Megan McArdle is Always Wrong: Academic Bias, Quick Hit Version

(BTW: Apologies in advance for the length of this screed.  No truth in titling here.  You can always think Playboy and/or wherever it was my junior senator offered his cheesecake and “read” it for the pix. ;)

I know that Megan McArdle is a bagatelle in the supermarket of awful opened by the current (and hopefully temporary) right wing ascendancy.  But even if there’s nothing she does that rises to the consequence of our recent theme, for example, in which the forced-birth, pro-rape party continues to advance its claims, she still finds her own ways to damage the Republic.  So please excuse yet another detour into the eternal sunshine of the McArdle mind.

DougJ has already written about her latest — how to describe it? — special attempt to bolster the long standing conservative attack alleging bias against conservatives in the academy.*

I’m completely down with his take on the matter, unsurprisingly, but here I want to add the dimension of McArdle’s continuing failure to attain minimal standards of journalistic competence.  (I’ve got some unfinished business on this btw, given her recent squib of rage at being called out on errors in kitchen history.  If boredom with the company of McArdle’s prose and the day job don’t overwhelm me, I’ll post on that in a couple of days.)  Here, I’m want to pound on the way McArdle misleads her readers on what is clearly a more consequential subject.


That would be her use of citations to scholarly literature that, if read, would reveal profound differences between what she says the research reveals and what in fact you find should you read the stuff yourself.

So, consider this from McArdle:

One of the things the legacy of racism has taught us is just how good dominant groups are at constructing narratives that justify their dominance.  Somehow, the problem is never them.  It’s always the out group.  Maybe the out group has some special characteristic that makes them not want to be admitted to the circle–blacks are happy-go-lucky and don’t want the responsibility of management, women wouldn’t deign to sully themselves in commerce, Jews are too interested in money to want to attend Harvard or go into public service.  These explanations always oddly ignore the fact that many members of the out-group are complaining about being excluded.
More troubling is that these volitional arguments are almost always combined with denigration: the out group is stupid, greedy, mean, violent, overemotional, corrupt . . . whatever. As indeed these arguments are when they’re deployed against conservatives in my comment threads.  In fact, it seems clear to me that many commenters have taken the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia as vindication of their beliefs–if conservatives can’t make it in academia, that proves that conservatives are not smart, and liberal ideas must be better.  This is possible, of course.  It’s also possible that academics are validating their own bias by systematically excluding those who disagree with them.
So while in theory, it’s true that you can’t simply reason from disparity to bias, I have to say that when you’ve identified a statistical disparity, and the members of the in-group immediately rush to assure you that this isn’t because of bias, but because the people they’ve excluded are all a bunch of raging assholes with lukewarm IQ’s . . . well, I confess, discrimination starts sounding pretty plausible.
When that group of people is assuring you that the reason conservatives can’t be in charge is that they do not have open minds . . . when the speed and sloppiness of their argument make it quite clear that they rejected the very possibility of discrimination without giving it even a second’s serious thought . . . well, I confess, it starts sounding very plausible.  More plausible than I, who had previously leaned heavily on things like affinity bias to explain the skew, would have thought.
Moreover, what evidence we have does not particularly support many of the alternative theories. For example, the liberal skew is strongest at elite universities.  This is not consistent with the notion that education is turning all the conservatives into liberals, or that they’re not interested in becoming professors.  I’d say it’s more consistent with the possibility that they’re disproportionately having a hard time getting hired, or retained.

I quote at length to avoid McArdle’s common dodge when caught in hackery that crucial context has been omitted that would reveal her ultimate wisdom.

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So, here’s how I gloss the above, trying to ignore the “I never (emotionally) escaped seventh grade” affect of the passage.

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She is saying that the dominance of liberals over conservatives in the academy is a fact.  Liberal academics and their defenders assert that mere numerical disparities do not require an explanation of bias or discrimination, but those who discriminate always say that.  Thus, because her commenters have told her that conservatives are excluded because they are stupid, this serves to confirm that liberal academics are simply educated versions of common or garden-variety bigots.  And because, in McArdle’s version her critics only make the worst arguments, this in turn makes the charge of active discrimination “very plausible.”

I leave to the commenters a full dissection of the problems of “research” and interpretation based on the ways in which McArdle presents her critics’ perspectives.  I’ll just say here one of the fundamental lessons we try to teach in our journalism segments of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing is that when presenting views in dispute, the writer has the obligation to present opposing arguments in their strongest possible light.  This does not seem to be a part of the journalistic toolkit with which McArdle is familiar.

But all that aside, look to that last paragraph:  “what evidence we have does not particularly support many of the alternative theories (to bias).”

The “evidence” at that link is a study by two social scientists, Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, titled “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” distributed in 2007.  A reasonable person would, I think, interpret McArdle’s cite of this paper as claiming that Gross and Simmons’ research supports her statement that the most plausible explanation for the ratio of liberals to conservatives in the academy is bias.

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I’m guessing folks know what’s coming next:

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What happens when some unruly types (as they have done before) actually read the research in question — in this case a 70 page, 25,000 word article?

