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Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better

Softpanorama Lysenkoism and PseudoScience Bulletin, 2003

Charley Reese Actors And Politicians

There are striking similarities between successful actors and successful politicians. I've had the opportunity to observe both, and I know.

Take charisma, for example. Charisma is nothing more than a high level of energy. We all instinctively recognize that energy equals life, and so when we run into people who exude an above-average level of energy, we are attracted to them, sort of like moths to a flame. Both successful actors and successful politicians have an extraordinarily high level of human energy.

Except for mountain climbing, there is hardly a more grueling activity than a political campaign. What the candidates have the least of is time, and it is not unusual for candidates for high office to start early in the morning and finish late at night, making public appearances in a number of places often separated by many miles.skeptics2003.shtml

But it is not enough to show up. The candidate has to appear fresh, eager, jovial, glad to be wherever he or she is, both in the early morning and late at night. It really does take a special person to do this. Ordinary humans can be tired, grumpy and droopy, but not the candidate. He or she has to be the Energizer Bunny. Bill Clinton is famous for running his staff into the ground. I worked for a governor once who took 18-hour days like they were just a short shopping trip. This guy could get on an airplane, drop instantly into a deep sleep and wake up instantly alert and ready to go.

Another characteristic shared by actors and politicians is that both are energized by applause and performance. I've seen politicians who, when it comes time to make the speech or to plunge into the crowd, have an inner light that seems to flash on, and they genuinely enjoy the experience of interacting with people. The firm handshake and the big smile might to a cynic appear to be artificial, but most often they are quite genuine. Politicians love to be liked, and they respond to supporters the way actors respond to applause. Some literally come alive in front of a friendly audience.

A relatively new characteristic shared by politicians and actors is that they must be both visually attractive and photogenic. I can't imagine an ugly person being elected in this age of television. Poor Abraham Lincoln could easily play the villain in a horror movie. If you observe his photograph closely, you see what appears to be a rather sinister face, with heavy eyebrows and deep lines. He was tall, with unusually long arms, a characteristic described as apelike by his political opponents. But he ran for office at a time when only a small percentage of the people ever saw a candidate. A number of our most famous presidents wouldn't stand a chance in today's visual world.

... ... ...

At any rate, the tie between acting and politics will remain. And, oh, there is one more similarity: Sometimes the public persona and promised positions of a politician bear no more resemblance to the real person than the character played by an actor bears any resemblance to the actor. Both are good at faking it.

Uncensored Gore Vidal American courts are reasserting, as they always do, albeit slowly, the rule of law. But the human and political damage is already done.

MARC COOPER: Your new book focuses on Washington, Adams and Jefferson, but it seems from reading closely that it was actually Ben Franklin who turned out to be the most prescient regarding the future of the republic.

GORE VIDAL: Franklin understood the American people better than the other three. Washington and Jefferson were nobles – slaveholders and plantation owners. Alexander Hamilton married into a rich and powerful family and joined the upper classes. Benjamin Franklin was pure middle class. In fact, he may have invented it for Americans. Franklin saw danger everywhere. They all did. Not one of them liked the Constitution. James Madison, known as the father of it, was full of complaints about the power of the presidency. But they were in a hurry to get the country going. Hence the great speech, which I quote at length in the book, that Franklin, old and dying, had someone read for him. He said, I am in favor of this Constitution, as flawed as it is, because we need good government and we need it fast. And this, properly enacted, will give us, for a space of years, such government.

But then, Franklin said, it will fail, as all such constitutions have in the past, because of the essential corruption of the people. He pointed his finger at all the American people. And when the people become so corrupt, he said, we will find it is not a republic that they want but rather despotism – the only form of government suitable for such a people.

But Jefferson had the most radical view, didn't he? He argued that the Constitution should be seen only as a transitional document.

Oh yeah. Jefferson said that once a generation we must have another Constitutional Convention and revise all that isn't working. Like taking a car in to get the carburetor checked. He said you cannot expect a man to wear a boy's jacket. It must be revised, because the Earth belongs to the living. He was the first that I know who ever said that. And to each generation is the right to change every law they wish. Or even the form of government. You know, bring in the Dalai Lama if you want! Jefferson didn't care.

