Arkansas Democrat-Gazette opinion editor Paul Greenberg is frequently on the warpath against science and academia. That he attacks Black Studies – the academic discipline studying African-American culture and history – in a recent column (also available here) is hardly noteworthy but his transparently dishonesty is at least worth documenting. Here is what happened.
Naomi Schaefer Riley, a blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade journal rather obscure to most of Greenberg’s readers, published an attack on Black Studies titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations“. In the blog post, Riley refers to three recent dissertations by Black Studies scholars as examples of “left-wing victimization claptrap”: about “historical black midwifery”, “Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s”, and “black Republicanism”.
Here’s the catch: Schaefer Riley never read any of the works she attacked. She didn’t even look at the table of contents.
What she read and partially quoted were the titles and blurbs. Notice the title of her post: “Just Read the Dissertations”. She hadn’t read them and for that reason she was heavily and deservedly criticized (read the response by grad students). She also fails to provide full references or links to the works she attacks, thereby deriving readers of the chance to judge for themselves.
Here’s how Paul Greenberg reports the issue to his Arkansas readers:
When one of the Chronicle’s bloggers criticized the current state of Black Studies on campus, she set off a mass protest. At last count, some 6,500 academics had signed a solemn petition demanding that Naomi Schaefer Riley, the blogger in question, be fired. And fired she was. (…) The Chronicle’s editor-in-chief — yes, it actually has an editor, or at least someone styled as such — claimed the blogger was fired not because her opinions were unacceptable but because, in the course of presenting them, she’d cited some of the sillier dissertation titles in the field she was criticizing. Said editor-in-chief didn’t claim the thesis titles were inaccurate. Her sin seems to have been that she’d mentioned them. And when she did, the response from those running the Chronicle was simple. Shut up, they explained.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is scarcely the first observer to note the academic crimes committed in the name of Black Studies. N.B. She wasn’t asserting that the history of black Americans (not to mention the literature, religion and, good Lord, the music of Black America!) isn’t worth teaching. On the contrary, she was demanding that it be taught well.
There’s barely a shred of truth in Greenberg’s rant. Riley wasn’t criticized for “mentioning” thesis titles but for attacking scholars without having read – indeed without having the slightest clue about – their work. Neither is it true that she only demanded the history of black Americans to be “taught well” – her very title calls for “Eliminating Black Studies”. It is interesting to note that Greenberg in his own column doesn’t even quote any of the dissertation titles. If they were so obviously silly, why not entertain his readers? The answer is obvious – these topics are actually quite unoffensive. Black midwifery? Black republicanism? Black housing? Sounds just like the sort of subjects that Black Studies scholars would be studying. If these are the best examples of “academic crimes” the critics of Black Studies can come up with, they better shut up.
Are these studies good scholarship? You’d have to read them to tell. That anybody, especially somebody like Greenberg who wants to be taken seriously as a conservative writer, would insist that you can judge a specialized scholarly publication by its title seems hard to believe but it’s actually standard operating procedure in the right-wing campaign against science (e.g. Greenberg’s attack on the NSF). Remarkable in this case is the level of blatant dishonesty exhibited by Greenberg, in addition to ignorance and know-nothingness.
The Chronicle finally stated: We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.
Does the Democrat-Gazette have any basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles? The answer is, of course, no. Greenberg did not violate any editorial standards because his opinion page doesn’t have any. He was only caught shamelessly lying.