In the previous section, I claimed that Francisco Mejia Uribe’s argument that we need to think more critically about news sources was a good but based on terrible evidence: William Kingdon Clifford’s essay”The Ethics of Belief.” I demonstrated that Clifford’s essay was entangled with anti-Catholic bias and rooted in Protestant ideas about the nature of humanity and human …Read More
Written by Francisco Mejia Uribe, an executive director at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong, Aeon’s “Believing without evidence is always morally wrong” is a response to the “fake news” epidemic. Mr. Uribe and I are in total agreement here, as you’ll notice if you red this morning’s article about critical thinking and fake news. In this article, I respond to Mr. Uribe’s argument the spirit of critical reading, critical thinking, and friendly debate. The goal is not to suggest that he’s wrong, only to explore the ideas he presents, their consequences, and their alternatives.
First, what’s does “Believing without evidence” (“Believing”) argue? The article uses a philosophical essay called “The Ethics of Belief,” written in 1877 by William Kingdon Clifford. In a nutshell, Clifford argues that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Uribe uses this principle to argue that “[f]alse beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival.” From Clifford, Uribe extrapolates that it is not only our own mental and physical states that suffer from over-credulity, but it is out entire social networks. That happens because “careless believing turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars [sic], conspiracy theorists and charlatans.” Bad information leads to bad beliefs, and bad beliefs lead to bad actions.
Uribe makes a particularly fascinating point when he suggests that Big Data has the potential to create a feedback loop: bad beliefs fed into search engines and other fodder for big data will produce more and worse beliefs. In sum, Uribe applies Clifford’s essay to the technology age in order to argue that we all need to think and read critically, so we don’t fall prey to bad information that builds bad beliefs and then, as a result, bad actions.
Uribe’s intention with the article is a good one. But the foundations of it are shaky at best because, ironically, Uribe himself fell into the very trap that his article warns about. Specifically, Uribe failed to contextualize Clifford’s essay, and as a result he reproduces not only some of the questionable elements of the essay but also the problems that have resulted from those elements in the last 150 years. Tomorrow, I will post my response to Uribe. It’s a long treatment, as I aim to treat his arguments with respect, so it’s better as a standalone piece.
More about news.
Take a second and really try to answer those questions before reading on.
The title of the song is “We Both Go Down Together.” The question is, are the characters’ feelings mutual? Maybe you’re starting to guess where this is headed: What evidence is there that the woman is in love with the narrator? What’s really going on in this song? A rich, spoiled boy saw a poor girl and decided he loved her. He “laid [her] down” while she “wept,” but her “soul was willing.” How did he know her soul was willing? How can we trust him? The answer is that we can’t.
The reality is there are two possible interpretations of this song. The first is straight forward. The narrator and the woman are really in love, and they’re forced to commit suicide or be separated. The second requires a bit more thinking. The woman has no choice but to have sex with the rich, powerful young man. He forces her to commit suicide with him rather than live under the thumb of his parents, so he asks her to come over and enjoy the view from his veranda. When she gets there, he pulls her off.
It takes work to come up with that interpretation, however, and sadly most people are not interested in that kind of mental labor. According to a recent study, laziness is the root of the “fake news” crisis, not political bias. Media consumers don’t want to do the work to think for themselves, they want the interpretations handed to them. As the example above shows, the truth is out there, it just takes work.Read More
This Veteran’s Day marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. As is tradition, President Trump flew to Paris to commemorate the event. In years past, presidents have visited the U.S. Cemetery to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers. President Trump canceled his visit to the cemetery due to rain: “Mr Trump was supposed to participate in a wreath-laying and a moment of silence at the site, but heavy rain prevented him from arriving via helicopter to the site, which is more than 50 miles east of the French capital.”
The cancellation drew widespread criticism, both at home and abroad. French President Macron made a thinly-veiled criticism of Trump: “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying our interests first, who cares about the others, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what makes it essential: its moral values.”Conservative MP and grandson of Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames, tweeted the following:
Members of previous administrations, such as Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser and David Frum, President George W. Bush’s former speechwriter, both criticized Trump. Rhodes particularly challenged Trump’s citation of “logistical difficulties.” Rhodes said that he planned Obama’s trips to the cemetery every year, and every year he had a contingency plan for rain.
