January 16, 2005

Defrocking Condi?

The blogsophere is alive with discussion of the suggestion by a newly-minted Harvard Ph.D, Alexandra Samuel (followed up here), that Condoleeza Rice be defrocked as a political scientist, because she has done Bad Things:

This confluence of events had me thinking about what the hell it means to be a political scientist, anyhow. I don't think there is a tent big enough to hold me and one of the chief architects of the present war in Iraq. And I have to wonder about our collective pretensions to positive social science when someone can hold onto her political science credentials while acting as one of the most persistent defenders of that weapons of mass destruction trope.

So I've been thinking: shouldn't political science have its equivalent to disbarment or excommunication? After all, if we want the term "political scientist" to mean something, then a doctorate shouldn't be a one-way ticket. When political scientists promulgate ideas or institute policies that violate even the most generous interpretations of our collective wisdom, they are not only disregarding their own academic training, but devaluing the intellectual authority and standards of our field. So shouldn't there be some threshold -- it can be a generous one -- beyond which one loses the right to practice political science?

Volokh chimed in, citing this:

I'm probably taking the poster's arguments a bit too literally here. My guess is that this is just hyperbole and fulmination on her part. Presumably, the poster is just using exaggerated language simply to suggest that lots of political scientists should condemn Dr. Rice.

Still, isn't an exaggerated post that, on its face, runs against basic principles of academic freedom -- I assume those principles are similar in Canada, where the poster is from, as they are here -- and that operates through hyperbole rather than reasoned substantive argument, an inauspicious way to begin one's life as a Ph.D.? Let's hope it's not characteristic of this person's future commentary.

Finally, what one says in moments of rhetorical excess might not fully reflect what one thinks most of the time -- but then again it might. In Vino Veritas; perhaps In Hyperbole Veritas.

Jim Lindgren, on the same blog, contributed a story about the University of Virginia economics department driving out future Nobelists.

What's interesting is that the tenured censorious used subtle tactics to drive out their opponents. The less-experienced Ms. Samuel contemplates a public auto da fé. At UVa, the old boys achieved the same end with the subtlety of courtiers.

Jonah Goldberg commented, too:

Anyway, just to get people thinking on the subject, it's long been my opinion that for all of the left's glorification of Galileo as a victim of a religious inquisition, the real masters of the art are professional academics themselves. After all, while the Church may deserve its share of criticism for what happened to Galileo, his scientific colleagues have gotten-off scot-free.

Jonah cites to a 2003 column he wrote on the attacks on the Danish eco-critic, Björn Lomborg.

Having been involved in this sort of thing when I was a callow lefty academic, I find it amusing and ironic that for all the whining on the left (such as this) about political censorship, the worm has now turned, and it's among the left--now dominant in the groves of academe--where the impulse to excommunicate dissenters and heretics now resonates.

One could write off Dr. Samuel's brainstorm as an outlier (perhaps a miner's canary), the result of a confluence of frostback political correctness, Harvard arrogance, and youthful excess. Or, as I believe, it typifies the post-Stalinist impulses to suppression of dissent, of a goodly segment of academia. And if that's true, we do have a problem.

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