Evidence versus inference

The following line from the Columbia Journalism Review strikes me as an extremely odd position to take.   

But his point about the wiggly, lawyerly language is especially germane because this is a classic case of evidence versus inference. The Post can argue that, technically, all of the evidence Will presents passed fact-checking; and Will can then infer what he wants about that evidence—even if his inferences differ drastically from those of the scientists who collected the evidence—without journalistic foul.

If I read this correctly, CJR is asserting that the only commitment journalists have is to the facts in the narrowest possible sense of the term.  As an op-ed writer, I can assert any two facts, and, so long as they are true, I can draw any inference I want between them.  I think this is kind of dumb for a number of reasons.

One, it's the job of an Opinion-editorial writer to make inferences between facts; they're not journalists.

Two, inferences are evidence.  Will used those inferences between facts as evidence for the claim that global warming hysteria is sweeping the nation.

Three, inferences vary in type and degree.  Some of them are objectively bad, some objectively good, and some are objectively in the middle. 

Four, it does not violate anyone's freedom of conscience to deny their inferences a public forum.  Holocaust deniers, racists, and the rest make their cases with inferences between things that are facts.  The problem often lies with the inferences they draw from the available facts.  Holocaust deniers will fix on the absence of some one particular kind of evidence in order to infer–got that, INFER–that the Holocaust is a sham.  George Will has fixed on two isolated facts (which weren't as he said they were, but any, for the sake of argument) and drawn a similarly ridiculous conclusion.

Five, for the above reasons, I infer (1) that the Post ought to do a better job of editing, and more importantly (2) the smart guys at CJR ought to take a basic critical reasoning course. 


We certainly pick on George Will a lot.  This is because he is a recidivist.  Now despite his having been roundly and decisively refuted in his ridiculous global warming denialism, he has returned to the scene of the crime, to repeat his errors and once again to tout the virtues of his skepticism.  His skepticism has little by way of virtue, because it has no factual basis, and he has no business writing anything about a subject in which he has worse than no competence. 

Others have already amply demonstrated the factual errors again in his column.  I would just like to make two points.  Will's most basic problem lies with the inferences he draws.  He insists in his column that dire warnings about global cooling 30 years ago in the popular press have some kind of significance for whether or not one should believe the community of competent and qualified climate scientists when they assert that the globe is warming.  He writes:

Few phenomena generate as much heat as disputes about current orthodoxies concerning global warming. This column recently reported and commented on some developments pertinent to the debate about whether global warming is occurring and what can and should be done. That column, which expressed skepticism about some emphatic proclamations by the alarmed, took a stroll down memory lane, through the debris of 1970s predictions about the near certainty of calamitous global cooling.

Concerning those predictions, the New York Times was — as it is today in a contrary crusade — a megaphone for the alarmed, as when (May 21, 1975) it reported that "a major cooling of the climate" was "widely considered inevitable" because it was "well established" that the Northern Hemisphere's climate "has been getting cooler since about 1950." Now the Times, a trumpet that never sounds retreat in today's war against warming, has afforded this column an opportunity to revisit another facet of this subject — meretricious journalism in the service of dubious certitudes.

Yes, the New York Times' being wrong about global cooling is evidence against a Times' reporter's claims (problematic though they were for being too kind to Will) that scientists have questioned Will's facts.  Sheesh.  You cannot get any dumber than that by way of rejoinder.  Maybe: I know what you are, so what am I?  But this really is a version of that.  

Here's the second point.  Science, as far as I know, thrives on skepticism–qualified skepticism.  Arguing that maybe the Bible is correct and Jesus created the world (okay, it doesn't say that) does not amount to meaningful skepticism.  Neither does George Will's incompetent, ignorant, and self-important bumbling through the facts.  He writes:

The scientists at the Illinois center offer their statistics with responsible caveats germane to margins of error in measurements and precise seasonal comparisons of year-on-year estimates of global sea ice. Nowadays, however, scientists often find themselves enveloped in furies triggered by any expression of skepticism about the global warming consensus (which will prevail until a diametrically different consensus comes along; see the 1970s) in the media-environmental complex.

