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Before Alleging Partisanship or Inconsistency, How About Doing Just a Bit of Research?

Responding to my post quoting Mark Liberman (Language Log) on politicians' slips of the tongue -- here, Obama's and Biden's slips, a commenter responds:

These studies seem to come out at convenient times. When its a republican who exhibits slips of the tongue, we get "Bushisms" as evidence of lack of intelligence. When a Democrat comes along with the same problem, its "Oh, well, it doesn't mean anything, everyone does it."

When it looked like the Democrats were a lock on the Presidency, all of the sudden academics were proposing a "cease fire" in the judicial confirmation wars.

These all remind me of the "homeless rediscovery" watch from Opinion Journal.

Now I'm happy to agree that academics do tend to, on average, lean left; and academics, like other people, on balance have their share of partisanship. But before you accuse a particular academic of partisanship, wouldn't it be good to actually look a little at his track record, rather than simply inferring his behavior from his profession?

As it happens, the Language Log post asserted that "With respect to speech-production blunders all across the political [spectrum], our perspective has been consistent," and included links to some earlier posts on the subject. But even if the commenter hadn't noticed that, it would have been trivial to just Google "language log" bushism or "mark liberman" bushism. Either approach would have made clear that Liberman has indeed criticized Bushisms often (and in my view quite persuasively), and thus indeed seems to be quite evenhanded on this subject. The commenter's accusations were unfounded, as many inferences from a group's behavior to an individual member's behavior tend to be.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Before Alleging Partisanship or Inconsistency, How About Doing Just a Bit of Research?
  2. Slips of the Tongue from Politicians:
Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon:
This contributes to my desire to thoroughly research what exactly leads Eugene to sometimes single out a commenter to be refuted as the subject of a full-blown blog post, as opposed to simply responding in the comments, or ignoring the comment altogether. I can imagine an empirical study of the number of comments posted, the frequency of Eugene's responses iside the thread versus posts that appear to be ignored, and the rare comment so wrong that it must be publicly refuted.

Unfortunately, my desire is not yet strong enough to do anything about it other than post a comment, so we may never find out what drives this kind of post. Or maybe Eugene will be so intrigued he will elevate this post and explain.

But somehow I doubt it.
8.26.2008 2:54pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Snaphappy: Taking your comment seriously -- and it strikes me as about 31.27% serious, which is enough for me -- I tend to post responses to comments when they strike me as representative of a broader attitude among people. This suggests to me that criticizing the comment might help fight this broader attitude, rather than just one person's folly.

Ah, you might ask, but have I done the research proving that the comment is indeed representative of a broader attitude? No, but neither am I specifically faulting any particular person (e.g., "This comment is deeply misguided, and because I expect that others like Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon take similarly benighted views, I feel I ought to publicly condemn them") or even a group of people (since I just think the attitude is common enough, not a majority view among any particular group). This makes my educated guess good enough for my purposes, it seems to me.
8.26.2008 3:01pm
SATA_Interface:
I have a novel idea for a comment-posting system. To ensure that commenters at least even clicked on the article link once, you would ask a question that had a specific answer in the article. Like "What color tie was Zawahiri wearing when he exhorted the benefits of suicide bombing?"

And if you got the answer wrong, maybe ask another question in case the first was difficult to answer. I remember this was how we used to setup copy protection on old computer games; there would be specific questions that related directly to the printed game manual. Like "what word is at the top of the second paragraph on page 3?"
8.26.2008 3:28pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The commenter's accusations were unfounded, as many inferences from a group's behavior to an individual member's behavior tend to be.

I think you draw the wrong lesson here.

What you are actually discussing is a poster who, like many conservatives, has convinced him- or herself that academia is a hotbed of leftists whose conclusions cannot be trusted. It's not surprising that so many people have this attitude, given that it has been a position espoused by movement conservativism dating back at least to Spiro Agnew.

While I think the slap-down of this comment is appropriate, I would really wish you would take on the broader subject of whether the conservative movement's constant ideological criticisms of academia serve the purpose of truth-seeking or whether they retard it.

My personal view is that they retard it. Plenty of good scholarship gets disbelieved by large numbers of people who think that scholars are nothing more than political hacks. Plenty of product from actual hacks gets equated as no less reliable than scholarship. And too many people conclude that because one can never completely eliminate personal biases from one's work (which is true), that means that the extensive controls and peer reviews within academia have no effect whatsoever on the quality of scholarship.

