It might be a career-limiting move to opine too much about research bureaucracy when you’re doing your level best to punch into an academic career, but danger is the spice of life and these hot takes aren’t going to pepper themselves.
Over on The Research Whisperer, Tseen Khoo has raised a puzzle about the impact of university metrics on the way that researchers undertake their work stating that she doesn’t need money to do her research. Meanwhile, on the LSE Review of Books, Derek Dunne talks about the historical relationship between bureaucracy and research (with bureaucracy being a form of social control). They are both interesting pieces, strongly flavoured by personal experience and anecdote, but I’m not sure that they completely grasp the puzzle at hand.
To some extent, very little of this is going to be surprising. I think Liberty Victoria are a bunch of goofs and it was always going to be unlikely that I’d think any of their reports were worth reading. Liberty Victoria is the face of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties. Their role in the advocacy ecosystem is to promote the perspectives of civil libertarians, regardless of how vapid. This means writing reports like Playing God: the Immigration Minister’s unrestrained power and giving the ‘Voltaire Award’ to Gillian Triggs. They trade in controversy because attention is their only tool for pushing an agenda.
That’s not necessarily pejorative. Liberty Victoria sits in the swamp of liberalism along with libertarian groups like the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs. Getting attention encourages to think about concepts like ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ in left wing terms. But it also means that they are systemically incapable of engaging in serious discussion about the issues they worry about. They’re after bombastic, flash-in-the-pan interventions that cause a bit of stir.
And that’s what we get with Playing God: a report that will, no doubt, fire up the core supporters and maybe get them to donate a bit more money to the cause. But it’s not an intellectually serious report, in the same way that giving the Voltaire Award to Triggs was an intellectually serious decision.
Anyway, because s 80.2B of the Criminal Code is real, I am definitely not advocating violence. Violence should never be advocated because we are a tolerant liberal society and tolerant liberal societies make it an offence to advocate violence. Don’t do it. I’m certainly not doing it.
But what is violence? I thought about nerding out on this question but, really, I just want to talk about one thing. One horrible thing. One unforgivable thing.
This post isn’t an analysis of public rhetoric in response to the recent terrorist (and terrorist-related) incidents of recent weeks. It is instead a quick note about the way we discuss particular legal issues and, again, a call for legal theorists to lead public debate on these topics.
We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. It’s so difficult because it is so satisfying. Look at this idiot and their idiot opinion! Look at what they have written now! We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. But it’s so hard not to give them attention because, sometimes, they provoke interesting debates that they themselves are entirely too thick to entertain themselves. But maybe other people might take up the discussion. But perhaps we could turn what is bad into something that is slightly good. We should not reward attention-seekers with attention.
Caleb wrote something and it is really bad. I have mentioned before that Caleb is a conservative columnist because News Corp believes that right wing commentary is so easy that even a child can do it. I have been experimenting with a hypothesis, engaging the Dark Arts to fill an old mannequin with the most foul, chthonic nightmare demons and then transcribing the damn’d howls that fill the air in oily smoke. The results have been promising, and some of the articles produced have been picked up by The Spectator Australia.
Anyway, Caleb wrote something really bad and, no doubt, he did it for attention. I’m now going to give it attention and I feel bad for doing so. Forgive me, gentle reader. Forgive me on the grounds that I haven’t had much sleep since the head of the mannequin burst open and the ten thousand spiders crawled into my ears and I hear them, I hear them saying things I hear them and they whisper and I hear them and the ten thousand spiders whisper things that should not be whispered and they crawl in my ears and they whisper.
Anyway, it’s about Australian values.
A friend of mine was targeted for criticism about a piece of research. A libertarian think tank had decided that academia was a waste of money, that academics should pay their own way, that academics should only study things which were useful. The think tank took a few sentences from a description of their project and pilloried them in the press.
This week, the same thing happened to somebody I don’t know. Based on a fragment of a flier looking for participants in a study, a popular Twitter account let rip about a study that didn’t match their ideological expectations. A few progressive media outlets broadcast the signal, and my heart went out to the researcher who, in this case, is only a student.
The outrage about the research is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It is ignorant and wrongheaded. The basis of the complaint is that certain diseases should only be studied from particular perspectives according to some intuition about social justice, and was supported by a vague (and, it seems, inaccurate) complaint about the state of funding for the issue.
I really hope that the student is getting a lot of support from the university. I can’t imagine how terrible this experience must be for her.
Without litigating the actual case, there’s a more important dimension that is lost in the crossfire: to what extent is public support needed for research?
‘The Personal-Essay Boom is Over‘ is the title of a really interesting piece by Jia Tolentino on The New Yorker. I disagree with it, but it is really worth reading if you want a view on the economics of commentary: to what extent is the profile of public discussion shaped by profit incentives? Tolentino argues — I think persuasively — that a boom in personal-essay writing, where writers (overwhelmingly women) mined their private experiences for content, was a result of media companies coming under increased funding pressures. The writing is cheap and easy to churn out.
Where I think the article is wrongheaded is in its selection of context: why are we looking specifically at this genre of writing?
Over on BuzzFeed, Mark Di Stefano has had a crack at an analysis of the public’s engagement with media stories about the Budget. It’s an interesting read. I’m not really sure what the point of the article is, but there are a few aspects to it which are worth interrogating in a bit more detail.
I am one of those people who has a list of ‘rules’ about how to construct a story. I think about structural things and the way we use shortcuts to convey meaning. I think about how the audience fills gaps in what they’re being told and how they mapped what they saw to intuitions about bigger issues. And then I use all of these thoughts to compile a list of rules about what works and what doesn’t.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 largely breaks all of the rules. Nothing about this film should work, and yet it really does.