At Volokh Conspiracy, there has been a series of posts ripping to shreds a book about libertarianism by historian Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.
In her badly flawed book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, historian Nancy MacLean gets many, many things wrong about the history and purposes of libertarianism. Jonathan Adler, David Bernstein (see also here), Phil Magness (also here), Russell Roberts, and Michael Munger, and others, have highlighted some of her most important fallacies and distortions.
Rather than address the accusation that her book was substantively inaccurate, MacLean took to Facebook to attack the motives of her critics and call for social justice warriors to game the system in favor of the cause.
Nancy MacLean, author of “Democracy in Chains,” has not responded to substantive criticisms of her book. What she has done, however, is circulate a fanciful and potentially libelous post accusing Jonathan Adler and me of being at the center of a Koch-backed conspiracy to discredit her book. She refers to “Koch operatives and the riders of their academic ‘gravy train’ ” and writes, “It appears they are using Washington Post blogposts as a seemingly respectable pivot for a coordinated and interlinked set of calculated hit jobs.”
MacLean comes off not merely as anti-intellectual, but as a flaming nutjob. Koch-backed conspiracy?
MacLean also alleged that the Koch conspirators “have used their bottomless wealth to buy Google ‘Top Stories’ placement so their hits are what come up if I or the book is searched.” This is not just fanciful, but impossible, as Google does not sell such placement, as MacLean later acknowledged. The fact that she provides no evidence of any coordinated attack, and indeed offered as an example an impossibility, didn’t stop a bunch of respected historians from sharing her allegations on Facebook and Twitter. A clue should have been that her initial appeal said, “This will sound nutty …” Well, yes.
Yes, nutty indeed. And she may well be nutty, not to mention typically too fragile to address the substantive criticism leveled at her by conspirators Jonathan Adler, Ilya Somin and David Bernstein. And then came the Wall Street Journal* to toss a bomb into the mix.
Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenged of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000 for the work, The Wall Street Journal found.
As a general notion, this isn’t surprising or a big deal. Companies have long financed academics, whether studies or papers. Soros has long provided financial support for scholars, and the Soros Foundation’s support is well known. So Google does too? Fair enough.
University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald pitched an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google, and he received $18830 to fund the work. The paper, publishd in 2012, didn’t mention his sponsor. “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad,” he said in an interview. “That’s purely oversight.”
Oh wow. That’s really bad. And that’s purely bullshit. And it gets worse.
In 2010, Google hired Deven Desai, then a researcher in law and technology at Princeton University, to find academics to write research papers helpful to the company.
Over the next two years, Mr. Desai said, he spent more than $2 million of Google’s money on conferences and research papers that paid authors $20,000 to $150,000.
If the name Deven Dasai sounds remotely familiar, that’s because he’s been a long-time blogger at Concurring Opinions, and mentioned here on occasion. Was his writing there legit, intellectually honest, or was he just shilling for his ATM? I don’t know. And even if Desai says he was on the up and up, I won’t believe him.
The problem isn’t that academics are financed by special interests. They work for money, like anyone else, and the money has to come from somewhere. Moreoever, a point that’s raised numerous times in the WSJ story is that Google handed over the loot but never told them what to write. Then again, they made it clear that if they didn’t like what they wrote, they would never get another dime.
The problem lies rather in concealing the patronage, that some corporation or foundation was funding your research, paying cash on the barrelhead for you to produce “scholarship.” Was it, as Heald adorably claims, “purely oversight”? Please. So he concealed it once, then lied about it when caught. He’s credible.
None of this connects to any of the Volokh Conspirators. There is not a shred of evidence to show that Adler, Somin or Bernstein are anything other than legit scholars writing what they think. Nor, it should be noted, does the WSJ attribute to the Koch Bros. any conspiracy to discredit progressive academics, though no progressive will ever believe otherwise.
But now that the WSJ threw a skunk into the non-progressive garden party, who knows what to believe anymore? It’s outrageous that academics were getting Google loot under the table and concealed it. They not only sold their scholarly cred, but they lied by omission in spewing for their paymaster.
Academics have been wallowing in the cesspool of deceit in furtherance of their political agendas for quite a while now, but at least those who lie for their cause come by it honestly. They believe the cause is worth the lie, and one can certainly accept the bona fides of their beliefs since nobody would pay them for their shoddiness.
But suddenly, the Nancy MacLeans don’t look quite as nutty as they once did claiming a Koch conspiracy and Google gaming. It’s not that she isn’t completely nuts, but that what these academics did was inexcusable, taking money and concealing it. They can no longer be trusted. Their actions now expose all academics to claims of cash conspiracies, nutty or not, because at least in some cases, it’s not totally nutty at all.
*As the WSJ article is paywalled, here is a pdf.