Nah.  Will has been fairly and roundly criticized for having been wrong in his facts and wrong in his judgments.  This does not amount to evidence of a media-environmental complex, it does, however, suggest that the Post has no interest in reality.  They say as much:

If you want to start telling me that columnists can’t make inferences which you disagree with—and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject—I think that’s really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject — so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don’t make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn’t be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him.

That is not the point.  And it's a deliberate misconstruing of the criticism.  In the first place, Will's facts were wrong.  In the second place, his inferences are preposterous (see, for instance, above).  He has no business making them in a public forum such as this and the Post has no business publishing them.  

Where’s Foucault when we need him?

George Will's been taking a beating lately–His character, his general ignorance of that of which he comments upon, and, our favorite, his logic have all come under increasing attack recently. Today we can give him a pass on his column. Its silliness is not entirely his fault. For some reason he devotes his column to fawning over the relatively uninteresting analogy between past sexual morality and the supposed moralizing about food by one expert in philosophy at the Hoover institute, Nancy Eberhardt who we are told by Will is "intimidatingly intelligent."

The idea seems to be that in the past we moralized sex, but left food to be a mere matter of taste. Now we moralize food, but leave sex to be a mere matter of taste. I think probably both claims are false, though I'm willing to bite that we have stopped moralizing a lot of sex, and some moralize a lot of their choices involving food.

But, then we run into this sort of confusion:

Most important of all, however, is the difference in moral attitude separating Betty and Jennifer on the matter of food. Jennifer feels that there is a right and wrong about these options that transcends her exercise of choice as a consumer. She does not exactly condemn those who believe otherwise, but she doesn’t understand why they do, either. And she certainly thinks the world would be a better place if more people evaluated their food choices as she does. She even proselytizes on occasion when she can. In short, with regard to food, Jennifer falls within Immanuel Kant’s definition of the Categorical Imperative: She acts according to a set of maxims that she wills at the same time to be universal law.

In heavy-handed contrast:

Even without such personal links to food scarcity, though, it makes no sense to Betty that people would feel as strongly as her granddaughter does about something as simple as deciding just what goes into one’s mouth. That is because Betty feels, as Jennifer obviously does not, that opinions about food are simply de gustibus, a matter of individual taste — and only that.

And again:

Most important of all, Betty feels that sex, unlike food, is not de gustibus. She believes to the contrary that there is a right and wrong about these choices that transcends any individual act. She further believes that the world would be a better place, and individual people better off, if others believed as she does. She even proselytizes such on occasion when given the chance.

And to beat the horse within an inch of its life:

Most important, once again, is the difference in moral attitude between the two women on this subject of sex. Betty feels that there is a right and wrong about sexual choices that transcends any individual act, and Jennifer — exceptions noted — does not. It’s not that Jennifer lacks for opinions about sex, any more than Betty does about food. It’s just that, for the most part, they are limited to what she personally does and doesn’t like.

And to make it clearer still:

As noted, this desire to extend their personal opinions in two different areas to an “ought” that they think should be somehow binding — binding, that is, to the idea that others should do the same — is the definition of the Kantian imperative. Once again, note: Betty’s Kantian imperative concerns sex not food, and Jennifer’s concerns food not sex. In just over 50 years, in other words — not for everyone, of course, but for a great many people, and for an especially large portion of sophisticated people — the moral poles of sex and food have been reversed. Betty thinks food is a matter of taste, whereas sex is governed by universal moral law of some kind; and Jennifer thinks exactly the reverse.  

Fortunately she doesn't draw any substantial conclusions from this. With that sort of genial Brooksy, "foibles of the human race exposing, concealed smirk," she contents herself with running this analogy to its exhaustion while ignoring relevant points of disanalogy, and doing little more than pointing out this curious social change, which perhaps seems to be neither curious, nor a social change, with closer scrutiny. But she closes with this whopper of a post hoc propter hoc fallacy wrapped in a bacony strip of psychoanalyzing explanation and deep-fried in a vat of greasy rhetorical questions:

The rise of a recognizably Kantian, morally universalizable code concerning food — beginning with the international vegetarian movement of the last century and proceeding with increasing moral fervor into our own times via macrobiotics, veganism/vegetarianism, and European codes of terroir — has paralleled exactly the waning of a universally accepted sexual code in the Western world during these same years. 