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I’ve now read the whole damn piece.  I won’t burden you with every last quote I pulled (I stopped at about 2,500 words of excerpts) but it’s there if anyone wants to call me on it.  Here, I’ll try to keep  it down to a dull roar of passages that should have given McArdle pause.

So:  does the paper McArdle relies on for her claims of bias state that the academy is clearly overwhelmingly liberal?

No:

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Where other recent studies have characterized the American college and university faculty as not simply extremely liberal, but nearly uniformly so (Klein and Stern 2004-5; Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte 2005; Tobin and Weinberg 2006), we show that while conservatives, Republicans, and Republican voters are rare within the faculty ranks, on many issues there are as many professors who hold center/center-left views as there are those who cleave to more liberal positions, while the age distribution indicates that, in terms of their overall political orientation, professors are becoming more moderate over time, and less radical. [page 3]

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What does academic faculty actually look like?:

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Collapsing the data accordingly to a three point scale, we find that 44.1 percent of respondents can be classified as liberals, 46.6 percent as moderates, and 9.2 percent as conservatives.  Such a recoding thus reveals a moderate bloc that – while consisting of more liberal- than conservative-leaning moderates – is nevertheless equal in size to the liberal bloc. [p. 27]

Well, maybe that just reflects an aging, embattled cohort of moderation losing ground to ivy-covered radicals.  Or maybe not:

Table 4 shows that the youngest age cohort – those professors aged 26-35 – contains the highest percentage of moderates, and the lowest percentage of liberals.  Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s, while the largest number of conservatives is to be found among professors aged 65 and older (though the age differences in terms of the number of conservatives are small, problematizing Alan Wolfe’s [1994:290] assertion that “the cultural war in the universities is a generational war.”)  These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that in recent years the trend has been toward increasing moderatism. [p. 29]

Is there nonetheless a monolithic culture of opinion in the classroom or on tenure review boards?

What overall conclusion can be drawn from our analysis of the attitudes items? What we wish to emphasize is simply that there is more attitudinal complexity and heterogeneity in the professorial population than second wave researchers have attended to.  It seems to us unlikely that a simplistic notion like “groupthink” – more of a political slur than a robust social-scientific concept – can do very much to help explain the specific configurations and distributions of attitudes our survey reveals. [p. 61]

Finally, is bias really the one best explanation social scientists see to explain the political landscape of American universities?    As discussed in Neil Gross’s paper with Ethan Fosse “Why Are Professors Liberal” (2010 — link at Gross’s webpage), the answer is again (guess!)…No:

For example, Woessner and Kelly-Woessner (2009) find that twice as many liberal as conservative college students aspire to complete a doctorate.  In interviews, Binder (2009) finds that conservative students at a major public university regard faculty members disparagingly and do not seek to emulate them in any way. Ecklund (forthcoming), studying the religiosity of academic scientists at elite schools, finds that high levels of religious skepticism result not from professional socialization, but from the greater tendency of religious skeptics to become scientists, a finding that echoes Finkelstein’s (1984) earlier review of the evidence. Gross and Simmons (2006), analyzing public opinion data, find that conservatism, Republican Party affiliation, and evangelical identity are associated with less confidence in higher education and diminished evaluations of the occupational prestige of professors. [p. 50]

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There’s lots more, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now.  But I think y’all get the idea:

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There is,  contra McArdle, plenty of research out there on academic political attitudes.  That which she invokes, does not conform to the myth she wishes to advance here.  The specific paper she cites explicitly contradicts the thrust of her argument.

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In other words, McArdle has chosen to deceive her readers.

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That is, the issue here is not that she got simple, quanta of “fact” wrong.**  She advances few in this particular post, preferring instead to remain safely behind the deniability afforded by putting words in the mouths of anonymous interlocutors.  Here it is a matter of false reporting, claiming that research with which she asserts personally familiarity supports her case when, by any reasonable reading, it does not.

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Such intellectual dishonesty has to be named and shamed. First and most important, of  course, because McArdle here advanced an attack whose aim is to discredit what academics have to say.  The existence of an even marginal voice independent of the right wing consensus is both a threat and emotionally intolerable.

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Thus, I’d guess, McArdle’s “mean-girl” slashes against critics of her original post on this subject.  If it is liberals who are the racist scum here, no need to listen to any actual evidence they might advance on this or any matter.  And as for McArdle, so for the broader right-wing attack on independent expertise and the exercise of reason.

This is, of course, disastrous for a working democracy.

And its not good for The Atlantic either.  I suppose I shouldn’t care, but I do.  In the great scheme of things, the fate of that masthead may not matter much, but each time McArdle  misleads her readers to advance her cause it cuts away at the foundation of trust a reader may have in anything published there.

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And when you get flurries of reports of bad journalism — think the latest Friedersdorf craptacular — it gets harder and harder to avoid the thought that the operation as a whole is losing its way.  There are great people who work there — I’ve named some of my favorites before, and I’m not going to keep calling out folks who are trying to produce good work in what must be an often difficult situation.

