Not-So-New Applications in the Quantitative Analysis of Textual Information

by Henry on May 30, 2012

From the Washingtonian article on the battle for control over Cato.

Meanwhile, in the 1990s, the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies, in Arlington—which offers seminars and scholarships for students interested in libertarianism—underwent a change in direction that one former employee described as “the Shadow falling on Rivendell.” “[Charles] Koch, evidently beginning to despair at the prospects of achieving political goals in his lifetime, became obsessed with a quick fix and decided that IHS needed to have ‘quantifiable results,’ ” onetime IHS professor Roderick T. Long wrote on his personal blog in 2008.
Long said IHS officials began feeding students’ application essays into a computer program that counted how many times the applicants mentioned libertarian heroes such as Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman—regardless of what they actually wrote. “Then the management began to do things like increasing the size of student seminars, packing them in, and giving the students a political questionnaire at the beginning of the week and another one at the end, to measure how much their political beliefs had shifted,” Long said.

{ 80 comments }

1

Barry Freed 05.30.12 at 8:41 pm

Ayn Rand was a loon. It is true, Ayn Rand was a complete loon. And so was Milton Friedman. Indeed, it must be said, both Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman were complete loons. Ayn Rand. I do not know if Ayn Rand ever met Milton Friedman nor whether Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman corresponded to one another but rest assured, both Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman were utter nutcases. Ayn Rand. The ideology spewed forth by Ayn Rand is without a doubt amongst the most reprehensible held by human beings and the economic policies held by Milton Friedman were utterly destructive. Also Milton Friedman’s feet smelled very bad he should have changed his socks more often. Ayn Rand. I think Ayn Rand wore Chanel no. 5 but her ethics stunk.

2

Bruce Baugh 05.30.12 at 8:50 pm

Barry: You left off the “Burma Shave”, so I can only give you 99.44% of an Internet.

3

phosphorious 05.30.12 at 9:14 pm

You had me at “Ayn Rand.”

4

Frank in midtown 05.30.12 at 9:28 pm

Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.

5

Chris Bertram 05.30.12 at 10:09 pm

IHS is a deeply problematic outfit. I’ve heard various anecdotes about their summer schools, with “mentors” keeping tabs on the young participants and monitoring their level of commitment, attendance at workshops and so on. They are also very active in identifying young “libertarian” scholars and furthering their careers, paying senior people to comment on their work and trying to place their people in universities.

When the Koch organization have enough people “in the room” (as it were) in political philosophy/theory it certainly makes a difference: the intuitions that people find plausible change, the burden of proof, the ideas people give the time of day to etc. All very worrying.

6

William Timberman 05.30.12 at 10:12 pm

Ah, but they doesn’t always get the results they expects, does they? (Enron, The Brothers Lehmann, Wach(k?)ovia.) Is they False? Tricksy? Or is it all those pointy-headed professor hobbits? Further research is indicated. (And you’re WAY too good at this impersonation stuff, by the way.)

7

garymar 05.30.12 at 10:13 pm

You are a poor scientist.

8

William Timberman 05.30.12 at 10:14 pm

That last was meant for Frank in midtown.

9

garymar 05.30.12 at 10:14 pm

That was for Frank in Midtown, by the way. Frank, what’s the answer?

10

garymar 05.30.12 at 10:15 pm

This is one time when nested replies would have been very helpful.

11

rf 05.30.12 at 10:22 pm

This thread has gotten off to an unexpectedly funny start

12

Alan 05.30.12 at 10:34 pm

“They expect results.”

No, they expect production of the *appearance” of results. That is sufficient to keep the money-sluices brimming.

13

mjfgates 05.30.12 at 10:37 pm

What about the poor students who doodled down the margins with “Ayn Rand + Milton Friedman” and hearts and flowers? Can your computers digitize THAT? Can they?

14

nick s 05.30.12 at 10:56 pm

Don’t be so harsh on Frank: he’s just pointing out that the IHS/Kochedemia model incorporates best practices from the private sector to produce “results”, including the career of Glibertarian Idol winner Megan McArdle.

15

Peter Erwin 05.30.12 at 10:58 pm

At last, a useful outlet for my Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman slash fiction.

16

Barry Freed 05.30.12 at 11:23 pm

“Milty, old boy, come back here,” Ayn Rand said to Milton Friedman in her husky Russian accented voice as she lit yet another cigarrette and sprawled her lithe naked frame enticingly on the divan, “I may have said selfishness is a virtue but I never meant in bed.”

17

LFC 05.31.12 at 12:37 am

I heard on the NewsHour tonight that Koch-funded organizations and similar groups will raise and spend (at least) $1 billion [sic] in ‘independent’ pro-Romney/anti-Obama ads in the months remaining until the November vote. So equally, or I would say even more, worrying than the Koch influence over think tanks and academia is the Koch influence on election outcomes.

Personally, I don’t entirely understand the intense concern over control of Cato, but I will stop here on the principle that one generally shouldn’t talk about a story one has not been following.

18

heckblazer 05.31.12 at 1:32 am

IMO most of what Cato currently produces is wrong, but wrong at least can be interesting. If the Koch brothers get their way Cato will in the future only publish bullshit, and almost certainly won’t produce another Radley Balko.

19

musicalcolin 05.31.12 at 2:29 am

i feel like the beauty of Frank in midtown’s comment is that it comes perilously close to sounding as if it’s not an incredibly humorous reference.

And to anyone who disagrees I say: back off man, I’m a [political] scientist.

20

ponce 05.31.12 at 2:45 am

Who ya gonna call?
KOCHBUSTERS!

21

Dr. Hilarius 05.31.12 at 3:42 am

@16 Nice! But I suspect the overture more likely would have been a lengthy contract specifying performance expectations with penalty clauses for failure. Either that or putting sex out to bid and letting the market decide.

22

Walt 05.31.12 at 7:58 am

Frank in midtown’s comment is pretty fucking funny.

