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Monday roundup: demonstrably false claims edition

August 20, 2012

Via my dad: NC universities accepted grants from BB&T in exchange for “teaching about capitalism, in many cases the moral aspects of free-market economics. The requirements often include teaching Atlas Shrugged.” According to The News & Observer, the list of schools includes Appalachian State, Guilford College, Johnson C. Smith University, NC State, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Wilmington, Queens University, Wake Forest University, Western Carolina, and Winston-Salem State University. I can imagine cases where it would be perfectly legitimate and natural to talk about Rand and the whole free-market-will-save-us-all mindset in the classroom. It’s horseshit, but it’s an important strain of thought. I can’t imagine any case where it’s remotely acceptable for private institutions to buy time in the classroom. Hope the administrators involved didn’t take any wooden nickels!

The recently bought-out Weird Tales announced that it would be publishing the first chapter of a self-published novel set in a “reverse-racist” dystopia where black folks brutally subjugate whites, while criticizing the book’s critics for an insufficient understanding of irony. It’s exactly as stupid and racist as it sounds. In the book, white people are called “pearls.” The book’s called Saving the Pearls. Which means it’s called Saving the White People. Which feels like trolling, but I guess it’s not? In any case, Weightless Books is offering free e-subscription transfers to other magazines for current Weird Tales subscribers, and I’d be pretty surprised if the magazine is under the same ownership a year from now. (They’ve since reversed course and taken down the original post, but there’s still a cached version available.)

I saw Niall Ferguson give a lecture when I was in college and wondered why the school sunk any funds on the dude’s speaking fees. He personified the sort of rhetoric that values egotistic contrarianism and sarcastic bloviation over stuff like evidence. The kind of guy who would rather get the last, cutting word than be right. It doesn’t look like much has changed since then: he’s got a bullshit-ridden cover story in Newsweek that flat-out invents numbers in order to attack Obama’s record on the economy, with a pile of obvious and easily-documented lies to set beside his existing pile of false predictions.

So on the same day that Newsweek publishes a cynical attention-grab, a puffed-up and unsupported claim, we have major media outlets like NPR and The New York Times too cowardly to state outright that women’s bodies do not, in fact, reject pregnancies resulting from rape. Our whole conception of objectivity is so warped at this point that opinions are more sacred than evidence. People like Ferguson get platforms for easily falsifiable assertions — because, you know, it’s just his opinion, and Newsweek can’t be bothered to fact-check — but supposed journalists are too demure, too shy of bias accusations to include relevant datapoints like, “A member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology either willfully lied or doesn’t understand how human bodies work.” Todd Akin didn’t misspeak. He made a dangerous and demonstrably false claim. Call it what it was.

You see a similar elevation of “opinion” in the new Weird Tales editor’s critique of Save the White People‘s critics, on whom he wishes a blessing:
The blessing is to wish they acquire sufficient wit, wisdom and depth of literary analysis to understand what they read, and also the compassion not to attack others merely because they hold a different opinion.
It boils down to the lazy, relativistic, “You gotta respect everyone’s opinion, man.” The same tack that major media outlets take. If there’s an ideological binary, or a perceived binary, we treat both ends as valid propositions in the interest of “fairness,” regardless of the claims or evidence on either side. But it’s performance over reason. Cheap self-aggrandizement. We’re above the fray, and we make the best cheap plastic fairness machine that money can buy. Sure, there’s often reasonable disagreement over what constitutes fact, evidence, or sound argument. But there are also plenty of cases where there’s not, and it’s the job of reporters and editors (among others) to tell the difference. You have a legal right to hold pernicious and false beliefs. You don’t have a right to have them taken seriously. Ideas are powerful, and the way we frame them can have massive consequences; otherwise, institutions wouldn’t bother paying seven figures to ensure that their pet ideas get the right kind of time in the classroom. Civility is important, but it is deadly dangerous to confuse reasoned argument for incivility.
One Comment leave one →
  1. October 1, 2012 5:11 pm

    Indeed bullshit sells, we look out over a sea of tabloids with talking heads floating on the scum. If I am a David Gregory, my opinions are as good as gold oh and while I’m at it are you in the market for a few solid N. Korean gold coins… Beck got a hell of a deal……….There is a scene in Dexter where a person lies dead on the concrete while the unit peruses the body, from it’s gut a dozen small black snakes suddenly appear and Dexter’s sister bellows ” Holy Frankenstein Fuck” a fitting comment on snakes erupting from the midsection of a dead John Doe. Well “Holy Frankenstein Fuck” to the whole right wing media machine and all it’s self-serving minions. Hey it’s my opinion and sooner or later you will come around, you all will come around. Well that’s about it for the news and views. Peace.

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