It’s been an exciting 48 hours here on alexandrasamuel.com. It’s been swell hearing from all the folks who were shocked, outraged or otherwise engaged by my digressions (in November, and this week) on the subject of Condoleezza Rice’s political science career, but I think it’s time I got back to to the business at hand: thinking about the Internet’s role in public engagement.
So in the spirit of effective online dialogue, let me highlight a few points of agreement, as well as a few points of continued discord.
First and foremost, let me be clear on my true, tongue-out-of-cheek position: Neither Condoleezza Rice nor any other academic, in any field, should ever be academically sanctioned for any speech or activity that enjoys the protection of the First Amendment (or up here in Canada, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). I can perhaps see why people took my original post as a serious call for Dr. Rice’s removal from the halls (registry? annals?) of political science, but it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
And second, let me agree with all those who pointed out that political science is not a “real” science. I am always available for a long diatribe on this subject myself, and will happily sign on for a campaign to rename it political studies. My original post was aimed as much at deflating the significance of my own Ph.D. as at deflating Dr. Rice’s.
While the above amounts to significant agreement on the substantive issues, there was continued disagreement over the terms and tenor of debate. A number of frustrated would-be commenters have blasted my policy of rejecting fully anonymous, unaccountable posts. They have every right to express their views on this issue, and on my original posts, and there are plenty of places on the net where fully anonymous commentary is more than welcome. But I am under no personal obligation to provide a home for their anonymous comments, particularly in the context of a site that is dedicated to meaningful and accountable dialogue. I know their disappointment in having their comments rejected is shared by a large number of advocates for Texas hold-em poker.
Finally, let me point out the encouraging evidence that this discussion has provided for the notion of online deliberation. Even in the face of blatant partisanship, failed efforts at humour, and rhetorical excesses — mine and others’, on all three counts — this discussion managed to evoke substantive engagement with an important issue: how can we distinguish between unsanctionable errors in academic conduct, and sanctionable violations in other fields? The very effective critique posted at Kalblog included this terrific answer to that core question:
The reason why there’s nothing analogous to disbarment or being stripped of your medical license is because political scientists can’t seriously hurt anyone while practicing political science, because all they do is teach, research, and write books and papers that maybe four other people in their area of expertise will ever read. Sure, some students may sleep through their classes instead of learning something, and I’ve even heard of a few particularly bad cases of students actually coming out of a political science class knowing less than when they went in, but they’re not like doctors or lawyers who actually can make life-and-death decisions that really affect people. Sure, Condi’s impacted a lot of lives as National Security Advisor, and will affect many more at State, but she isn’t “practicing political science” in any academic sense.
This is an excellent argument against holding academics professionally accountable for their contributions to public life — and an equally good argument for holding them morally and intellectually accountable. Condoleezza Rice has almost certainly had a far more wide-reaching impact on the world through her role in the Bush Administration than she could ever hope for as a political science scholar. But precisely because of their potential impact, we should ask all political scientists engaged in public service to hold their work to some approximation of the intellectual and professional standards we demand of the colleagues who remain inside the academy.