Comments on: Mike Daisey and the Truth History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:24:08 +0000 hourly 1 By: Comradde PhysioProffe Sun, 25 Mar 2012 20:48:13 +0000 Tenured Radical makes an interesting observation about sex and professional misconduct/truthiness issues.

My unscientific anecdotal impression is that the overwhelmingly vast majority of perpetrators of scientific misconduct (at least, those who get caught) are male. This based on the official published “Notices” on the NIH Web site that I pay attention to.

By: Historiann Fri, 23 Mar 2012 15:12:15 +0000 Welcome, Barbara–I read and enjoy Library BableFish! Thanks for commenting over here.

I am not comfortable saying that Bellesiles set out with evil in his heart to defraud us. Perhaps the investigating committee saw different evidence than they reported on. And yet, as Jon Wiener points out in Historians in Trouble, scholars who admit that they engaged in fraud, settle lawsuits out of court, and/or confess that their books are completely unreliable and should be withdrawn still hold their tenured positions in their respective colleges or universities. (Not just Ellis, but also Doris Kearns Goodwin and Edward Pearson.)

I think Bellesiles wrote a bad book–but did he really deserve to lose his job over it (not to mention the death threats and personal hounding), when there are so many other examples we can point to where people were caught dead to rights and yet are still in tenured positions? So part of my “defense” of Bellesiles is my pique that no one else got fired in any of these other messes.

I will say this: he did not handle his critics well, either the non-professional historians or the professional historians. When my graduate students and I read his book as well as the WMQ forum last semester (and other comments and analyses of the case), they were pretty amazed that he was so apparently cavalier and condescending to pretty much anyone who questioned his research. I think this certainly made it easier for both the gun people and the professional historians to go after and/or wash their hands of him.

My students were also amazed that he 1) wrote a book that was clearly provocative, but 2) was so unprepared when his book got the attention he was apparently looking for.

Tenured Radical makes an interesting observation about sex and professional misconduct/truthiness issues. My sense is that girls are trained to follow the rules much more rigorously than boys, and that boys are actually rewarded for rule-breaking and other assertions of self as they grow up. I see this among my students, too: women read instructions and follow them to a much greater degree than men do, and this may help explain not just the numerical dominance of women in college but also the fact that women get better grades than male college students.

By: Tenured Radical Fri, 23 Mar 2012 14:54:00 +0000 Deferring to Historiann’s expertise in the field, I would also say — in an informal conversation with one of the members of the investigating committee, it was apparently clear to everyone that there was active falsification.

Which is, of course, what prominent, non-scholarly right wingers do constantly — so I would not only go with the “doesn’t deserve death threats” but that the shame of exposure is very powerful and that is really enough. Oddly, Joseph Ellis was culpable of similar self-grandiosity in the classroom, but the investigation that was commissioned by the Pulitzer committee found no flaws in his prize-winning book.

Two questions: just as we have heard little about the real estate agents who shoehorned people into houses they couldn’t afford, swearing all the while that it was “a good investment” we hear little about the role of agents in urging their clients forward into memoir-like nonfiction that is more sellable but often shaky in the truth department. Publishing houses don’t edit: agents have taken up that role. But they don’t want to be responsible for the lengths that authors might go to get attention/publication.

Second: the vast majority of people who get caught in these falsehoods appear to be men. What do we make of that? I mean, there is one Rigoberto Menchu: I can name five Michael Bellesisles off the top of my head.

By: Nikki Thu, 22 Mar 2012 23:17:36 +0000 Finally–@Spanish Prof–thanks for that link. It clarified what I was trying to say.

By: Nikki Thu, 22 Mar 2012 22:57:32 +0000 To clarify–the cold war context of Menchu’s story. I think Stoll’s work came out in the context of the debates raging in the 1990s academy vis-a-vis postmodern theory.

By: Nikki Thu, 22 Mar 2012 22:54:46 +0000 @Z: I would agree with the Peruvian economist and add a Cold War context to the mix.