23

JP Stormcrow 05.31.12 at 11:29 am

16,21: Milton Friedman: I make it a rule never to get involved without a contract.
[Ayn starts passionately making out with him]
Milton Friedman: Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule…

24

Mike M 05.31.12 at 12:21 pm

I went to an IHS seminar years ago, back when I was rebelling against my Keynesian upbringing, but before I became a true lefty, and am glad it wasn’t nearly the overbearing, corporatist experience described above. In fact it was a fairly relaxed atmosphere (to the point where flip cup games between mentors and students were frequent) and while I’ve come to reject libertarianism, I don’t regret the experience. In fact, I don’t think I was alone among the participants there in finding that, after days and days of lectures on the subject, it really is an untenable position. But that’s another argument…
I do have to say that it’s a real shame there is no comparably funded organization to promote left-wing ideas.

25

Alex 05.31.12 at 12:53 pm

Well, it looks like they picked their objective function. Comrades, let’s optimise!

26

ogmb 05.31.12 at 2:28 pm

And Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand so far away
Ayn just Rand, Ayn Rand all night and day
Ayn couldn’t get Ay-way

27

JP Stormcrow 05.31.12 at 2:55 pm

How many points for mentioning Harrison Bergeron?

28

Sam 05.31.12 at 2:56 pm

I’m not going to defend Charles Koch or his influence at IHS, but I happen to like IHS. If you’ve actually had any experience with IHS, you might change your mind about them: they tend to be a pretty relaxed and tolerant bunch. Yes, they promote libertarianism and help out libertarian scholars along with people who are simply interested in things that libertarians care about. If you think libertarianism is the devil, then naturally you’ll think that IHS is a pernicious organization. But even if you are just worried about libertarians “capturing” academic disciplines (this may be Chris Bertram’s concern), I’m pretty skeptical that you have much to worry about, at least when it comes to philosophy/political theory. The available evidence suggests that the vast majority of philosophers and political theorists are broadly on the left. In fact, a few more libertarians in the discipline might puncture some of the group-think that regularly goes on in philosophy and political theory programs–there are benefits to having dissenters around even if you disagree with them.

As an aside, I find Chris Bertram’s comment on this post somewhat troubling, especially as it is coming from an established professor. One possible implication of his remarks (not sure that is in fact the intended implication) seems to be that we should try to keep libertarians out of political theory/philosophy in order to prevent libertarianism from becoming more influential. This seems equally problematic as an established libertarian professor trying to exclude socialists from the academy simply on the basis of their ideological beliefs. That is, both are bad.

29

Chris Bertram 05.31.12 at 3:04 pm

_One possible implication of his remarks_

Implication may not be your strong suit.

I’m perfectly happy having lots of libertarians in political philosophy, though I personally find the “left” variant more congenial. However I’m not happy with having the the relative success of different viewpoints in academia skewed by the influence of the super-rich and their pet foundations. Nor should you be.

30

Dan 05.31.12 at 3:14 pm

I’m perfectly happy having lots of libertarians in political philosophy, though I personally find the “left” variant more congenial. However I’m not happy with having the the relative success of different viewpoints in academia skewed by the influence of the super-rich and their pet foundations. Nor should you be.

I don’t see how the IHS guarantees *academic success*, so much as merely providing a support network for libertarian-leaning aspiring academics (there’s some truth in the joke that there’s a support network for left-leaning aspiring academics too: it’s called academia). And for the complaint about “skewing” to make sense, there would have to be something privileged about the “non-skewed” baseline — unless you think that in the absence of the evil Koch brothers, academia would naturally tend towards the pure unadulterated truth, I can’t see what that would be.

31

Frank in midtown 05.31.12 at 3:16 pm

It’s as quote from the movie Ghostbusters. Sorry to offend, I thought it was both applicable and funny.

32

Sam 05.31.12 at 3:21 pm

However I’m not happy with having the the relative success of different viewpoints in academia skewed by the influence of the super-rich and their pet foundations..

Well, my view is that it depends. I’m not against the super rich influencing academia per se. I’m against the super-rich influencing academy if this has a pernicious effect on scholarship, teaching, etc. Maybe it often will. I’m not sure. You’ll likely disagree, but I don’t think IHS has a bad influence on academia, despite being funded by rich people.

33

Chris Bertram 05.31.12 at 3:24 pm

Well done Dan: (1) A straw man, since nobody said anything about guaranteeing academic success (2) a ridiculous non-argument. Think of the comparison in politics or criminal justice: the influence of money in politics (or criminal justice) doesn’t matter unless we have reason to think that in its absence politics (or criminal justice) would run perfectly. I don’t think so.

34

Frank in midtown 05.31.12 at 3:38 pm

To answer Garymar’s question, I would recommend the use of pre and post surveys with about a year delay in executing the post. Among the general attitudinal questions both surveys would include a section on sexual activity. If the post survey indicates the indoctrinates are still getting laid at the same or higher rate then they are still too sympathetic to others and the training didn’t take. Otherwise they’re libertarians. Simple.

35

Dan 05.31.12 at 3:47 pm

Well done Dan: (1) A straw man, since nobody said anything about guaranteeing academic success (2) a ridiculous non-argument. Think of the comparison in politics or criminal justice: the influence of money in politics (or criminal justice) doesn’t matter unless we have reason to think that in its absence politics (or criminal justice) would run perfectly. I don’t think so.

The relevant comparison isn’t with a perfect institution, just the possible alternatives. I can understand where concern over the influence of the super-rich might come from if it was somehow limiting the acceptable viewpoints or whatnot, but in this case, where the primary effect is to increase the salience of positions within political theory that are massively under-represented relative to their prominence within the population as a whole, what’s the problem? Surely that’s a salutary thing, no? Basically, I don’t see why you think that academia without the influence of the super-rich would be in any way better, unless somehow that influence is itself intrinsically bad.

36

Silly Wabbit 05.31.12 at 4:21 pm

Think tanks of all stripes almost invariably produce low-quality scholarship. Even the more respectable institutions, like Cato, regularly publish work with serious methodological errors that any first-year grad student should be able to catch. My concern is that these institutions put downward pressure on the mean quality of academic scholarship by subsidizing poor scholarship.