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s critics have had a field day. Pictures of Obama speaking in the rain are circulating around social media platforms, with commentators noting that Obama wasn’t afraid of speaking in the rain and implying that the real reason that Trump canceled the cemetery speech was because he was afraid of the rain. Critics have also pointed out that the cemetery was only an hour drive away from Paris, and Trump could have easily ordered a motorcade.
Interestingly, his supporters have not done much to defend Trump’s decision. Fox News has taken an interesting tactic. Note the lede of this article:
At a rain-soaked and chilly observance of Armistice Day at the Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris on Sunday, President Trump praised the “American and French patriots” of World War I, in a speech that sharply contrasted with the political tone of an earlier address by French President Emmanuel Macron.
This article is about Trump speaking at a cemetery much closer to Paris. It goes on to note the various criticisms of Trump lodged by several world leaders––especially his nationalistic tendencies and America-first policies. But what’s most interesting is the first few words: “rain-soaked.” The article points out that Trump was not, in fact, afraid of speaking in the rain.Read More
Remember when Google was new? Its motto was, “Don’t Be Evil.” Facebook promised to bring people together. Twitter was the medium of revolutions. Amazon made it easy to buy anything you need. Tesla promised an electric car utopia. Cities would fight to have tech companies move their headquarters there, hoping they would bring tremendous wealth and prosperity.
That’s no longer the attitude, though. Americans seem to be getting increasingly fed up with the tech industry. With the way that companies bulldoze anything in their path under the guise of progress but really to line their own pockets, with the rich 20-somethings who gentrify once cool cities beyond all recognition, and with the seemingly inescapable grasp of technology.
Tech’s Impact on Mental Health
According to a recent Independent article, social media technology has six major impacts our mental health. It harms our self-esteem, it weakens our connections to other humans, we lose out on having real experiences because we’re busy posting them on our social media, we sacrifice our sleep to browse a bit longer, and it shortens our attention span. We also posted about how the internet, and social media in particular, is making us violent. Psychologists and other scientists have been warning us of the downsides of technology for humans for some time, but recent events seem to be adding fuel to the fire.
Amazon’s Headquarters Catastrophe/Con job
Parks and Rec’s final season dealt with the issue of tech companies’ headquarters disrupting towns. For a quick reminder:
It looks like reality is starting to match fiction. The Guardian published an opinion piece entitled “Dear Amazon, New York Doesn’t Want You. Go Find Another City to Destroy:”
New York is a metropolis. It has been able to withstand centuries’ worth of threats to civic harmony, from the Five Points gangs to the administration of Rudy Giuliani. We have successfully absorbed striving immigrants from around the world, weekend partiers from Jersey, and post-college seekers from the midwest. But one thing that New York City has never truly had to battle is a massive influx of rich techies
Other outlets published even harsher criticism. Scott Galloway, host of Pivot, says that the headquarters contest was no contest at all, but a con: “This was never a contest. It was a con meant to induce ridiculous terms that they then took to the cites all along that they knew they were going to be in.”
According to CNN, progressive groups are turning on Amazon. They’ve compared Amazon to a company infamous for horrible treatment of employees: Walmart.
More about tech.Read More
I love this Tweet, so thanks @SamOduche. It cuts right to the heart of this article. And let’s not bury the lede: generalizing and demonizing people who disagree with you is natural human behavior, but for the sake of our country we have to stop doing it.
Point one: everybody generalizes, everybody demonizes
The following is reductionist, but stick with me. Humans inhabit a chaotic world. Proto- and early humans inhabited an especially chaotic world. Pretty much everything could kill them, and at seemingly random times. As a result, our brains evolved to divide the world into two basic categories: order and chaos. That which we know, and that which we don’t. And we were––and still are––excellent at making those divisions. Humans are categorizing machines. In pre-contact Hawaii, for example, Hawaiians had a thorough understanding of their environment––the plants, the rocks, the ocean, the land, everything. They had lists of hundreds of types of rocks or plants memorized, and these lists were organized in useful ways. They had a mastery over their environment that we might find difficult to imagine today, and that enabled them to survive in a world without medicine, metal, or mass communication––not to mention allowing them to navigate their complicated social world.
