A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Weissberg essay.jpegAs one who has spent
nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often
suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious
(peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that
heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines,
op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and
this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or
promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in
disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those
who reject the PC orthodoxies.

Academic outsiders seldom grasp the power of
PC gatekeepers in the humanities and social sciences. Consider, for example, a
scholarly paper on AIDS that finds that the government’s anti-AIDS campaign
received overly generous funding, as calibrated according to multiple
well-established statistical measures of medical need, a conclusion hardly
consistent with the gay victimhood narrative. The journal editor will
undoubtedly send the submission to a reviewer sympathetic to gays since, it
would seem, they know about gay matters. The likely outcome will be rejection
no matter how persuasive the evidence. Add yet one more triumph of ideology
over reality.

Journal submissions that challenge the PC
orthodoxy are risky ventures. A single negative review typically means
rejection, so why risk almost sure rejection when the tenure clock is
ticking?  If publication is the pressing goal, better to lie by claiming
AIDS funding was inadequate.

Such rejections shape knowledge more
generally. Young scholars will avoid these PC-controlled fields altogether
rather than an entire career filled with rebuffs. Ideological uniformity within
the sub-field thus grows even more pervasive which, in turn, makes it even less
likely that contrary views will be heard. A few well-placed ideological
gatekeepers can thus impose a stifling orthodoxy for
decades.      

So, how can un-PC research see the light of
day and still count as bona fide academic currency? How can the Protectors of
the Faith be circumvented and intellectual diversity restored?

Just eliminate hard copies of all scholarly
journals, even books, and “publish” everything, no
exceptions, on the Internet. This is hardly revolutionary. Many academics
already post “working papers” on the Net that circulate prior to
hard-copy publication while Amazon.com offers easy self-published books 
Going “paper free” was seriously raised at recent MLA convention. Legal
scholars have ExpressO that for a fee delivers manuscript
to 750 law reviews.

E-publications are also wonderfully green: no
more thick tree-eating paper journals or doorstopper tomes, no carbon-consuming
mailings and huge libraries are unnecessary to warehousing seldom accessed
publications. The only obstacle is professional legitimacy and rest assured, if
prestigious  scholars do it, everyone else will follow. 

The mechanics are a snap and current popular
social networking technology might be exploited. The Berkeley
Electronic Press
 currently offers distribution for scholarly
papers. Everything is forwarded to the discipline’s national association and
then automatically routed to subscribing specialists via key words or other
identifiers. Filters might be imposed to manage one’s inbox. Or papers can be
bundled together under current journal titles with assurances of prior
editorial scrutiny. Access would be free and professional dues would fund the
technical administrative overhead (now much cheaper thanks to abolishing
journal staff, production costs and postage). Readers could then offer
scholarly critiques but, and here’s the key, nothing could be
censored as “offensive.”  Ideologues accustomed to killing off
any hint of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and similar crimes against
today’s orthodoxy are now rendered powerless.

Contrary to what might be expected, this wide
open system would not necessarily produce an overwhelming tidal wave of
information. Google alert-like filters would insure that I received every paper
that might interest me and goodbye scanning multiple journals and book reviews
to find relevant research. E-mail folders would also replace cumbersome paper
file folders. And everything would be on a USB thumb drive!  Positively
liberating.

An added bonus might be reducing shoddy
scholarship. After all, if everything, no matter how awful, now counts as
“published” little incentive exists to push out fourth rate stuff in
the hope of getting “a publication.” Why let the whole world read
one’s desperate efforts? If self-imposed intellectual birth control is
insufficient, how about a website featuring the ten worst “scholarly”
papers each month? Perhaps effort once devoted to pointless publications might
now be invested in teaching.

This is a genuine heretic-friendly marketplace
of ideas. Whole areas of research now off-limits thanks to PC domination will
be reinvigorated. Openness and honesty will make a comeback. If the research is
guilty of some “thought crime” let critics openly state their case
and sign their names. No more hiding and, best of all, let this unprofessional
PC attack be visible for all to see. This uncensored proliferation hardly guarantees
truth but it will allow the expression of once silenced views that allegedly
offended some delicate sensibility. 

Net-only publishing offers other advantages.
It dramatically speeds up the dissemination of ideas and encourages suggestions
from dozens of fellow professionals. Less obvious is that it can stimulate
collegial interaction. It is an open secret that fellow academics seldom
actually read what colleagues write even when it comes to tenure, promotions
and yearly salary increases. Judgments are conveniently outsourced to journal
and book editors under the assumption that if it passes muster there, it must
be worthy (“worthiness,” sad to say, is often certified not by
intellectual quality but the proportion of manuscripts the journal rejects or the
book publisher’s prestige). With everything published, however, things must be
read.

Finally, compare this remedy for combating the
PC University with alternatives such as mandated ideologically diversified
faculty recruitment or an elaborate judicial appeals process to expose
ideological bias. This Net-based solution is far superior to any of these (and
other) administrative interventions. Who could possible argue that going
totally electronic undermines university autonomy?  “Publishing”
everything is the very embodiment of intellectual freedom: every voice now can
be heard, and quickly and cheaply, whether it is a condemnation of America’s
intractable racism or an assertion that genetics explain educational failure.
Let the marketplace of ideas cull out foolishness, not a few ideologically
minded gatekeepers. Isn’t technology wonderful?   

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