“Niallism” — This is what defrocking an academic looks like (climate scientists, take note)

This is a follow-up to this post about kicking intellectually dishonest academics out of their (former) profession.

The post had two parts:

  • The first half, in which Krugman takes “Niall Ferguson the political operative” (my phrase) to task for being, well, more or less a dishonest political actor.

  • The second half, in which I recommend doing same to Koch-fueled climate “scientists” who have traded integrity for a career as an operative, but kept their lab coats anyway.

For those who’ve been spared the pleasure, Niall Ferguson is the “economic historian” who has turned up seemingly everywhere these days defending austerity and ridiculing anyone who proposes solutions not endorsed by the world’s elites.

PBS has created shows around his views; respected magazines often host his opinions; and most recently Newsweek has used his byline to trash Obama with obvious lies in a blatantly political cover story. (Yes, lies. And Ferguson, trading on his academic brand, was the delivery boy.)

Now via Krugman, we’re led to this by Matthew O’Brien in The Atlantic. Here’s what defrocking and de-labcoating an academic looks like. Climate guys, take note (my emphasis and paragraphing):

The Age of Niallism:
Ferguson and the Post-Fact World

Bluster cannot make untruths true

People who believe facts are nothing think you’ll fall for anything. Call it Niallism.

This is my last word (well, last words) on Niall Ferguson, whose Newsweek cover story arguing that Obama doesn’t deserve a second-term has drawn deserved criticism for its mendacity from Paul Krugman, Andrew Sullivan, Ezra Klein, Noah Smith, my colleagues James Fallows and Ta-Nehisi Coates and myself.

The problem isn’t Ferguson’s conclusion, but how Ferguson reaches his conclusion. He either presents inaccurate facts or presents facts inaccurately. The result is a tendentious mess that just maintains a patina of factuality — all, of course, so Ferguson can create plausible deniability about his own dishonesty.

Then he gets specific:

Exhibit A is Ferguson’s big lie that Obamacare would increase the deficit. This is not true. Just look at the CBO report Ferguson himself cites. …

And then gets even more specific than that. After much dissection of the indefensible and dishonest, O’Brien concludes:

Of course, it’s not just Ferguson. There is an epidemic of Niallism — which Seamus McKiernan of the Huffington Post defined as not believing in anything factual. It’s the idea that bluster can make untruths true through mere repetition. We expect this from our politicians, not our professors.

In the end, O’Brien contrasts the academic Ferguson was with what he has become, a blustering liar unworthy of his frock and his credentials. A sad, ironic side-by-side.

I’d have gone one step further. I’d have not only taken his frock; I’d have burned it in the public square. But that’s me.

O’Brien does the next best thing — he names the essence of dishonesty after the man:

Niallist: One who believe facts are nothing.

“Niallism” has a great ring to it, and if god is just, it will follow the man to the grave. A fitting monument, given the human suffering Ferguson helps cause. After all, he’s an eager and well-worked lackey for the Billionaire Bankers Club, and those folks are doing real damage.

Climate scientists, take note. Taking away the lab coat is an option.

You could spend your lives engaging with your bought denier “colleagues” — who would frankly like nothing better. Or you could dispatch them more quickly, as O’Brien has done, with strong “uncollegial” strokes, and move on to the next big job.

I personally like the latter choice; there should be a price for academic dishonesty in matters this important. But that’s me.

GP

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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