But we live in an even more complicated society, and we’re facing a more complicated physical and social environment than any people in history. Even in simpler times, humans needed to divide themselves into “us” and “them”––those who could safely coexist within community and those who couldn’t or shouldn’t be trusted. Now that our society is so interconnected and globalized, we feel that need even more. Saying that we’re “tribal” can be a bad term, and that’s not exactly what I’m suggesting. Instead, it’s best to say that we’re Othering, because that’s the crux of the problem. We don’t necessarily know who our community is anymore, instead we’re defining who we’re not. We’re defining the Other.
Point two: we need to cut it out
Othering people, as should go without saying, is bad. It leads to things like pipe bombs in the mail. We have to learn to fight our natural urge. We need to learn how to talk about politics, not just with our coworkers (which apparently is a problem), but with everyone––including ourselves. That can be hard, considering we get a special high from being angry about politics.
Exercise: watch yourself
Spend the next week thinking about how you engage with politics. Are you Othering? Who are you Othering? Once you identify that habit, start breaking it. Start doing the opposite. Engage with people who believe the opposite of you. Ask them what they believe and try to understand them––really understand them. See the world through their eyes.Read More
The middle class is the center (no pun intended) of American politics. Politicians of both sides claim to be fierce defenders of the middle class. It’s no wonder that politicians do this. Depending on the study, between 70% and 90% of Americans consider themselves middle class. Appealing to the middle class is therefore a way for politicians to get as many people on board with their campaigns and agendas as possible. The problem is this: nowhere near that many Americans are actually “middle class” by most definitions, and anyway those definitions are silly.
According to a recent Pew Research Forum study, about 50% of Americans actually are middle class. Here’s how the study defined middle class:
In our analysis, “middle-income” Americans are adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size. In 2016, the national middle-income range was about $45,200 to $135,600 annually for a household of three. Lower-income households had incomes less than $45,200 and upper-income households had incomes greater than $135,600 (incomes in 2016 dollars).
Read that again. Upper-income households means households that earn greater than $135,000 annually. That is a huge range, especially considering the extreme wealth at the top––think Jeff Bezos, who has amassed a staggering $160 billion dollar fortune. And let’s not even talk about money for a second, because “class” is not just about money. Class is also about influence. A study out of Northwestern reveals that the nation’s elite have a disproportionate influence, and their influence is often silent:
The study’s findings shed light on how a political network of the wealthiest Americans has become powerful enough to shape U.S. politics and push the country toward ultra-conservatism. In the age of Trump, and as the country continues to move to the far right, the researchers ask why American voters are not more outraged or aware of the few wealthy people controlling the country behind closed doors.
In short, the nation’s ultra-wealthy have managed to manipulate politics, often silently, to better suit their own agendas. Meanwhile, the so-called “middle class” is being starved out of existence. That is, if you believe there’s a middle class at all. This Atlantic piece has a much more subtle discussion of class. They note that class does not equal income alone. Yes, wealth plays a part of your class, but it’s not a sole factor in defining it.
In the simplest terms (and if you’re keeping track at home, I’m borrowing ideas from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu), class is about standing in society. The high class signal that they’re high class in a variety of ways, such as going to the opera or driving supercars, but that’s not the source of their class-ness, it’s more of a method of defining themselves as above the other classes. Those who participate in upper class activities become, by definition, part of the upper-class. They see the world through that lens. Working class people, on the other hand, participate in working class activities and see the world through that lens. Thus upper class kids grow into upper class adults with upper class jobs, while working class kids do the same.
If we think about class less in economic terms and more in terms of societal influence, the idea of the middle class becomes harder to justify. As the Northwestern study pointed out, the ultra-wealthy in America have more practical influence than the people, and the demagogues who appeal to the middle class do more to serve the ultra-wealthy than anyone else.