This is not to say that there are not some great social scientists who are also libertarians or conservatives (e.g. Friedman, Buchanan, James Q. Wilson etc.) but these are people who found success based largely upon the academic merit of their work. Other libertarians who were subsidized by wealthy backers have far less of an impact on their respective disciplines (e.g. Rothbard).

The implicit assumption of those who advocate for organizations like the IHS is that because academics of all disciplines are more likely to vote for Democrats or be liberal in some sense that the scholarship coming from those same persons is in some way “leftists” or “liberal”. With the exception of a few journals (e.g. explicitly Marxist journals that only other Marxists read) I think this inference is incorrect. That is, we should not describe articles from Econometrica, The American Sociological Review, or the American Journal of Political Science as “leftist” or “liberal”. But, so far as I can tell, this seems to be the assumption underlying how many libertarians and conservatives view academia. Therefore all research becomes “leftist” and you need a “libertarian” or “conservative” counterweight.

I don’t have any principled objection to IHS. If students can get some scholarships that’s great. But if you’re an empirical social scientist it might be hard to consistently produce high quality work that legitimates the political orientation of your funders.

With some exceptions we cannot infer the political orientation of social scientists from their research. For example, I have a great deal of sympathy for the anarchism (or what used to be called libertarianism) of Proudhon, Kropotkin and others and it has profoundly influenced my worldview. However, I don’t think you could look at the regression tables in my publications and conclude something like “whoa, this guy is totally an anarchist……”

37

AcademicLurker 05.31.12 at 4:42 pm

The implicit assumption of those who advocate for organizations like the IHS is that because academics of all disciplines are more likely to vote for Democrats or be liberal in some sense that the scholarship coming from those same persons is in some way “leftists” or “liberal”. With the exception of a few journals (e.g. explicitly Marxist journals that only other Marxists read) I think this inference is incorrect.

In the minds of right wingers, anything that isn’t explicitly conservative propaganda is automatically liberal propaganda.

38

Dan 05.31.12 at 5:26 pm

The implicit assumption of those who advocate for organizations like the IHS is that because academics of all disciplines are more likely to vote for Democrats or be liberal in some sense that the scholarship coming from those same persons is in some way “leftists” or “liberal”. With the exception of a few journals (e.g. explicitly Marxist journals that only other Marxists read) I think this inference is incorrect. That is, we should not describe articles from Econometrica, The American Sociological Review, or the American Journal of Political Science as “leftist” or “liberal”. But, so far as I can tell, this seems to be the assumption underlying how many libertarians and conservatives view academia. Therefore all research becomes “leftist” and you need a “libertarian” or “conservative” counterweight.

Well, it’s probably too crude to say that articles from those journals are “leftist” or “liberal”, since those terms could apply to many different aspects of the scholarship. I’m sure the research itself is all top-notch and conscientiously pursued. (It’s not that the regression tables are biased). But given the sociological facts about academia, I’d be surprised if the selection of research topics didn’t reflect a disproportionate interest in questions that liberals or leftists tend to be interested in. And this is the sort of thing that I think the IHS could well improve.

(With political philosophy/theory — disciplines that, shall we say, are slightly more detached from the empirical facts — I think the point is even more acute. Doesn’t it reflect quite badly that the prevailing views are so unrepresentative of the population at large?)

39

Chris Bertram 05.31.12 at 5:49 pm

_Doesn’t it reflect quite badly that the prevailing views are so unrepresentative of the population at large?_

Almost as badly as the failure of university biology departments to represent the population at large, perhaps? [I jest!]

I seriously doubt that a smaller proportion of political philosophers and theorists are libertarians than there are libertarians in the general population.

40

lupita 05.31.12 at 5:51 pm

With the exception of a few journals (e.g. explicitly Marxist journals that only other Marxists read) I think this inference is incorrect.

It would also be incorrect to assume Democrats, liberals, and even occupiers are leftists. I remember watching a video of a guest from Tahrir Square addressing the New York Occupiers with a rant about anti-capitalism. The crowd was nervously giggling and avoiding eye contact.

American academia is profoundly right-wing, as are the two parties, and US political culture. It bears repeating: the is no left in the US. Right-wing lunacy at the fringes is the result of this.

41

ajay 05.31.12 at 5:57 pm

where the primary effect is to increase the salience of positions within political theory that are massively under-represented relative to their prominence within the population as a whole, what’s the problem? Surely that’s a salutary thing, no?

Well, it’s not very salutary if those positions are wrong, is it? Lots of positions are under-represented in academia compared to the general population. Creationism comes to mind.

Basically, I don’t see why you think that academia without the influence of the super-rich would be in any way better, unless somehow that influence is itself intrinsically bad.

It’s only going to be good if you think that the super-rich are better at picking useful ideas and concepts than academia is – that there is some set of valuable points of view that academics are neglecting but which the super-rich have correctly identified as deserving of study. “Very rich people are better at sociology than sociologists” is an interesting hypothesis but one that would need a bit of evidence.

42

elm 05.31.12 at 6:40 pm

ajay@41

“Very rich people are better at sociology than sociologists”

I think I’ve found an appropriate thesis for IHS-funded research. I have no doubt that the timeless wisdom of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman will be most useful in reaching this pre-ordained conclusion conducting this research.

43

Sam 05.31.12 at 6:53 pm

A couple of points. Although IHS does give out scholarships for graduate students, mostly IHS just conducts summer seminars for undergraduate students. As I understand it, their goal is to promote exposure to libertarian ideas. I doubt that they’re aiming to corrupt empirical research in order to get this research to conform to libertarian conclusions. They simply don’t give out enough money to have this effect–each scholarship is typically small relative to graduate school stipends and they only give them to about 100-150 students per year (compare: about 50,000 people receive PhDs every year in the United States).

Like other people, I reject the idea that academia should aim to mirror the popular opinion. While I do suspect that some disciplines could benefit from more ideological diversity, a better justification of organizations like IHS is that libertarian ideas are interesting and important and it is worthwhile to expose people to them. I think the same thing about other views in political philosophy too. In fact, I first read G.A Cohen’s work at an IHS seminar!