So while you are right on the merits of your post, I think you are also missing the forest for the trees.
8.26.2008 3:33pm
Splunge:
many inferences from a group's behavior to an individual member's behavior tend to be [wrong]

Alas, the problem is that while this statement is correct, it is also true that most inferences from a group's behaviour to an individual member's behaviour tend to be correct. Exceptions, even "many" exceptions, do not disprove the rule.

So if your general prescription is to never infer (or really deduce) from the group's tendencies to the individual's, then your advice is contradicted by empirical reality, and is either sadly mistaken or not given in good faith. If all you're saying is: be careful, double check when it's important whether your deduction is correct, then there's no imaginable counter-argument, but you have spoken a truism of fairly limited utility. Generally speaking, only God has the time and resources to judge each and every man on his individual merits.

I can understand the comment nettling, just like it nettles used-car salesmen to be tarred with a broad brush of dishonesty and fast-dealing. But...mmmm...maybe a reasonable long-range response would also include a bit of group self-policing. If academics much more often called each other out for obvious political bias creeping into supposedly objective research -- and you know they do not, and so do I, having been an academic myself for many years -- then this would happen less.

Yes, people should be careful about their deductions. But it's not your commenter's fault that academia has acquired the poor reputation it has for objectivity in any area with political implications. That the professoriate has brought entirely on itself. I think therefore your colleagues in general share some of the blame for the prejudice from which one of your colleagues in particular has just suffered.
8.26.2008 4:16pm
loki13 (mail):
Splunge,

It is, however, the commenter's fault for not RTFA. I mean c'mon. How often have you read the following:

Well if X is true, then Y, goshdarnit!

When X not being true was clearly pointed out in the article that was linked to, and Y was what the poster already believed.
8.26.2008 4:22pm
ejo:
yet, on the broad issue of whose mis-speaks get reported in the press as a sign of stupidity, the poster is perfectly correct. can I infer that one standard applies with a Republican and one with a Democrat based on the political leanings of the Press? it's not too much of a leap, even if it tars the poor press.
8.26.2008 4:31pm
loki13 (mail):
So what ejo is basically saying is that he too, ignored the article, and, withot citing any sources, will continue to state his already-arrived at belief. Funny, I remember Jimmy Carter as a peanut farmer, not his class rank at Annapolis (59/820) our his work on nuclear reactors.

As for the President, did it ever occur to you that Bush didn't want people thinking he was a product of Andover, Harvard, and Yale? That he wanted the good ol' boy image? Republican branding and Democratic branding go to different audiences, you know. But, of course, it has to be the political leanings of the press.
8.26.2008 4:43pm
Jay Levitt (mail) (www):
8.26.2008 4:49pm
Paul Allen:
Aren't you citing facts not in evidence professor?

At the very least, postings such as the original remind one of a general perception. Therefore whether the language blog has been consistent or not is irrelevant. The general observation remains true.
8.26.2008 5:28pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As for the President, did it ever occur to you that Bush didn't want people thinking he was a product of Andover, Harvard, and Yale? That he wanted the good ol' boy image? Republican branding and Democratic branding go to different audiences, you know. But, of course, it has to be the political leanings of the press.
Er, doesn't that beg the question? Certainly your first two sentences are true, but there's no reason people must automatically equate "good ol' boy" with "dumb."

The fact that Bush didn't want to be seen as an eastern patrician doesn't mean he wanted to be seen as a half-wit. And yet, you portray these as the two options.
8.26.2008 5:34pm
loki13 (mail):
Wow Paul Allen,

After all this, you manage to comment that whatever is posted is irrelevant, [your] general observation is what matters.

No I understand why nobody bother RTFA; it wouldn't matter if they did. Evidence? Who needs it. Facts? Shmacts. Continue on with the war on reality (closely related to the War on Christmas??).

5 points for honesty, 5 demerits for completely missing the point of the post.
8.26.2008 5:43pm
loki13 (mail):
DMN,

No, short comments don't lend themselves to subtlelty. Rather, campaigns try to brand themselves, and the press tends to follow (and embellish) that narrative, while the opposing campaign tries to change that narrative.

The Democratic party, since Carter, has tried to brand themselves a certain way. Part of this has been to run "intelligent" candidates. If anything, the Republican party counter-brands them as elitist. So they get a pass on intelligence, but questioned on things the Republicans feel is their strength (security, for example).

