making up CBO conclusions.  Both seem surprised to find themselves under siege, and I can sympathize: ever since the reign of the Great Communicator (read: Pathological Liar) Ronald Reagan, the right has been able to assume that it can simply get away with whatever b.s. it wants to put out there. The fact that both Akin and Ferguson catching flak is a triumph for the broader reality-based community.

The main difference in the two cases is that the professional politician is apologizing for his b.s., while the professional academic is just piling his b.s. deeper.

Of course, Ferguson couldn’t get away with deceptively truncating quotations in his scholarly publications. Apparently he  thinks that he can get away with it in his pseudo-journalistic “public intellectual” hat. I think he’s mostly right. But should he be?

Of course we don’t want professors losing tenure for making political statements unpopular with their peers, or with academic administrators or funders (or undergoing official fishing expeditions for doing research that runs afoul of modern-day Lysenkoism). But equally of course, people who trade on their university titles as pseudo-journalists or consultants or expert witnesses ought to be held to the same standards – not of rigor or documentation, but of honesty – in their parallel work as they are in the stuff that gets them tenure.

“Veritas” isn’t a bad slogan for a university. I wonder if the Harvard History Department thinks it means anything?

Comments

  1. MobiusKlein says

    Has Akins actually owned up to making things up? Or just asking forgiveness.

    I don’t see any acknowledgement from him on the factual matters.

    • Anomalous says

      “The fact is rape can lead to pregnancy.” is what he said. Sounds like an admission to inacuracy with a bit of, ‘we all make mistakes’ in the mix. “…rape can lead to pregnancy.” leaves a lot of wiggle room as to how often this might occur. 30%? 10%? 2.5%?
      He owned it with a back door. Now at the church picnic he can give a wink and they will know he’s still their boy. It was those mean libruls made him do it.

      • MobiusKlein says

        Ok.
        But did not correct the error / BS that there is some mechanism to shut down the pregnancy (even if it’s not a perfect mechanism).

        By the by, it’s also akin to the non-science of ‘abortion causing breast cancer’ propaganda in the abortion wars. If they just stuck to the morally defensible line of ‘Human Life is always sacred’, it would show some honor and honesty.

  2. Byomtov says

    people who trade on their university titles as pseudo-journalists or consultants or expert witnesses ought to be held to the same standards – not of rigor or documentation, but of honesty – in their parallel work as they are in the stuff that gets them tenure.

    Could you explain to the non-academics among us what sanctions are available, and how likely they are to be imposed?

  3. Mitch Guthman says

    I don’t think Niall Ferguson is an academic historian nor does he really hold himself out as one. He isn’t someone who writes “scholarly publications” anymore and probably never really did. The closest I think he ever came to a “scholarly publication” was his history of the Rothschild family (which I’m guessing was his doctoral dissertation and which I liked, a lot).

    At this point, I think he’s stopped being a historian (if he ever was) and is now a “celebrity historian” like Doris Kearns Goodwin or David McCullough. He writes popular histories, which are enjoyable and informative, from a particular political viewpoint and he writes them very well. I would also guess that he’s probably a very good, popular teacher with the limitation that he isn’t an academic and is fanatically committed to a particular version of history.

      • Mitch Guthman says

        I understand his credentials and his affiliation with Harvard. I don’t think he writes books or articles that are “scholarly” historical studies but rather he writes popular history similar to that of Doris Kearns Goodwin or David McCullough. At this point, I think he’s basically a “celebrity historian” who mains writes books that are long polemics on political themes that are important to him. I think he feels that, by virtue of his celebrity, he is above the conventions of academic writing and is simply in the business of promoting his political point of view.

  4. marcel says

    The main difference in the two cases is that the professional politician is apologizing for his b.s., while the professional academic is just piling his b.s. deeper.

    Well, like most academics, he started with BS, continued on to More Shit, and any day will end up with it Piled high and dry.

  5. says

    One assumes that TAs grade all the papers and tests, because otherwise any student whose answer was marked “wrong” would have an interesting case for appeal.

  6. Mitch Guthman says

    Just as an aside, one learns something new every day. All my life I thought “veritas” meant “crush the weak.” Apparently it means “untruthful but unbelievably clever”.

  7. Bob2 says

    and yet Greg Mankiw is not strung up along with Niall Ferguson?

    Really most of the economics field should be.

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