44

elm 05.31.12 at 7:03 pm

Sam @43

As I understand it, their goal is to promote exposure to libertarian ideas.

Do you think it’s good to do so by:

giving the students a political questionnaire at the beginning of the week and another one at the end, to measure how much their political beliefs had shifted over the course of the week

Or would that be the hallmark of an organization interested in little more than ordinary indoctrination?

45

Sam 05.31.12 at 7:14 pm

Elm, I don’t work for IHS and I haven’t participated in any of their events in several years. Maybe things are different now. But in the past at least I didn’t get the sense that they were interested in indoctrination. They’re obviously a libertarian organization, but the staff and faculty seemed pretty open to debate and considering alternative views.

46

elm 05.31.12 at 7:18 pm

So assuming that the Long’s claim about political questionnaire’s is accurate, do you think that’s a good practice or not?

47

Sam 05.31.12 at 7:19 pm

Elm, that sounds like a bad practice.

48

Silly Wabbit 05.31.12 at 7:24 pm

“I’d be surprised if the selection of research topics didn’t reflect a disproportionate interest in questions that liberals or leftists tend to be interested in. And this is the sort of thing that I think the IHS could well improve.”

I think if you fully engage the empirical social science literature you will find that topics that libertarians are interested in (e.g. business regulation, civil liberties) are quite well-researched. For example, if I search for the term “regulation” in ECONlit and SOCindex I get 108, 398 articles. Granted there are probably some false positives but it seems likely that regulation, a topic important to most libertarians, is widely studied.

Of course there still could be a disproportionate representation of “leftist” topics. But for the life of me it’s difficult to think of a topic that is exclusively “leftist” or exclusively “libertarian”. I think it would be really difficult to test your dis- proportionality idea because you would have to arbitrarily decide that certain topics are “leftist” and others are “libertarian”. From my vantage point the only way for IHS to improve this situation is by sorting certain substantive lines of research into dubious categories then tracking the rate of change in the volume of research coming from those categories.

“With political philosophy/theory—disciplines that, shall we say, are slightly more detached from the empirical facts—I think the point is even more acute. Doesn’t it reflect quite badly that the prevailing views are so unrepresentative of the population at large?”

I don’t know how many self-attributed libertarians there are in the US population- around .5% of the electorate voted for Bob Barr but I imagine the real number of self-described libertarians is slightly higher (probably 1-2%). That means that libertarianism is under-represented in political philosophy if less than 1-2% of all political philosophers are libertarian. I doubt that there is any hard data on this, but we can safely assume that the number of libertarian political philosophers is non-zero. So I doubt that libertarianism is greatly under-represented in political philosophy in comparison to the general population.

However, I’m not sure that a set of political opinions held by a non-philosopher should be called a “philosophy” and compared to the set of philosophical ideas held by a professional philosopher. I have opinions about public policy, views on certain issues but I’m not sure that they constitute a philosophy per se.

Additionally, I’m not so sure that academic disciplines have a duty to always be a reflection of public opinion.Climatologists recognize the salience of climate change much more than the general public. The criminologists I know all support drug legalization (granted, that’s not a scientific survey). I’m not sure than either of those groups should adapt to be representative of public opinion or that we are better served by having rich guys selectively subsidize new entrants to change the composition of academic disciplines in order to match public opinion.

Again I have no principled problem with IHS. If some struggling students can get some money from some rich guys it’s great. However, some of the justification for the organization is rather odd….

49

JW Mason 05.31.12 at 7:49 pm

hink tanks of all stripes almost invariably produce low-quality scholarship.

I don’t think this is true, at all. Claiming that everyone is a hack, lets the real hacks off much too easy.

50

Josh McCabe 05.31.12 at 9:21 pm

“I’m perfectly happy having lots of libertarians in political philosophy, though I personally find the “left” variant more congenial. However I’m not happy with having the relative success of different viewpoints in academia skewed by the influence of the super-rich and their pet foundations.”

I’m not really sure why this is a bad (or good) thing per se. Could Chris go into a little more detail as to why this might be the case? That said, the viewpoints of academia are already skewed by income. Everyone here seems to quickly forget that political ideology is pretty highly correlated with family income and level of education. Not everyone has an equal chance to become an academic. It requires huge sums of financial and cultural capital. It really helps if you come from an affluent and highly educated family – the same demographic group which is more likely to be politically left-liberal. If we are really concerned with the relative success of different viewpoints then doesn’t IHS help offset the bias toward left-liberal viewpoints relative to libertarian ones? I think its an empirical question for which no one here has the answer right now.

51

ben in el cajon 06.01.12 at 1:45 am

It’s funny; what I took from the OP is the absurdity of attempting quantitative measurement of ideological travel. I’m thinking Gradgrind + Friedman + Scantron = Value Added Education. That last term, by the way, is unironically used as a basis for many higher education discussions in the US these days, as if what an 18-year-old learns in a writing or history class can be ascertained at the end of the term, or even upon receiving a diploma.

52

Eric Titus 06.01.12 at 5:33 am

I don’t think you have to look too hard to see a leftward lean among academics. But as others have pointed out that doesn’t mean their scholarship is biased. Medical researchers tend to be more liberal than the rest of the population–does that mean we need a right wing “counterweight” to the Mayo Institute (maybe one that does research on how to make doctors more conservative?). In Sociology, there is a liberal bias in some articles, but most seem overwhelmingly centrist and apolitical.

I do wonder if a billionaire-backed institute that is more or less explicitly funded to produce right wing research is the best way to reduce perceived bias in scholarship. It would almost seem justified if quality scholarship were actually being produced, but I’d guess that most good right wing academics keep a wide berth. The goal seems less to interact with actual academic disciplines but rather to create an alternative field of low-quality, poorly thought out scholarship. Dan–maybe you had positive experiences in the past, but did you actually read any of their articles?