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But the bottom line doesn’t change:  obvious, overt bad craft costs any publication something.  It may take a while for the rot to show, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t griping away at the foundation.  And while it’s none of my business, really, The Atlantic has given me enormous pleasure and food for thought over many years.  I’d hate to see it go the way of The New Republic.

*Here’s my recent take on what launched this latest salvo.  There is a deep history to all this, of course, with one possible start date coming with McCarthy, and another with the Nixon-Agnew attack on knowldege.  But this latest round is an offshoot of the culture wars, and in “scholarly” — sic — form dates back  a couple of decades, and has been pushed by the usual suspects, as reported in the study much referenced above:

It was in this context that a new wave of faculty studies appeared.  Where earlier studies had been thoughtful social scientific investigations, the new studies were closer to thinly disguised works of political advocacy intended to back up the charge of “liberal bias” in academe.  The first to appear and grab headlines – columnist John Tierney devoted an entire New York Times piece to it (Tierney 2004) – involved two interrelated inquiries led by economist Daniel Klein that were initially published in Academic Questions, the journal of the conservative National Association of Scholars.

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**Well, she does, a bit.  According to the Gross and Simmons paper, elite universities are slightly less the hotbeds of liberalism that four year liberal arts colleges are, contra her assertion following her cite of this paper.  But the numbers are pretty close, and that claim is published elsewhere, so I’m not going to bang that drum this time.

[Cross posted at Inverse Square]

Images:  Margret Hofheinz-Döring/Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen, Women Talking in the Rain, 1963.

Pierre-August Renoir, Madame Monet Reading Le Figaro, 1872.

Paul Gaugin, Eve–Bretonne. (An alternate version of this scene is titled Eve–Don’t Listen to the Liar), 1889

72 replies
  1. 1

    I know anecdote =/= data, but Greg Fucking Mankiw works at Harvard. QED.

    ETA: And John Fucking Yoo at Berkeley and Alberto Fucking Gozalez at Texas Tech.

  2. 2
    kth says:

    Actually I think she has a point, but she isn’t ambitious enough. For example, I’m guessing there’s a massive disparity among college faculty between those who are “a little bit country”, wrt those that are “a little bit rock n roll”, which cries out for affirmative action.

    Also doubtless among the criminally and cruelly underrepresented in academia: Scientologists, pentecostals, and Dallas Cowboys fans (though you could probably kill the latter two birds with one stone in a lot of cases).

  3. 3
    NonyNony says:

    Here it is a matter of false reporting, claiming that research with which she asserts personally familiarity supports her case when, by any reasonable reading, it does not.

    Did you see the dust up over McArdle’s inability to properly research KITCHEN GADGETRY THROUGH THE AGES? She claimed to have done a whole day’s worth of research and managed to report false things that a quick trip to Wikipedia showed were wrong.

    McArdle doesn’t know how to do research. She doesn’t understand what the word means. She certainly doesn’t understand the bare minimum of “academic integrity”.

    She has an MBA from the University of Chicago and she doesn’t even know what basic fact-checking is, let alone what research is. I honestly doubt that she even read the Gross and Simmons paper she referenced – she misread someone’s summary of it and thought it proved her point so she threw it in there. The kind of research mistake that a half-way decent adviser will RAKE YOU ACROSS THE COALS for even at a university far, far less prestigious than University of Chicago.

    Her professors should resign in disgrace.

  4. 4
    BGinCHI says:

    Presumably Megan’s work will become the standard in your writing program for “how not to do it.”

    There, see, I got a conservative’s work into the academy and I didn’t even have to try.

  5. 5
    BGinCHI says:

    @kth: Also, atheists are cruelly underrepresented in church hierarchies.

  6. 6
    Tom Levenson says:

    @BGinCHI: We’ve used Greg Easterbrook in the past. You should have seen Alan Guth go through one of is old pieces in Wired. We were watching a surgeon at work. No fuss, no muss, and blood everywhere. ;)

    McArdle doesn’t write enough about science, and doesn’t write well enough to make a good how not to…for the best pedagogy you need more interesting or subtle mistakes.

  7. 7
    MikeJ says:

    @Tom Levenson: Wouldn’t “blood everywhere” be “muss”?

  8. 8
    Tom Levenson says:

    @MikeJ: Muss es sein? Es muss sein.

    (meaning I punt.)

  9. 9
    Ash Can says:

    @NonyNony:

    She has an MBA from the University of Chicago and she doesn’t even know what basic fact-checking is, let alone what research is.

    This is what slays me. How the hell did she pass her courses?

  10. 10
    Another Commenter at Balloon Juice (fka Bella Q) says:

    I have McMegan fatigue. But I’d like to take this moment to denounce Stalin and I’ve always hated broccoli* so I do not support any broccoli mandate and found his definitive rejection of the consumption of broccoli to be GHW Bush’s most presidential proclamation.

    *cooked; raw is is wonderful

  11. 11
    Roger Moore says:

    I’m not sure that the research you’re citing really dismisses McArdle’s arguments as thoroughly as you imply. You’re talking about mechanism and she’s talking about motivation.

