Naomi and Me

Peter Wood

Naomi Schaefer Riley has published an essay, “‘Shut Up,’ the Academy Argues” in The New York Post which is also tagged, “Peter Wood, Mark Regnerus, and Me.” She suggests that the Chronicle of Higher Education has decided to close the Innovations blog because of the reaction from climate thugs to my article in mid-July about Penn State.  That article, “A Culture of Evasion,” did indeed stir up some unusually intemperate responses. I was accused by comment-leavers of having done a “hatchet job,” of having “smeared” an innocent man, and being one of “the dregs of society.”  Those who are entertained by invective can find a few minutes of amusement scrolling through the comment section. 

But first things first. I think Naomi mistook the motives of the Chronicle in my situation. The Chronicle of Higher Education is indeed changing its blog format.  Innovations and Brainstorm are going away to be replaced by a new forum. Liz McMillen, the editor, invited me to participate in that new forum.  I’ve been blogging on Innovations since October 2010 and I look forward to continuing to write for the Chronicle

I don’t have any reason to think that the Chronicle is retiring Innovations or Brainstorm because of reactions to my article on Penn State or anything else I’ve written.  The plainly stated reason for the editorial shift is that the Chronicle wants to publish fewer, more carefully vetted blog posts.  The Chronicle has published 144 of my essays in the last 22 months and has stood by me when some of them have occasioned outrage among people leaving comments.  I can recall only three occasions when the Chronicle declined to post something I’d written—and in each instance I simply published it elsewhere.  I am by no means a victim of academic censorship.  The biggest source of friction I’ve had with Chronicle editors is that my posts typically ran far in excess of the “500 words” that the editors initially gave as an ideal length.  I did—once—post a five hundred word article, "How to Be Succinct."  More often I bloviated on to four or five times the recommended length.  (If it weren’t for its untimely demise, I would grace Innovations with my masterwork, “How to Be Prolix.”)

What presumably lies behind Naomi’s allegation is not what the Chronicle did but what some of my colleagues in the community of Righteously Indignant Defenders of Michael Mann did. They launched a little campaign to persuade the Chronicle to shut me down.  Naomi accurately records the efforts of Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk Community College, to persuade lots of people to write to the Chronicle demanding “a retraction and a public apology.”  All he got for his efforts was a polite rebuff from the Chronicle’s president and editor-in-chief, Philip Semas:

Thank you for your message. As we clearly state on every blog post, posting on a blog does not imply any endorsement of these views by The Chronicle. We publish a wide range of views in a wide range of formats, from opinion articles in print to blog posts to comments from readers. We couldn’t possible agree with or endorse all of them.

We also offer ample opportunity for readers to respond to and criticize opinion articles and blog posts (and indeed almost anything we publish). Indeed, Peter Wood’s post has, at last count, drawn 71 comments, many of which are critical of what he said about Michael Mann. Some make many of the same points you make in your message.

In other words, I think your quarrel is with Mr. Wood, not The Chronicle.

Indeed.  Of course, quarreling with me is less fun, since I don’t usually answer these folks at all and I find them kind of amusing. 

Professor Mandia was, of course, not happy with the Chronicle’s laissez-faire approach and urged readers of his blog to redouble their efforts.  He mentioned that the Chronicle had fired Naomi for her blog about the African-Americans Studies doctoral program at Northwestern University, and Naomi is surely right that the Chronicle’s action in her case fed Mandia’s hopes.  But as far as I know, that’s all that happened. 

Who is Scott Mandia?  He posted a picture of himself as a "caped climate crusader" not long ago.

It is a touching testimonial to his hero, Penn State professor Michael Mann, famous for his “hockey stick” graph that purports to show a drastic increase in world temperatures in recent decades. 

Professor Mandia also raises money for something called Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, meant to help climate scientists who face the “painful burden” of legal expenses.  Mandia explains: “to cover the cost of Dr. Mann’s legal defense as well as other scientists.”  To this end he sells cool gear, such as these 100 percent Dolphin-Safe t-shirts

Professor Mandia is a colorful figure but I doubt that the Chronicle is especially worried about him. 

Naomi’s larger point—that higher education is full of would-be enforcers of ideological orthodoxy—is entirely right.  Some of these enforcers are pretty vicious, as the case of Mark Regnerus illustrates. Many are small-minded and relentless.  But some are just hapless.  

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