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Phil Magness Provides Further Evidence of the Corruption of the Academy

This Facebook post by Phil Magness is worth sharing – and reading – in full. As the tale related here by Phill reveals, the typical academic, at least in the social sciences and humanities, is increasingly likely to be mendacious and malevolent. (Notable exceptions are members of GMU Econ and GMU Law, along with a handful of other departments and schools scattered hither and yon.)

Do I ever have a story to tell you.

Earlier this year the journal “History of Economics Review” (HER) published a ridiculous article by Nancy MacLean, Sandy Darity, and M’Balou Camara in which the trio accused economist W.H. Hutt of being a white supremacist. The article originated as a presentation at the 2019 PPE Society conference on a panel organized by one Daniel Kuehn, and had gone through multiple versions and iterations as a working paper on INET. As is often the case with MacLean’s historical writing, it was riddled through with egregious factual errors including blatant misquotations, confused and transposed sources, claims that were made up out of thin air, and an overarching far-left wing political narrative driving the whole story. The working paper was easily dissected by Art Carden and Ilia Murtazashvili and myself in a series of blog posts and an article for Econ Journal Watch. We were therefore surprised to see it reemerge in zombie fashion at HER.

The published version of MacLean’s article retained many of the defects of the original, and augmented them with even more egregious errors. For example, she blatantly misquoted a passage by Hutt where he condemns white Afrikaners for hypocritically supporting apartheid. In MacLean’s rendering, Hutt appears to be making racist statements about black African victims of apartheid. MacLean et al even enlist this misquoted passage as the centerpiece of their evidence in accusing Hutt of white supremacy.

Of equal significance, MacLean et al’s article directly attacked Art, Ilia, and me by name, and accused us of failing to “reckon” with archival evidence that they claimed to have produced. It further accused us of “dogma-driven denialism” and implied that we were trying to cover up the same racist viewpoints that they were attributing to Hutt. If there was ever an instance of an article in which the accused parties (i.e. us) should have been given a right to respond to a list of very aggressive and unprofessional allegations, this was it.

So we did the responsible thing. Art, Ilia, and I drafted an article-length rebuttal of MacLean et al and submitted it to HER back in the spring. We did so strictly out of an interest in academic integrity, as HER is a low-ranked journal but MacLean’s false narratives also have a record of growing legs. After reviewing our article, HER’s editor Harry Bloch responded that they would not run a full-length piece on the subject but instead invited us to condense it into a short comment with a strict 2,500 word limit. Keep in mind that MacLean et al’s original article got 6,500 words by comparison. We nonetheless obliged, trimming the article down to respond to just 3-4 of the most egregious of MacLean et al’s transgressions.

Several months went by with no answer until we finally got a response from HER’s editor in chief Harry Bloch. We learned that Bloch had sent our short comment out to a referee, and was now treating it as an R&R – albeit with the 2,500 word limit still intact. The anonymous referee’s report was a full-blown exercise in tendentiously argued pedantry, completely ignoring our most salient points and insisting that we chase down and address tangential minutiae. Furthermore, the referee demanded that we elaborate upon several point that we had previously addressed in the original article but that we had to remove to meet the 2,500 word limit. Bloch instructed us to respond to the referee nonetheless while still abiding by that limit.

I suspected at the time that the game was now fully rigged against us. We had been given the impossible task of addressing lengthy and elaborate requests from the referee (requests we had previously addressed in the original submission) and yet doing so within a strict word limit, imposed by the editor. Bloch undoubtedly knew that the longer version of our paper had already addressed several of the referee’s points as well, and that we had only removed them because of the word limit that he imposed on us. Nonetheless, we decided it was worth one more try so we revised the word-limited piece further, trimmed portions of it to make room for a response to the referee, and resubmitted it.

Another two months went by until we received a rejection today. Bloch sent it back to the same referee, who responded with another list of tendentious ephemera, all of which was easily answerable but none of which we could ever address under the word limits (and yes, I have my suspicions as to who the referee is given its distinctively argued style).

In no small act of irony, our forcibly truncated 2,500 word comment – defending ourselves against an attack and documenting multiple incontrovertible misrepresentations of fact and evidence by our attackers – was subjected to a far more aggressive peer review process than MacLean et al’s original article. I’ll likely have more to say on this chain of events in the near future, as I intend to press forward with our original and full-length response paper at another venue.

But in case you had any remaining doubts, academia is a dumpster fire of dishonest and unethical research practices. This is not the first instance I have encountered, nor will it be the last. But it is illustrative of the problem.

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