    For example, you cite that liberals are twice as likely as conservatives to pursue a PhD and have a higher opinion of their faculty as an argument that liberal over representation is a result of self selection. McArdle doesn’t necessarily dispute that, but she wants to dig deeper and ask why there’s the difference in attitude. Her point is that Conservative distaste for academia is a result of it discriminating against them. People are less likely to pursue a career in a field where they feel they’ll be swimming against the current their whole lives.

    Putting on my Devil’s Advocate hat, I’d point out that while liberals are twice as likely to be interested in pursuing advanced degrees, they’re something like four or five times as likely to wind up on the faculty in the long run. That looks like something beyond simple self selection is going on.

    Taking off the Devil’s Advocate hat, I’ll say that the factor beyond self selection is an attitude bias. Conservatives have declared war against open inquiry. They’ve set themselves up in opposition to everything I care about as a scientist, and that’s pushed me to the left across the full range of issues. When somebody declares openly that they’ll reject your life’s work if it disagrees with their preferred course of action, it tends to make you hate them.

  12. 12
    Tim F. says:

    Shorter: always click the link.

    Right wing bloggers revert to this trick constantly. See for example Drum in 2005. Also, Some other guy:

    As others have pointed out, one of the cardinal rules for reading Instapundit is that you always, always click the link. Don’t take his word for shit.

    This particular tactic is hardly new, it just happens to fit the the internets particularly well. It resembles appeal to inappropriate authority (Ad Verecundiam), but I’d argue that the trick is distinct enough to merit its own latin name. Appeal to bogus hyperlink maybe. At any rate it’s as common as skeeters in summer.

    Of course an academic would disappear in shame if he or she got caught doing that, but that’s hardly an issue with McArdle. She’s not an academic, not a journalist nor any kind of ‘expert’. It might be useful to help people like NPR (whose Marketplace segment has her on constantly) to understand that she really is nothing more than Michelle Malkin with a better thesaurus.

  13. 13

    You have to wonder if she even read the paper. Either way the motive (deceit) and result (deception) are the same.

  14. 14
    Culture of Truth says:

    If McArdle was not conservative, would she still have job?

  15. 15
    Roger Moore says:

    @Ash Can:

    How the hell did she pass her courses?

    I think this tells you as much about MBA courses as it does about McArdle. Maybe basic fact checking is no longer considered important- or is considered detrimental- to working as an executive. It would explain a lot about modern American business.

  16. 16
    MonkeyBoy says:

    I could say “let the market decide”. There are a good number of very conservative and religious colleges and universities. Students can always go there if that is what they want.

    Bias advocates might counter that state universities are a large component of the education market and a liberal mafia controls who can teach there. Thus liberal educators have an unfair lock-in at government expense.

    I could almost advocate that large state systems create a few nut job campuses to start afresh – “The University of California of Conservatism”, “The University of California of Creationism”, “The University of California of New Ageism”, etc., where all of the professors are chosen to fit the ideology. And then let the market decide – both in who wants to go there and what the reputation of graduates is.

    Sadly the academic job market is so tight that many would be professors will take any job they can get so I see no way of enforcing doctrinairial purity.

  17. 17
    Downpuppy says:

    Megan has really been racking up the wordcount lately. Writing 3000 words pieces that say nothing is an odd talent. There are still a few rubes that fall for it.

    Scott Cosmo ,BTW.

    Madame Monet was pretty good in Howard’s End.

    Oooh! Shiny!

  18. 18
    Tim F. says:

    Also, conservatism is always antagonistic to the scientific method. If you want things to stay the same then what use is progress? Feature, not bug. Galileo, Darwin and Michael Mann all had more or less the exact same problem.

  19. 19

    Don’t forget the monetary motive. If she can use her influence to frighten academia into hiring more conservatives, more of her friends can afford more luxuries.

  20. 20
    jrg says:

    McArdle is completely unaware of the irony here. She’s complaining about the under-representation of “conservatives” in evidence-based professions, while ignoring all the evidence that explains it.

  21. 21
    Nobody Important says:

    (snark)

    You needed to read a 70 page report to figure out that McMegan is full of crap? I just needed to see her byline.

    (/snark)

    (In all seriousness, thanks for providing tangible evidence.)

  22. 22
    Gozer says:

    @Ash Can:

    My wife is a professor at a fairly prestigious private uni and that is not all that uncommon. She’s a social scientist by training (with a PhD from a large public university) and most of her colleagues are Ivy Leaguers/Chicagoists.

    They’re not as bad as McArdle (and not baldly political), but they are bad at the whole “I’m making this assertion and you should agree with me because…IVY LEAGUE!” It’s sad to actually hear a social scientist say that they’re not doing science.

    We were both studying in the same department at Big Midwest State University and the professors there would have kicked our asses and kicked us out for what some of her students expect to get away with.

  23. 23
    And the Horse He Rode In on says:

    @Ash Can: @Roger Moore: In business schools, success is based more on adhering to the bias of the professors rather than anything resembling original research or “facts”. And anyone who claims that the faculty at a business school (especially the University of Chicago) is liberal is seriously out of touch.

