Re: The Struggle for Liberty in Today's Academy

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Sat Nov 10 2001 - 06:19:37 MST

On Wednesday, November 07, 2001 12:03 PM wrote:
> No such claims or goals exist with government-sponsored research.
> Government research is explicitly designed with the purpose of objective
> advancement of the truth. There is no open understanding or intention
> that government research exist to further the goals of the government,
> as there is with business.

I think this is only rhetorically so. I.e., the rhetoric is for advancement
of the truth, etc. The reality is something different.

> Although I do think that in practice there is a bias, at least in some
> politically-oriented research, I think that Machan somewhat misstates
> the nature of the bias in government funding by comparing it to business.

What about the squelching of research into racial and ethnic differences?

> This analogy would suggest that political researchers would be influenced
> to support current government policies. Today they would be expected
> to promote Republican economic policies and support the war effort.

Not necessarily. It would depend on a few factors and there is a lag in any
organization. As soon as Bush was elected, e.g., not all professors from
UCB to NYU who didn't toe the GOP line were fired. Also, even though Bush
is in office, his economic policies -- which are basically welfare statist
period (he's not talking about abolishing the New Deal or the FRS only
quibbling over some minor details) -- have had little impact on the colleges
as of yet. I don't see him or anyone in his administration cutting the
monies to them or to fundamentally shifting policies.

Nor are the Republicans in charge of everything. Even when the so called
radicals in that party did have some power -- after the 1994 Congressional
elections -- this was short-lived AND the moderates (liberal, big government
Republicans) were still the majority of the party from House to shining
House. (As they used to say back then, Bob Dole (Senate Majority Leader
between 1994 and 1998) never met a take he didn't hike.:) Now, the
situation is much less this way. There are hardly any radicals, most of
that party is moderate (even more so in the cases of ex-NYC Mayor Rudy
Guiliani and now EPA boss Whitman), and the Democrats control the Senate.

> But in fact this is not the sort of bias we see. Academics generally
> are liberals, much more so than Republicans, and in most cases even
> more so than mainstream Democratic governments. The academy is the
> most left-leaning of major American institutions, retaining considerable
> numbers of socialists and quasi-communists even as these ideologies have
> failed in the real world.

Some would argue this is so mostly because the Left has controlled academia
for so long. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy too. If the Left now
controls higher learning -- and has for about a a century -- who do you
think they are going to give tenure, hire, and so on? A friend of mine,
Chris, who majored in political science at Rutgers University during the
early 1990s told me, e.g., that every paper he wrote for a certain professor
had to have a Marxist tinge in order to get a decent grade. Chris was
basically a libertarian at the time.

> Academics generally do not work to support
> government policies. The people who fund research have no expectation
> that the work will advance the causes of whatever government is still
> in power. The situation is quite different from much industrial research.

I don't think this is completely true. Academics often originate policy AND
they impact their students who then go on to become journalists,
politicians, and the like. The influence might not be immediate, but it's
there. Again, there might be a lag but a loose connection is not

> What we do see, as Machan's examples show, is a more familiar form
> of bias: self-interest.

Ah, and companies that support research do this for the same reason.

> Academics generally support policies which
> will benefit the academy. They are leftist supporters of even bigger
> governments, a policy which would funnel even more funds into academic
> research.

I think Rightists have shown the same tendency. Most Republicans might talk
about smaller government, but when it comes to their favorite programs --
defense, police, global intervention, support of Israel, and, now, faith
based charities -- why there's plenty of room in their worldview for big

But your point seems generally true. However, you overlook one thing. A
lot of public research is done at the behest of private companies. Thus, at
Rutgers University, e.g., we see the major pharmaceuticals given some
funding for projects, but getting the public to fund the rest. This is
nothing more than corporate welfare -- albeit done in such a fashion that
few criticize it. What do you think the impact of this system of wealth
transfer would have on academics? Would they be for the free market or
government-business partnerships?

> They object to Machan's libertarianism, not because it is in
> opposition to the policies of the funders, for their own research is as
> well; but because, if put into effect, it would cut off their own funding.

I don't see the two as separate. That the self-interest of tenured
academics alligns with certain ideologies and not others seems to show that
such groups self-select their members. In other words, they supoort
policies which help them out AND those who are already inclined to their
policies become their members. I don't think the average someone falls into
higher education if they don't already believe these things are good. (In
the same way, most politicians want what? Power! But the pool of people
who want to go into politics already believe government is the solution, so
most of them are not for a reduction in governmental or their own power.
It's not like hardcore libertarians make it to office, then discover, "Hey,
if I abolish this or that agency, I'll have less power" and transform into
welfare-state careerists.)

> Unfortunately, self-interest is the primal human emotion and there is
> no funding mechanism which will eliminate this effect. If we did have
> private funding of research, eventually researchers would take on an
> ideological bias in favor of that method which would be just as bad as
> the present system. If we went to some of the more radical proposals
> such as Robin's Idea Futures, bias would be present as well.

Then you have to ask yourself, which system produces the least bias against
the truth AND which system is more likely to provide a dynamic environment
to pursue the truth. You already know what I think about this -- or you've
been sleeping.:)


Daniel Ust

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