Jefferson was the only pure democrat among the founders, and he thought the only way his idea of democracy could be achieved would be to give the people a chance to change the laws. Madison was very eloquent in his answer to Jefferson. He said you cannot [have] any government of any weight if you think it is only going to last a year.

This was the quarrel between Madison and Jefferson. And it would probably still be going on if there were at least one statesman around who said we have to start changing this damn thing.

Your book revisits the debate between the Jeffersonian Republicans and the Hamiltonian Federalists, which at the time were effectively young America's two parties. More than 200 years later, do we still see any strands, any threads of continuity in our current body politic?

Just traces. But mostly we find the sort of corruption Franklin predicted. Ours is a totally corrupt society. The presidency is for sale. Whoever raises the most money to buy TV time will probably be the next president. This is corruption on a major scale.

Enron was an eye-opener to naive lovers of modern capitalism. Our accounting brotherhood, in its entirety, turned out to be corrupt, on the take. With the government absolutely colluding with them and not giving a damn.

Bush's friend, old Kenny Lay, is still at large and could just as well start some new company tomorrow. If he hasn't already. No one is punished for squandering the people's money and their pension funds and for wrecking the economy.

So the corruption predicted by Franklin bears its terrible fruit. No one wants to do anything about it. It's not even a campaign issue. Once you have a business community that is so corrupt in a society whose business is business, then what you have is, indeed, despotism...

In this context, would any of the Founding Fathers find themselves comfortable in the current political system of the United States? Certainly Jefferson wouldn't. But what about the radical centralizers, or those like John Adams, who had a sneaking sympathy for the monarchy?

Adams thought monarchy, as tamed and balanced by the parliament, could offer democracy. But he was no totalitarian, not by any means. Hamilton, on the other hand, might have very well gone along with the Bush people, because he believed there was an elite who should govern. He nevertheless was a bastard born in the West Indies, and he was always a little nervous about his own social station. He, of course, married into wealth and became an aristo. And it is he who argues that we must have a government made up of the very best people, meaning the rich.

So you'd find Hamilton pretty much on the Bush side. But I can't think of any other Founders who would. Adams would surely disapprove of Bush. He was highly moral, and I don't think he could endure the current dishonesty. Already they were pretty bugged by a bunch of journalists who came over from Ireland and such places and were telling Americans how to do things. You know, like Andrew Sullivan today telling us how to be. I think you would find a sort of union of discontent with Bush among the Founders. The sort of despotism that overcomes us now is precisely what Franklin predicted.

But Gore, you have lived through a number of inglorious administrations in your lifetime, from Truman's founding of the national-security state, to LBJ's debacle in Vietnam, to Nixon and Watergate, and yet here you are to tell the tale. So when it comes to this Bush administration, are you really talking about despots per se? Or is this really just one more rather corrupt and foolish Republican administration?

No. We are talking about despotism...


...On education, the indictment becomes fervid. A Times editorial speaks of straitened state budgets resulting in underfunding of education. Legislative "indifference" has led to raised tuition rates. "Some universities have begun to cannibalize themselves by increasing class size and cutting course offerings, making it difficult for students to find the courses they need to graduate." This "downward spiral" began in the 1980s "when many state legislatures began to back away from their commitments to public higher education."

That is not the view of things held by the California Association of Scholars, a branch of the National Association of Scholars. Their spokesman, professor and author Thomas Reeves, sends out what he terms "Heretical Thoughts for a New Academic Year." These thoughts look at the doomsayers on U.S. education and ask truly subversive questions.

Foremost of these is the question, Are too many young Americans bent on higher education as a matter of form, rather than substance? The figures absolutely establish the appetite for college education. In 1960, 7.7 percent of Americans had had four years of college. In 2000, that figure had risen to 25.6 percent. The question being raised by the California Association of Scholars has to do with whether the rewards of higher education are being attenuated by the lack of preparation for college work by many high-school graduates.