  24. 24

    Well, I feel about as proud of myself for reading that entire blog post as Tom must feel for reading the entire 70 page, 25,000 word article McMegan cited.

    :-)

    I kid, I kid because I lurve.

    No, it’s really rather simple. Democrats/liberals/Progressives will forever wear the baggage of the 1960s: we will always be the Weather Underground, the anti-war protestors who spit on troops, the pot-smoking hippie, the liberal college professor, the organic-food growing communitarian. This is how we have been framed and this is the baggage we carry forever and ever, amen.

    And every argument that comes from the right is always attacking liberals on one of these stereotypes. Because to the right these are not stereotypes but uncontroverted fact.

    So that’s really what this is about. Colleges and universities are hotbeds of liberalism because the right wants it to be that way, facts notwithstanding. Liberals hate the troops and are soft on defense and can’t be trusted with foreign policy because the right wants it that way, facts notwithstanding. Liberals like to tax hard-working, deserving middle class Christians and spend that money on brown welfare queens because the right wants it that way.

    Facts notwithstanding.

  25. 25
    Lina Lamont says:

    Gee, this is dumb.

  26. 26
    matoko_chan says:

    Look….why doesnt someone just ask her about Salam-Douthat stratification on cognitive ability? (Grand New Party page 154) i would but im banned.
    SD stratification cogently and succinctly explains why academe is painted blue, why 94% of scientists are not-republican, and why elite uppertail-of-IQ students are fleeing the GOP like scalded cats.
    McMegan is just weaseling up a word salad of cluelessness, when the proximate cause is simple and obvious, and has been documented by two heroes of the conservative cause, Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, in their opus magnus, Grand New Party.
    Conservatism has become memetic self-selection for stupid…for anti-empirical, counterfactual, bad, wrong, and counter-rational memes.

    Fuckin’ intelligence…….how does it work anyways?

  27. 27
    BGinCHI says:

    @Gozer: Megan’s assertion that the “elite univs” are even more liberal is, I think, wrong (anecdotally).

    My small urban public is incredibly liberal because we don’t have any incentive to support the status quo. Students aren’t rich and neither are we.

    At the Ivies and major privates, the upper class has a huge incentive to propagate itself.

    So, Megan is wrong because she doesn’t have much experience across the Uni spectrum, and she’s also wrong because what she feels as “liberal bias” doesn’t conform with her view of how the status quo ought to be supported.

  28. 28
    David Fud says:

    @NonyNony:

    The kind of research mistake that a half-way decent adviser will RAKE YOU ACROSS THE COALS for even at a university far, far less prestigious than University of Chicago.

    It is a feature, not a bug.

  29. 29
    Dave Ruddell says:

    Okay, I have not followed this closely, so I may be reading this incorrectly. The Gross and Simmons paper shows a split of 44.1% liberal to 9.2% conservative, with the remainder being moderates (who lean more towards liberal). This would seem to provide some support for McMegan’s assertion that liberals dominate conservatives in the academy.

    If you take the slightly liberal and slightly conservative out of ‘moderate’ and put them into either side, you get 62.3% liberal and 19.7% conservative (with 18.0% middle of the road), which to me looks less bad, since it’s a 3:1 rather than 5:1 ratio. Gross and Simmons do not do this, for reason that they explain in detail.

  30. 30
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    If it is liberals who are the racist scum here…

    Uhhhhhhhhh…

    If it’s teh libruls who are are being ‘racist’ here…

    Wouldn’t that mean conservatives are now defined as a ‘race’?

    Couldn’t we just stop at describing them as a ‘tribe’?

    Or a ‘rat pack’?

    ‘Vicious howling mob’?

  31. 31
    LGRooney says:

    @Roger Moore: Alright, alright, I have an MBA in Finance from one of those ivy-covered, bricked and lawned Universities out of the 17th C., and I can tell you, straight up, from experience, having been on the inside… most of the students in MBA programs don’t give a rat’s ass about learning anything and most couldn’t learn anything even if they wanted to. It’s all about the Benjamins! I am quite convinced that since our overlords have elevated Rand, and St. Ronnie as her last prophet, the universities are looking to cash in on all those seeking those three letters after their names so they can get their keys to the kingdom. It’s a meal ticket for academia to finance real academic pursuits. There are a few exceptions, of course…

    Ahem.

  32. 32
    Marc says:

    You hit on the absolutely key point Tom, and I wish that you’d elevate it to a main theme.

    She doesn’t fairly characterize the position of people who disagree with her. She ignores good arguments against her hypothesis and pretends that there are only bad ones. This is precisely the opposite of what academic research is about; no scientist could get published with such a poor approach, nor could they succeed in their field. This goes back at least to Galileo.

    If someone isn’t honest enough to be able to articulate why a reasonable person would come to a different conclusion…well, they are very unlikely to be defending a sound idea.

  33. 33
    Roger Moore says:

    @And the Horse He Rode In on:
    You don’t suppose that the Business School attitude that you have to parrot what your professor believes has colored McArdle’s view of the way academia works, do you?

