Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Faith, Fraud, Fame, and Finance

Not necessarily in that order, of course, but they do seem to be related, especially in modern academia, which has some rather serious problems that nobody seems to be dealing with.  Er . . . with which nobody seems to be dealing?  Forgive us, oh Strunk and White!

Distinguished German Professors.
The Big News in academia recently is the shocking discovery that a German professor falsified his data and findings!  It also turns out he didn’t know how to run his own tests with his own machine.  He only got caught when he tried to sell his university’s collection of chimpanzee skulls.  He was okay when he was giving away human skulls to his friends as gifts or selling them on the side, but giving away Bonzo’s beans was too much.

By the way, if you doubt any of this, or if it seems too wild to be believed, just follow the link, above.

Now, we’re not going to make excuses for the professor.  What we are going to do is make a little hay.

Warriors of Science: the Bone Wars.
According to the article, “Professor Reiner Protsch von Zieten — a distinguished, cigar-smoking German anthropologist . . . . passed off fake fossils as real ones and . . . plagiarised other scientists' work . . . . after returning from Germany to America, where he did his doctorate, and taking up a professorship, he . . . simply made things up.”  Protsch evidently expected people to take his findings on faith and reputation . . . such as “von Zieten,” his assumed title of nobility.

We’ve seen this a lot in the so-called “soft sciences,” such as economics, philosophy, theology, sociology, and so on (especially Catholic social teaching), but rarely in the physical sciences where data can be checked and results of tests verified.  The professor, however, was an expert at deflecting questions and avoiding debate:  “Prof Protsch refused to meet us. But we had 10 sittings with 12 witnesses. . . . He was perfect at being evasive . . . . He would switch from saying ‘it isn’t really clear’ to giving diffuse statements.”

It’s almost as if you were trying to discuss the Just Third Way with someone.

Modern Scholarship.
Part of the blame can be put on academia itself.  As Andrew Robert Burn (1902-1991) noted in his introduction to the translation of the Histories of Herodotus by Aubrey de Sélincourt (1894-1962), “[T]he excesses of Quellenkritik are mainly due to the Ph.D. system, which makes a high salary depend on producing original work. In a field as well-trodden as that of classical literature, . . . a truly original theory has a high probability of being a perverse theory.  (A. R. Burn, “Introduction,” Herodotus: The Histories. London: Penguin Books, 1972, 23.)

Burn specifically exempted archeology from his criticism, but academia fixed that.  Novelty has pervaded every aspect of academia.  Why?  A successful fraud is where the fame — and therefore the money — is.  As Dr. Samuel Alexander, who won a gold medal and everlasting income for his book on an “evolving God” (implying that God is not perfect, and is therefore not God!), said to Fulton Sheen when Sheen asked Alexander why he rejected the orthodoxy of Aquinas: “[Y]ou become known in this world not through Truth, but through novelty, and my doctrine is novel.”  (Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay.  New York: Doubleday and Co., 1979, 26.)

Forward for debt, jobs, and welfare!
And where does most of the money come from these days?  From government, to promote a political agenda, either directly in the form of research grants, or indirectly in the form of non-repayable student loans to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist.

And why don’t the jobs exist?  Because in academia you don’t get anywhere promoting the economics of reality that would empower ordinary people with the ability to enter into contracts and engage in productive work through ownership of both labor and capital.  You promote the economics that is going to keep power concentrated in the hands of a private elite who produce with their capital, or in the State, that doesn’t produce at all.

The only hope for a student is to come up with something so outrageous that only another academic or a politician would buy into it, get the funding, and spend the rest of your life promoting whatever it was got you a job, and destroying the reputation and career of anyone dumb enough to disagree with you.

The bottom line here is that you don’t really need to prove anything.  You just have to get the right people — or those with enough power or interested motive — to believe it or at least act as if they did.  Their faith in your fraud will carry you through to fame.  And money.

Of course, something like Justice University would go a long way to fixing the problem, but it doesn't exist.  Yet.


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