June 5, 2016
More Free Speech Shenanigans
Before the ink dried on last week’s column, surrogates from unKoch My Campus and Greenpeace rushed into deep victimization mode. Here at Ball State, a remedial English instructor maintains that unKoch receives no funding whatsoever, while a Greenpeace puppet emailed to say, “unKoch isn’t even an organization.” These are odd claims, given that Greenpeace is currently advertising for unKoch interns.
To be clear, it is widely reported that the Soros Foundation carefully ‘scrubs’ its funding of a variety groups through organizations such as the Tides Foundation and Open Society Foundations. According to Mother Jones magazine, Greenpeace actually directs much of this funding. In the end, these dollars are filtered to support such groups as unKoch My Campus, which even lists three more Soros-funded ‘partners’ on its website. This campaign against the influence of money in politics and policy is radical and shameless hypocrisy.
Nevertheless, I think it naive to dwell on the role of money in politics and policy. It has always been thus, and it is really the ideas that matter. However, these efforts to quash speech on campus, via intimidation and reprisals, always come from the same wretched place of the human experience. As one of the more skillful practitioners of that vile art, Josef Stalin, explained, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?” Quite simply, unKoch My Campus is an intimidation society that seeks to silence those with whom they disagree.
Still, as citizens, we must necessarily make judgments about research in which we aren’t experts. I have developed four rules to follow as a warning on bias.
First, look at the credentials of the authors; not for pedigree, but for discipline. A scholar working outside his/her expert field is the classic warning sign of advocacy. For example, the person with a marketing Ph.D. who is touting global warming surely cannot be speaking authoritatively about climate science.
Second, judge research from one author or research center by the body of work, not a single study. If a source continually publishes findings that support only left-wing or right-wing causes, or receives funding only from one side of an issue, then be suspicious. Worry also when funders create an advisory group to oversee research. That is a clear signal that no unwelcome findings will see the light of day.
Third, look for researchers with some sort of external evaluation process on their work and career. Peer review is an imperfect but critical element of research and has an active life in scholarly publishing. That is a strength of university research, where the quality of research is rewarded, rather than the results.
Finally, examine at the claims of the research itself. Almost no study is really groundbreaking, or answers all the relevant questions. Moreover, honest scholars take pains to point out the weaknesses in their own work and point colleagues towards unanswered questions.
In the end, concerned citizens interested in evaluating research bias ought to look to these warning signs, and ignore the shrill and hypocritical voices of intolerance who attack our basic freedoms on campus.
About the Author
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