  34. 34
    someguy says:

    There’s no conservatives in academia because the vast majority of them are closed minded, bigoted and stupid. This prevents them from being open to ideas, being open to inquiry and discovery, or being able to understand some fact if they happen to encounter one in the wild.

    Other than that, they are perfectly qualified.

    But seriously, they apparently believe their myths about academia being comprised of second rate hacks, the lazy, and political operatives – because they believe this way they naturally see themselves as perfectly qualified. So in a way it’s reasonable for them to feel a little disappointed, the same way it’s reasonable for an insane person to realize that they are not in fact Napoleon. Sure, they’re delusional, but with the closed confines of their universe, it’s perfectly normal and reasonable for them to think that way.

  35. 35
    LGRooney says:

    @Susan of Texas: You kid but this is a serious feature of conservatives. It has worked very well with the media where they were browbeaten with the liberal bias tag for so long they seem to have absorbed it as a reality and now cater by a) hiring these former outsiders despite their inability to practice the profession as intended and b) removing their spine in an endless he said/ she said paradigm that lets them off the hook of actually calling a lie a lie.

  36. 36
    LGRooney says:

    @someguy: They also lean on the “everything is political” meme like a philosophical crutch for why reality doesn’t seem to conform to their beliefs regardless of whether the practice of professors is actually biased, i.e., my personal politics never had a bearing on subject matter in classes I’ve taught at universities and likewise for my fellow instructors.

  37. 37
    joes527 says:

    @LGRooney: Having been on the other side, I’d have to agree. I’ve never been near an MBA program, but in all the companies that I’ve worked for, the folks with MBAs are the ones that you wouldn’t trust with so much as a sharp stick.

    Anecdote != data. YMMV

  38. 38
    And the Horse He Rode In on says:

    @Roger Moore: I think she probably already had that attitude long before she arrived at the University of Chicago’s doorstep.

  39. 39
    Marc says:

    Also: look at the Republican proposals for budget cuts, notice how well education and science do, and then ask yourself if perhaps this may have something to do with the outcomes. Supporting a party that hates your guts and has contempt for the things you value is neither common nor long-lasting.

  40. 40
    Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937 says:

    @Ash Can: Legacy degrees can be purchased.

  41. 41
    Xenos says:

    @Ash Can:

    This is what slays me. How the hell did she pass her courses?

    It is an MBA program. It involves a fair bit of work in the quantitative classes, but the rest is mainly case studies put together by teams, submitted for a common grade. And the students are there for the connections as much as the education, so any wealthy kid with family is going to get an easy slide through more than half the curriculum. See, e.g., Bush, W.

    Intellectual honesty, ethics, proper research skills and so on are not really a significant part of the curriculum.

  42. 42
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Roger Moore: Roger — I value the devil’s advocacy here, but I’d correct: I’m arguing neither motivation nor mechanism. I’m simply pointing out that McArdle made a claim about the contents of a source that is false.

    That is: the issue is not the state of the academy, but the quality or lack thereof of McArdle’s work. The academy could be wholly as left as MM and her colleagues believe, and that result could be because of active vicious discrimination (subjunctive everyone…don’t go crazy)…and the fact would remain that McArdle can’t demonstrate that and resorts to misleading her readers about her sources to cover over her inability to do so.

    As it happens, the most striking data point in the Gross/Simmons piece to me was not the demonstration that the best characterization of the academy is probably center-left, but rather that younger scholars are shifting the overall political color of the academy to the middle. That, to me, undermines not just McArdle’s premise, but the whole “tenured radicals” meme.

    And from my perch on the tenure review committee for MIT’s School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, I’d say that’s right. Anecdote, folks.

  43. 43
    Short Bus Bully says:

    Overused word here on the interwebz, but that was an EPIC take-down.

    Kudos to you sir.

  44. 44
    brad says:

    The thing that really bugs me is that Megan doesn’t even seem to acknowledge she’s not arguing what she claims to argue. Conservatives are quite well represented in a number of parts of academia; law schools, business schools, econ departments, engineering departments, many history departments, all too many philosophy departments, religion departments, presumably, though I can’t speak to it personally, agriculture departments, and probably, depending on the school, more than a few polisci departments. Conservatives are generally missing from fields of social science which, by the nature of their existence, are required to investigate the truth of any number of conservative beliefs about society, beliefs which are often quite lacking in basis. I realize that there is some, far more minor than any conservative talking about the subject claims, actual structural bias in academia, which personally I’m glad for, making me a hate criminal, but I can’t help but read Megan as whining that there’s no pro-lifers in women’s studies departments, or creationists in biology departments, which is a feature, not a bug. There aren’t many atheists in religion departments, help help, we’re being oppressed.

  45. 45
    Shock Trooper in the War on Christmas says:

    @Ash Can:

    This is what slays me. How the hell did she pass her courses?

    I happen to have some experience working with people who hold an MBA.

    This what they tend to do:

    1) they often rely on their old textbooks (which, more often than not, are a joke).