Professor Reeves gives some figures. "In Michigan, Colorado, Texas and New York, academic tests have been altered or thrown out because of low scores." But some data cannot be hidden. "A third of the freshmen at the relatively select University of Wisconsin-Madison do not return for a second year. I toiled for decades on a Wisconsin campus on which a mere 18 percent of the entering freshmen ever graduate." That's one problem, those who undertake to go to college but drop out.

The statistical rewards for staying in college and completing the work are widely advertised. College graduates earn 50 percent more money, on average. But the National Association of Scholars worries, too, about those who do stay the four years and graduate. What have they learned?

The suspicion grows that the emphasis should be on reforming the work done in secondary education. High-school dropout rates have been sharply reduced, from 27 percent in 1960 to 11 percent today. But SAT scores move in the opposite direction, and professors addressing matriculated freshmen are often dismayed not only by the lack of preparation, but also by the lack of genuine interest. "The most well-intentioned professor cannot educate those who refuse to be educated. All too often, such students demand that they be passed through the system and awarded a diploma, as they were in high school."

Someone wrote that education is "for those who will not do without it." That's a little high-brow callous; sure, you can teach yourself Chinese, but it helps to learn it from somebody. On the other hand, professor Reeves desponds, you don't get very much learning in classes that teach women's studies and current affairs to listless students whose interest is not in learning, but in receiving a diploma...

Political Opinion, Not Pathology (

In the May issue of Psychological Bulletin, we published a review that statistically summarizes dozens of studies conducted over 50 years dealing with psychological differences associated with left- vs. right-wing thinking. Based on this literature, we found that the likelihood of adopting conservative rather than liberal political opinions is significantly correlated, among other psychological dimensions, with a sense of societal instability, fear of death, intolerance of ambiguity, need for closure, lower cognitive complexity and a sense of threat.

Apparently without reading our original articles or attempting to contact any of us, many commentators and syndicated columnists, including Ann Coulter and Cal Thomas -- George Will [op-ed, Aug. 10] apparently read but misunderstood our work) -- assumed that such a psychological analysis of ideology entails a judgment that conservatism must be abnormal, pathological or even the result of mental illness. The British media seem to have settled on the highly stigmatized and equally inaccurate term "neuroses." All of this reflects a crude and outdated perception of psychological research.

Historically, some of the better known psychological analyses of right-wing thinking, especially the famous Adorno et al. volume on "The Authoritarian Personality" (1950), assumed that anti-Semitism and racial intolerance were consequences of faulty parenting styles and traumatic childhood experiences. The German psychologist Erich Jantsch in 1938 had described liberalism as morbid. We part ways with these and other theories based on a "medical model" that ranks political orientations on dimensions of abnormality. All the variables we have reviewed pertain to normal cognitive and motivational functioning. We would argue that all beliefs have a partial basis in one's needs, fears and desires, including beliefs that form one's political ideology. Our research has identified several factors that seem to underlie the propensity to find conservative vs. liberal thought systems appealing.

It's wrong to conclude that our results provide only bad news for conservatives. True, we find some support for the traditional "rigidity-of-the-right" hypothesis, but it is also true that liberals could be characterized on the basis of our overall profile as relatively disorganized, indecisive and perhaps overly drawn to ambiguity -- all of which may be liabilities in mass politics and other public and professional domains. Because we assume that all beliefs (ideological, scientific and otherwise) are partially (but never completely) determined by one's needs, fears and desires, we see nothing pathological about this process. It is simply part of what it means to be human. Our "trade-off" model of human psychology assumes that any trait or motivation has potential advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation. A heightened sensitivity to threat and uncertainty is by no means maladaptive in all contexts. Even closed-mindedness may be useful, provided one tends to have a closed mind about appropriate values and accurate opinions; a reluctance to abandon one's prior convictions in favor of new fads can be a good thing. The important task for social scientists is to identify the conditions under which each of these cognitive and motivational styles is beneficial, rather than touting one or the other as inherently and invariably superior.

