Jan 6Liked by Josh Barro

The thematic parallels between "Big Prestige" today and "Big Auto" in the 1970s are difficult to ignore: fingers in the ears over the end of an incredible demographic tailwind, rigid ideological certainty in their own righteousness ("what's good for General Motors is good for America"), childish certainty that the gravy train can't ever be stopped.

Worst of all, it's a bundle of professions notoriously prone to infighting

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Once people lose trust in an institution it's really hard to earn it back, and there's going to be a lot of second and third-order problems come from that. Too many people in this country have seen the behavior of the leaders and faculty of Ivy league schools and other colleges and have concluded that the people who run them are lunatics who hate half the country and are under the spell of extreme ideological fervor.

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It is a fact that Harvard's rules on plagiarism are much more draconian then for its faculty; a student is essentially immediately expelled, while a faculty member undergoes a review. However, it is also a fact that Claudine Gay plagiarized in papers written as a student, and in her graduate thesis; how should she thus avoid the punishment of a student. Had Gay been expelled while a student, it is unlikely she would have been hired to the faculty by Harvard (or any top tier institution).

Further, not covered in the discussion is the incredibly weak academic record for Gay, who stated that she only made "citation errors" and claims her work "spawned important research by other scholars". However, commentators more knowledgeable than I have stated her work has had little impact, and quantifiable impact factor is incredibly low (another fact).

The sad part here is that the Gay fiasco tarnishes the reputation of the truly brilliant scholars of color, leaving them subject to the claim that they are only there but for their race.

And as one final ironic tidbit, the Harvard Crimson, in decrying her dismissal as race-based, failed to remember that the very first accomplishment they themselves listed on her appointment as president was that she is Black.

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When I was in grad school for a social science in the 2010s, one thing I noticed was that research findings that could be coded as “conservative” would consistently draw intense scrutiny from other practitioners, in the form of things like exhaustively reviewing the methodology for any hint of error or questionable definitions. Often these efforts would reveal decisions the researcher made that genuinely were questionable or could be challenged. But the question that always lingered for me was - if we applied this same level of scrutiny to liberal or apolitical research, how many of the same questionable practices would we find?

On a somewhat different note, I often felt that if one were to be a conservative practitioner in my discipline, while certain aspects of professional life would be tougher (like what I described above), there was also one intriguing advantage - while liberal practitioners were endlessly numerous, the scarcity of conservatives meant that if you were a conservative, it was easier to become a certain kind of public figure - not necessarily a tenured professor, but someone who was celebrated and cited approvingly by right-leaning think tanks, Republican politicians, certain conservative media outlets like the National Review, and so on. They’re happy to co-opt a little academic prestige and authority when it suits their purposes.

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I agree whole heartedly with this article and BBC would add a few thoughts:

One area I feel strongly about is that various social disciplines co-opted the term science because it gave them a sense of authority they didn’t really have. Sciences have to have refutable postulates and defined agreements on data methodologies. Barring a few items at the edges of cosmology the hard sciences largely accomplish this and produce results that can be replicated in other labs.

Social disciplines use tenuous statistical tricks to generate their theories and even discounting outright fabrication, it’s almost impossible to replicate data sets. Gravity is the same in Beijing as it is in Cambridge MA but many social experiments couldn’t even get off the ground in both if those places.

This is not to say that there isn’t expertise in social disciplines but it does not rise to the level of science. If you’re deciding a social policy you should take social academics opinion more seriously than mine.

If however your social discipline is at odds with more than half the population in the country it is likely that they are wrong at least on part. I think at some level the country knows this to be true and their decreasing support of higher ed is reflected in this.

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I think many of Gay’s defenders are taking issue with what’s going on because a. they really dislike Rufo and b. they know he doesn’t care at all about the plagiarism, it was just a way to get her for the stuff he really disliked. But that doesn’t change what she did, and in a vacuum an academic caught with similar evidence would face serious consequences. They got Al Capone for tax evasion; they got President Gay for plagiarism. Same idea.

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I agree with many points here, but I'd differ on at least the following:

1) An underappreciated aspect of the Gay plagiarism story is that the initial allegations really were very weak tea and it was not unreasonable for the university and Gay's colleagues to stand by Gay at that point. The later allegations were stronger at which point Gay was compelled to resign. That strikes me as a sensible approach to that issue.

2) The removal of Ron Sullivan as a faculty dean was reasonable. Faculty deans are Harvard professors who are responsible for oversight of an undergraduate dormitory. You can't be defending a vicious serial rapist during the day and oversee a college dorm at night; you have to pick a lane. There's no principle of intellectual freedom which requires undergraduate women to tolerate that.

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I teach at Northwestern, not quite an Ivy but close. The idea that you'd get kicked out of Northwestern for this style of plagiarism is absolutely false. I've had students do things many many times worse, especially foreign (Chinese) students who have run some pretty massive cheating scandals. The administration's response is generally a slap on the hand, if that. I think the entire endeavor has become deeply unserious in the last decade or so.