Who can doubt that the two trends are related? Unable or unwilling (or both) to impose rules on sex at a time when it is easier to pursue it than ever before, yet equally unwilling to dispense altogether with a universal moral code that he would have bind society against the problems created by exactly that pursuit, modern man (and woman) has apparently performed his own act of transubstantiation. He has taken longstanding morality about sex, and substituted it onto food. The all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized; the sexual smorgasbord is not. 

In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone — and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat. 

Perhaps it's just me, but I find it surprisingly easy to avoid this conclusion. 


Bicameral poxism

In the category of sloppy pseudo-balance-driven reporting today, we have the following comparison between George Will's making stuff up and Al Gore's exaggerating a consequence of a well-established phenomenon.  The New York Times' Andrew Revkin writes:

In the effort to shape the public’s views on global climate change, hyperbole is an ever-present temptation on all sides of the debate.

Earlier this month, former Vice President Al Gore and the Washington Post columnist George Will made strong public statements about global warning — from starkly divergent viewpoints.

Mr. Gore, addressing a hall filled with scientists in Chicago, showed a slide that illustrated a sharp spike in fires, floods and other calamities around the world and warned the audience that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”

Mr. Will, in a column attacking what he said were exaggerated claims about global warming’s risks, chided climate scientists for predicting an ice age three decades ago and asserted that a pause in warming in recent years and the recent expansion of polar sea ice undermined visions of calamity ahead.

Both men, experts said afterward, were guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements.

In the first place, George Will is on record for denying that global warming is taking place–he's not just denying its risks.  

Gore, on the other hand, engaged in hyperbole about the risks of global warming, a phenomenon qualified scientists justifiably believe to be taking place.

The difference, seems to me, is fairly obvious.  Is what Gore says wrong?  Probably.  But obviously not in the same Will is wrong.

Here's some prescience by Revkin:

In a paper being published in the March-April edition of the journal Environment, Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University, said Mr. Gore’s approach, focusing on language of crisis and catastrophe, could actually be serving the other side in the fight.

“There is little evidence to suggest that it is effective at building broad-based support for policy action,” Dr. Nisbet said. “Perhaps worse, his message is very easily countered by people such as Will as global-warming alarmism, shifting the focus back to their preferred emphasis on scientific uncertainty and dueling expert views.

But Dr. Nisbet said that for Mr. Will, there was little downside in stretching the bounds of science to sow doubt.

Criticism of Mr. Will’s columns, Dr. Nisbet said, “only serves to draw attention to his claims while reinforcing a larger false narrative that liberals and the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”

Indeed, perhaps Nisbet could add that a primary cause of doubt in the public's mind is reporting of this variety.  Perhaps it is Revkin's job to help us see the difference between Al Gore's occasional and not wholly unsupported exaggeration and George Will's dishonest rejection of well-established science.  George Wil, in other words, is to blame for making stuff up.  This is not somehow Al Gore's fault.

Don’t try this at home

Apropos of the difference between errors of fact and errors of reasoning, Carl Zimmer (blogger at Discover Magazine) asked Bill Chapman, a University of Illinois climate scientist, about George Will's recent bungling of Chapman's data as well as the Washington Post's defense of Will.  Chapman said:

Since their statements were based on the end of the previous year, and more importantly the end of 1979, the statement ‘global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979′ just didn’t make sense any more. We have received 80-100 emails from confused people who had read George’s column and looked up the graphs on the Cryosphere Today [one of the center’s web pages] and said they came to a different conclusion, or, could we point them to the report that said that Feb 1979 and Feb 2009 sea ice area was nearly the same. We had to post the current and corresponding 1979 values to avoid the inconsistency that readers were noting. After doing some googling, it appears that Daily Tech article got repeated on a lot of blogs, so it’s not surprising George Will came across it at some point. Still it was sloppy for them to not double check with the original source and it really points out the danger of making any conclusions on climate change based on any two days in history. I really wish they would have contacted us at some point to avoid this.

Our goal is to present the data in as concise and useful format as possible for interested users. Whether the Washington Post decides to publish a correction is up to them.