53

GiT 06.01.12 at 5:45 am

@38 “(With political philosophy/theory—disciplines that, shall we say, are slightly more detached from the empirical facts—I think the point is even more acute. Doesn’t it reflect quite badly that the prevailing views are so unrepresentative of the population at large?”

If we’re talking about the ‘population at large’, philosophical libertarians/anarchists probably make up a much smaller % of the population than they do of political philosophy/theory faculty.

But the vast majority of the population at large likely has no theory or philosophy of politics. Among the subset of the population which one could actually consider as having a political philosophy, I for one don’t have a clue how academia matches up.

54

GiT 06.01.12 at 5:59 am

@50

“Everyone here seems to quickly forget that political ideology is pretty highly correlated with family income and level of education. Not everyone has an equal chance to become an academic. It requires huge sums of financial and cultural capital. It really helps if you come from an affluent and highly educated family – the same demographic group which is more likely to be politically left-liberal”

The rich, white, male, relatively secular, well-educated group is also the group to which libertarians are most likely to belong.

55

Chris Bertram 06.01.12 at 7:23 am

_I’m not really sure why this is a bad (or good) thing per se. Could Chris go into a little more detail as to why this might be the case? _

FFS!

The “left”, as perceived by the US right here, consists overwhelmingly of comfortably off white people who want a slightly more equitable income distribution within the most powerful country on earth but who overwhelmingly favour hanging onto the difference between themselves and the global poor. The right then make the argument that this “egalitarian bias” needs to be countered by libertarian ideologues directly funded by the 1 per cent. Obviously, this conception of “balance” and what might be done to achieve it has some problems ….

56

JP Stormcrow 06.01.12 at 11:29 am

@50: an affluent and highly educated family – the same demographic group which is more likely to be politically left-liberal.

Assumes facts not in evidence.

57

Barry 06.01.12 at 2:08 pm

Adding on; from Gelman’s book (‘Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do’), the tendency to vote Republican was positively correlated with income in all 50 states.

58

Josh McCabe 06.01.12 at 2:11 pm

@55: Chris, that doesn’t really answer my question. If it was really so “obvious” then you could explain it in a paragraph instead of answering a sincere question with sarcasm. What is it specifically about funding from rich folk (like Engels and Soros) that corrupts the work of academic researchers?

I’m also confused by your various comments. @55 you seem to imply that libertarian thought provides no balance because its quite similar to American liberal thought but @5 you say that libertarian thought changes “the intuitions that people find plausible change, the burden of proof, the ideas people give the time of day to etc. All very worrying.” So is the influence of libertarian thought bad because it makes people only think inside the box (it’s simply a variant of American liberalism) or because it makes people think outside the box (it’s a radical ideology)?

59

mds 06.01.12 at 4:14 pm

Wow, Engels and Soros. That’s a variation I haven’t seen before. (Personally, I hope that the sinister Roswell Garst makes a comeback someday.)

Anyway, if Mr. McCabe has a problem with the characterization of IHS as someplace transformed by new requirements from its rich backer, and why such a transformation could be a bad thing, he should take it up with Dr. Long. For that matter, why doesn’t he take it up with those Cato employees who noticed that funding or ownership with explicit strings attached just might be a problem of a different class from merely having rich donors? I’m sure they could answer all of Mr. McCabe’s very serious, very thoughtful questions that have never before been asked in such detail or with such care. Why even bother trying to get an answer from an ideological leftist who obviously doesn’t understand [American-style right-]libertarianism’s purity of essence?

60

piglet 06.01.12 at 4:35 pm

“Think tanks of all stripes almost invariably produce low-quality scholarship. Even the more respectable institutions, like Cato, regularly publish work with serious methodological errors that any first-year grad student should be able to catch. My concern is that these institutions put downward pressure on the mean quality of academic scholarship by subsidizing poor scholarship.”

The lines between advocacy and academic research get blurred. Think-Tank funded publications with clear political agendas pretend to be peer-reviewed scholarly journals. A good example is the Hoover Institution’s Education Next.

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Maggie 06.01.12 at 4:49 pm

It seems odd to call certain questions in social science “leftist” or “liberal.” That implies that the correct/default/conservative position is deliberate ignorance of (some large subset of) social phenomena. As a descriptor of actual conservatives’ attitudes that may not be inaccurate. But to justify it, or even to justify analyzing social scientists’ output in those terms, one would need to argue – singulatim and in specific detail – that those questions/phenomena are invented, invalid or whatever. Which you couldn’t do without investigating the claimed phenomena, i.e. doing exactly what the librul sociologists were initially accused of doing. So that doesn’t work. (You could go for the weaker argument that they’re real but unimportant, but that just lands you in a philosophical quandary instead of a scientific one.)

The “alternative field” of inferior scholarship reminds me of what I’ve observed among academics with strong religious commitments. In both cases it’s hard to draw the line where legitimate ideological diversity ends and hackery begins. (For example the steep, short slope that has Robert George at the top and Ave Maria Law School at the bottom.)

I like Murray Rothbard just for his name. Sounds like a character out of Roth.

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piglet 06.01.12 at 5:02 pm

“I’m thinking Gradgrind + Friedman + Scantron = Value Added Education. That last term, by the way, is unironically used as a basis for many higher education discussions in the US these days”

The University of Arkansas has a Department of Education Reform (http://www.uark.edu/ua/der/) funded by Walmart. Entirely unironically it has an “endowed chair in accountability”, although one would be hard pressed to find any accountability about the chair’s or the department’s activities. Entirely unironically, these Walmart sponsored endowed chairs subject to no accountability whatsoever propose that teacher tenure causes bad education outcomes. Entirely unironically, the department has created its own Education Working Paper Archive (http://www.uark.edu/ua/der/EWPA/), working papers which department members list on their CVs as “peer-reviewed” publications along with Education Next and the like. Accountability is always for others.

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Maggie 06.01.12 at 5:11 pm

Well if you can kick the education profession out of the middle class, sales of Great Value (TM) macaroni, hot dogs etc are sure to rise.