At this point, many readers might think that I’m making (badly) a Marxist argument. I’m not, I’m making a Calvinist one––a very old Calvinist one, actually. As every schoolchild knows, the Puritans were an important influence on American society. But what most people don’t know is that the Puritans had very particular ideas about what kind of society they were founding. John Winthrop was one of the most preeminent founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1630, as he was sailing to that colony for the first time with a group of settlers, he delivered a sermon that has gone down in American history: A Model of Christian Charity. In it, he explains the new colony’s hopes.
First, he says that the colony was to be a place of economic balance, where “the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against and shake off their yoke” For Winthrop and the Puritans, there were two groups: the rich and the poor. The world was so divided that “every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.”
Much has changed in America since Winthrop landed its shores, including a massive series of religious revivals that made his own understanding of religious economics all but obsolete. Through these changes, we’ve forgotten the Puritan underpinnings of the American class system.Read More
Ask yourself: do you like being angry?
Now ask yourself one more time: do you like being angry?
Ask yourself a third time. Really ask yourself: do you like being angry?
Sometimes you have to ask yourself a question over and over before you get to the truth of how you feel. In this case, three times probably isn’t enough to realize that you secretly enjoy being angry. That’s because anger is an incredibly useful way of hiding things you don’t want to deal with: pain, difficultly with being vulnerable in relationships, and more. Anger also masks very complicated emotions you might not want to confront. Think of the last time you got angry with someone. Picture scene as vividly as you can, paying particularly attention to how you felt right before you got angry. Were there other emotions there? Guilt? Sadness? Anxiety? Anger sometimes flares up to prevent us from feeling things we don’t want to feel.
But anger does something even more complicated in our psyches. It makes us feel better about a situation, whatever the situation. We get to clearly define the world in two camps: the perpetrator and the victim. The world makes more sense when you’re angry, and everything is in it’s right place––especially you, you’re the innocent one. And that inspires you. It makes you feel more powerful and willing to take action.
Enter anger in politics. If you feel like politics have gotten really angry, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re part of the “exhausted majority”––a whopping 67% of Americans who are so tired of the bitterness in politics. Speaking as someone who is definitely Reddit threadpart of that exhausted minority, it’s still easy to feel the pull of anger. Thousands––perhaps hundreds of thousands––of Americans are ready to protest as a result of Jeff Sessions’s firing and the threat that represents to the Mueller organization. CNN’s White House correspondent had his press credentials removed, and we recommend that you don’t read the about that piece of news, otherwise you might find your anger getting up.
The problem is that anger is a very compelling emotion, and anger breeds more anger. The more we use anger to paint our political rivals as perpetrators and ourselves as villains, the more we start to see the world through that lens. As a natural result of that kind of worldview, we get angrier. What’s my proposed solution? To quote Bob Newhart, just stop it. When you find yourself getting angry about politics, ask yourself a few questions: what other emotions might I be feeling? What harm might this anger be doing to me or to others? Is anger benefitting me in some way, healthy or unhealthy? What could I do to channel this anger appropriately and constructively?Read More
Less than twenty-four hours after the polls closed on the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump asked for Jeff Sessions’s resignation, which Sessions delivered. The move immediately sparked criticism from Democrats, who believe that this might be Trump’s first step towards stopping the Mueller investigation. The New York Times noted that “Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who said in 2017 that there would be “holy hell to pay” if Mr. Trump fired his attorney general, offered no criticism of the president on Wednesday.”
The New York Times compared Sessions’s firing to Rumsfeld’s in 2006: “The abrupt ouster of Mr. Sessions resembled in some ways the decision by President George W. Bush to oust Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2006 the day after a similar electoral defeat in midterm elections. In that case, Mr. Bush was attempting to mollify his critics. Mr. Trump’s decision to fire Mr. Sessions appeared likely to inflame his adversaries on Capitol Hill.” It seems most likely that Trump has been waiting to fire Sessions, but the Republican Party prevented him from doing so for fear of massive electoral fallout.
According to “David Laufman, a former high-ranking DOJ official who oversaw parts of the Russia investigation in his role as chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, said Trump’s ‘installation of a political loyalist who previously questioned the merits of the special counsel investigation must be viewed precisely for what it is: a preliminary assault on the special counsel’s latitude to complete his essential work and by extension on the rule of law.'” Democrats are, as a result, calling on Sessions’s replacement, Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, to recuse himself from the investigation. Before his appointment, Whitaker criticized the special counsel investigation.