The Republican party has long branded itself differently; certainly not as elitist. This has insulated them from charges of elitism since HW (and that's a special case; it didn't work so well in '88). That's why Bush wasn't hurt by the Andover/Harvard/Yale, daddy's company things.

It's about narratives both parties have constructed, and the other party reinforces. I don't view half-wit/patrician as options; I don't view Bush as a half-wit (he's certainly no, uh, Norman Einstein). He's just a poor public speaker, although a very effective communicator to small groups and individuals.
8.26.2008 5:50pm
nick99 (mail):
Splunge: In fact, research on stereotyping almost always involves providing reduced or ambiguous information in order to produce social judgments based on a stereotype (where a stereotype is a belief about a group of people without regard to its accuracy. E.g., the belief that males are taller than females is a stereotype). This is because people, given an opportunity, much prefer to operate with the best information ("individuating cues") when making a judgment about a specific person.

The gender stereotype about height is a good example of a belief that relies on each person's informal sense of the overlap between men's and women's heights. That same variability applies to lots of groups. For example, my stereotype about the professoriate is that profs are variously conservative or liberal depending on whether they are, e.g., in the philosophy or psychology department.

There is even (in my mind) contradiction within individual academics, with many having a situationally liberal view, viz., a liberal view of same-sex marriage, but being hard as nails when it comes to an issue like plagiarism. Many believe that good hard academic work ought to pay off and slothful scholarship ought to be punished unforgivingly. Where's that wimpy liberalism when you need some?

The question of self-policing is an iffy one. Take for instance anti-Muslim prejudice, in which, at least for a while, all the Islamic world seemed to be its target, and all members were being charged with denouncing terrorism - all because Al Qaeda is a Muslim group. Given that there are 950 million peaceful Muslims across the world, and that Islam by itself has little to do with terrorism, the responses by Muslims who felt a need to denounce, and distance themselves from, terrorism, have been more recently muted.

Affect, more than judgment, appears to play a role in people's targeting of some groups. Some people just don't like professors very much, as an example. This is especially true in something like judgments about a "police brutality" incident. Some people appear to be oriented toward a high regard for police officers in general. Others are immediately more likely to see a "citizen" as unfairly treated, victimized or brutalized. These knee-jerk emotional responses instantly color people's reasoning, and thus, their judgments.
8.26.2008 5:52pm
Dave N (mail):
Let's play a game of Verbal Slip.

A prominent politician yesterday referred to Barack Obama as "this black boy."

Is the statement racist? Does it matter who said it? If it does matter, why?

Is there any real difference between that statement and this one, also referring to Obama? "I'm going to tell you something: That boy's finger does not need to be on the button."
8.26.2008 5:53pm
Mark Rockwell (mail):
SATA_Interface

After I lost the manual, your software protection scheme became the bane of my Super Tetris playing existence. As if I could just guess who was the most renowned juggler in Czarist Russia.
8.26.2008 5:58pm
Hoosier:
Dilan Esper:
What you are actually discussing is a poster who, like many conservatives, has convinced him- or herself that academia is a hotbed of leftists whose conclusions cannot be trusted. It's not surprising that so many people have this attitude, given that it has been a position espoused by movement conservativism dating back at least to Spiro Agnew.


How about those of us who hold the position because we've spent our adult lives in academia, and found suggestions of a strong leftish point of gravity among academics to be . . . true?
8.26.2008 6:06pm
loki13 (mail):
Dave N,

What, are you being deliberately insulting and misleading. I followed your link. Here's the quote:

just knowing that this black boy who grew up with just a loving mother and grandparents -- and that was about all he had to start with -- does now have a chance to become the nominee of the Democratic Party for president.

That's a Jimmy Carter. Yes, a male child is a 'boy' who grows up to be a man.

As for the other, when referring to an adult black man as a "boy", well, it has certain connotations in the South.

Are you auditioning for DB's job?
8.26.2008 6:09pm
ejo:
I wasn't addressing the article-just the general fact which I have yet to see disputed that Repub mis-speaks get reported but not Dem. didn't the good professor here post some criticism of the Bushism of the Day in the past, pointing out how foolish some of the alleged Bushisms were? if the author concludes that one who emphasizes verbal miscues is a fool or a hypocrite, why do they get reported-is the Press a fool or a hypocrite or just assisting the party which it, by a huge percentage, supports. If both party miscues were reported in equal numbers or not reported at all, one could argue one of the first two. As they are not, I have to go with the latter.
8.26.2008 6:18pm
loki13 (mail):
ejo,