By: John S. Thu, 22 Mar 2012 22:18:46 +0000 I’ll weigh in on Bellesiles one last time: I think it is about more than publishing with a trade press. After all, subsequent investigation into his work suggested that his prize winning article in the JAH, which appeared in 1996, had many of the same flaws that came out in his trade press book–the research was marred by sloppiness at best and outright falsification at worst. As Hoffer points out in his book, Bellesiles was already “finessing” the data at the article stage, and peer review didn’t catch it.

The problems in his quantitative data about the rates of gun ownership really aren’t questions of being “unsubtle” or “absolutist.” And though the book also relies on a great deal of qualitative evidence as well (which I agree he deals with in an “absolutist” way) neither his published article nor his book really “work” if rates of gun ownership are as high as other scholars who’ve looked at the same probate records suggest.

*Of course* people should be permitted to be wrong and publish inaccurate history without death threats. And it is good that the WMQ held that Forum in January 2002 to address the topic. But I would disagree with the idea that the Bellesiles case is “how the process works” because it strikes me that he did more than just “advance difficult or politically charged arguments”–he advanced those arguments using data that that he in some cases simply made up. To me that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. I can’t believe that if I looked randomly footnotes of other early Americanists’ books I’d find the level of scholarly malfeasance Bellesiles exhibited.

By: Barbara Fister Thu, 22 Mar 2012 22:08:36 +0000 Interesting discussion. I think one huge difference between Daisey and Menchu is that Daisy was not a Chinese laborer who was telling the story of people like himself. He wasn’t standing in for a group of people. I don’t know much about testimonio, or about Stoll’s critique, but that seems a significant distinction to me.

My sense of deep frustration with Daisey’s version of “truth” was that he took an important story that apparently mattered to him and didn’t trust his audience to handle the truth – he had to enhance it and enhance his role in the story. (I wrote about this from a librarian’s perspective at Inside Higher Ed.)

I think there’s a level of trust violated that makes these kinds of lies especially upsetting – as is the case when any respected historian or scientist casually dismissing deliberate or extremely careless treatment of evidence.

By: Historiann Thu, 22 Mar 2012 16:26:54 +0000 I think the Bellesiles case is much more about the perils of publishing with a trade press (the absence of peer review) and the desire/pressure to write a *big* book that makes a *big* splash. The historians Emory hired to look into the case were given only a very narrow charge. People interested in reading more about this can see Peter Hoffer’s Past Imperfect and Jon Wiener’s Historians in Trouble.

I am an expert in the field that Bellesiles writes in, and while I thoroughly disagree with the unsubtle way he reads the vast majority of his evidence and how his absolutist arguments on the basis of very mushy and ambiguous evidence, I also think that the book had several powerful contributions to make w/r/t the history of gun ownership and the use of guns in early America. I just wish that he wasn’t in such a rush and that he had made his arguments so as to permit the readers to see the complexity and ambiguity in his evidence.

I think people are permitted to be wrong and to publish wrong history without receiving death threats and having to live in undisclosed locations. And the scholarly community very quickly discovered some major problems with his evidence and his argument, and did publish those findings in what passes for lightning speed in academic history journals (see the William and Mary Quarterly January 2002 edition, for example. (The book was published just 15 months before that extensive forum with multiple scholars appeared.) That’s how the process works: historians are free to advance difficult or politically charged arguments, and then the scholarly community should render its judgment.

As a friend of mine once said, “lord knows that if anyone cared to look at each footnote in our books that they’d find something to complain about. But that’s not going to happen, because no one really cares about what we write about!”

By: polarbearfan Thu, 22 Mar 2012 03:28:24 +0000 @TR: very simple. If activists have to lie in order to get people to pay attention to their “good cause”, then maybe the cause isn’t really so good. (E.g. the evidence, in the Menchu case, that ordinary folks didn’t like the guerrillas any better than they liked the army.)