Progressive groups around the nation are planning to protest Sessions’s firing and Whitaker’s appointment. The organizing group is called MoveOn, and they have issued their “red line alert,” saying that Trump has crossed a red line. The organization had previously set up a rapid response protest plan in the event that Mueller was fired. They believe Whitaker’s appointment has triggered those protests:
BREAKING: PROTESTS CALLED FOR THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 5 PM LOCAL TIME
Donald Trump has installed a crony to oversee the special counsel’s Trump-Russia investigation, crossing a red line set to protect the investigation. By replacing Rod Rosenstein with just-named Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker as special counsel Robert Mueller’s boss on the investigation, Trump has undercut the independence of the investigation. Whitaker has publicly outlined strategies to stifle the investigation and cannot be allowed to remain in charge of it. The Nobody Is Above the Law network demands that Whitaker immediately commit not to assume supervision of the investigation. Our hundreds of response events are being launched to demonstrate the public demand for action to correct this injustice. We will update this page as the situation develops.
More politics.Read More
There’s a lot going on with the new Sabrina series. Some watch it and focus on its feminist themes, either positively or negatively. Actual practitioners of Wicca, Hoodoo, and other kinds of ritual magic don’t much care for the show. They believe that it puts them in a bad light, since they are trying to fight the “black magic” or “dark magic” stereotypes that plague them. That may or may not be true. That’s not the point of this article. Instead, I’m interested in how much about perceived witchcraft the show got right.
According to Norman Cohn’s Europe’s Inner Demons, notions of a pact with the devil––Sabrina’s “Book of the Beast” goes back some time, as far as the 4th century in which a member of the church allegedly made a deal with the devil but was saved from it miraculously. Another such case involved a man from the Byzantine Empire during Justinian’s rule who also experienced miraculous intervention to free him of the deal. Montanism, a stricter, old-school Christianity, was gradually viewed with suspicion by the mainstream Christians. In the mid 4th and 5th centuries, Montanists were accused of cannibalism. Augustine similarly accused the Manichaeans of orgies. The devil worshipping sect stereotype was in place by 1100, but there’s no evidence that any group actually did this. That’s very important to keep in mind: there is no evidence to suggest that there was ever any witch covens, meetings, or devil-worshipping sessions. So this show is not trying to portray any real group of demons. Instead, it’s playing off the stereotypes about witches that Europeans believed to be true.
There are a ton of little details about witchcraft belief in the show. It was widely believed that witches kept familiars, that they could fly, that they could convince mortals to do whatever they wanted (like swing a sword wildly?), they they were involved in demon possession, and so on.
It also cites an almost impossible number of horror references.
And for a fun snippet about hunting witches, see this from Puritan minister Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World:
“…there have been ways of trying Witches long used in many Nations, especially in the dark times of Paganism and Popery, which the righteous God never approved of.” Those shoddy methods were an invention of the devil designed to condemn innocents. All of these methods are magical and superstitious: “scratching the Witch, or seething the Urine of the Bewitched Person, or making a Witch-cake with that Urine: And that tryal of putting their hands into scalding Water….sticking an Awl under the Seat of the suspected party…casting them on the Water, to try whether they will sink or swim…”Read More
Johann Rehbogen has been accused in participating in hundreds of murders at the Stutthof concentration camp. Rehbogen claims that he has no knowledge of what was happening at the camps. This article is not about the details of the trial, or even how Rehbogen could make such a claim. Instead, it centers on a question that many of us ask when we learn about the Holocaust: how could seemingly normal people participate in such atrocities? I’m going to focus on a group of people who should have been particularly opposed to the genocide, but who instead actively participated in them: doctors.
Few people realize that the Nazis used medicine to legitimate their anti-Semitism by identifying themselves as doctor and Germany as patient. Nineteen-thirties Germany was sick, the Nazis claimed. The symptoms were obvious to any German citizen: rampant inflation, foreign occupation, and the bitter sting of the WWI defeat.