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I am an academic in the hard sciences (experimental particle physics). I would be interested to hear your thoughts on what those of us in academia but outside the social sciences and humanities can do to help restore faith in/improve the trustworthiness of our institutions.

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I cry no tears for Claudine Gay, but I am more than a bit amused that the plagiarism police have now come for Bill Ackman’s wife.

He was righteously mad at Harvard and eventually picked up the most convenient club to bash them with - despite the fact that plagiarism was irrelevant to his many gripes with Harvard. Now the club is being used to whack his wife.

Again, it was a legitimate, valid charge against Gay. But personally, I try to keep my attacks on people on what I’m actually angry about. Keeps things simpler.

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I did feel slightly sorry for the university presidents in one respect: Elise Stefanik had them pinned down between their pro-Palestinian student bodies, their pro-Israel and Conservative donors, and their legal counsel who (I'm guessing) were telling them that the difference between free speech and harassment was context and whether the speech was persistent and intimidating, etc. I think the university president who was accused of smirking had that facial expression because of acute unease and because she knew what Stefanik was doing, and could see from Stefanik's faux outrage that she knew that she knew. Of course, more astute politicians would have handled this situation better and it's rather odd that they didn't seem to have a plan for hostile questioning beyond repeating their lines.

My field of distrust is wide these days, as that such a high percent articles cater to preconceptions or are cheap hits, as Josh is pointing out. So with any article that interests me, I follow any links to the original report or at a minimum google the topic or look it up on Wikipedia to see if it seems to hold up or what the bigger story is. Also, if a point makes me uncomfortable, I try to sit with it for a while to understand my reaction and the point the author is trying to make, rather than immediately rationalize against it.

I appreciate that Josh is such an exception.

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There should've been sweeping accountability measures taken following the replication crisis. Whole departments should've been disbanded. If College X's psychology department has *reduced* on net our understanding of how psychology works, then that department has been worse than useless and shouldn't exist.

It's not enough for individuals to be fired, but even that doesn't seem to have happened in most cases.

I no longer trust the whole field of psychology, social sciences, etc., and won't until those fields take on the responsibility of ensuring the validity of their research. It's a shame, those are important areas of study!

(All that said, the congressional questioning on Israel *was* a well-laid, BS trap. And on plagiarism, I think we should do more time discounting of misdeeds. Minor plagiarism 25 years ago probably shouldn't be a terminal finding.)

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Josh is that meme of the lady yelling “why can’t you just be normal?” at her child in the back seat.

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I don't understand why Gay was allowed to go back and restate her articles to correct the plagiarism. Is that really a thing? It just seems like everyone should take the easy path and plagiarize. You'll either not get caught or get caught and just go back and correct it. Either way you've saved yourself a lot of work.

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The whole 'truth is relative' argument is not a good argument in a scientific study. The whole premise of the scientific method is that truth is *not* relative and can be discovered through careful observation.

Once you accept that then your paper has no more claim to relevancy as anything published on One America Network.

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Jan 6·edited Jan 6

It's a tragedy that the very serious concern of rising antisemitism on college campuses has turned into a pissing match amongst cynical politicians and elite university admins. That people like Bill Ackman and Chris Rufo and Claudine Gay have become central figures in the story is exceedingly unserious. And, finally, Barro (a Harvard guy too I believe) here suggests that the aforementioned niche cultural wars are an indictment on academia itself.

It really sucks that the institutions built to protect ethnic and religious minorities on campus are now subjected to that same culture angst. I can even concede that many DEI initiatives have indeed suffered from identity politics that ultimately do not serve to protect the cause. However, it seems most are incapable of making that observation without also calling for the dismantling of DEI, and that is likewise a tragedy.

Lost amidst this chaos is how many universities have genuinely structured a foundation of DEI initiatives and religious scholar institutes to combat antisemitism as well as the pressing demand to protect Arabic and Islamic students as well.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Harvard and Penn stupidly walked into that trap. But it's insanity to portray that mistake as an indictment on academia as a whole.In fact, it usually requires a large dose of hubris to believe that what happens at Harvard is reflective of academia anywhere else, anyways.

Even still, Yale Presisent Peter Salovey was never subjected to the same treatment as his counterparts. Instead, Salovey has been expeditiously communicating with the Yale community since 10/7 and has performed adequately to address the avalanche of demands this era poses. It's not lost on me that Salovey has a unique ancestry traced back to Poland, Jerusalem, and Austria. A background that makes him well adept to address the nuances at hand. He also understands that Yale, like many Ivies, has a proud tradition of Jewish scholars - one that does not need to be mocked by this entire episode of political fart huffing. And so he avoided the carnival on capital hill, but apparently doesn't represent academia the way Caludine Gay does?

In a political fight that's asawth with unserious actors from Stefanik, to Gay, to Rufo, Barro pulls the same card that Nate Silver has recently been exhausting-i.e. the political fights that appear on my Twitter feed are the entire summation of the problems I'm now providing commentary on.

It's like binge watching Soap Operas and then decrying how melodramatic television has become.

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