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J. Otto Pohl 06.01.12 at 5:14 pm

Great Value ™ is pretty expensive here. I just buy jollof rice from the market women. Not only is it cheaper, but it is also already prepared.

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Emily 06.01.12 at 5:19 pm

piglet, I’m not sure how universities in the US work constitutionally, but wouldn’t the Chair still be subject to the authority of the Provost and Chancellor, both of whom should be subject to an Act of State (I assume it’s a State uni) incorporating or founding the university?

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piglet 06.01.12 at 6:00 pm

Emily, they are tenured professors. Better than tenured because they are endowed chairs. They can pretty much do what they want. That is ok as far as it goes – academic freedom and all that. The irony is twofold: first, tenured professors claiming that tenure is bad for education. Second, actually more damning, these are self-admitted right-wingers who were appointed to endowed chairs funded and selected by Walmart (actually only 50% funded by Walmart Foundation but they still got to call the shots). How the chairs were selected is not quite transparent but the donor did have a say in this. Whether it was 100% I don’t know. However, one of the professors was quite straightforward: “Without the Walton money, I’m not sure the people on the far right would be here.” (http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/fighting-the-leftist-lean/Content?oid=1269358)

Further, the chairs so selected were hired with tenure, as opposed to most American professors who have to go through a grinding tenure track before they can apply for tenure. So these people were selected for their right-wing orientation, they were selected for their animosity to teachers unions and the like, and they have the kind of work contract that completely shields them from exactly the kind of accountability or performance pressure that they say is crucial for “education reform”. A further irony is that these right-wingers chosen in part due to their ideological orientation also spend a lot of time complaining about Academia’s “left-wing bias”. And another irony is that they subvert the regular academic evaluation system (imperfect as it is) by creating their own “peer-reviewed” publication venues. Remarkably, nobody calls them on their contradictions.

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Silly Wabbit 06.01.12 at 6:48 pm

Whoa this topic exploded.

To go back to my original point I’m not entirely convinced that libertarians (in the post 1960s U.S. use of the term) are that underrepresented in academia. Roughly .04% of the population voted for Bob Barr (the LP candidate in 2008) and survey research suggests that self-described libertarians are a small minority of the population (I’m guessing 1-2%-does anyone have any hard data?).

That means that if there are 200,000 practicing political scientists (or you could use sociologists) in the US that we should expect there to be roughly 8,000 libertarians. This seems reasonable. I would not be surprised if libertarians were slightly over-represented in economics (maybe 2-5%% of all economists?) so on balance I think it’s entirely possible that the representation of libertarians in the social sciences is roughly equivalent to the representation of libertarians in the population.

Let’s say that libertarians are under-represented in one of the social sciences (let’s say sociology). Say we do a comprehensive survey of all people with advanced degrees in sociology who are doing social-scientific work for government or industry or who are working in academia. Let’s say that we find that only .25% of sociologists are libertarians were the real population number is around 1.4%. Does anyone really think that increasing the percentage of libertarians in sociology from .25 to 1.4% will drastically alter the discipline?

For that matter there are a number of underrepresented political orientations in academia. I have noticed that very few social workers are Evola-inspired hard-line fascists. White supremacists are a rare breed in Africana studies departments and I can’t think of a single Maoist professor of fashion design and deep ecologists are no were to be found in MBA programs.

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Aulus Gellius 06.01.12 at 7:25 pm

The problem with the situation described in the OP obviously isn’t just the result (more libertarians in academia), it’s the means. You’re not supposed to be judging academic work based on whether its conclusions match your pre-existing beliefs. When you give “a political questionnaire at the beginning of the week and another one at the end, to measure how much their political beliefs ha[ve] shifted”, you encourage teachers and students to arrange their work to aim at a particular conclusion, and inculcate habits of mind directly opposed to the ones appropriate for scholars.

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Maggie 06.01.12 at 8:26 pm

“if there are 200,000 practicing political scientists….in the US”

Surely not, not even if you stretch the definitions of “political scientist” and “practicing” so far as to completely fail to pick out anything remotely academic/scholarly.

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Matt 06.02.12 at 12:22 am

I can think of few more self-contradictory things than naming a libertarian propaganda house the “Institute for Humane Studies”. In my experience, there are few things LESS humane than the average libertarian…

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Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.02.12 at 3:36 am

The “Institute for Humane Studies” sounds like an euthanasia clinic for pets.

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John Mashey 06.02.12 at 5:53 am

I do not know if it still does, but CATO certainly for a long time acted as a PR advocate for tobacco, see comment at Washingtonian.

Apparently some political beliefs allow one to help tobacco companies, who exist only by addicting children to smoking that will (eventually) kill about half of them.

IHS and Mercatus do not show up so often in the Tobacco Archives, although “Goerge Mason University” (where they are) appears quite often.

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Jim Rose 06.03.12 at 12:47 am

Mike M, there are comparably funded organization to promote left-wing ideas. They are the social science departments of universities.

Using voter registrations and faculty web pages, Dan Klein found that:
• Academic social scientists overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and the Democratic hegemony has increased significantly since 1970.
• Of the fields sampled, anthropology and sociology are the most lopsided, with Democratic to Republican ratios upwards of 20:1, and economics is the least lopsided, about 3:1.
• Among social-science and humanities professors up through age 70, the overall Democrat: Republican ratio is probably about 8:1.

These findings are generally in line with the previous studies

The left-wing bias of universities is no surprise in light of Hayek’s analysis of intellectuals in light of opportunities available to people of varying talents:
• exceptionally intelligent people who favour the market tend to find opportunities for professional and financial success outside the Academy in the business or professional world; and
• Those who are highly intelligent but ill-disposed toward the market are more likely to choose an academic career.

This also leads to the phenomenon that academics don’t know much about how markets work, since they have so little experience with them.

Schumpeter explained in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, it is “the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs” that distinguishes the academic intellectual from others “who wield the power of the spoken and the written word.”

Schumpeter and Nozick argued that intellectuals were bitter that the skills so rewarded at school and university with top grades were less well rewarded in the market.