    2) while they do try to support their assertions, they quit searching after they find something that confirms their viewpoint. They do not care about opposing voices, or research with different conclusions.

    On the whole, people who hold an MBA do not care about what is true, but about what gets them a pat on the back from their manager and a raise.

    Sad but true.

  46. 46
    someguy says:

    @brad:

    They actually aren’t very well represented in law schools, unless by “well represented” you mean “tokens who scream loudly and get a bigger platform than the merits dictate,” in which case you’re spot on. But agreed, any field in which the truth matters, you won’t find them.

  47. 47
    Comrade Colette Collaboratrice says:

    “Madame Monet Reading Le Figaro” is so brilliantly, unsurpassably apt that I am turning in my keyboard and my copy of Janson and going home in despair.

    My Palestinian hairdresser in Paris used to give me copies of “Madame Figaro,” the paper’s weekly women’s magazine, with a wink and a murmur that “it’s good to know what the enemy is thinking.”

  48. 48
    attica says:

    But, but, but: if (as we are all the time told) anything to the left of John Birch himself is a socialist marxist traitor, than that 46%-moderate prof population makes the sum total of libs nearly 90%. QED, McMegan’s right. So there!

    Gah.

  49. 49
    TooManyJens says:

    @brad:

    though I can’t speak to it personally, agriculture departments

    I can, and yes, conservatives do fine around here.

  50. 50
    Church Lady says:

    There much not be much going on in Academic circles these days if you and DougJ have this much time to devote to someone as inconsequential as McArdle. Seriously, don’t you two have classes to teach and papers to grade?

  51. 51
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Church Lady: It doesn’t take as long as you may be thinking. ;)

  52. 52
    Church Lady says:

    On grading the papers, I agree. My daughter is a Graduate TA and does all of the grading for the Professor she works for. Thankfully, she’s only had to step in an teach one of his classes a few times, because she was embarrassed to death since she had a number of friends in that class. :)

  53. 53
    LGRooney says:

    @Church Lady: Apropos of this discussion, if it’s business school, instructors/ professors don’t need to spend time reading through papers, the grade is bell-curved with the right tail going to those with endowments next to the name, followed by foreigners/ out-of-staters paying full tuition, and moving to the left tail of those on full scholarship followed by those borrowing 100% of their tuition and living costs (Emancipation Proclamyass!).

  54. 54
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Church Lady: Actually, I’m the world’s slowest grader. It will probably come as no surprise that I over-comment.

    It’s filleting McArdle’s oeuvre that doesn’t take long.

  55. 55
    Parallel 5ths (Jewish Steel) says:

    @Tom Levenson: Thanks from me too for plowing through all that. If I believed in the Lord, I’d say you’re doing his work.

  56. 56
    Roger Moore says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    That, to me, undermines not just McArdle’s premise, but the whole “tenured radicals” meme.

    The “tenured radicals” meme is yet another relic from the Vietnam era culture war. It’s amazing to me that so much of contemporary political discourse is devoted to refighting the battles of the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

  57. 57
    Brachiator says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    So please excuse yet another detour into the eternal sunshine of the McArdle mind.

    Bloody brilliant!

    I bow down…

  58. 58
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Her point is that Conservative distaste for academia is a result of it discriminating against them. People are less likely to pursue a career in a field where they feel they’ll be swimming against the current their whole lives.
    __
    Putting on my Devil’s Advocate hat, I’d point out that while liberals are twice as likely to be interested in pursuing advanced degrees, they’re something like four or five times as likely to wind up on the faculty in the long run. That looks like something beyond simple self selection is going on.
    __
    Taking off the Devil’s Advocate hat, I’ll say that the factor beyond self selection is an attitude bias. Conservatives have declared war against open inquiry.

    I get the whole devil’s advocate thing, but it just seems like a rather pointless exercise when you illustrate the primary reason such advocacy has no basis in reality.

  59. 59
    Nellcote says:

    @Roger Moore:

    The “tenured radicals” meme is yet another relic from the Vietnam era culture war. It’s amazing to me that so much of contemporary political discourse is devoted to refighting the battles of the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

    That’s what happens when they haven’t had a new idea since 1973.

  60. 60
    jonas says:

    One of the better discussions of this is Michael Berube’s What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts, a thoughtful and introspective look at why conservative viewpoints simply don’t find traction in most academic settings (specifically the humanities — business/econ, engineering, law, etc., are a bit different). When higher ed teaching ceased to be about transmitting knowledge of The Canon and more about fostering critical thinking and encouraging various critiques of The Canon from political, ethnic and gender viewpoints, certain assumptions held by conservatives, such as essentialist gender roles, the intrinsic superiority of the free market, and American/Western exceptionalism, were exposed to a kind of critique they hadn’t been before. A few academic conservatives (and I’m distinguishing here between philosophical conservatives and someone who just votes Republican) could hold their ground in this environment and get away with it — characters like Robert P. George, Harvey Mansfield, or Harold Bloom — but for most others, fields like literature and history simply passed them by. Berube argues that the intellectual process that characterizes critical inquiry and debate in the humanities tends to foreclose, or severely complicate, conservative value judgments and assumptions about the world. Demanding quotas and fair-time mandates for conservatives in the humanities is like complaining that the liberal elites at MOMA will put Jackson Pollocks and Jasper Johns in its fancy museum, but they really should hang at least one Thomas Kinkade in there for each abstract expressionist artist — you know, for “balance.”