Good doctors do not treat individual symptoms. Rather, they treat the root cause. Rassenhygiene (“racial hygiene”) was the source: a weakened “germ plasm,” what we would not call a gene pool. In April of 1933, Hitler charged the doctors of Germany with the racial health of their nation. The state established training centers designed to equip doctors with the tools necessary to treat the entire German race. As a result, doctors became indoctrinated with the ideology Rassenhygiene. They become convinced that the health of their nation required certain sacrifices––amputations, as it were. Scholars refer to the medicalization of killing as “As If Medicine.”
Almost every step in march towards genocide was saturated in medical jargon. The roots of the Holocaust trace back to Nazi initiatives to cleanse their gene pool from within. The first victims were children with severe birth defects or genetic conditions. The “Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Severe Hereditary Ailments,” an entirely fake organized designed to disguise the child-murder operation, selected children for death. The order was handed down euphemistically as an “authorization” to “treat” the child. Selected children were to be sent to fictional medical centers with names like “Children’s Specialty Institutions (or Departments)” or “Therapeutic Convalescent Institutions.” In reality, though, the children were distributed amongst ordinary pediatric wards sympathetic to Nazi goals. Letters encouraged reluctant parents to allow transfer of their children in order to grant them the best treatment available; when parents finally consented, children were kept under the pretense of medical observation for a few weeks and finally killed.
The infamous T4 group also relied on “As If” justifications. Killing centers were set up, to which patients were sent via the “Common Welfare Ambulance Service Ltd.,” often driven by SS men dressed as medical professionals. The actual murder was committed by a doctor. The act was referred to as Desinfiziert (“decontamination”), and the perpetrator was called Euthanasiearzt (“euthanasia physician).
Participants kept a medical facade even during the implementation of the Final Solution at the concentration camps. When victims entered the camps, they were “selected” by a doctor. Often, a Red Cross truck was conspicuously parked in view of the victims, giving them a false sense of security. The gas chambers were carefully crafted to look like they were part of a medical procedure and impeccably clean. Even amongst themselves, doctors used “As If” language, allowing them to pretend as though they weren’t committing murders, but instead doing a medical procedure.
Most of the doctors who participated in the killings were not secret psychopaths. They were inundated with the ideology of racial hygiene––with racism. They were so saturated with this kind of thinking that they changed their whole way of seeing the world, re-calibrated their moral compasses, and engaged in horrific acts.
Mark Twain once said that history may not repeat itself, but it definitely rhymes. There is no genocide in modern America, but we do see mass shootings, individual shootings, and political partisanship all rooted in ideology. Nazi doctors highlight just how extreme the effects of ideology can be. We should remember that as we find ourselves attracted to the various “isms” we’re faced with in modern America, including but not limited to liberalism and conservatism.Read More
The Grievance Studies have been making the rounds on both liberal and conservative media outlets, with predictable differences in interpretations. Before we dive into what we think the significance of the studies is––and more importantly, what it is isn’t––let’s talk background.
If you’d rather watch a two-hour podcast about it, you can watch Joe Rogan’s interview with the perpetrators of the hoax:
Here’s a short intro if you don’t want to watch the podcast (or if you don’t trust it, which you shouldn’t).
What is the “hoax”?
Basically, three people submitted twenty articles to academic journals. All of these articles were fake––they contained no real research, statistical or otherwise. The articles were also within the fields of Gender and Sexuality Studies or Women and Gender Studies (though these go by different names at different universities). The articles were intentionally caricatures of articles that might appear in such journals, meaning they made arguments about so-called identity politics ad absurdum. For example, they took large swaths of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and replaced the word “Jews” with “white males,” added some theory, et voilà an article about “intersectional feminism” is born. Or they pretended to find a link between the way straight males raise dogs and “rape culture”––in that case, an award-winning article was born.
So of the twenty bogus articles that were submitted, seven were accepted and four were published.
What does it take to get an academic article published?
Publishing an academic article is very challenging. It takes a scholar anywhere from one year to several years to complete one good article, including research and writing. Once the article is in good shape, the author submits the article to an academic journal that publishes similar pieces. An editor reads the article to see if it fits with the kind of material the journal publishes.If not, it’s dead in the water. If so, she or he sends it to anonymous readers for evaluation. There are usually three readers who are experts in the relevant field, and they tell the editor that the piece is great and can be immediately published, that it needs work before publication, or that it likely can never be published.
