Monday, 29 September 2003

Hiring bias in academe

Henry Farrell, Daniel Drezner, David Adesnik, The Invisible Adjunct, Erin O‘Connor and Jacob Levy (whew—did I get everyone?) are among those discussing David Brooks’ latest NYT op-ed on the alleged liberal bias of the academy, particularly in its hiring practices. (I previously blogged about this topic back when Horowitz was making his splash but can’t be bothered to search for the post. Oh, well.)

I think Jacob Levy is onto something when he writes:

What we do is also: research. It’s always been pretty clear to me that there are people who have the reputation of subordinating their research to an ideological mission, and doing bad research as a result.

I think the danger for a lot of scholars—on the left and the right—is that they will fall into this trap. However, it’s a much more deadly one for rightist scholars than leftist ones; I can recall a particular gathering at which one particular political science faculty member was fawning over Michael Bellesiles’ then-new (and then-undiscredited) Arming America; one suspects my colleagues were not quite so entralled by John Lott’s (also-then-undiscredited) More Guns, Less Crime. In the medium-to-long term, Bellesiles is likely to resurface relatively unscathed somewhere in second-tier academia, while Lott will be most fortunate if he ever sees a room with students in it again in his life. Of course, neither of these men are political scientists (just as well, I suppose, since that means we don’t have to disavow them).

I’ve been relatively fortunate in my career to fall in with faculty who, if they don’t share my political beliefs, can at least accept that they are legitimate and sincerely-held. I think it’s also the case that in more empirically-oriented parts of the social sciences, ideological differences don’t matter as much as what the data can tell us, provided we are honest researchers. After all, Johannes Kepler started out believing—as his mentor, Tycho Brahe did—that the Earth was the center of the universe, but ended up producing the laws of planetary motion for our sun-centered system that astronomers still use today.

The epitome of good science is a willingness to revise—and if necessary, reject—your preconceived notions if the evidence cannot support them. In the end, that is the only ideology that should matter.

America's longest semesters no more

The announcement of a new winter intersession here at the University of Mississippi is coupled with news that the fall and spring semesters will be a week shorter each, starting in Fall 2004. Anyone who’s suffered through our interminable semesters—either teaching or as a student—will be positively thrilled at this news. (Don’t get me wrong; I love teaching. But semesters that start two weeks before Labor Day and don’t end until mid-December are just a tad too long.)

New feature debut

The royal We at Signifying Nothing are proud to introduce a new feature: the David Cutcliffe Season Survival Meter! This is our predicted probability that David Cutcliffe will be the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels for any game in the 2004 regular season.

We predict Cutcliffe’s survival odds at 0% if the Rebels lose six or more games, and 100% if the Rebels appear in the SEC Championship Game. To survive the season, we expect that the minimum requirements for Cutcliffe to last until 2004 are:

  • Defeating homecoming foe Arkansas State.
  • Defeating SEC West cellar-dweller Mississippi State on Thanksgiving.
  • Defeating at least 3 of the 6 other SEC opponents.

We currently predict that Cutcliffe’s chances of pulling off this feat are 50%. The survival meter will appear on the sidebar for the remainder of the regular season, or until Cutcliffe is fired—whichever event occurs sooner.

Plame Blame Game

I really don’t know what to make of this whole Valerie Plame business—I remember reading the original Novak piece God-knows-how-long-ago and found it a bit of a head-scratcher (to say the least). And I’m no more enlightened now, perhaps in part because of the four Tylenol PM’s I took last night that somehow knocked me out for a good eighteen hours. So I’ll just point you to Daniel Drezner’s post, which (a) has a good collection of links and (b) displays an appropriate balance between outrage and confusion.

Rumors that I get a $10 kickback every time I link to Dan are greatly exaggerated.