5/31/14

I usually direct my disdain and ire at the media but I hold academia as a close “next best” when it comes to disdain. Both groups have many similarities—practitioners are usually very intellectual, maintain a superiority complex, and a holier-than-thou attitude toward everyone else. They seem set to criticize everyone and everything but never hold a critical eye on themselves, and mostly live in a cocoon of marble and chandeliers, not ever experiencing the real world where things are made of tin and the light is always gray.

Recently I encountered an unusual situation where I felt the need to congratulate a media outlet, in this case the FT, for a job well done in criticizing and exposing…you guessed it—Academia. The FT together with the Economist and the WSJ hold in my book the place as the most reliable media outlets bar none. Their reportage is generally accurate, balanced, and excellent EXCEPT that when it comes to their editorials and opinion pages, the FT is simply wrong on 90 percent of foreign affairs matters, although they are pretty good when it comes to economic issues. But I’ve never had cause to doubt the credibility of the FT, WSJ, and Economist’s investigative work and fact reporting, which is MILES better than I can say on ALL other media outlets. They are excellent.

So it came with great satisfaction that I read their reporting on Prof. Piketty, the new darling of the left liberal extreme. According to the FT (May 24th) the French economics professor is at best wrong and misleading. I would call it worse. In describing their findings, the FT did strip him naked as far as his supposedly fact-base theories on the fundamental flows of capitalism that, according to him, have already led to extreme income inequality and will continue on that trend. (See this and related stories.)

Mark Twain is credited as saying that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The point is that a less-than-rigorous and fair analysis allows anyone to prove almost any theory by presenting statistics, either in the wrong way or by using wrong statistics. CHANGING the numbers on purpose and inventing others as the FT claims the esteemed professor did is extreme, even in the Twain school of thought. The fact is that professor Piketty first shot his arrow and then painted the target around it. He first decided what he “knows” to be true and he then set out to prove it, never mind the facts. When the facts did not fit his theory, he simply massaged them and in some cases when massage was not enough, he changed the facts and invented new ones, knowing that the likelihood that anyone would ever bother to do the painstaking analysis required to prove him wrong is very low. Well he miscalculated—the FT did exactly that and I give them total credit for doing it.

That Piketty did what he did does not surprise me. It happens with scientists all the time and especially in the social sciences areas where 2+2 is NEVER 4. However, that does not stop even scientists in the harder science disciplines from playing games with statistics and computer models: See the climate change crowd. Their depiction of the facts as unequivocal is laughable when the vast majority of their facts are not facts at all but computer-generated models. Models that they have to change every few years as the facts just do not seem to conform to the niceties of computer models. However weak their facts are, they hide it by adding the element of urgency and level of alarm that are totally not supported by the facts. If one accepts that climate change is occurring, as most people do, these disingenuous scientists go further by proposing a trifecta of supposed facts that are simply not proven to any level of scientific rigor:

  • Climate change is manmade and thus man can turn it back.
  • The level of change is escalating and will become much more significant.
  • The harm caused by it will be catastrophic.

I wrote about the fallacy of their conclusions many times and will not do it again here. I will just point out that recently the climate change high priests (Obama and his cabinet, IPCC and others) have taken to claim that “97 percent” of scientists agree with them and support them. How does one even make such a stupid claim? The WSJ published an article on Tuesday, May 27, analyzing this claim and showing that just like Prof. Piketty, this is a claim substantiated only by shooting the arrow first and painting the target afterwards.

The other claim made by the same “true believers” is that anyone who disputes their conclusions is a “flat earther.” Secretary Kerry made this claim in a famous speech a few months ago when he declared climate change one of the most important foreign affairs issues of our time and president Obama recently used the same analogy too. It is ironic given that for thousands of years the notion that the earth is flat WAS the prevailing science and anyone who dared suggest otherwise was stoned and derided. This just goes to prove the fact that even if most people think something, it does not necessarily make it so.

The atrophy in academia is very pronounced also in liberal arts where freedom of speech and diversity of opinions are now heavily regulated and restricted by the politically correct speech and the examples of that abound and do not need repeating here.

I will conclude with one of the most atrocious immoral elements of academia, especially in the Ivy League institutions, which are so influential when it comes to academia—their endowment funds. What in the world justifies charging students $50–60,000 a year to study, causing many of them to finish their degree so much in debt that they need to fight it all their lives, when these institutions carry endowment funds equal to the economy of many medium-sized countries?

While Harvard may be the extreme case, it does paint the picture. They have an endowment fund of over $30,000,000,000, that is $30 BILLION, that keeps growing by well above 10% a year, TAX FREE I may add. What in the world could be a justification for that? What is the purpose of accumulating so much money? What in the world will they ever use it for?

Harvard has about 8,000 students in its undergraduate school, not EVERY year—in total! About 2,000 students enter Harvard every year. A simple calculation shows that if the Harvard endowment fund would allocate only 10 percent of its ANNUAL earnings, they could pay tuition fees for 6,000 students. That means 75 percent of the total student population at Harvard could study for free. The other 2,000 are children of rich families that can afford paying for their children’s studies, most of whom are Harvard alumni anyway!

This is so immoral as to leave one speechless. Here is a factual academic trifecta:

  • An endowment fund that keeps growing and growing and growing, to no end and to no purpose.
  • A fat faculty getting paid richly for the few hours a week that they work on campus, and an inflated level of administrative staff totally out of proportion to the needs of such a small operation.
  • And in contrast, a student population that pays a quarter of a million $ to get an undergraduate degree.

This boggles the mind. And this from Academia, the self-proclaimed paragons of moralities and compassion.