Opinion: Let’s not confuse activists for scholars

by Peter Heck · Jul 27th, 2020 9:54 am

Last Updated Jul 30th, 2020 at 2:55 pm

There's a common misconception amongst those of us who warn often about the dangers implicit in post-secondary schooling in the United States – specifically that we are anti-intellectual. The truth is precisely the opposite.

It is because of my preference for intellectual engagement and critical thinking that I desperately wish to see the entire collegiate and university system in America revamped, or even reconstituted down to its roots.

With some notable exceptions, the assumption that four or five years on an American college campus turns you into a thinker is perhaps the greatest con going. Even the assumption that a person gains marketable professional skills is largely deceptive.

While it's true that many occupations require or expect a professional degree from an accredited university in order to be employed, the degree itself is largely symbolic of having spent a lot of money and written a lot of papers that may or may not have actually been graded for substance. In my profession, for instance, it is common knowledge that you learn more about teaching your first week in a classroom than you do in four years of collegiate training.

And with the advent of social media, more Americans than ever are being exposed to the supposed "experts" and "eminent professors" who are doing the training. It is anything but an encouraging sight.

For instance, on Friday, the "Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York" Paul Krugman took to Twitter to demonstrate again just how low the standards have become for those we consider "experts."

Rather than offering some insightful commentary, linking to a deep study on meaningful economic trends amidst the lockdown culture, or providing wisdom into the potential long-term ramifications of the financial bludgeoning federal and state governments have inflicted on small business – all things you would expect a Nobel Prize winning economist to do, after all – this is what Krugman dropped:

The apology bit is a snarky backhand directed at National Review editor Rich Lowry who wrote a widely-read piece back in March called, "Where Does Ron DeSantis Go to Get His Apology?" Lowry's article praised DeSantis's steady approach to the coronavirus shutdown mania that left his state healthier both physically and economically than most, despite the media's constant harassment of him.

Krugman's fairly obvious implication is that he believes DeSantis actually bungled the response, opened his economy too early, thus resulting in the state becoming the epicenter of fatality and carnage the likes of which the world has never seen. I mean, just look at those death graphs – Florida's spike is now rivaling the once pitied country of Italy.

Actually, look at those graphs. Specifically look at the y-axis (the one that measures up and down). This is the kind of chicanery that happens from "distinguished professors" all over the country. Those professors have an agenda, and it isn't to inspire critical thinking. It's to suppress thinking as thoroughly as they suppress y-axes and produce conforming robots trained to regurgitate rather than challenge.

Italian deaths peaked around 800 per day in early April before beginning a steady decline, reaching the 100 per day plateau sometime in late May/early June. Florida, meanwhile, with an entirely different climate, has seen their deaths climb and potentially peak at about 100 per day in early July.

But by simple visual manipulation, Krugman condenses the Florida graph to a max height of 180 daily deaths while stretching the Italian graph to 800. Doing so gives an illusion of reality that is anything but true – precisely what so many of his fellow professors make a living off doing.

Notice what happens when you place the data of both Italy and Florida on the same graph:

To be fair, this lack of integrity and honesty reflects only on Krugman himself, and his compatriots who retweeted and promoted it. It would be unfair to condemn all college professors for the hack job of one.

But if you remain under the impression that this is an isolated incident whose approach and methodology isn't replicated in lecture halls around the country, it's only because you aren't looking and thinking.

Activists are not scholars regardless of their titles, and we need to stop allowing them to pretend otherwise.

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