  61. 61
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @Tom Levenson: This is what needs to be hammered home over and over again–whatever MM2’s conclusions are, they must be suspect because she can’t adequately support them. Even the one time I agreed with her (double space after a period), I hated her reasoning. Nicely done, Tom.

  62. 62
    Ken Lovell says:

    ‘In interviews, Binder (2009) finds that conservative students at a major public university regard faculty members disparagingly and do not seek to emulate them in any way.’

    That certainly corresponds with my experience. Conservatives don’t want to be academics because they have no respect for either the work they do or their salaries. They regard themselves as the doers who get out and work, while academics are the can’t-do-so-they-teach mob. ‘Research’ is bullshit and not to be compared with the value of working in ‘the real world’.

    The very first comment I read about this confected controversy, on a conservative blog, was a sneering ‘WTF is a social psychologist anyway?’ Someone should explain to McArdle that people rarely aspire to work in professions they despise. I suspect this applies not only to academia but to public sector jobs in general. Certainly here in Australia, career public servants are regarded as being reliably centre-left in their political orientation.

  63. 63
    redactor says:

    But the bottom line doesn’t change: obvious, overt bad craft costs any publication something. It may take a while for the rot to show, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t griping away at the foundation. And while it’s none of my business, really, The Atlantic has given me enormous pleasure and food for thought over many years. I’d hate to see it go the way of The New Republic.

    The Atlantic has been in steady decline since David Bradley bought it, replaced William Whitworth with Michael Kelly, and moved the whole thing to D.C. I don’t know how TNC can stand to work there. I would say the same for James Fallows, but I recollect that he wrote the infamous 2000 “Gore as vampire” cover story.

  64. 64
    Surly Duff says:

    Here it is a matter of false reporting, claiming that research with which she asserts personally familiarity supports her case when, by any reasonable reading, it does not.

    Frankly, I think you may be a little harsh by stating that McCardle is actively deceiving her readers. The explanation is much more simple; she neither understands the reports and papers she comments on, and has no idea what the fuck she is writing about.

    Is she a disingenuous, lying hack? Quite possibly. Or, is she a fucking ignoramous? Most definitely.

  65. 65
    Enzymer says:

    I’d tend to agree that more highly educated people, particularly those with PhD’s, tend to be more liberal than the population at large. My observation (warning anecdote) would be to agree that there is a large amount of self-selection.

    The sciences (non-social) show the same distribution of very few identifying as conservative, even though science in many ways has a conservative mindset (unless shown otherwise we prefer to keep the theories that have worked in the past).

    Still, even in the agricultural industry (where I work) most researchers are liberal, often strongly so. Some of that as others have noted, is probably due to the fact that seeing how Republicans and other prominent conservatives now reject the basic framework by which we work and live makes us reject other parts of their world view.

    Of course another factor common in scientific fields is the diversity of people from multiple cultures that you deal with. The intolerance of other cultures (and hate-mongering) of the conservatives today simply would not and cannot be tolerated if our teams are to function

  66. 66
    Wag says:

    I believe that Ms McArdle has mistaken her hypothesis statement for her conclusion.

    This seems to me to be the root of her recurring problem.

  67. 67
    And the Horse He Rode In on says:

    @Surly Duff:@Xenos: She was probably the one in her groups who did the presentations but was always an hour late for group meetings, spent half the time arguing with the rest of the group or making snide comments, and then left early to go to the bar

  68. 68
    And the Horse He Rode In on says:

    Sorry Surly Duff – my reply to you was “Why not both”

    FYWP

  69. 69
    Cerberus says:

    Yeah, as many state, conservatives, not liking the conclusions reality had about their world view have decided to declare war on reality. Academic pursuits are about figuring out what reality is, which includes asking standards of proof for conservative orthodoxies which are almost entirely based on bias, “my daddy said” type arguments, and personality and tribal based arguments.

    Or shorter:

    Reality has a liberal bias.

    Naturally, the fallout of that is that those who are interested in reality have ended up liberal as a result.

    I do worry like others here that this is part of the opening salvo against academics to try and get academics to buckle like the media and end up hiring hacks and clowns, surrendering the purpose of the institutions and end up being co-opted.

    Especially since that would be the end of any future American contribution to any field and thus the end of any American-based copyrights and development.

  70. 70
    Paul says:

    @Tim F.:

    Shorter: always click the link.

    I stopped reading Megan’s stuff long ago, but she seemed to have a habit of posting links not to the original source but to someone else’s opinion of the original source.

  71. 71
    Bob says:

    @Paul – She has had a list of bad habits that is longer than I can ever name in a single post and a severe unwillingness to correct any of them.

  72. 72

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