Our findings highlight the importance of situations and historical factors that can produce political shifts by affecting psychological needs pertaining to uncertainty and threat. The need to achieve closure and to resolve ambiguity, for example, are heightened under conditions of destabilizing uncertainty (for example, with the outbreak of terrorism, economic turmoil or political instability). Thus our research is best understood as addressing the cognitive and motivational bases of conservatism (and liberalism) rather than the personalities of conservatives (and liberals).

We readily acknowledge that identifying the motivational underpinnings of a belief system does not constitute a valid argument in a political debate any more than it does in scientific debates. What counts is the cogency of the political arguments and the degree to which they fit with independently verifiable facts and reasonable assumptions. When the dust settles on the current debate, we hope that these important messages will be seen as the real focus of our research.

Arie W. Kruglanski is distinguished university professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. John T. Jost is an associate professor in Stanford's Graduate School of Business. This article was written in collaboration with Jack Glaser and Frank J. Sulloway, both of the University of California at Berkeley.

[Aug 18, 2003] The Age of Murdoch -- a pretty interesting paper about Murdoch's media empire

A Senate committee chaired by John McCain had summoned several expert witnesses to discuss the implications of the changes that morning, along with a man who was not directly involved in the debate but who seemed to personify media power: Rupert Murdoch.

At this hearing, as in most of his public appearances, Murdoch would dismiss the idea that he is anything like a media "baron" or that the holdings of his company, News Corporation, constitute an "empire"—a term he dislikes. The company is generally referred to as "News" or "News Corp"; politicians often pronounce the name "News Core," as if it were akin to the Peace Corps or the Marine Corps. Its main holdings are the Fox broadcast networks and Fox News, Fox Sports, FX, and other Fox cable channels in the United States; 20th Century Fox studios; thirty-five local U.S. TV stations; the New York Post plus The Times and The Sun of London; the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard; the publishing house HarperCollins; the Sky satellite system in England and the Star satellite system in Asia; the Los Angeles Dodgers, which News Corp is selling; and various publications in Murdoch's native Australia. In addition, Murdoch is now seeking federal approval to buy a one-third share in DirecTV, the leading satellite-broadcast system in North America.

To someone not named Murdoch, this might sound like a lot. But Rupert Murdoch frequently points out that the three established TV networks in the United States are part of conglomerates much larger than his. Last year the total revenues of News Corp were about $17 billion. CBS belongs to Viacom, which also owns Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster, Blockbuster, Infinity radio, and so on, with total revenues of $25 billion. ABC is part of Disney, with revenues of $26 billion. NBC is owned by General Electric, whose total revenues were $131 billion. Murdoch's upstart Fox News Channel, founded in 1996, has for more than a year consistently beaten the better-known CNN (founded in 1980) in cable-news rankings. CNN is part of the AOL Time Warner combine, whose revenues last year, despite the historic AOL collapse, were $42 billion—two and a half times News Corp's.

So Murdoch didn't represent the biggest media company, or even one that was directly affected by the proposed changes in ownership rules. His share in DirecTV would involve legal and regulatory issues different from the ones Congress was discussing. But Murdoch was the media heavyweight the politicians wanted to hear from, because News Corp and Fox are personal companies in a way that other networks have not been since the days of William S. Paley and "General" David Sarnoff. Murdoch and his relatives control some 30 percent of all News Corp shares, through a family trust called Cruden Investments. That stake is worth about $12 billion at News Corp's current market capitalization. Because of his role as owner, and also his market success, Murdoch's reign has been long and unchallenged in a way not seen for the past few decades, during which CBS and NBC (the networks Paley and Sarnoff founded), and most of the rest of the media world, became the province of corporations. Jack Welch was in charge of GE for more than two decades, and Michael Eisner has run Disney for nearly that long. But neither of them can expect to stay in command as long as they're physically able, which Murdoch clearly intends to do. And unlike Paley and Sarnoff, whose familial power died with them, Murdoch has planned his succession.