Here's what Will wrote:

As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

What Chapman points out is important.  It's not only the misrepresentation and the laziness of it all (Will didn't bother to inquire with them, while Zimmer and others have), it's the fact that he made some kind of spectacularly giant inference on the strength of two isolated facts.  Even if those facts had been true in the sense he alleged, there is no way he should have been allowed to make that inferential claim without relying substantially on the common sense of the relevant experts–who, by the way, nearly unanimously disagree with him.  

It does not advance the public understanding if scientists must continue to debate intellectual children who (1) have no basis for disagreeing with them (2) don't accurately represent the views of the scientists in question and (3) accuse everyone else of being hysterical.  That's more or less what the Post considers meaningful public discourse–worthy of publication in their paper and syndicated across the country.


That's actually a word, but it's not particularly related to what I will say here.  

Last week George Will wrote a column sufficiently full of outright falsehoods–non facts as it were–such that people all over were demanding retractions, corrections, etc.  Rightly so, as the falsehoods were fairly egregious (it wasn't just forgetting who argued that philosophy is preparation for dying).  He completely misrepresented research on global warming in order to claim that it wasn't happening.  Strangely enough, the Washington Post has issued nothing by way of a retraction, and they have claimed that the column made it through their multi-layered editing and fact-checking process.  So much the worse for them.  Click here for a discussion of the factual errors, and here for our original post.

There is something slightly odd about the whole matter, however.  He got some facts wrong.  So did Bill Kristol (formerly of the New York Times now–get this–of the Washington Post).  People screamed about that as the height of sloppiness.  Which it is.  But op-ed columnists do not really deal primarily in facts anyway.  They deal primarily in arguments–the argumentative ones at least (which is mostly the conservative ones by the way–don't know why that is, it just is). 

Arguments are one part fact, one part inference.  As a matter of fact, they're mostly inference.  Getting facts wrong is bad, but I think it is a comparably less egregious problem than repeatedly authoring crappy, to use a technical term, arguments.  For the sake of clarity, a crappy argument is one whose conclusion likely wouldn't follow even if they premises were true.  Seems to me that if one repeatedly makes these sorts of arguments, then one's getting the occasional fact wrong is a comparatively minor problem–easily correctable by a (competent) fact checker.

Correcting crappy arguments is rather more difficult, as many lay people don't seem to have a good idea what a crappy argument is.  Many lay people think that pointing out an argument's crappiness, in fact, is a kind of crappy argument.  I think someone–maybe me, maybe our Australian friends–suggested a name for this–the fallacy fallacy fallacy (the fallacy of thinking pointing out fallacies is a fallacy of some sort).  It takes some amount of training to point out sophistries.  But it's at least as important if not more than the pointing out errors of fact.  So I'd like to propose that the Post, in addition to hiring a new fact-checker (not one paid by George Will–seriously, he's got like two of them), hire a kind of sophistry checker.

That way we wouldn't be subjected to things like this (from Will's column yesterday):

Although liberals give lip service to "diversity," they often treat federalism as an annoying impediment to their drive for uniformity. Feingold, who is proud that Wisconsin is one of only four states that clearly require special elections of replacement senators in all circumstances, wants to impose Wisconsin's preference on the other 46. Yes, he acknowledges, they could each choose to pass laws like Wisconsin's, but doing this "state by state would be a long and difficult process." Pluralism is so tediously time-consuming. 

The sophistry detector might say the following: Mr.Will, you're going to have be a lot more specific here.  In the first place, who are "liberals"?  Second, you're equivocating on "diversity."  "Liberals"–whoever the hell they are–can consistently be for one kind of diversity but not another.  Aside from this, "impose" seems to have a different meaning for you.  Feingold seems to be advocating a change in electoral procedure by democratic means–amending the Constitution.  Such an activity requires signifcant electoral participation and agreement.  One can hardly call that "imposing."

These, I think, are serious and egregious problems with just this one paragraph, yet none of them are factual problems in any direct sense. They do, however, make the argument here rather sucky.


Will repeats his performance this weekend with a bizarre attack on the stimulus spending. There are three things that are sticking in Will's craw:

  Brian Tierney is CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings, which publishes Philadelphia's Inquirer and Daily News and has missed loan payments since June. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's spokesman says Tierney has had "a number of conversations" with Rendell about receiving state money that "could come from a number of revenue streams."