It’s important to understand that readers are not assuming that articles are faked. The vast, vast, vast majority of scholars don’t fake data for the simple reason that most of them love what they do. Even if they were tempted being busted faking studies, outcomes, or anything is a career-ruiner. Put simply, few people would go through the trouble to fake articles and readers, as a result, wouldn’t expect it.
What were the hoaxers trying to do?
According to the hoaxers themselves, their goal was to expose flaws within the academy. They hoped that publishing ridiculous articles filled with jargon and fake data would prove that academics are so biased that they would simply approve anything that fit their ideological agenda. As a result, they were hoping to expose inherent political or ideological biases. That the fake articles actually got published confirms, for them, that “The Academy” has become a far-left echo chamber.
Did they accomplish what they set out to?
According to urban legend, someone once asked Chinese official Zhou Enlai what he thought the effects of the French Revolution were. Although more than a century had passed, he replied, “Too soon to tell.” I’m invoking a similar answer here. I think it is too soon to tell if the “Grievance Studies” actually highlighted anything about the state of “The Academy.” That’s partly because academics themselves are still reacting, and the reactions are split. That’s also because the way “The Academy” looks today is not how it will look tomorrow, and I’m very hesitant to say what that change will look like. Most of the reactions to the hoax are too overblown and partisan to make much of now. The best opinion comes from the New York Times:
The problem is not that philosophers, historians or English professors are interested in, say, questions of how gender or racial identity or bias are expressed in culture or thought. Gender and racial identity are universally present and vitally important across all the areas that the humanities study and hence should be central concerns.
The problem, rather, is that scholars who study these questions have been driven into sub-specializations that are not always seen as integral to larger fields or to the humanities as a whole. Sometimes they have been driven there by departments that are reluctant to accept them; sometimes they have been driven there by their own conviction that they alone have the standing to investigate these topics.
In either case, because graduate students and junior faculty members in the humanities are expected to produce journal articles and citations much in the way graduate students and junior faculty members in the sciences are, and because they are discouraged by tenure committees and sometimes by their own ideological provincialism from thinking broadly and connecting their work to larger questions of universal relevance, there is an increasing incentive to publish in journals with narrow purviews that are read by correspondingly few scholars. The proliferation of journals that few people are invested in, along with the pressure to produce ever greater numbers of articles, leads to more work being published with fewer safeguards guaranteeing its quality.
Furthermore, hyper-specialization in the humanities means that the very people who should be thinking broadly about culture and ideas, and teaching students to encounter and engage with a variety of positions and opinions, are becoming accustomed to defining their interests in the narrowest possible terms. They read and exchange ideas in hermetic academic bubbles, in very much the same way that the public has increasingly tended to read and exchange ideas in hermetic news bubbles.
So perhaps the hoax has accomplished something, but not what its creators intended. Rather that point out bias or ideologues within “The Academy,” it also pointed out structural flaws. William Egginton’s NYT commentary is spot on, there. There’s one more thing that needs to be added though.
Why do you keep using scare quotes around The Academy?
Phrases like capital-T “The Academy” and “Ivory Tower” impart the very false notion that academics are of one mind about, well, anything. They’re not. And one of the important things to consider is that academics differ on their own relationship with the political sphere. Hard-line historians, for example, believe that their work is purely documentary and objective. Other fields are more interested in direct political action. The Grievance Studies Hoax is a great reminder that there are a spectrum of opinions on politics and political ideologies within the academy. Targeting Gender Studies, as they did, in order to expose them as political should be shocking to precisely no one. The problem is one of perspective. The hoaxers think that the academy should be one thing, and their critics think otherwise. Here’s the good news: academics have a variety of opinions about this. The upshot, then, is that the hoax does not pull the mask of some hidden liberal agenda. Instead, it reminds us that the academy still has––as it almost always has––diverse opinions about political engagement. In other words, there’s nothing new under the sun.
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Is America headed for another Civil War? No, it’s not.
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