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June 9, 2010 [feather]
Academic astroturf

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A group of progressive professors is looking to recruit and hire grad students to write short policy pieces to combat conservative ideas and the conservative movement. Above is the request for proposals (RFP) for what they call the Cry Wolf Project.

Grad students can now make fifty cents per word to scramble the difference between disinterested scholarship and agenda-driven advocacy work--in other words to become a part of the Great Progressive Astroturf Movement that has brought us such luminaries as Ellie Light. Along the way, they will make great connections that could help them with future employment. After all, as Patrick Courrielche notes, the brain trust behind this plan is heavily professorial:

If this Cry Wolf program were just limited to a few faculty members at a limited number of universities, it would be of little concern. But the project reaches into some of the most prestigious public and private schools of higher learning in the U.S., including MIT, Yale, Harvard, USC, Columbia, Rutgers, UC Santa Barbara, University of Pennsylvania, and President Obama's alma mater--Occidental College.

Courrielche calls this researchprop, and goes on to detail the research agendas and organized labor ties of the faculty spearheading Cry Wolf.

On the one hand, there are no surprises--there has been a decades-long academic tradition, at this point, of discounting the notion that disinterested research is even possible, and of selling the idea that the proper response to this is to shape one's scholarship self-consciously, as a means of ensuring that it assists and justifies the kinds of social justice one would like to see in the world. On the other hand, this activist line of thought has historically had only one line of defense--and that is that it is conducted with impeccable scholarly integrity, is entirely above-board vis a vis research ethics, and is unimpeachable from within the standards of professional conduct. In other words, the ethical standards that accompany interested scholarship are, in theory, terrifically strict. That's how such scholarship can continue to call itself scholarship, and escape being dismissed as propaganda. It's a shaky edifice, but it's an edifice all the same, and it has succeeded. Arguably, though, the Cry Wolf project undermines that entire edifice, as it explicitly supports the arguments of those who would say that large swathes of academia are little more than publicly funded mechanisms for disseminating and producing an ideologically-driven world view.

So where are we here? Is this academic freedom blooming forth in its bountiful variety? Or is it a serious, even actionable violation of academic ethics, not to mention abuse of grad students, exploitation of institutional reputation, and wrongful use of taxpayer dollars? Or is it somewhere in the middle?

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! And please have a look around and have fun in the comments sections!

MORE: Kurt Schlichter of Big Journalism explains how the profs behind the Cry Wolf project are arguably in violation of their institutions' policies regarding bringing politics into the workplace--and makes the necessary links to how activities such as the Cry Wolf project arguably jeopardize those institutions' tax-exempt, non-profit status.

AND MORE: Liberty Chick has more.

You would think that the proper institutional response here would be to clarify that these profs don't speak for their institutions, make it clear that there is a difference between the exercise of academic freedom and the use of the academic setting as a cover for blatant political advocacy work, and initiate disciplinary proceedings (with proper regard for due process of course) against those faculty who have crossed the line. You might also expect academics who find the Cry Wolf project to be unethical and don't want it tarnishing the whole of academia to speak up. So far, thunderous silence.

STILL MORE 6/10: From John Leo, KC Johnson, and Frank Ross. Andrew Breitbart is also weighing in.

posted on June 9, 2010 7:46 AM

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using university email address for political propaganda seeking? is this legal?

Posted by: pithy1 at June 9, 2010 10:47 AM

Why are they intent on crying wolf? Don't they remember the lesson of that fable?

Posted by: Rob Crawford at June 9, 2010 10:47 AM

I'm wondering about the legalities, too...

Posted by: Erin O'Connor at June 9, 2010 10:53 AM

Oh goody! The "climate science" model spreads like a pathogen.

Posted by: Buck O'Fama at June 9, 2010 10:54 AM

It seems a short step from recruiting grad student volunteers to making acceptance into certain grad programs contingent on contributing to Cry Wolf.

Posted by: dossier at June 9, 2010 11:11 AM


The left wing academics are calling their project the Cry Wolf Project because they believe that conservatives and libertarians are crying wolf over the dangers of progressive policies.

Posted by: Johann Amadeus Metesky at June 9, 2010 11:12 AM

Gee, if these these profs are upset now, they'll really blow a gasket when the new GOP Congress defunds them next year.

Posted by: MarkJ at June 9, 2010 11:13 AM

So, conservative students: Here's your chance! Write wonderful fake stuff, which they will snap up without double checking, and publish. (How hard would it be to place some false Wikipedia articles, and then once your piece is accepted, delete those from Wikipedia? If they do check, will they go farther than Wikipedia?) Then trash them for publishing blatantly false pieces. I knew of some 8th graders who did this to a student teacher they didn't like: they made up a fantastic report and got a "A+", and then showed that all of the data was false.

The only problem is that the media would latch on to the lie and miss the truth.

Posted by: MilwaukeeD at June 9, 2010 11:28 AM

"Oxy" - Occidenal COllege in LA - quelle surprise - "Dear Leaders" freshman landing pad - a fine history of 40+ tears of irrelevancy...

Posted by: John Gregg, MD at June 9, 2010 11:29 AM

Dear Students,

Conservatives say that every single thing we propose will make the world worse, especially economically. We're certain they're wrong but for the life of us, we can't think of any examples when things didn't get worse. We're sure it wasn't the fault of leftism, but...well, anyway...

Can you help, please? Pretty please? We'll pay you.

Lefty Profs

Posted by: Silrette at June 9, 2010 11:30 AM

That no one at Occidental University, in the poli sci department or out, objects to this effort tells us that Occidental doesn't value diversity of thought. AT ALL.

Posted by: kwo at June 9, 2010 11:39 AM

Wow, we couldn't blow their credibility faster than they're doing it themselves.