Whether or not News Corp is an empire, functionally it is a dynasty. At seventy-two, Murdoch is four years older than Welch—but twenty-two years younger than his own mother, Dame Elisabeth Greene Murdoch, who as of this summer was still active in Australia. (Murdoch is said to have remarked when he heard that Britain's Queen Mother had succumbed at 102, "An early death!") His father died at sixty-seven, after heart and prostate problems. After a prostate-cancer scare three years ago, Murdoch become a diet-and-fitness enthusiast. His third wife, Wendi Deng, is thirty-five. His fifth child, Grace, is not yet two, and a sixth child is on the way. He has two older daughters—Prudence, age forty-five, and Elisabeth, thirty-five—and two sons. Lachlan, thirty-two, is the deputy chief of operations at News Corp. James, who will turn thirty-one late this year, runs the Star satellite business in Asia. For several years Murdoch has been indicating that one of the sons—probably Lachlan but perhaps James, depending on how he does in the next few years at Star—or both jointly will succeed him at News Corp.

[Aug 4, 2003] The Guardian/ It's not your job to think by Judith Williamson. Politicians and intellectuals have appropriated the right to impose change on our working lives: you need to be very conservative not to shred the useful social fabric in your quest for "innovations":

When a government taskforce recently proposed completely overhauling the public examination system, the National Union of Teachers asked for a decade's notice of any changes, arguing that exam reform is "a risky business". They immediately had their knuckles rapped for this caution by a range of politicians and commentators. A typical response was the New Statesman's leading article, listing things it claims genuinely take time to build - "Rome, suspension bridges, cathedrals, bestselling Indian novels, railway lines from the east to the west of London" - and asking: "What would have happened if the NUT had been asked to oversee anything a tad more risky, such as a mission to the moon or a voyage across the Atlantic?"

These clever-sounding but inappropriate analogies reveal an attitude, common among politicians and intellectuals, which spells mortal danger to our social institutions. A more pertinent question would have been: how could a mission to the moon or a voyage across the Atlantic ever have taken place if their organisation and goals had been subject to continual changes imposed by those outside the space/sailing mission itself?

The value or otherwise of the proposed exam reforms is not the question here: the issue is the destructive frequency with which institutions, particularly in the public sphere, have integral changes forced on them from without. The New Statesman's comparison between an education system and a list of inanimate objects is the wrong way round. It is in many ways simpler to make changes to a suspension bridge, which is made of metal, than to a national system of teaching and learning, which is made of people. Institutions are structures of human beings, each with unique energy and intelligence: they are not merely counters to be moved around according to the workings of someone else's mind. And they may, unlike metal, have their own ideas about improving the system of which they are a part.

Of course, altering a bridge or a cathedral requires understanding of physical structures, load-bearing limits and so on. Yet few of those who suggest reordering the education, health, local government, railway etc systems even attempt to acquire an understanding of how structures of people work. The study of people in society is sociology, a disci pline often slagged off as an ineffectual 60s enterprise. But, like engineering, it proposes a set of understandings based on observation rather than merely will. You can't just decide how you "want" a bridge, you have to respect the nature of the materials.

And, unlike suspension bridges and so on, people are alive. If one must use an analogy, rather than a social science, for understanding human systems, a better one would be gardening. You can move plants around a garden to a certain extent, in the right season, but if you keep pulling things up and moving them each time you have more "ideas" about how it should be, you end up with a dead garden.

So it is with workplaces. There is a deadening effect to being pulled around from above, sometimes with literally fatal consequences - for example, the deaths that can be attributed to reorganised track inspection on the railways. Last month a Commons committee reported that 25 people had lost their sight as a direct result of an eye hospital sacrificing after-care in order to meet centrally set targets for waiting times. But besides the physical damage caused by forcing too many rules and constraints on over-stretched human systems, there is the death of spirit, the dead-end sensation in a job where you can no longer use your initiative.

Institutions, like all human relationships, can be alive and growing - or they can be dead. As Lorenz Hart described the snuffing out of a living passion: "When love congeals/it soon reveals/the faint aroma of performing seals..." In our most vital institutions, the need for live human care and judgment is reduced to a series of performance indicators: people must reduce what they have to offer from within, under the government/management whip.

