Thursday, May 13, 2010

On The Corruption Of Academia

As my granddaddy once told me, "You dance to whatever tune that makes the cash register bell ring." Too true, even in my world.

Not that I'm a huge fan of The Nation (I gave a subscription one year to a friend as a joke), but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and this piece - Big Tobacco and the Historians - really hits hard. We academics like to think of ourselves as being "above" and "superior" to That Sort Of Thing. Buelle Chitte. Research grants are the mother's milk of academics. I can remember one of my seminar being taken out for beer by a very senior member of faculty, who proudly stated that at least part of this was being paid for by his new grant. (Not that unusual, but he made me present the final paper of the semester after I'd had about half a pitcher. Tricky b*st@rd! I showed him, though, and he admitted it to me later...) You show me an academic without a grant, I'll show you an adjunct (or someone with more years under tenure than I've had hot dinners).

I bring this up only because of this comment from
Jim Lindgren's piece on The Volokh Conspiracy regarding the nascent kerfluffle over Michael Bellesiles's new book (over which I posted yesterday myself):

After the Bellesiles affair was over, I asked a law professor who had in the past received funding from the NRA why the NRA was so savvy to stay out of it and let the academics handle it in the normal way. The answer I got is that the NRA wasn’t savvy so much as it is suspicious of academics, whom they neither understand nor trust. If the NRA pays for something, they want to control the message — and most academics won’t take money on that basis. [emphasis mine]

That's a bit of a howler! And it's sad that it has come to that. The Body Academic is has been injected by a dose of arsenic --or gold, in this case.

Or maybe it's just ideology. There is some suggestion that a few historians aren't entirely unhappy that Venona was only a brief glimpse into the Soviet archives. At the very least, there seems to be a certain amount of ostrichism, if not ostracism, regarding some of this, as
"A Hidden History of Evil" by Claire Berlinksi in City Journal suggests:

Stroilov says that he and Bukovsky approached Jonathan Brent of Yale University Press, which is leading a publishing project on the history of the Cold War. He claims that initially Brent was enthusiastic and asked him to write a book, based on the documents, about the first Gulf War. Stroilov says that he wrote the first six chapters, sent them off, and never heard from Brent again, despite sending him e-mail after e-mail. “I can only speculate what so much frightened him in that book,” Stroilov wrote to me... Stroilov sees in these events “a kind of a taboo, the vague common understanding in the Establishment that it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, not to throw stones in a house of glass, and not to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man.” I suspect it is something even more disturbing: no one much cares.

There have always been rumors among the John Birchers, for instance, that the Commies paid off professors during the Cold War --and a few ex-Soviet types have even vaguely hinted at that themselves. Right-wing paranoia? Surely yes, we know academics never get... wait, nevermind. [UPDATE: Ron Radosh responds to Berlinski here]

And don't even get me started on Professor Michael Mann. I may not agree with the
recent decision by the Virginia AG's office to begin a corruption investigation, but it never should even have come to that. But very few scientists are willing to disrupt the grant gravy train. It's not group-think with global warming advocates, it's rational self-interest! Quo vadis, Al Gore?

I think one of the key themes of the early 22nd century historiographers will be the examination of just how corrupt academics became in the mid-late twentieth century, extending well into the twenty-first. It will probably be at least that long before there's a sufficient revolutionary paradigm shift to the right that will allow for academic self-examination.

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