More on bias in academia

The New York Times and the Washington Post must be under some kind of obligation to run an “academia is biased to the left” piece once or twice a year (excluding, of course, the regular appearance of this theme in the columns of David Brooks and George Will, to give two examples). And yesterday’s Outlook section in the Washington Post has another one.

According to the formula, it begins with an unverifiable anecdote:

>A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused “a sensation” at his university. “It was as if I had become a child molester,” he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because “you don’t want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts.”

>I think my political views hurt my career some years back when I was interviewing for a job at a prestigious research university. Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less, but apparently “fit” better than I did. At least that’s what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school. (A friend at the same university later told me he didn’t believe that particular department would ever hire a Republican.)

>Now there is more data backing up experiences like mine. Recently, my Villanova colleague Richard Redding and my longtime collaborator Frederick Hess commissioned a set of studies to ascertain how rare conservative professors really are, and why. We wanted real scholars to use real data to study whether academia really has a PC problem. While our work was funded by the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, we (and our funders) have been very clear about our intention to go wherever the data would take us.

For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to look for a job in academia, the experience he mentions is completely common. Having been on both sides of hiring committees, “fit” considerations (not merely publications) can play a very central role. Besides, how can the author tell that he was rejected because he said he would vote Republican? He can’t read the minds of that committee, and no amount of research of the AEI is going to vindicate him. That anecdote, in other words, illustrates nothing other than the lazy way this guy reaches conclusions.

Of course, I’m just saying that because I’m biased.

There’s a better discussion of this piece (and this type of piece) at LGM.

Serious religious thinker

As objectionable as Mitt Romney’s “Kennedy” speech was (e.g., “Freedom requires religion“), it couldn’t be worse than David Brooks’ analysis of it:

> He insisted that the faithful should stick stubbornly to their religions, as he himself sticks to the faith of his fathers. He insisted that God-talk should remain a vibrant force in the public square and that judges should be guided by the foundations of their faith. He lamented the faithlessness of Europe and linked the pro-life movement to abolition and [non-gay, non-immigrant, non-muslim, eds.] civil rights, just as evangelicals do.

>It is not always easy to blend an argument for religious liberty with an argument for religious assertiveness, but Romney did it well. Yesterday, I called around to many of America’s serious religious thinkers — including moderates like Richard Bushman of Columbia, and conservatives like Neuhaus and Robert George of Princeton. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about the speech, some of them wildly so.

I wonder what qualifies one as a “serious” religious thinker. In the minds of many serious thinkers I know (but I didn’t call around and ask), no religious person is a serious thinker–they’re either not serious, or they’re not really a thinker, or both. Ok, that was kind of a joke. The more perplexing thing here is what Brooks means by “well.”

To return to the remark I opened with, how could Romney claim with a straight face that “freedom requires religion” constitutes a premise in argument for religious liberty? It’s obviously anything but, since it denies what it’s trying to prove. Any serious thinker on this matter might tell you that, however.

Then of course there’s this:

>We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

If it’s a religion, albeit a new one, then doesn’t it follow that it’s necessary for freedom? I’m confused.


Robert Samuelson, a kind of Captain Bringdown of economics columnists, argues that we cannot have an honest debate about health care so long as it is about expanding coverage. He writes:

>The politics of health care rests on a mass illusion:

I know what you’re thinking. The illusion is that way too much of the money Americans spend on “health care” pays for needless bureaucracy, so that’s what we need to cut, right?


He continues:

>Most Americans think that someone else pays for their care. Workers with employer-provided insurance believe that their companies pay. Retirees and the poor think that the government, through Medicare (retirees) and Medicaid (the poor), pays. No one has an interest in controlling spending, because everyone believes that it burdens someone else. Naturally, the health-industrial complex — doctors, hospitals, drug companies — has no interest. Higher health spending raises their incomes and profits.

The problem is that people need health coverage. Perhaps they should need it less.

In all seriousness, while serious discussions of cost are always appropriate (I could make a living making that argument: here’s the formula: none of the candidates seriously want to address issue x, which is serious because of y, therefore z), Samuelson has to be aware of the rather obvious and well documented problem of how health insurance bureaucracy consumes a giant share of health care spending. Can’t we cut that first?


Whatever one’s position on the desirability or plausibility of government funded health insurance, this remark is just plain childish:

>About one thing, Hillary Clinton is, remarkably, both clear and opaque: Jefferson is anachronistic. “We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?” Well, okay, what does “all that” mean to someone stuck in congested traffic? Or annoyed by the price of cable television? What does Mrs. Clinton mean?

One can always make this kind of fundamentally crappy, not to mention dishonest, argument. For anyone’s view x, replace it with something manifestly different, then claim they are also arguing for that different thing. For those of you playing along at home, try this out on your friends. See if it works.

Via crucis

Mike Huckabee, bass-playing former Governor of Arkansas and actual Republican Presidential candidate, found another use for Jesus on the cross:

>”Interestingly enough, if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, ‘This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency.’ ”

That’s not an argument for capital punishment, but for unjust capital punishment, unless, of course, Jesus was guilty.