Increasingly, those whose job is to "have" ideas inhabit a political and cultural sphere divorced from the realm in which ideas must be implemented. Most of the working world figures, in this scenario, not as a collection of thinking people but as so much material to be shaped by others' thoughts. Argument among the political classes takes the form of debating what shape that material should take, rather than listening to the real, skilled and experienced people who do the work.

Marx once said that every person is an intellectual, because everyone thinks: only some people have the job of being "intellectuals". Today, this class invariably believes it "knows" better than teachers, airport staff or whatever other group of working people is being told how to behave. The idea that such people might understand their own work, and have good ideas about it, has been wiped off the public - even the "liberal" - agenda. No wonder mainstream political culture feels so very dead.

[Aug 1, 2003] Conduct, Misconduct, and Cargo Cult Science

I will elaborate some principles of ethical conduct in science that correspond to Richard Feynman's well-known precepts of "utter honesty" and "leaning over backwards" in all aspects of scientific work. These principles have recently been called into question by certain individuals who allege that such rules are based on a misunderstanding of "how science actually works" and are therefore potentially "damaging to the scientific enterprise." In addition to examining critically the general basis for these allegations, I will discuss the particular relevance of Feynman's ideals to the field of computer simulation; and I will emphasize the need for meticulous validation of simulation models together with exact reproducibility and unimpeachable analysis of experiments performed with those models. Finally I will discuss the ethical dilemmas inherent in the peer review system, and I will offer some concrete suggestions for improving the process of refereeing primary journal articles.

[Jul 25, 2003] Reason/Measuring Up Testing the pretensions of market research and polling

Economists have gone even further in explaining/excusing public sloth in regard to political beliefs and actions. George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan recently has posited the appropriateness of rational irrationality, whereby we choose an optimal amount of absurd and counterfactual things to believe based on what it costs us to hold these unrealistic beliefs.

Caplan’s concept would have helped clarify Weissberg’s findings, which show that people seem to credulously accept the endless possibilities of government goodies, believing they will all deliver exactly the benefits they promise. Weissberg argues that most polls are systematically biased toward manufacturing a vox populi that clamors for an ever-growing welfare state.

To test this thesis, he designed and executed a pair of surveys that he thinks provide a more sophisticated and accurate way of gauging an intelligent, informed decision -- not just an ignorant wish. He used these polls to retest public support for a couple of Clinton-era government expansions: shrinking public school class size by hiring tens of thousands of new teachers, and increasing government-supported day care.

Weissberg found exactly what he was looking for (and one wonders how often that happens in social science research -- there’s a poll whose results I’d like to see). If you give longer, more detailed polls that demand citizens balance costs within a necessarily limited total budget, and inform them of both the possibilities of failure and the real dimensions of the problem allegedly being solved, previous apparent support for government action and spending quickly fades. For example, if respondents were told that the new teacher program could lead to cutbacks in other school programs, 71 percent of the support evaporated; when informed that an expenditure of $1.2 billion would lower average class size only from 17.8 to 17, 43 percent of supporters changed their minds.

Catch Lots of Trash with Fishy Polls -- Behind the Headlines -- Week of July 8, 2001

"Contemporary polls tell us almost nothing worthwhile
 about the policy choices facing the nation."

Political science professor Robert Weissberg emphasizes that "the United States did not begin as a direct democracy under majority rule. The Framers of our Constitution hoped to create a constitutional republic," he comments, "which required constraints on the power of the majority. Such restraints both prevented the tyranny of the majority and promoted the stability of the new regime. The Framers did not doubt that the legitimacy of the American republic lay in the consent of the governed," Weissberg acknowledges, "but they did not ask the people to decide every last detail. They did not expect that the people could or should govern directly."

In a report published by the Cato Institute, Weissberg reflects on how far we've come "from the Founders' balanced, representative democracy. Public opinion has achieved a remarkable, though largely unnoticed, ascendancy," he laments. "The burden of proof is now on those who oppose public opinion." Weissberg worries that "reverence for unrestrained majority rule is growing," and he rejects the assertion of poll makers that "their polls convey legitimate advice about policies and political strategies."

