Harvard professors strike again!

MONDAY, MAY 6, 2013

This time, Professor Ferguson muses about Lord Keynes: In recent weeks, we have examined the work of three different Harvard professors.

Assistant professor Mehta had offered a cherry-picked account of American test scores in the New York Times. His piece advanced a familiar script about the rattiness of the teachers found in our public schools. (For part 1 in our report, click here.)

Tomorrow, after we return to our own sprawling campus, we will continue to examine the recent work of Professors Reinhart and Rogoff.

Before we do, it must be said that the Harvard professors have struck again! This time, the Associated Press was forced to issue a bad report about—who else?—Professor Niall Ferguson. In this case, the lunacy was especially large, even by this cohort’s standards:
ASSOCIATED PRESS (5/4/13): Niall Ferguson, a Harvard history professor and author, apologized on Saturday for saying economist John Maynard Keynes was less invested in the future because he was gay and had no children.

Ferguson said his remarks at an earlier conference were “as stupid as they were insensitive.”
There’s more to this latest sad tale. To read it, just click here.

We’ll grant you, Ferguson is an especially hopeless case. But can you see the point we’ve been making for the past several years about the occasional small imperfections of our professoriate?

In our view, this group’s most serious failures have jnvolved errors of omission—the repeated failure to provide intellectual guidance when it has been sorely needed. In the next few weeks, we plan to explore Professor Sandel’s ballyhooed work in terms of the things he didn’t say—the times he didn’t speak up in full-throated pursuit of justice.

That said, the errors of commission have been rich in recent weeks too. Are you starting to see the shape of the problem we have tried to describe?

One last point before we head home: It’s a question we’re often asked: “Are you the secret masterminds of the San Jose State philosophy department?”

We never discuss our personal conversations with San Jose State philosophy professors. But just last week, we discussed some silly comments by Friedman and Klein about the vast, overpowering greatness of Professor Sandel’s on-line course.

Your DAILY HOWLER keeps getting results! For the rest of the story, click here.


  1. It is recommended that biases and agendas be considered when evaluating a social scientist's theories or work. The fact that Keynes had no children or the fact that another economist has 30 grandchildren would be considered one source of bias under normal circumstances but apparently in this climate we are expected not to acknowledge these things. It might be "insensitive" to bring up this point but it wasn't outrageous. To suggest a social scientist's social status or context is not relevant and assume all are magically free of bias or that "sensitivity" obligates us to pretend they are is Orwellian.

    1. This is the most bizarre comment I have seen on this blog for sometime.

    2. Frankly, it is outrageous to suggest that the childless are likely to have less concern for future generations.

    3. "It is recommended ...." = don't know who recommends or don't want to say who recommends.

      Social status is not the same as context.

    4. Even if you accept the preposterous notion that a childless man (and particularly, a gay man) is indifferent to the future of the human race, Ferguson bases this imputation on Keynes' famous quote, that in the long-run, we're all dead. Which Niall evidently thinks means that Keynes was saying, who gives a damn, because we all kick the bucket, sooner or later.

      But Niall apparently hasn't read Keynes, because that isn't the meaning, at all. Forget the slight to Keynes, or to gays. Ferguson should be apologizing for pontificating on economics, when he knows nothing about the subject.

    5. That's a ridiculous idea. I've never heard anyone who had children say that it changes them in any way including their outlook on issues or the future.

    6. outrageous to suggest that the childless are likely to have less concern

      It is unreasonable to state that it can be presumed all childless have less concern. It is not unreasonable much less outrageous to believe or suggest that the childless status of a person who is childless is one of many factors that is likely to affect their level of concern for future generations.

    7. Well, if this report is complete and accurate, Ferguson's argument was based upon a generalization.

      A biscuit-eat'n dumb one, at that.


    8. "It is not unreasonable much less outrageous to believe or suggest that the childless status of a person who is childless is one of many factors that is likely to affect their level of concern for future generations"

      Yes, it is outrageous. The suggestion that a childless person, or a gay person -- On The Mere Basis Of Their Being Childless, Or Gay -- is likely to have lower concern for future generations is indeed outrageous.

      It is vile. It is to Ferguson's slight credit that he has acknowledged this and has forthrightly apologized.

      What's your excuse?

    9. I think Anon 1:40 is alluding to Ferguson having some argument based upon things that were specific to Keynes.

      He doesn't need to apologize for that argument, he needs to tell us this info.

    10. Yes, it is outrageous. The suggestion that a childless person, or a gay person -- On The Mere Basis Of Their Being Childless, Or Gay -- is likely to have lower concern for future generations is indeed outrageous.

      Gay is incidental. A conviction that childlessness is not likely to affect views about the future, the near term future in particular is ridiculous. Even sillier is a view that it is outrageous to raise a likelihood of such a tendency because after all it might offend the perpetually aggrieved.

    11. If someone is presenting a theory, and there is suspicion of bias, then a rigorous examination of the data, and testing for repeatability and potential for accurate prediction should commence.

      But, you know what? That should happen anyway!

      What if Darwin turned out to be a Communist? Aggh. We would have to throw out so much science.

    12. Ferguson's apology:

      "I had been asked to comment on Keynes's famous observation 'In the long run we are all dead.' The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions."

      He added: "I should not have suggested – in an off-the-cuff response that was not part of my presentation – that Keynes was indifferent to the long run because he had no children, nor that he had no children because he was gay. This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes's wife Lydia miscarried."

      Same guy who had conservatives salivating from his Newsweek article claiming that ACA will increase the deficit - an easily-discredited assertion that he still maintains as true.

      Perfect for Bloomberg News.

    13. Considering likely biases in soft social sciences like economics is important, as testing and proving theories in these disciplines is difficult or impossible.

    14. If a theory cannot be tested or proven, then it may be soft, but it ain't science.

      The value of a scientific idea lies in its ability to predict. So we can use it to make informed choices. If there is no way to set up a situation to test how well it explains expected outcomes, then isn't it useless?

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  6. I like how Niall Ferguson goes to the trouble of reminding us why we hate him every so often. Very obliging of him.

  7. Ferguson has been overwhelmingly, loudly, and above all deadly wrong on every major issue for over a decade. He's finally forced to make an abject apology, not for the Iraq War, not for making stupidly wrong comments about the economy, but for, essentially, calling Keynes a homosexual. All that wrongness, and what hurts his credibility is attacking the gays. This is the state of our discourse, circa 2013.

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