Wednesday, January 12, 2005

PhD post

Jan. 23: minor rewrites; Jan.14: Clarified that the community leaders' remarks diverged from reality; added "leaders in their communities" link, emphasis to a quote, another Phil Meyer link.

Several days ago we made the point (elsewhere) that anti-intellectualism in Nevada County thrives and was implicitly encouraged by gratuitous false statements from The Union's publisher and former editor, but provided no examples.

Here are excerpts from a couple of the letters that the above columns elicited (we're pretty sure there were more, but can't prove it)
(Jan 12 update: added 3rd letter. Ok, there was by no means a flood; but they were not countered by our 'leaders in their communities'*) :
  • I'm a card-carrying 'Republican' and I won't let Mr. Ph.D. or his comrades in arms run me out of town. (*)

  • Many years ago our sister had a supervisor (where she was employed) that loved to brag about his Ph.D. One day she'd had enough and informed him that his Ph.D. meant that what he had to say was 'Piled Higher and Deeper.'(*)

  • Did anyone notice the two letters, printed one after the other, urging that the Ph.D. opinion-submitter be allowed his opinion, but [publisher] should be fired for his? So much for free speech and the First
    Amendment. ( * )

Speculation from another local blogger here:
I once had a friend who graduated from Yale University. It became the pinnacle of his life. He was always reminding us, "I graduated from Yale." Everything after that was a down hill slide, he seemed to lack ambition to rise above this initial achievement. It could be that once Mr. Engle received his Doctor of Philosophy degree, it also was the pinnacle of his life. When he signs his name with "Ph.D.", he is reminding us he has peaked, and is trying to slow his slide in to oblivion.

But take heart, all is not lost: it seems that being a professor and having a doctorate are OK, and one can also escape derision by putting Dr. in front.


We have plenty of company. From outside Nevada County:
If [intellectuals] are feared as sinisterly cerebral, they are also pitied as bumbling figures who wear their underpants back to front, harmless eccentrics who know the value of everything and the price of nothing. Alternatively, you can reject both viewpoints and see intellectuals as neither dispassionate nor ineffectual, denouncing them instead as the kind of dangerously partisan ideologues who were responsible for the French and Bolshevik revolutions. Their problem is fanaticism, not frigidity. Whichever way they turn, the intelligentsia get it in the neck. (*)

Even professors get the 'PhD' treatment:
  • On TV(via):
    Bill [O'Reilly], who kept on pointedly addressing me, with faint mock-deference, as "Professor"--an epithet synonymous with "jackass" in minds of many in his audience...

  • Moynihan:
    When addressed, with a sneer, as "Professor Moynihan" by incumbent Senator James Buckley, his opponent in his first Senate campaign in 1976, Moynihan mock-lamented, "Ah, the mudslinging has begun."

Alas, even Mr. Scott Adams got into the act with Dilbert, in late August 2003, and we'll try to find the episode and scan it in for you, and see if Mr. Adams comes after us with [PhD-free] lawyer in tow.

We'll be irritating and close with Philip Meyer's Why journalism needs Ph.D.s:
A Ph.D. is a research degree, and a craft that sees no need to change perceives little need for research.
...A craft is learned by emulation: watching a master perform and then imitating that person. A profession is learned from first principles so that when things change, the professional understand the changes and adjusts techniques to fit.

With stunning perspicacity, Dr. Meyer (Ph.D) asserts that journalists must be scientists:
[One way to add value to information] is to make it credible. And to do this, journalists need to borrow some of the tools of science.
Scientific method is designed to let us ask questions of nature without being fooled by the answer. Its objectivity is in its method, not in giving equal weight to all of the possible answers as journalists are wont to do.
...Scientific method also drives you to play devil's advocate with your data and carefully look for explanations that aren't the ones you want to hear.[snip]

And, coming full circle (Tim Porter on Meyer):
[Meyer] believes that "a newspaper's main product is neither news nor information but influence." This is absolutely correct. The value of a newspaper is its relevance to the community it covers and until the editors and reporters in the newsrooms examine their own work through the eyes of that community then all the publisher's millions spent on hardware will be good money tossed after poor journalism.

The latest from Meyer: Closely watched media humbled

No comments: