The Wisdom of Bob Higgs

by Don Boudreaux on August 29, 2019

in Reality Is Not Optional, Truth-seeking & ideology

This Facebook post by Bob Higgs is worth sharing here in its entirety:

The first Great Commandment of scholarship is be honest; everything else is commentary. All the standards and methods that scholars have developed over the ages can be reduced to “be honest.”

Of course, fraudulent scholars have always existed, but it seems to me — not that I’ve conducted a study of the matter — that clear dishonesty by leading scholars no longer elicits widespread condemnation and no longer discredits the guilty parties to the extent that it used to. The Nancy MacLean affair is clear-cut. Thomas Piketty’s work is either blatantly dishonest or spectacularly incompetent. And many other examples might be adduced. Ideology, it seems, has overwhelmed scholars in the humanities and social sciences to an unprecedented degree.

Scholars should be seeking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, however much they appreciate that this objective can never be attained fully. They are obliged to strive. If they clearly are not trying, indeed, are twisting and turning in the ideological wind above all, real scholars should drum them out of their professions as unworthy of recognition by genuine scholars.

……

Although not one in ten thousand academics and other intellectuals would express dissent from what Bob says above, quite a few express their disregard for what by says through their actions. As Bob notes, an excellent example of this academic utter shoddiness or execrable dishonesty (you pick) is Duke University “historian” Nancy MacLean and her well-documented penchant for presenting fabrications as facts. Another example is Cornell University “historian” Ed Baptist.

Equally distressing as these (and an increasing number of other) examples of scholarly utter shoddiness or execrable dishonesty is the complete incredulity of many people in accepting the “findings” of such “scholars.”

A perverted form of amusement can be had by imagining what sort of “scholarly” output you might offer to the world were you to operate according to the standards used by “scholars” such as Nancy MacLean. Free to present fiction as fact, you might, say, claim that because Dr. MacLean studied at the University of Wisconsin, and because Wisconsin was once home to the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer – and because in her book Democracy in Chains she did not explicitly denounce serial killing – that Dr. MacLean’s work is a surreptitious attempt to justify serial killing.

Of course, any such conclusion would be both preposterous and inexcusably unethical. Anyone who (unlike me here) seriously offered such a wacky, detached-from-all-reality, ideologically motivated thesis to the public should lose not only any claim to scholarly respect, but any claim to respect of any sort. And yet the bases for the conclusions reached by “scholars” such as Dr. MacLean are no more realistic than are those in my previous, satirical paragraph.

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