To Nozick, the intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. For Schumpeter, in the intellectual’s main chance of asserting himself lies in his actual or potential nuisance value.

Posner observes: “Because there is no correlation between the originality and the political and social utility of an idea, the academic emphasis on originality, and the superior marketability of extreme positions in the market for public-intellectual work, are frequently at war with the accuracy, utility, and practicality of the academic public intellectual’s predictions and recommendations.”

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Maggie 06.03.12 at 2:40 am

The left-wing bias of universities is no surprise in light of Maggie’s analysis of capitalists in light of opportunities available to people of varying talents:
•exceptionally intelligent people who favour discoveries and principles tend to find opportunities for professional and personal fulfillment outside the Market in the academic or humanitarian world; and
•Those who are highly avaricious but ill-disposed toward ideas are more likely to choose a business career.

This also leads to the phenomenon that capitalists don’t know much about how higher levels of analysis work, as they have so little experience with them.

Maggie explained in My Chihuaha, My Box Turtle, and Me, it is “the absence of direct responsibility for empirical and normative judgment calls” that distinguishes the apologist for capital from others “who wield the power of the spoken and the written word.”

Maggie and her pet Chihuahua argued that market propagandists were bitter that the arguments so rewarded in boardrooms and private foundations with fat checks were less well rewarded in the academy.

To Maggie, the capitalist wants the whole society to be a market writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and made so much money. For Maggie’s box turtle, the bourgeois apologist’s main chance of asserting himself lies in his actual or potential ability to obscure the true condition of labor.

Maggie observes: “Because there is no correlation between the validity and the market value of an idea, the academic emphasis on objective confirmation, and the superior marketability of bourgeois ideology in the market for public-intellectual work, are frequently at war with the accuracy, social utility, and justice of the market propagandist’s predictions and recommendations.”

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Silly Wabbit 06.03.12 at 3:17 am

Jim,

I will cautiously suggest that the notion that there is some place called “the market” and there is some place called “academia” is not very analytically useful or perhaps misleading. For one, academia is a market like many others. Indeed, the academic labor market is intensely competitive, individualistic and very hierarchical- a common mantra is “publish or perish”. If you don’t produce you don’t keep your job (or even get a job). In other words, academia is full of all sorts of markets and market behaviors. And, of course, academia is deeply embedded in other markets and most academics live and exist in a market economy.

So I’m not really sure what you are getting at when you suggest that there is a place called “the market” and another called “academia” that are somehow rigidly opposed. For one, it’s not clear what “the market” is supposed to be. Maybe you could explain your typology a little better……..

Also, its really great that you have read academics like Hayek, Nozick and Schumpeter- the first and the latter are undoubted men of great insight and I’ve never really gotten into Nozick (not really into phillosophy….) But, with caution, I will suggest that perhaps their observations about academia in the 1940s (when Schumpeter was writing) might not be as true today. Maybe in the 1940s professors were some how fenced off from the rest of the world and lived in small self-sufficient disembedded communities populated only by other professors and were, therefore, somehow insulated from “the market” (whatever exactly that is).

Also, from the way I read you post you seem to be conflating Republicans with libertarians and you seem to be implying that somehow folks who vote for democrats are “left wing”. I think it’s a mistake to infer a deep ideological orientation or worldview from how a person votes alone or make some of the inferences that Klein does in his work.

The IHS, and other libertarian organizations, seek to increase libertarian density among academics. I think that it might be incorrect to argue that your average Republican is simultaneously a Libertarian-this is how I take your post. Libertarians, judging by the votes for the last LP presidential candidate, are roughly .4% of the electorate. If anyone has any good survey research feel free to chime in, but libertarianism seems pretty marginal in the general population (even if its big on the internet). As I have attempted to argue, I’m not sure that libertarians are that underrepresented in academia.

Remember, its perfectly possible for “leftists” to be over-represented in academia and libertarians to not be under-represented if you allow for more than two categories. In other words, a leftist bent in academia does not imply that libertarians are simultaneously underrepresented.

With that being said there certainly underrepresented political groups in the social sciences. For one, there are very few anti-gay Santorum-like social conservatives in the social sciences; this is probably the most obvious difference between academia and the general public. Other groups are also not represented. Neonazis and other white supremacists are no were to be found. I can only think of 5-10 self-described anarchists who are working social scientists.

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understudy 06.03.12 at 6:58 pm

“Apparently some political beliefs allow one to help tobacco companies, who exist only by addicting children to smoking that will (eventually) kill about half of them.”

No more than liberals exist to allow children to have abortions without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Tobacco is the industry everyone loves to hate. Political beliefs be damned, most governments globally have chose a revenue-maximization policy with regards to tobacco, not a harm reduction.

Whether drug legalization, foreign policy, and corporate subsidies, Cato has been a consistent advocate for a set of beliefs. It helps that they aren’t aligned with a political party, unlike most think tanks, they don’t have an incumbent they have to defend no matter how dumb the decisions…

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Jim Rose 06.04.12 at 1:24 am

Thanks Maggie and Silly Wabbit, my apologies for a delayed response.

I disagree with Maggie because I agree with Silly Wabbit’s point that the academic labour market is intensely competitive, individualistic and hierarchical – the mantra is publish or perish.

The theories of occupational choice, compensating differentials and the division of labour suggest plenty of market opportunities both for caring people and for the no different from anyone else selfish people that Maggie mentioned who want professional and personal fulfilment on someone else’s dime:
– Personalities with a high degree of openness are strongly over-represented in creative, theoretical fields such as writing, the arts, and pure science, and under-represented in practical, detail-oriented fields such as business, police work and manual labor.
– High extraversion is over-represented in people-oriented fields like sales and business and under-represented in fields like accounting and library work.
– High agreeableness is over-represented in caring fields like teaching, nursing, religion and counselling, and under-represented in pure science, engineering and law

The caring doctors, teachers and care workers are quickly spotted in the market and get plenty of repeat business and personal recommendations. People cannot fake a caring personality due to the immediate market test of repeat business.