Maybe it's because a Republican is, y'know, President. They occasionally get press coverage. And the press doesn't really cover most of them; they do get reported in the liberal blogs, and sold in calendars to people who hate Bush (free market for you), but that's hardly surprising. I haven't seen much mainstream coverage of the vast majority of the President's verbal miscues.
8.26.2008 6:38pm
Ohio Scrivener (mail):
I read Mark Liberman's comment on politicians who struggle to turn a phrase. The story did not strike me as partisan. Although the story excuses a couple recent malapropisms by the candidates on the democratic ticket, Liberman appears to have used the same arguments to excuse mistatements made by republicans (in particular President Bush).
8.26.2008 6:47pm
ejo:
baloney, or to be proper, is it bologna? They get plenty of press coverage and certainly no shortage of references on the editorial page. Given the disparity, option number three is the only one which is consistent with the facts.
8.26.2008 6:49pm
MartyA:
Speaking of Biden gaffes, did anyone notice the clip from an early debate where Biden turned, pointed at Hussein and said something to the effect that "Senator Obama has been tested for aids." It fit the context of the discussion but seemed to be a strange thing to say. Why was Hussein tested for aids, why would Biden have know about it (visiting the same pro?) and why would Biden have said anything about it?
I've never been tested for aids but if I had, it seems to me I want to keep the fact to myself.
8.26.2008 8:00pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
How about those of us who hold the position because we've spent our adult lives in academia, and found suggestions of a strong leftish point of gravity among academics to be . . . true?

You are ignoring the second half of my statement, hoosier. Nobody denies that there are plenty of liberals and more than a few leftists in academia. Nor does anyone deny that sometimes that bias can end up in scholarship.

What is false is the insinuation, apparently accepted by many conservatives, that you simply cannot trust anything out of academia, that it is no better than the output of, for instance, conservative industry-funded think tanks with no peer review, or conservative public intellectuals writing in the popular press, or even conservative talk radio hosts and politicians.

Lots and lots of conservatives believe this, and cite to anecdotal examples of a few instances where biased scholarship got through, because they have been told these things by the leaders of their movement for decades. And it just isn't true.

I might add that conservative scholars like Professor Volokh are hurt just as much as liberal scholars are, because instead of having their expertise credited, they are seen by those who might agree with their conclusions as indistinguishable from people who are not engaging in rigorous scholarship.
8.26.2008 8:18pm
wm13:
Dilan Esper, Prof. Volokh's scholarship would not, generally, be subject to peer review. In any case, I certainly don't think that either the Volokh Conspiracy or Balkinization is more reliable than articles on legal issues published by the Brookings Institute or the Heritage Foundation, just because the posters hold university appointments. If you are really interested in an issue, you have to check the citations, run the regressions, read the primary sources, etc., yourself, before making a decision. If you are not that interested, applying a philosophical filter in deciding what to believe is just as rational as believing something because it was peer-reviewed.
8.26.2008 8:29pm
loki13 (mail):
MartyA wrote . . .

oh, wait, he wrote Hussein. Not even worth it. Try your trolling elsewhere. Got any birth certificate theories ya wanna sell on a *different* blog?
8.26.2008 9:17pm
David Warner:
Dilan,

It's not just conservatives who have these concerns. See. I consider myself a liberal and am dumbfounded that you can call EV a conservative with a straight face. Just because some of us liberals are driven into the conservative camp from time to time to dodge the ravages of the left (as your buddy Churchill did after 30 years of very progressive liberalism - he was not welcomed there any more than we are), that doesn't make us any less liberal.

Leftism is illiberal. Ask them. They'll tell you.*

* - I'm aware that the book I linked refutes this statement. If the rest of the left listens to her, I'll take it back.
8.26.2008 10:41pm
David Warner:
"oh, wait, he wrote Hussein. Not even worth it. Try your trolling elsewhere. Got any birth certificate theories ya wanna sell on a *different* blog?"

No kidding. The net sure widens one's circle of intercourse, for better or for worse. What's next, Illinois Nazis?
8.26.2008 10:45pm
Hoosier:
I HATE Illinois Nazis.
8.26.2008 11:12pm
Hoosier:
Dilan Esper

I'm not sure how the second part of your statement bears on my comment.