Weissberg charges that conventional polling is "inherently unsuited to making policy choices regardless of expert claims to the contrary." The reason is "polling industry economics. All survey organizations," he points out, "must monitor the bottom line. Getting the public's two cents is expensive," Weissberg explains. "Though modern technology (especially the telephone) has sharply reduced costs, even the most perfunctory technically acceptable study exceeds $20,000. The price tag for a quality poll, one with lengthy face-to-face interrogations conducted by specially trained interviewers, can easily exceed $100,000."

Weissberg argues that the need to constrain polling costs "results in a pervasive dumbing down of the entire enterprise. The typical telephone solicitation virtually precludes conveying information indispensable to rendering an informed judgment. Hugely complex issues become catch phrases," he remarks. "Even if vital information was dutifully communicated to respondents, today's telephone poll is unlikely to engender heightened sophistication. The telephone is inherently unsuited to conveying prodigious, unfamiliar detail on subjects boring to most respondents."

Weissberg charges that "contemporary polls are seducing respondents, not offering them hard choices of the type faced by legislatures or policy analysts. Given the typical survey's inattention to costs, indifference to risk, and other shortcomings [associated with the survey topic], it is a miracle that polls do not find unanimous support for more social spending," he remarks. "Polls do not provide worthwhile advice about policy; they measure only wishes for a world of benefits with no costs."

Weissberg refuses to surrender to "those pollsters ever willing to seduce the public with appealing nostrums that quickly become 'programs' to opportunistic office seekers." He recommends attacking "the way polls are used, not the surveys themselves. Absolutely nothing can impede the issuance of unreflective cravings," Weissberg concedes, but their value to decision makers must be challenged. "Abstract cravings for public largesse should be treated as 'interesting curiosities,'" he advises; "under no circumstances should they inform policymaking or determine policy choices."

pinc, vol 1, no 2 - Book Reviews Uniform Diversity

The Diversity Myth: "Multiculturalism" and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford
By David O. Sacks and Peter A. Thiel
Independent Institute, Oakland, California: 1995
283 pages, ISBN 0-945999-42-9

Reviewed by Gavan Tredoux

Third-world countries are known for their unselfconscious combination of moral sanctimoniousness and tyrannical corruption. In the late 80s Burkina Faso - which literally means "land of the incorruptible men" - was run by a junior army officer (come to power by the established means of succession in Africa, a coup d' etat) who spent the entire country's postal budget on an endless stream of anti-apartheid messages directed at the United Nations. Meantime, the state treasury was used as a personal piggy bank. The reader will be unpleasantly surprised by the remarkable parallels between Burkina Faso and the once world-renowned Leland Stanford Junior College, popularly known as "Stanford."

Like most other Ivy League American Universities, Stanford used to require that all students complete a core curriculum, covering "Western Civilization." Here students would be introduced to Plato, Shakespeare and the other elements of the canon of great works. Many would encounter these works for the first time, in a semester or so of unparalleled revelation, which Alan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, likened to a loss of innocence. This was a peculiarly American experience, as other Western universities have no core requirements, their students having been exposed to the elements of Western Civilization from an early age.

Again, like most Ivy League institutions, Stanford has recently overhauled its core curriculum to conform to the precepts of the enormously influential "multicultural" movement. One might be forgiven for mistaking this movement for a concerted attempt to broaden our understanding of human knowledge and experience - to include study of occidental civilization, for example. Sacks and Thiel take pains to disabuse the reader of this misapprehension, for the purpose of "multiculturalism" turns out to be the smuggling of politically-charged works, invariably of very recent origin, into the core curricula.

Often "multicultural" just means black, and politically-radical-American-black at that. The core curriculum comes to reflect contemporary political struggles, rather than the body of acknowledged cultural masterpieces. While the "multiculturalists" claim to promote "diversity," the effect is quite the opposite, as a blandly uniform radical political bias enters the curriculum instead. Sacks and Thiel are not the first to unmask this process, but they provide an unusually detailed case analysis of its evolution and ramifications. However, Stanford's problems extend far beyond alterations to its core curriculum.