I do not conflate that the average Republican is simultaneously a Libertarian.

I am amazed at the belief on the Left on the general influence of the Austrian school on what they smear as neoliberalism and on public policy. Successful movements are large and their leading lights attract many career-minded followers:
– Until the 1990s, the Austrian school – all of them – would not have to book ahead for a table at a restaurant!
– After 2000, the Austrian school can still all fit into one room and most would still know each other from the same one or two graduate schools. Most would be recent graduates of George Mason university.

Dan Klein has enough trouble finding republicans, much less libertarians. In Is There a Free-Market Economist in the House? The Policy Views of American Economic Association Members he found that:
– about 8 per cent of American Economic Association members support free-market principles, and less than 3 per cent may be called strong supporters; and
– By voting behaviour, even the average Republican American Economic Association member is middle-of-the-road, not free-market; 7 of his 264 American Economic Association survey respondents were libertarians.

Klein speculated that the difference between the actual and attributed views of the profession is partly explained by the superiority of free-market positions.

What is more certain is those 7 U.S. libertarian economists still do not seem to need to large table to be seated at a restaurant.

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Silly Wabbit 06.04.12 at 3:19 am

Jim,

Thank you for the reply. I fear I must abandon this threat after this comment as it has already taken up too much of my time. However, if you chose to reply I will make an effort to read it. I’m somewhat disappointed that you didn’t try to explain what “the market” is and how academia is removed from “the market”.

To be quite frank I find your post a little difficult to follow.

I’ve read many of the Klein pieces you are referencing and, quite frankly, it’s not very good survey. He seemed to create a set of questions and then ask people how much they agreed with him or some contrived “free market” orthodoxy.

“Free market economics” is not a useful analytic term as there is no body of thought which can be accurately labelled “free market economics”. “Free market economics” seems to refer to an orthodoxy of Libertarian (in the post 1960s US use of the term) and conservative canards about public policy (e.g. pro-right to work laws, anti-minimum wage, anti-environmental policy etc). It’s not surprising that academics do not fit neatly into a contrived orthodoxy generated largely by pundits, think tanks, and a handful of individuals of scholarly merit.

I encourage you to avoid using the phrase “free market economics” to describe a body of social-scientific economic thought because it does not. Klein’s surveys reveal that social scientists generally don’t agree with a set of contrived political opinions that are apparently called “free market economics”.

Again, this work does not show that libertarians are under-represented in academia in comparison to the general population . If we use the 2008 election as a guide Libertarians are only .4% of all people who voted. If we say that libertarians are “strong free market” ala Klein this means that libertarians might be over-represented in academia (.4% in the electorate vs. 3% in academia). In economics this appears to be the case; 7/264= 2.7% vs. .4% of the population. In other words, if the # of libertarians in economics matched the population we would expect a figure around 1 libertarian economist in his sample.

As I have attempted to argue in previous posts there are certainly under-represented political groups in academia and the social sciences. I imagine that hard-core social conservatives (think Santorum) are drastically under-represented- folks of this orientation are a substantial subset of the population and are almost non-existent in academia.

I assume you have some libertarian sympathies (nothing wrong with that, BTW). With that being said, it’s nice to hear a Libertarian acknowledge that the Austrian school is a tiny, marginal heterodox body of thought in economics. Most of the libertarian blogosphere seems to believe that the economics profession is locked into a pitched battle between “Keynesian” and “Austrian” economists which is not an accurate portrayal of the discipline.

In conclusion, I don’t really get what the fuss is about. Libertarians are not terribly under-represented in academia. Other major political groups, like religious social conservatives, probably are a underrepresented. The overrepresentation of “leftists” or “liberals” is not a result of the under-representation of libertarians. Rather, its probably a result of the underrepresentation of anti-gay social conservatives and a few other marginal groups. Further research is needed to fully unpack this relationship.

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chris 06.04.12 at 12:04 pm

The implicit assumption of those who advocate for organizations like the IHS is that because academics of all disciplines are more likely to vote for Democrats or be liberal in some sense that the scholarship coming from those same persons is in some way “leftists” or “liberal”.

Surely the more parsimonious explanation is that academics tend to vote for the party that isn’t constantly rhetorically attacking the academy, trying to cut its funding, and threatening the academics’ jobs? There’s no need to resort to an ideological explanation for academics’ Democratic lean when a perfectly good self-interest/self-respect (i.e. resent the party that rhetorically attacks you) explanation is right there.

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Maggie 06.06.12 at 12:25 pm

“selfish people that Maggie mentioned [???] who want professional and personal fulfillment on someone else’s dime”

Ummmmm, you do realize that under capitalism “professional” = = “on someone else’s dime”, that dimes only function as dimes by virtue of having once been someone else’s, and that achieving personal fulfillment *without* attracting someone else’s dime is systematically discouraged as anti-social behavior in whatever form it happens to assume?

“Most would be recent graduates of George Mason university.”

Ok THANK YOU and you know what, I have always wondered about what you point out where nobody in economics these days believes in markets and do you think it would help if they starting going to Patrick Henry or Liberty instead of an over-priced secular humanist diploma factory like Mason or Chicago or Case Western where they don’t get to spend enough time on Anarchy State and Utopia (and probably haven’t even HEARD of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal) because of all the required courses in stuff like evolution and statistics.

“The caring doctors, teachers and care workers are immediately spotted by the market and rewarded with repeat business”

Awesome! I’m so glad to hear this. Maybe I’ll go upstairs after lunch and ask the benefits coordinator for the names of those doctors because the one I have now is kind of a witch but not exactly IYKWIM. She told me to take walks for my health but everyone knows the sidewalks are built with stolen money (which is why I drive everywhere anyway) and I feel like her saying that suggested a really unhealthy hostility toward the productive class so it’s really hard for me to be totally forthcoming with her when she asks all that stuff about my sex life and do I do drugs (HELLO MCFLY!!! “do I use drugs?”? Is the Pope a Socialist?) and how many times a week do I listen to Bela Fleck etc.

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