Posted by: dustmouse at June 9, 2010 11:41 AM

Dossier said:

"It seems a short step from recruiting grad student volunteers to making acceptance into certain grad programs contingent on contributing to Cry Wolf."

Also note that Obama took over the student loan program this year. It would sound like the most reasonable thing in the world when the government limits loans to only those universities that meet basic "standards," wouldn't it? Teach what we say, hire who we say, or kiss 80%+ of your student body goodbye, because we won't approve loans for your school.

Posted by: Silrette at June 9, 2010 11:46 AM

Yawn. The progressives have been doing this sort of thing since Wilson and Croly and others enlisted academics to the War Effort during WWI. Move along, there's nothing to see here....

Posted by: CatoRenasci at June 9, 2010 11:47 AM

We are certain that conservatives are wrong. We just need somebody to come up with the evidence for us. We were all just born knowing that conservatives are wrong, but we have noticed that just educating people to that fact does not seem to be winning over as many converts as we would like.

Please help us!

Posted by: moptop at June 9, 2010 11:57 AM

Hardly "scholarly". Invites proposals to bolster this groups foregone conclusion. Any logic professors on this committee? Doubt it. This is academic solicitation of appeals to authority argument, a classic logical fallacy.

Propaganda by pseudoscholarship. Taxpayer funded. A disgrace.

Posted by: Dantes at June 9, 2010 12:05 PM

Fraud and intellectual dishonesty. Why should ever listen to anything ever said in the future by any of these people or anyone associated with them?

Posted by: Tex the Pontificator at June 9, 2010 12:27 PM

Buck wrote:

"Oh goody! The "climate science" model spreads like a pathogen."

Actually, this sort of activity in "the social sciences" predates almost anything in the physical sciences. The path of contagion seems to have started in "Literary Criticism", spread to "Modern Languages", then slid into Social Anthropology(already rife with multiculturalism), and from there has been spreading into more and more physical science programs.

It has been suggested that courses supplying science credits without the need for calculus-based math, for the humanities majors, are the entry point in many cases. This last has happened in spite of the parodies that people like Sokal (a leftist himself) foisted off on the "post-modern" journals, about fields like Physics, and then exposed.

Posted by: Tom Billings at June 9, 2010 12:52 PM

Sorry, but using the word "prestigious...public and private schools" associated with Political "Science" or other marshmallow studies is at best silly. The liberal arts indeed produce many brilliant graduates. However, given the sorry state of our universities, the mere possession of such a degree no longer guarantees that the recipient actually can think. Heck, it doesn't even give a reasonable probability that the grad lives on the right side of the curve mean.

Posted by: Da Coyote at June 9, 2010 1:28 PM

Hey, waitaminnit! Fifty cents a word?

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at June 9, 2010 1:56 PM

I've got a cry wolf paper idea! Like that one time in band camp when the liberals wanted to pass open carry laws in Florida and the conservatives all said this would lead to a wild west mentality and folks would be shooting everyone everywhere. oh wait....scratch that one.

Posted by: Jeff at June 9, 2010 2:44 PM

Did you say 50 cents a word? Sign me up :)

Posted by: IB Bill at June 9, 2010 3:39 PM

"...as well as in the more distant pass"...guess Project Cry Wolf needs to spend some of that money on a proofreader.

Posted by: Michael at June 9, 2010 10:06 PM

"Cry Wolf" ?!?!? Was "Whine Like a Baby" already taken?

Posted by: bandit at June 10, 2010 5:34 AM

They may have scientific degrees but they are not scientists. Unethical. This brazen act is worthy of censure and firing. Where do these fakes work? Unless they work for a stictly private organization they are answerable. If they accept any tax money they are liable for dismissal.

Posted by: Blane Burns at June 10, 2010 8:26 AM

WOW! this is exhilarating and interesting to hear from the other side. Why would I ever want to get paid to support a person or group that does not believe in morals, values, or any type of free market economy. And if we take a look at history on true facts not fictional ideas, we can see what a dissapointment the economy and education system has become over the years because of liberals like you. And when you talk about social justice I beleive you meant socialism. There is nothing Progressive about what you call this "Progressive reform".

Thank you for being another radical liberal trying to distort young minds.

Posted by: Brandon at June 10, 2010 9:10 AM

The Hitler Youth Movement goes viral.

Posted by: No Se Puede at June 10, 2010 11:04 AM

Wow, quite a few snarky comments accompanying a thoughtful critique of the Cry Wolf Project (CWP). While I disagree with the critique, at least it doesn't resort to unsupported slams. Did folks actually read the letter? The CWP is using grant money to pay the contributors, not public money. "Unethical" and "hypocritical?" "Intellectual dishonesty?" On the basis of which principles do you make these claims? The CWP is making a argument about conservative reactions to policy reforms in the past, and wants to back it up. So it has issued a call for papers from people with expertise in particular policy fields, and historical periods, to make contributions. Shouldn't they try to back up their argument? What is so unethical and hypocritical about that? Grad students and faculty get paid all the time for their labor on research and writing. Scholars regularly put together edited collections of other people's work. If the scholar is up front about what she or he advocates, isn't that more honest than the one passes on an argument as purportedly "objective" analysis? (and there's where I disagree with Critical Mass--I don't believe there's such a thing as "disinterested research"). Moreover, it's not just for students. The letter clearly says the invitation is to both faculty and students. And as for the "Hitler Youth" comment--good grief, stop taking cues for political argument from talk radio/TV. Finally--the "Liberty Chick" link isn't too helpful, unless people are really so looney that they believe "progressive" professors turn their classrooms into little commie reeducation camps. If they have--they sure have been churning out a lot of moderates and conservatives despite their evil efforts.

Posted by: Andrew Schlewitz at June 11, 2010 4:16 PM