Thursday, 10 February 2011

We Have To Have Some Standards...

I had considered spending a few hours tearing this McArdle post apart for a bit of fun, but - fittingly enough - I find I'm too busy being an academic to smack it down in full.  So let's have the short version instead.  Anyone with any claim whatsoever to experience of the American political climate who argues that conservatives are under-represented in US academic institutions because not many academics vote Republican needs to fuck off.  Not just shut up.  Fuck off.  Fuck off from the blogohedron, and from public life entirely.

Seriously. Off you go.  Bye now.  Come back when you realise that if there is any place in the States where being a conservative and choosing to vote Republican are different, it's the places where people have trained themselves to actually understand what the fuck is going on. There are significant numbers of conservative Democrats, and far more conservative Independents.  Mixing the terms up when it suits you is pathetically sloppy.

Also on the subject of understanding what is going on, McArdle might want to consider her own grasp of, y'know, anything:
41% of the troops identify as Republicans (down from 62% just seven years ago), while 32% identify as independent, and presumably, 27% identify as Democrats.
To reiterate: fuck off.  You're supposed to be an economics expert but you've never heard of a "Don't Know" or "No Response" column?  I suppose we should give McArdle some kudos for at least being able to sum to one hundred, at least.

I don't want to imply that this apparent  political disparity isn't an interesting topic to consider.  Nor am I suggesting that there cannot be any kind of bias  occurring somewhere.  I'd like to see some genuine research on this. This isn;t it.  Indeed, were there people who believed that conservatives were unsuited for academic work, this kind of lazy bullshit would certainly lend credence to their position.

Which, of course, is the problem: McArdle is trying to argue that liberal academics look down on the skills of conservatives whilst demonstrating with great clarity just how poor her own skills are.  Her intellectual laziness, sloppy inferences, and track record with refusing to admit mistakes or reconsider errors are exactly the flaws a good academic must avoid at all costs.

Which kind of brings us to the $64 000 question: does Ms McArdle consider herself of academic fibre?  Because if she does - and her "U cant scare me cos all my fameelz academics FUR REELZ"-style of non-argument/defense mechanism implies that she does (and moreover that she considers academic skill to be hereditary) - then her entire position is based on a total failure to understand how academia works, and what makes someone suited or otherwise to pursue it. 

On the other hand, if she is willing to admit she couldn't hack it in any situation where her editors would actually have to pay attention to the quality of her arguments, then whilst that would be nice (and a rare flash of self-awareness), it would immediately raise the question as to what in God's name she's doing as the Atlantic's business and economics editor?.

Unless she can answer that, dear readers, then I think we all know what it is she can do.

(She can fuck off).


Gooder said...

I thought it was quite an interesting little piece. It's also an editorial/ blog style piece so I don't think having a go at it for not being painstakingly cross referenced with exact figure breakdowns is really apt.

It does raise some interesting points and does talk about people who identify themselves as voting/agreeing with a particular party - so I don't really go with you argument about her not knowing the differences between voting and stance(I don't you think you'd ever get anywhere trying to work out the exact political thinking of everyone academia, you have to use some lables) it's how these people have labelled themselves when asked the question.

(I'd say that fact she writes for The Economist, a world respected magazine in it's field, implies she has editors that pay attention)

SpaceSquid said...

Ah, the standard "editorials don't need to contain facts" argument. You really should just try to work that into a sig file somehow to save you the effort of typing it ;)

In all seriousness, I've never found this a strong argument, and it's particularly weak here, where I'm not asking for exact figure breakdowns so much as that data is not transparently misinterpreted. To defend that, you wouldn't be arguing these pieces can get by without gribbly detail, you'd be arguing they can get by without professional standards.

I agree that there are some good parts to the piece. I can’t argue with her over Krugman’s use of the phrase “People can choose their beliefs”. She’s also right about the curious inversion of arguments, but only in the most general sense. It's that kind of "some on the left say X about Y, and then some on the left say the exact opposite of X about Z" that sounds impressive until you realise she hasn't actually attributed X to anyone in particular. Quite aside from anything else, it seems unfair to implicitly compare Paul Krugman's arguments (though in truth his piece wasn't great either) to random unnamed progressives (this brings us to another point - McArdle is happy to reference when she thinks it proves a point. It's not a case of not including evidence, it's a case of magically forgetting to do so when such evidence would be hard to find).

You're quite simply wrong about the voting issue. The self-indenfication test is bad enough - and the idea that because something can't be done properly justifies doing it badly is profoundly unconvincing even if I bought into the idea that it can't be done right - but McArdle swaps from self-identifying Conservatives to self-indentifying Republicans as if they're the same thing. That isn't using a convenient label; that's swapping labels.

Krugman might be accused of doing the same thing, but then he is using the formulation "Republican => Conservative". McArdle is using "Conservative => Republican". These are not equally plausible inferrals.

As to the Economist, I confess I've only read her in the Atlantic. Maybe she was kept on a tighter leash at the former (though my own low opinion of pretty much anything the Economist puts out about politics makes me wonder - they may also subscribe to the Gooder/Washington Post "Editorials Can Make Shit Up" theory).

At the Atlantic, though, she's an embarrassment. I've seen her schooled for misintepretations of economics principles that I've taught in my introductory course to financial mathematics. The only alternative to assuming she's too incompetent to be an academic is to assume she's too dishonest to be one. Hardly much of an improvement.

Gooder said...

Maybe she should swear more and pick sentences apart semantically out of context to be more convincing. ;-)

SpaceSquid said...

Swearing is awesome and makes me a big man. As to semantics/lack of context, that's a big negatory. To repeat myself; there are yawning holes in both her argument and your defense of the aforementioned, and no flensing of context is remotely necessary to see that.