There is a very strong link between faculty biases toward leftish ideology and the quality and fairness of the peer-review process. And the hiring process. I could make the argument at some length, if anyone is interested. But as of now, let me leave it at this: Those of us who lean right--even center-right non-ideologues like the great me--will find our opportunities quite circumscribed in academia.
8.26.2008 11:20pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Dilan Esper, Prof. Volokh's scholarship would not, generally, be subject to peer review. In any case, I certainly don't think that either the Volokh Conspiracy or Balkinization is more reliable than articles on legal issues published by the Brookings Institute or the Heritage Foundation, just because the posters hold university appointments.

Professor Volokh's scholarship is subject to rigorous checking by law reviews, and is also presented at faculty workshops and conferences before legal scholars of different ideologies who can criticize and check his work.

In contrast, the Heritage Foundation puts out whatever their corporate paymasters want them to and will spike anything that makes them uncomfortable.

There is a very strong link between faculty biases toward leftish ideology and the quality and fairness of the peer-review process. And the hiring process. I could make the argument at some length, if anyone is interested.

That claim is completely false, and is belied by the hundreds, if not thousands, of influential conservative academics who publish their work and have succeeded in academia.

And to David Warner-- I know a lot of "classical liberals", i.e., economic libertarians, don't like modern political terminology. But as Prof. Volokh so often observes, the only thing that counts with language is how it is actually used. I use "liberal", "conservative", and, for that matter, "leftist", to refer to the ideologies they are generally associated with. Your libertarian friends may wish to take back "liberal", but you need to talk to the American public about that, not me.
8.27.2008 1:24am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
dilan:

I would really wish you would take on the broader subject of whether the conservative movement's constant ideological criticisms of academia


Why stop there? How about "the conservative movement's constant ideological criticisms" of the press? How about "the conservative movement's constant ideological criticisms" of the very idea of government?

Is there any institution that is not the subject of constant attack by "the conservative movement's constant ideological criticisms?" Actually, I can think of precisely two: the military, and business.

What does this mean, and where does it lead? After all, if business is powerful and the military is powerful, of what possible use could be institutions like government, the press and academia?

loki mentioned "the war on reality." Yes, there's a war on that, and also a war on a few other important things.
8.27.2008 6:26am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
dave n:

A prominent politician yesterday referred to Barack Obama as "this black boy."


What a nice example of twisting the meaning of a statement by divorcing it from its context. The fuller passage is this:

I think it already has sent a wave of approbation and admiration in many countries around the world, just knowing that this black boy who grew up with just a loving mother and grandparents -- and that was about all he had to start with -- does now have a chance to become the nominee of the Democratic Party for president.


(Emphasis added.) The word "boy" is appropriate because the speaker is making a reference to, oddly enough, Obama's actual boyhood. At the time he "grew up," Obama was indeed a "boy." (I now see loki already explained this.)

Does it matter who said it?


Yes, that also matters. If the audience has many reasons to know that the speaker is strongly sympathetic to the person being described, then the audience is in a position to understand that the word is not intended as an insult. Duh.
8.27.2008 6:26am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
loki:

the press doesn't really cover most of them … I haven't seen much mainstream coverage of the vast majority of the President's verbal miscues.


Indeed. I think the canonical list is here. I think it would be possible to show that most of these items have gotten little or no press coverage (aside from this list itself).

There are a bunch of really funny ones I had never heard before, even though I follow the news pretty closely.
8.27.2008 6:26am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
How could I forget? Conservatives have a third sacrosanct institution, along with business and the military: the church.
8.27.2008 7:03am
Hoosier:
Dilan Esper:


"That claim is completely false, and is belied by the hundreds, if not thousands, of influential conservative academics who publish their work and have succeeded in academia."


Nope. Not wrong.

I'm just very tired of having to repeat this, Dilan. The short version: The left-bias in my discipline --history--manifests itself most clearly in the definition of what constitutes "interesting" history. The professoriate, which is quite to the left of the national center, finds "interesting" the predictable issue of race and gender. Class, oddly enough, is not "interesting" anymore, as one can see by the near-extinction of labor history as a discipline. Also "interesting" is history that is heavily imbued with po-mo theory, "cultural-turn" analysis, and pretty much anything that shows no familiarity with Wittgenstein of John Searle.

The result: A strong bias against the sort of history that more traditional folks find them selves attracted to. My field is diplomatic history. If you don't think there is a bias in favor of leftish ideas, please take a look at the "Journal of American History," and tell me how many articles on diplomatic history have been accepted for publication in that flagship journal. In the last 20 years, how's about?

You can then go on H-NET and check out the job listings for political history--which is dying as a field among professional historians.

