Sunday, 08 April 2007

Žižek, He Sounds Like a Fool Eyes roll when he opens his mouth, I grant that; but rarely do they drift asleep on a sea of banality, as mine were tempted to watching the many, many Žižek-centric extras on Children of Men. I happily hold his strange blend of Lacanian and Hegelian thought against him—these assumptions, I think in ridiculously stentorian tones, I cannot bear. But I'd never been bored by the man before last night; yet there I was, on my couch, listening to his Slavic-lilt and wanting to slit my wrists. He declared many things, and strongly, and many other things strongly too ... but he never made much of an interesting point, nor did he say much of anything I hadn't already thought. Which is when I realized that his lackluster performance was probably not his fault. I don't share many (if any) assumptions with Žižek, so if I could muster on my own approximately what he'd said, that meant either 1) I'm a sleeper-Lacanian or 2) many, many hours of footage had been edited until all that remained were a few clips that sounded smart to the dropouts working the editing suite. Whatever he'd said that was peculiar to himself had been chopped in order to satisfy someone else's (mistaken) idea of what an intellectual sounds like. However, I could almost reconstruct the interesting strain of thought Žižek wanted to follow there. It had something to do with the challenges countries with no written constitution face when the traditional (common law) order on which they teeter finally crumbles. He said as much once, and would've elaborated in his discussion of the "rootlessness of boats" had someone decided to include that footage in the piece. I would try to reconstruct the argument in full ... but as I said, I'm not quite equipped for that climb.
Statistical Analysis? Don't Want It. We Prefer "Real Facts." (x-post from the Valve) I’ve seen this article by Mary Eberstadt roll across Phi Beta Cons twice this past week, so I can only conclude they really, really want people to read it. Why? To debunk it, obviously. Who am I not to oblige? In “Do Campuses Tilt Left?” Eberstadt attacks the conclusions of the American Federation of Teachers’ recent report “The ‘Faculty Bias’ Studies: Science or Propaganda?” The AFT paper analyzes eight studies purporting to show systemic liberal bias in higher education in order to determine whether or not they’re methodologically sound. The conclusion? They fail to meet minimum research standards. In particular: The studies were evaluated using five research principles that help to establish whether the authors are overgeneralizing based on limited or flawed collection and interpretation of data. These principles help to differentiate anecdotal evidence that is hand-picked to support a particular point of view and systemic observation that leads to valid conclusions. The emphasis is mine. In my defense, I couldn’t help myself. To refute the claim that these studies hand-pick anecdotal evidence to support a particular point, Eberstadt presents “a few examples from what could be a longer list,” all from the mouths of prominent movement conservatives: “I watched with horror as the multicultural yahoos took over the humanities” (the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald). “I’d been preaching freedom of speech, but I had to leave the academy for the world of policy think tanks before I’d ever get a chance to practice it” (Ethics and Public Policy Center senior fellow Stanley Kurtz, formerly of Berkeley, Chicago, and Harvard). “Of course the vast majority of the faculty [at Harvard] were on the left” (Hoover Institution senior fellow and former Harvard professor Peter Berkowitz). “Because I studied neither economics nor Straussian philosophy [at the University of Chicago], I never met a conservative professor, and I knew only one conservative student” (David Brooks). Earlier in the article, Eberstadt wrote that “so perverse is [the AFT] report in conception and so quixotically oblivious to the inescapable facts, that it might easily be mistaken for a sendup [and] that some Swiftian wit had pulled off a brilliancy here.” To her bewilderment, I add my own—for an article so “quixotically oblivious” must have been written by a liberal satirizing a conservative. How else to account for the fact that “Eberstadt” responds to the AFT’s criticism of studies relying on anecdotal evidence gathered without any control for bias by hand-picking four anecdotes from a forthcoming collection entitled Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys? Since most people won’t read the study itself [.pdf], I’ll share Eberstadt’s analysis of its highlights. Eberstadt balks at the study’s claim that “it is not possible with any precision to calculate a ratio of Democrats to Republicans at the sampled institutions.” Actually, Eberstadt cites it like this: “It is not possible with any precision to calculate a ratio of Democrats to Republicans at the sampled institutions.” Makes it seem like “It” is...

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