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Nancy MacLean’s Third-Grader Defense

In today’s “Best of the Web” at the Wall Street Journal, James Freeman features one of Phil Magness’s most-recent revelations of the shoddy ‘research’ that characterizes Nancy MacLean’s fabulist tale Democracy in Chains.  Freeman reports that he e-mailed MacLean to give her the opportunity to defend herself against Phil’s charge.  MacLean replied to the first of Mr. Freeman’s e-mails:

Ms. MacLean said via email that Mr. Magness is “wrong about the facts of Virginia history” but has not responded to a follow-up question asking specifically which of the publications carried Buchanan’s work

Of course, MacLean’s reply to Mr. Freeman is no defense whatsoever.  It’s the equivalent of a third-grader saying “Nuhh unhhhh!” in response to a classmate’s truthful charge that she cheated while playing some game during recess on the schoolyard.

Anyone receiving an inquiry from a publication as prominent and as widely circulated as the Wall Street Journal would leap at the opportunity to share specific evidence of his or her accuser’s errors – anyone, that is, who actually has such evidence.  The fact that MacLean responds only with the equivalent of ‘Nuhh unhhhh!’ – the fact that she responds only with an unsubstantiated charge against Phil – is itself evidence as powerful as such evidence gets in such cases that she, in fact, has no credible evidence to point to in order to support her charge that Phil’s recounting of a slice of Virginia history is “wrong.”  If MacLean has such evidence, she’d be delighted to share that evidence in the prominent pages of the WSJ.

So I ask: how can MacLean get by without offering a single substantive defense of herself?  Her defense of her completely misleading quotation of Tyler Cowen – namely, that she quoted him in light of the “totality” of his work – would be a poor defense even if Tyler had elsewhere expressed sentiments of the sort that she falsely portrays him as expressing in her misquotation of him.  (See here, here, and here.)  But nothing in Tyler’s vast corpus of work supports MacLean’s quotation or her interpretation of the “totality” of Tyler’s work.

Has MacLean offered any substantive defense against even one of the dozens and dozens of specific charges of inaccuracy leveled against Democracy in Chains?  If so, I’ve not seen it.  Her defenses consist chiefly in accusing those who question the accuracy of her work of being participants in some shady conspiracy against her.  This ‘defense,’ of course, is itself based on zero evidence.  (And speaking as one of MacLean’s critics, I attest and solemnly swear on all that I hold dear that I am part of no conspiracy, organized or un.  I criticize MacLean’s work simply because I cannot abide the absurd portrayal of Jim Buchanan and of public choice that is presented in her fabulist tale.)

I challenge MacLean to offer a defense against even just one of the charges against her book.  (Note: defenses rooted in ad hominem accusations are not substantive.)  I challenge MacLean to offer evidence that even one of the many charges against her work is flawed or inapposite.  Surely a chaired professor of history at one of the world’s most prestigious research universities can offer substantive evidence in defense of at least one of the many charges against her book.


MacLean refuses to engage with her critics, again asserting that our motives are impure.  But ask yourself: if you were MacLean, subject as you are to a fusillade of specific charges of inaccuracies and falsehoods, wouldn’t you leap at the opportunity to defend yourself with evidence or logical argumentation if you could?  The only sensible conclusion to draw from MacLean’s continuing refusal to offer any substantive defense of her work is that she has no such defense to offer.  So she hides behind ad hominem fallacies and unsupported accusations.  She hides.  She doesn’t defend herself because, well, she has no substantive defense to offer.  What other reason can there be?

Here, by the way, is yet more on MacLean’s fallacies from Phil Magness.