"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fake news? Fake scholarship.

Barack Obama is the 12th best president in American history.  So say 91 experts in the latest C-SPAN survey of academic historians.


It's only the 3rd such poll; none was held after 2004 and 2012.  Still, in 2001, what made them think they could put Clinton's presidency into a historical context so soon? Why at that moment in history, when Clinton left office high in the polls but leaving his Democratic Party an electoral wreck, did someone decide to conduct this survey before the smoke had even cleared?

That is politics, not history.  If one judged Harry Truman or LBJ positively at the close of their presidencies--each so wretchedly unpopular and besieged by events they declined to run for re-election--he would be laughed at.  But now LBJ's Top 10. Harry Truman's 6th!

For those two examples alone, this survey is exposed as worthless as serious history. It's simply too soon, especially if the lion's share of these experts most likely voted for those they're presumably judging impartially--and would vote for them again!

Further, this is not a rating of presidents or presidencies as advertised or at least understood by the general public:  It's a subjective set of criteria with even more subjective 1-10 ratings of "ten qualities of presidential leadership." Thus 2 1/2 years of Jack Kennedy's inspirational bumbling can somehow be rated above Ronald Reagan's greatly significant two terms.  We expect such silly outcomes from Gallup, but not social "scientists."

I find the historiography far more interesting.  Who watches the watchers?  See PARTISANSHIP AS A SOURCE OF PRESIDENTIAL RANKINGS, Joseph E. Uscinski and Arthur Simon.

This study looks for evidence of a partisan bias in the ranking polls. 
Concentrating on the modern presidency, we find that
presidential partisanship is a potent predictor of rank; academic raters consistently rank Democratic presidents ten places higher on average than Republican presidents. We also compare the rankings from academics to rankings from non-academics and show that academic raters favor Democratic presidents more than non-academic raters. Our findings suggest, in accordance with previous literature, that partisan attachment affects the subjective judgments that presidential ranking polls inherently require.

This is what folks like me mean by fake news, and also why we Great Unwashed are so hostile to the academic powers that are, their opinion and bias passed off as fact and "science." This survey makes our nation more ignorant, not less. It should not exist, especially under C-SPAN's putatively neutral imprimatur.


David Martin said...

I couldn't agree more with everything in this article. It's not just the academic historians who are giving us a warped view of things, but if the two I take on in my recent article are representative, it's the economists, too. See "Fake Scholarship on 'Fake News'"http://dcdave.com/article5/170217.htm

As for the historians, for starters check out my "Pollyanna on Vince Foster and our Presidents." http://dcdave.com/article5/160527.htm

Tim Kowal said...

"It should not exist"

This is what the grownups tell us, that fake news shouldn't exist. And then they put up "news" just as fake, but less detectable, in places of we are conditioned to accept as reliable outlets. They charge us with believing trivial errors while they go on selling grand falsehoods.

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