He spends about a third of the column attacking this request–why he's doing it is not at all clear. Perhaps we should conclude "Not all spending requests are equally good." But, this doesn't seem to be much of a headline. Maybe I'm missing something here.

 Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat, practiced law for three years, then entered elective office at 29 and has never left, so when he speaks about a world larger than a legislature, and about entities more enmeshed in life's grinding imperatives, he says strange things. Objecting to General Motors, Ford and Chrysler opposing more severe fuel-economy and emissions standards, he says: "They have not yet stopped being controlled by their own self-interest."

This is followed by some equally random sneering at Waxman for supporting the loans to the auto company and emissions standards. I guess in Will's confused mind, the problem with the auto industry is the threat of increased fuel-economy standards. At least, that's the only way I can parse this rambling kvetch.

"Never," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said when voting against the stimulus, "have so few spent so much so quickly to do so little." Three of his contentions are correct. The $787 billion price tag is probably at least two-thirds too low: Add the cost of borrowing to finance it, and allow for the certainty that many "temporary" programs will become permanent, and the price soars far above $2 trillion.

But Cole's last contention is wrong. The stimulus, which the Congressional Budget Office says will, over the next 10 years, reduce GDP by crowding out private investment, already is doing a lot by fostering cynicism in the service of opportunism.

And he ends, like he did this weekend, with an easily debunked misrepresentation.  The C.B.O. report is here . It claims that after raising GDP between 1-4% for the next couple of years (and creating 1.3-3.9 million jobs), the effect of the stimulus over the next decade will decrease. Ultimately in 2019 the increased debt will "crowd out" private investment (i.e. capital will have been attracted to government debt rather than private investment) and this will (may?) reduce the GDP by 0.1-0.3%. Yes that is 1/10 of 1 percent reduction. 

I don't see any real problem of logic here, indeed I'm not sure I see any logic whatsoever. Somehow, Will seems to want to suggest that the stimulus bill is some sort of hothouse of "opportunistic" spending. But, these two little vignettes don't go very far to do that. The first might be an illustration of that opportunism, by the second, Will seems to have forgotten what his column was about and the third is just warmed-over blogo-babble that has been discredited. How the editors of the Post ignore the stench of these columns just baffles me.


Just for fun, here's none other than Noam Chomsky on George Will (courtesy Jonathan Schwarz via Steve Benen):

CHOMSKY: [A] few years ago George Will wrote a column in Newsweek called "Mideast Truth and Falsehood," about how peace activists are lying about the Middle East, everything they say is a lie. And in the article, there was one statement that had a vague relation to fact: he said that Sadat had refused to deal with Israel until 1977. So I wrote them a letter, the kind of letter you write to Newsweek—you know, four lines—in which I said, "Will has one statement of fact, it's false; Sadat made a peace offer in 1971, and Israel and the United States turned it down." Well, a couple days later I got a call from a research editor who checks facts for the Newsweek "Letters" column. She said: "We're kind of interested in your letter, where did you get those facts?" So I told her, "Well, they're published in Newsweek, on February 8, 1971"—which is true, because it was a big proposal, it just happened to go down the memory hole in the United States because it was the wrong story. So she looked it up and called me back, and said, "Yeah, you're right, we found it there; okay, we'll run your letter." An hour later she called again and said, "Gee, I'm sorry, but we can't run the letter." I said, "What's the problem?" She said, "Well, the editor mentioned it to Will and he's having a tantrum; they decided they can't run it." Well, okay.

Should you doubt the citations, you can click the link for them.

De grammatico

Sorry to outsource blogging completely, but this longish quote from a post by Steve Benen (Political Animal) is worth reading (apropos of George Will's most recent column): 

IN SEARCH OF MEDIA ACCOUNTABILITY…. Over the weekend, George Will's Washington Post column was devoted to his rejection of climate science and global warming. As one might expect, given the topic and direction, Will had several errors of fact and judgment.

Given that Will's piece — which was, by the way, syndicated nationally — carelessly misled readers, Zachary Roth contacted both Will and Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt to see what went wrong here. How could Will make such obvious mistakes? And how did they escape the editor's scrutiny and fact-checking process?