Academics can say that they don't select job candidates or publications "based on politics." But this is false naiveté. Everyone knows that when you interview a candidate whose research field is the impact of textiles on construction of gender in Colonial America, you can rest assured that the candidates politics are "correct." And this is the sort of candidate who gets interviewed.

Sorry to burst your bubble Dilan. But this is the way ideological bias works in academe. And it works quite well.
8.27.2008 7:40am
David Warner:
"you need to talk to the American public about that, not me."

So are you a member (and if my assumption is correct, a leading member) of the American public or not, Dilan? If you sought to persuade the public, would you not first attempt to persuade the influential?

"But as Prof. Volokh so often observes, the only thing that counts with language is how it is actually used."

In the law, perhaps, but I'm no lawyer. As Dilan Esper so often misses, the world is not static. Usage changes. Somebody drives that change - might as well be us.
8.27.2008 12:49pm
PLR:
Everyone knows that when you interview a candidate whose research field is the impact of textiles on construction of gender in Colonial America, you can rest assured that the candidates politics are "correct."

I didn't know that. (But if I was the last to learn of this fact, your statement is now accurate).

Back on topic, Brian Williams on NBC referred to Hillary as "President Clinton" right after her speech. A few moments later he referred to her correctly as "Senator Clinton," going into the break for local news.
8.27.2008 1:13pm
ejo:
I like how the professor acknowledges some slight leaning to the left in the academy at a time when Ayers and Dohrn are again in the news. Mad bombers and admirers of Manson, with the correct politics, get to fester and infect modern campuses. some even share the faculty letterhead with folks posting here. they are even admired and upstanding members of the communities where the academic left congregates even as they wax nostalgic over the days when they were trying to kill their fellow citizens. but, it's just a slight tilt to the left, don't you know.
8.27.2008 2:12pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I'm just very tired of having to repeat this, Dilan. The short version: The left-bias in my discipline —history—manifests itself most clearly in the definition of what constitutes "interesting" history. The professoriate, which is quite to the left of the national center, finds "interesting" the predictable issue of race and gender. Class, oddly enough, is not "interesting" anymore, as one can see by the near-extinction of labor history as a discipline. Also "interesting" is history that is heavily imbued with po-mo theory, "cultural-turn" analysis, and pretty much anything that shows no familiarity with Wittgenstein of John Searle.

That explains why books on the Civil War (and not just its racial aspects), Harry Truman, the Kennedy Assassination, etc., are never produced. And it explains why papers are never published about Nixon and LBJ's taped conversations, and the decision to drop the atom bomb in 1945.

Look, your claim is just false. Yes, it is true that there are fads in history departments (and other academic disciplines) and there's a lot of emphasis on race and gender nowadays (perhaps to make up for the hundreds of years when the topics were ignored). But saying that there's too many papers in one subject matter is not the same as establishing bias— rather, the question is whether people who want to write about other things can't get their work published. And there is no evidence of that whatsoever.

Academics can say that they don't select job candidates or publications "based on politics." But this is false naiveté. Everyone knows that when you interview a candidate whose research field is the impact of textiles on construction of gender in Colonial America, you can rest assured that the candidates politics are "correct." And this is the sort of candidate who gets interviewed.

Hoosier, numerous conservative historians have jobs in academia. So obviously, somebody has been hiring them.

Since you mention race and gender history, it might be worth noting that if you had gone into 50 department stores in the South in the 1940's, you would not have found a single black person working as a sales clerk in a department. That's because they discriminated against black people. In contrast, you are alleging that conservatives can't get jobs when plenty of them have and do.

I should add one more thing. Even if what you said were correct, that wouldn't mean that academic scholarship is not to be trusted as movement conservatives claim. You would have to prove that all that faddish scholarship gets race and gender history wrong, i.e., that the controls and peer reviews and checks on scholarship didn't work.
8.27.2008 3:34pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
In the law, perhaps, but I'm no lawyer. As Dilan Esper so often misses, the world is not static. Usage changes. Somebody drives that change - might as well be us.

Usage does change, but it changes by majority action. In other words, I have no problem with libertarians making the argument that we should go back to the prior definition of "liberal". What I do have a problem with is them pretending that when other people use the term "liberal", it doesn't have its popular, widely accepted meaning. In other words, you can protest and educate, but until you convince Americans of your arguments, you can't be going around whining every time someone uses "liberal" to mean what it actually means in modern discourse.
8.27.2008 3:39pm
Hoosier:
Dilan:

With your categorical statements--e.g., "ther eis no evidence whatsoever"--I wonder if you really are interested in learnign something friom this exchange. I mtend to think not. So i won't bother responding at length. As I said, I am just very tired of this argument.

