Friday, 18 July 2008

Equal opportunity snarky question of the day

I hate to pick on my ex-co-blogger Brock, but (in fairness to him) his post is what triggered the thought. Al Gore today apparently joined those who have called for a carbon tax to replace payroll taxes, to produce a revenue-neutral means of reducing carbon emissions:

To secure this green revolution, Mr Gore said the single most important policy change would be to “tax what we burn – not what we earn”.

Social security is one of the U.S. government programs funded by a payroll tax. So, does this mean that Gore also believes social security is a “disgrace”, as the mass media have distorted John McCain’s position to be?

Thursday, 19 July 2007

An implicit fairness doctrine for academia

This post by Richard Vedder about Elon University’s choice to assign the book version of the movie version of Al Gore’s PowerPoint presentation An Inconvenient Truth makes what at first blush might be an eminently sensible point:

Universities who want to promote truth should select middle-of-the-road objective accounts (Steve names one or two). Or, if the goal is to invite debate on the issues, why not assign both Gore’s book and Chris Horner’s? Or some of Steve’s own work on the issue?

I think the answer here is twofold: first, Gore’s book (or at least the movie) is in the news, which creates an incentive to read it that would not exist for “middle-of-the-road objective accounts” even on the same topic—the dirty little secret of “summer reading assignments” is that I doubt 10% of students actually complete them outside the most elite institutions. And second, part of being a good student is developing critical thinking skills; the purpose of asking students to read the book is not to impose politically correct thinking on them, nor is it to have students uncritically accept the entire work. If Gore’s book is “weak on fact and objectivity,” surely college students can be expected to find those weaknesses and judge for themselves whether or not those faults undermine Gore’s argument. That is the core of what a liberal arts education is all about.

The standard “I have applied for jobs at Elon and might do so in the future” disclaimer applies.