Multiculturalism aims to alter the entire composition of social institutions, aiming - or so it claims - to make those institutions "representative. In the case of universities, that entails altering the composition of both the student body and the faculty; and specifically altering them to include more blacks, Hispanics and other "disadvantaged minorities" - where they would not normally qualify on the basis of merit, or simply have not done so for whatever reason. This equality of result will, so the "multiculturalists" claim, increase the "diversity" of the institution, which is taken to be laudable in itself, as if this would somehow enrich the education offered at these institutions. Again, the authors note that those admitted under these policies are not diverse at all. Most are relatively well off, and often products of relatively good schools with white or Asian majorities. This is just a nom de guerre for "affirmative action," and its intellectual expression is "affirmative action for ideas."

If diversity was intended to raise academic standards at Stanford, the effect has been precisely the opposite, as the institution has practically abandoned meaningful grading of its students in recent years. Grades mean little when more "A"s are handed out than "B"s or worse. Even less when students may opt to take a course "on approval" as it were, so that they receive no record if they do not pass. Though the university administration has recently made some minor adjustments here, in response to widespread concern and ridicule, it is hard to make much impact when many of the Stanford faculty believe that it is more important to foster self-esteem, and to develop correct political beliefs, than to hand out accurate grades.

"Diversity" at Stanford also entails a uniformity of political opinion on the campus, it turns out. Sacks and Thiel provide a depressing catalogue of speech and belief repression, by student zealots actively assisted by the faculty and administration. One hapless victim had his persecution extended from Stanford to the wider society, as the zealots embarked on a letter-writing campaign to damage his job prospects. The consequences of becoming politically unpopular at Stanford seem to be drastic, though this is now true of many (perhaps most) American universities.

The Stanford administration, led by Donald Kennedy, distinguished itself by "multicultural" zeal and public commitment to egalitarian ends. At the same time, not only were they actively suppressing political dissent, the fact of "dissent" usually decided by the administration itself, but they were also looting the public coffers. Although it is not a public institution, the university receives large amounts of public money, generated by scientific research conducted at the university, often for military purposes. The university claims additional funds beyond the direct costs of research, ostensibly for providing the surrounding facilities; and under Kennedy, Stanford managed to extract more funding than most other universities in this way, astutely exploiting Stanford's scientific reputation.

Sacks and Thiel describe how Kennedy's administration, more brazen by the year, used public funding to maintain a lavish lifestyle for the burgeoning ("multicultural") university bureaucracy, refurbishing the university yacht at exorbitant expense, maintaining lakeside holiday getaways, lining Kennedy's water closet with cedar wood, and more. As it happened, the government eventually uncovered this flummery, and the resulting scandal toppled Kennedy's administration. In a bizarre turn of events, the unrepentant Kennedy promptly returned to academic life at Stanford, to teach an ethics course.

The lasting impression the authors give is of a university boiling over with moral rectitude - the virtues of equality and "diversity" - coupled in Third World fashion with ruthless persecution of real and imagined opposition and deviance, shot through with corrupt use of public money. The quality of exposition by the authors is excellent, their vision clear and unsentimental, and their use of primary sources exemplary. While there is no shortage of studies dealing with the decline of American higher education, the authors have made a distinctive contribution packed with fresh material.

An extract from The Diversity Myth is available at

[Apr 14, 2003] Certain Words Can Trip Up AIDS Grants, Scientists Say

Dr. Alfred Sommer, the dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, said a researcher at his institution had been advised by a project officer at N.I.H. to change the term "sex worker" to something more euphemistic in a grant proposal for a study of H.I.V. prevention among prostitutes. He said the idea that grants might be subject to political surveillance was creating a "pernicious sense of insecurity" among researchers.

Dr. Sommer said that if researchers feared that federal support for their work might be affected by politics, whether it was true or untrue, it could take a toll. "If people feel intimidated and start clouding the language they use, then your mind starts to get cloudy and the science gets cloudy," he said, adding that the federal financing of medical research had traditionally been free from political influence. 




Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy


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Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law


Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

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The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-MonthHow to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Haterís Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite

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The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D

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