One point, however, on ewhich you and I seem to be mis-communicating:

You would have to prove that all that faddish scholarship gets race and gender history wrong, i.e., that the controls and peer reviews and checks on scholarship didn't work.

I am not claiming that peer review doesn't work. I think that there is enough mediocre scholarship published; that's true. But this is a function of the expansion of journals and presses due to publication requirements in a glutted academic market. Small schools that are not research institutions now require faculty to publish. I don't think that this is a result of the factors I was discussing.

My observation is not about a lack of good, published scholarship, nor the quality of candidates for academic jobs. It is, rather, about the areas of scholarship that are "being disappeared," to use the lingo of postmodern academe.

So, what about the books you cite? Biographies of presidents, and books on the Civil War? The Civil War sells. So books are published. But it is exceptionally hard to get an academic job as a military historian. "Civil War" has been replaced in universities by "Civil War Era." This is code for "the period of, roughly, 1848-1877, but no battles and generals." As far as biographies of presidents and other books you mention:

Books on the Kennedy assaination are rarely produced by academics, which is our topic here. The three big Truman bios were produces by, respectively, a non-academic and two retired academics (McCollough; Hamby, Ferrell). Kennedy bio: Most recently by Dallek, also retired. Etc.

These are not books that get you anywhere at a research university. They are the sort of thing you can write when you have made it, and would like some royalties. And note also: The men mentioned about are of the pre-Baby Boom generation.

By the way, what are the names of the "numerous conservative historians" whom you cite as having jobs in academia? And how many of them entered academia in the past 15 years?
8.27.2008 4:37pm
LM (mail):
Hoosier,

Don't you have any liberal friends who go through what you do? Because I do, and they tell the same story, except for one thing: They don't attribute it to politics. Well, that's not exactly true. They don't attribute it to electoral politics. But they do lament the personal politics -- the ego-stroking, the ring-kissing and the rest -- most of which boils down to, either you subsume some personal preferences to those of the guy on the other side of the desk or you keep your integrity and teach for Princeton Review. In other words, the bigotry isn't political, it's personal.

Yes, most of the prima donnas who wield power in academia are left of center, but most of them are no more receptive to hiring a liberal war historian than a conservative one (I'm taking your word that that's an unfashionable specialty). And believe it or not, most liberals aren't jazzed about becoming scholars of the niche-of-the-week either.

The point is, and academia and business have this in common, you've got to make people who have power over your career decide they want you in the chair, not the next guy. Some people can accomplish this while doing pretty much what they want. For most people it means making compromises they'd rather not make.
8.27.2008 9:51pm
Hoosier:
"For most people it means making compromises they'd rather not make."

Conservatives are underrepresented in academia because they have more integrity? OK. I can live with that.

"The point is, and academia and business have this in common, you've got to make people who have power over your career decide they want you in the chair, not the next guy. "

Exactly. And people are more likely to want to work with colleagues who remind them of themselves. I don't recommend ideological affirmative action. But I sure would like to see academics come to the realization, freely and with no strong-arming from government, that intellectual diversity is an important goal for our universities. So far, no luck.

But I keep trying.

"Don't you have any liberal friends who go through what you do? "

Who are frustrated with academia? You bet. Who are frustrated with academia because they are out of step with what is politically correct at the present? Nope.

"but most of them are no more receptive to hiring a liberal war historian than a conservative one "

I agree. That was meant to be my primary point: Bias doesn't have to be expressed in such terms as "Let's not hire Smith: He has a McCain sticker on his car." Rather, subfields that attract a greater percentage of more-conservative scholars are largely read-out of the profession, especially at top universities.
8.27.2008 11:47pm
David Warner:
"Usage does change, but it changes by majority action."

Tell that to Shakespeare. Such majorities do not suddenly spring fully-formed into being like Athena from the mind of Zeus. You grant that advocacy is fine, but at the same time dismiss it without consideration on the grounds of some phantom pretense.

What I am saying is that those who are liberal by the historical/international definition (listen to how all but the left describe our polity when overseas) should not shy away from using it properly here and now. Given the rare opportunity now existing, where this very powerful word (especially within our own tradition) is shunned by both right and left, it would be folly for those who value the Enlightenment not to claim it together.