Will's assistant told us that Will might get back to us later in the day to talk about the column. And Hiatt said he was too busy to talk about it just then, but that he'd try to respond to emailed questions. So we emailed him yesterday's post, with several questions about the editing process, then followed up with another email late yesterday afternoon.

But still nothing from either of them, over twenty-four hours after the first contact was made. Nor has the online version of Will's column been updated, even to reflect the fact that the ACRC has utterly disavowed the claim Will attributes to it.

We're hearing that the Post's editing process for opinion pieces is virtually non-existent. Maybe that makes sense in some cases — it certainly seems reasonable to give most columnists a freer hand than straight news reporters get. But it's difficult to know for sure when the Post won't talk about it. And that approach sure didn't serve the paper well here.

I chatted last night with a couple of people I know who've written items for both the Post and the New York Times, and they agreed that the WaPo editors checked for grammar and spelling, but made no meaningful effort to scrutinize the content. The NYT, meanwhile, was far more stringent. Given Will's background and specific claims, this casual disregard is a very bad idea.

I think we surmised that they checked for grammar and spelling too.  Before the first post ever on this site we wrote:

Print editors no doubt scan for grammar. For the most part, despite the occasional infelicitous construction that slips by, they succeed wonderfully at their jobs. Just consider the vast quantity of printed and spoken words produced everyday and the difficulty of writing correctly and clearly in English, and their achievement starts to seem prodigious.

Consider also that these editors and their staffs–the conscientious ones at least–must clean their pages of obvious and less obvious errors of fact. Their expertise in source-checking and the verification of facts, among other things, and their commitment to vigilance and due diligence in their editorial mission are involved in this monumental task of stemming the tide of falsehoods, misrepresentations, and out-right lies which threatens to drown political discourse today.

Unfortunately, this seems to be where editors stop. While run-on sentences, comma splices, split infinitives, and other such grammatical minutiae may rarely make appearances in the best of our nation’s dailies and weeklies, and a small but growing class of press watchdogs help to correct errors of fact (pointing out bias, factual omissions, and distortions), a more perilous corruption lurks under the clean surface of the printed page: specious reasoning.


Compound error

I read these things and shake my head:

Last week’s column about Denis Rancourt, a University of Ottawa professor who is facing dismissal for awarding A-plus grades to his students on the first day of class and for turning the physics course he had been assigned into a course on political activism, drew mostly negative comments.

The criticism most often voiced was that by holding Rancourt up as an example of the excesses indulged in by those who invoke academic freedom, I had committed the fallacy of generalizing from a single outlier case to the behavior of an entire class “Is the Rancourt case one of a thousand such findings this year, or it the most outlandish in 10 years?” (Jack, No. 88).

That's Stanley Fish, the New York Times' interpreter of the academic world.  Sounds like he has been accused of a hasty generalization in the form of "nutpicking."  I'm not particularly interested in the merits of the charge–Fish seems even to concede it.  One minor observation.  I'm sure we are all guilty at one point or another for reasoning that badly.  The difference is that Fish gets to air out his errors in the New York Times.  Anyway, he makes things worse as he defends himself.  He writes (following directly):

It may be outlandish because it is so theatrical, but one could argue, as one reader seemed to, that Rancourt carries out to its logical extreme a form of behavior many display in less dramatic ways. “How about a look at the class of professors who … duck their responsibilities ranging from the simple courtesies (arrival on time, prepared for meetings … ) to the essentials (“lack of rigor in teaching and standards … )” (h.c.. ecco, No. 142). What links Rancourt and these milder versions of academic acting-out is a conviction that academic freedom confers on professors the right to order (or disorder) the workplace in any way they see fit, irrespective of the requirements of the university that employs them.

Eegads!  "Carrying the behavior to its logical extreme" is the characteristic marker of the slippery slope.  And its supported by an alleged fallacy of accident: certain very jerky professors are going to interpret academic freedom very broadly, and, since they will allege this, there must be a logical connection between academic freedom and being a complete nitwit.  Well there isn't.  Just because the connection is alleged by some–how many, not many I would guess–does not mean the connection obtains.  What Fish has done, in other words, is compound the error of one fallacy (the hasty generalization nutpicking variety) with three more:the slippery slope, the fallacy of accident, and the implied hasty generalization again!