From diatribe to dialogue

FreshDesignElements-3071

It’s been an exciting 48 hours here on alexandrasamuel.com. It’s been swell hearing from all the folks who were shocked, outraged or otherwise engaged by my digressions (in November, and this week) on the subject of Condoleezza Rice’s political science career, but I think it’s time I got back to to the business at hand: thinking about the Internet’s role in public engagement.

So in the spirit of effective online dialogue, let me highlight a few points of agreement, as well as a few points of continued discord.

First and foremost, let me be clear on my true, tongue-out-of-cheek position: Neither Condoleezza Rice nor any other academic, in any field, should ever be academically sanctioned for any speech or activity that enjoys the protection of the First Amendment (or up here in Canada, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). I can perhaps see why people took my original post as a serious call for Dr. Rice’s removal from the halls (registry? annals?) of political science, but it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

And second, let me agree with all those who pointed out that political science is not a “real” science. I am always available for a long diatribe on this subject myself, and will happily sign on for a campaign to rename it political studies. My original post was aimed as much at deflating the significance of my own Ph.D. as at deflating Dr. Rice’s.

While the above amounts to significant agreement on the substantive issues, there was continued disagreement over the terms and tenor of debate. A number of frustrated would-be commenters have blasted my policy of rejecting fully anonymous, unaccountable posts. They have every right to express their views on this issue, and on my original posts, and there are plenty of places on the net where fully anonymous commentary is more than welcome. But I am under no personal obligation to provide a home for their anonymous comments, particularly in the context of a site that is dedicated to meaningful and accountable dialogue. I know their disappointment in having their comments rejected is shared by a large number of advocates for Texas hold-em poker.

Finally, let me point out the encouraging evidence that this discussion has provided for the notion of online deliberation. Even in the face of blatant partisanship, failed efforts at humour, and rhetorical excesses — mine and others’, on all three counts — this discussion managed to evoke substantive engagement with an important issue: how can we distinguish between unsanctionable errors in academic conduct, and sanctionable violations in other fields? The very effective critique posted at Kalblog included this terrific answer to that core question:

The reason why there’s nothing analogous to disbarment or being stripped of your medical license is because political scientists can’t seriously hurt anyone while practicing political science, because all they do is teach, research, and write books and papers that maybe four other people in their area of expertise will ever read. Sure, some students may sleep through their classes instead of learning something, and I’ve even heard of a few particularly bad cases of students actually coming out of a political science class knowing less than when they went in, but they’re not like doctors or lawyers who actually can make life-and-death decisions that really affect people. Sure, Condi’s impacted a lot of lives as National Security Advisor, and will affect many more at State, but she isn’t “practicing political science” in any academic sense.

This is an excellent argument against holding academics professionally accountable for their contributions to public life — and an equally good argument for holding them morally and intellectually accountable. Condoleezza Rice has almost certainly had a far more wide-reaching impact on the world through her role in the Bush Administration than she could ever hope for as a political science scholar. But precisely because of their potential impact, we should ask all political scientists engaged in public service to hold their work to some approximation of the intellectual and professional standards we demand of the colleagues who remain inside the academy.

12 Comments

  1. Throwing up the 1st Amendment is a smoke screen and you know it. The 1st Amendment prohibits GOVERNMENT action. Your proposal was to purge Rice and others who you disagree through the academic associations (APSA, etc.). So trying to wrap yourself in the 1st Amendment is a non starter.

    As Kalblog and others noted: your “It was a joke, honest” defense is paper thin and easily seen through.

    In fact MANY of the points I made in my post (which you now refuse to post, even after you know my name & email) were made by Kalblog. Esp. the point that lawyers & doctors are licensed by the state whereas political scientists are NOT.

    Again, more than welcome to ignore this post and prove how much of a purger you really are.

  2. Throwing up the 1st Amendment is a smoke screen and you know it. The 1st Amendment prohibits GOVERNMENT action. Your proposal was to purge Rice and others who you disagree through the academic associations (APSA, etc.). So trying to wrap yourself in the 1st Amendment is a non starter.

    As Kalblog and others noted: your “It was a joke, honest” defense is paper thin and easily seen through.