Correct me if I'm mistaken in perceiving that your own understanding of the word "conservative" includes the connotation "illiberal". How then is the former correctly applicable to EV, who is anything but the latter, unless your prime concern is fulling your own mental quota?
8.28.2008 2:07pm
David Warner:
Given the adversarial method of truth discovery/discernment/construction(?) employed in the courtroom with its checks delicately balanced, what checks exist within the peer-review process? How is the balance holding up these days? Is that process functioning as defendant/plaintiff, jury, or star chamber?
8.28.2008 2:14pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Correct me if I'm mistaken in perceiving that your own understanding of the word "conservative" includes the connotation "illiberal".

You are completely incorrect. I use "conservative" to mean "right of center on the US political spectrum", which is its general meaning. Similarly, I use "liberal" to mean "left of center on the US political spectrum", "libertarian" to refer to what you would call a classical liberal, and "leftist" to mean socialists, communists, syndicalists, and other movements that descend from that intellectual tradition.

Just like when I use "pro-life" (I am a pro-choicer), I don't mean to concede the contention of pro-lifers that my position is anti-life. I just use it because the term "pro-life", in modern political discourse, refers to a person who opposes abortion.
8.28.2008 6:22pm
David Warner:
Dilan,

I asked you this question before and am genuinely interested in your thinking:

What is the remaining ambit of liberalism that is neither left nor libertarian?
8.28.2008 7:47pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
David, the American liberal tradition that includes thinkers like John Rawls and the mainstream of the American Democratic Party is neither left nor economically libertarian. (It is civil libertarian, but that's different.)

Indeed, part of the reason I have such a problem with what you guys want to do is I think that the real goal isn't so much to reclaim the concept of classical liberalism but to force modern liberals to be referred to as leftists, and therefore to red-bait us along the lines of Joe McCarthy and make us look like Communists.

I realize that many on the right and among libertarians recognize no distinction between modern liberals and Communists-- we all want to use force to take people's rights away-- but they are very distinct intellectual traditions (modern liberalism comes from very different antecedents from leftism) and, indeed, the Cold War could not have been won without the assistance of many liberals who were anti-Communists.
8.28.2008 10:12pm
David Warner:
Dilan,

Thank you for the (as usual) well-reasoned if predictable response. I nearly included Rawls in my question. It is my difficulty in seeing the clear demarcation between the ideas of Rawls and those of the left that is the crux of our difference, I suspect, although as the left moves away from the Enlightenment, I may be forced to settle for Rawls - not an inviting proposition for a libertarian. There, I've used the preferred usage instead of my own.

This essay expresses some of my concerns on this question, and is a fair representation of my own experience in academia. The writer is a history professor at Penn whom you would no doubt characterize as a conservative, but the concerns he expresses are liberal ones, by any definition.

The article is not free (I think it costs $2). I can e-mail you a copy if you wish. If you do, I'll read an article from the Nation to make it up to you.

"indeed, the Cold War could not have been won without the assistance of many liberals who were anti-Communists"

Nor the preceding one without many conservatives who were anti-fascists. My theory is that those referred to in both statements are the true liberals, and should team up. We've been divided and conquered.
8.28.2008 11:58pm
Hoosier:
"I may be forced to settle for Rawls"

I am so very sorry for you.


"indeed, the Cold War could not have been won without the assistance of many liberals who were anti-Communists"
Since we are all being so generous, we should add that it could not have been won without many socialists who were anti-communists as well. Starting with Ernie Bevan in the political sphere, and Orwell in the realm of ideas.

The problem with communism wasn't that it was "leftist." It was its strong tendency to generate single-party, totalitarian forms of government when put into practice. I don't think democratic socialism is a good way to run a country, and I don't want to live under such a system. But it isn't a fundamental threat to the humans who live in, say, Finland.

I DO wish we in this country could reclaim some use of the word "conservative" that is related to something other than right-of-center liberalism. The current usage conflates conservatism and libertarianism. And it does not seem that maximizing freedom is a very conservative thing to do.
8.29.2008 12:22am
David Warner:
""I may be forced to settle for Rawls"

I am so very sorry for you."

Better than a Caliphate. Or Yugoslavia.

Would that Nozick had half the progeny.

"And it does not seem that maximizing freedom is a very conservative thing to do."

Freedom from a Rawlsian order would leave more room for conservatives to do their thing, whether good or ill.
8.30.2008 1:02am