    In fact MANY of the points I made in my post (which you now refuse to post, even after you know my name & email) were made by Kalblog. Esp. the point that lawyers & doctors are licensed by the state whereas political scientists are NOT.

    Again, more than welcome to ignore this post and prove how much of a purger you really are.

  3. John,

    Like you, I’m not very persuaded by Ms. Samuel’s explanation that her original comment was tongue-in-cheek. But I think you seriously misunderstood her reference to the First Amendment. First, she does not appear to be “trying to wrap [her]self in the 1st Amendment.” That would imply that she’s resorting to the First Amendment to defend herself from calls for her dismissal, etc. But her post says nothing of the sort.

    Second, she did not say that Condi cannot be sanctioned because of the protections of the First Amendment. (That would have seriously misstated the reach of the First Amendment — but it’s not what Ms. Samuels said.) Rather, she expressed a normative proposition: Academic speech that is protected by the First Amendment (which, as you, Ms. Samuels and I all know, implicitly means, “protected from government sanction”) should not, as a matter of principle, be subjected to private, academic sanction. Or at least that’s my reading of her statement — a more plausible reading than yours, I think.

  4. John,

    Like you, I’m not very persuaded by Ms. Samuel’s explanation that her original comment was tongue-in-cheek. But I think you seriously misunderstood her reference to the First Amendment. First, she does not appear to be “trying to wrap [her]self in the 1st Amendment.” That would imply that she’s resorting to the First Amendment to defend herself from calls for her dismissal, etc. But her post says nothing of the sort.

    Second, she did not say that Condi cannot be sanctioned because of the protections of the First Amendment. (That would have seriously misstated the reach of the First Amendment — but it’s not what Ms. Samuels said.) Rather, she expressed a normative proposition: Academic speech that is protected by the First Amendment (which, as you, Ms. Samuels and I all know, implicitly means, “protected from government sanction”) should not, as a matter of principle, be subjected to private, academic sanction. Or at least that’s my reading of her statement — a more plausible reading than yours, I think.

  5. Even in jest it discredits the jester.

    For a music theorist to jest that the Beatles were talentless hacks would be less dissonant because music is not the art of respectful discourse. One might argue that neither is political science. Pity.

  6. Even in jest it discredits the jester.

    For a music theorist to jest that the Beatles were talentless hacks would be less dissonant because music is not the art of respectful discourse. One might argue that neither is political science. Pity.

  7. Censure always. Censor never. The only response to a bad idea is to correct it. In other words, help inoculate people to judge for themselves. Any other response is simply too dangerous.

    Community depends understanding both that a good idea can come from anywhere and that a bad idea can come from anywhere. Your job is two-fold: teach people the process to deal with both and, secondly, model it yourself. Now pick your bad idea up off the floor, put it in the dustbin of history, laugh about it because we’re all human, and get on with it.

    Regards/sbw

  8. Censure always. Censor never. The only response to a bad idea is to correct it. In other words, help inoculate people to judge for themselves. Any other response is simply too dangerous.

    Community depends understanding both that a good idea can come from anywhere and that a bad idea can come from anywhere. Your job is two-fold: teach people the process to deal with both and, secondly, model it yourself. Now pick your bad idea up off the floor, put it in the dustbin of history, laugh about it because we’re all human, and get on with it.

    Regards/sbw

  9. I pity any future students of our closed-minded blogress, should they be so rash as to present
    classroom arguments or term papers which take issue with her hopefully-never-tenured GroupThink…

    …er, “consensus”.

  10. I pity any future students of our closed-minded blogress, should they be so rash as to present
    classroom arguments or term papers which take issue with her hopefully-never-tenured GroupThink…

    …er, “consensus”.

  11. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been burning Swift’s writings ever since I found out he advocated cannibalism and contributed to the cultural divide between the English and the Irish.

  12. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been burning Swift’s writings ever since I found out he advocated cannibalism and contributed to the cultural divide between the English and the Irish.

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  1. As the Top of the World Turns - Defrocking Condi? One could write off Dr. Samuel's brainstorm as an outlier (perhaps a miner's canary), the result of a …

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