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Intellectual Dishonesty and Fearmongering on the Boston University Dean’s Blog

ahhhhhhh! the end is nigh!

I wrote yesterday about my dissatisfaction with the Boston University Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore’s push for voter registration. It’s a poor use of resources, it’s outside the scope of the Dean’s office, and it’s reason #52,907 why higher education is prohibitively expensive. I responded to a spirited commenter on that post and explained my reasons a bit more fully.

Today, the Dean’s Blog posted a guest editorial which makes the following claims/suggestions:

  • The US is divided, unhappy, starving, and hated worldwide;
  • Global warming caused Hurricane Gustav;
  • Newspapers are full of suicide bombings;
  • All students should vote, just not in Massachusetts;
  • The last 8 years were a total disgrace.

Elmore introduces the guest post in “How Does Your Vote Really Count?”

“I often wonder if my vote is like pressing the botton [sic] on the walk signal at a street crossing — does it matter?”

Since Elmore started with a near-non sequitur, I suppose I’ll start there, too.

No, Dean Elmore, pushing those buttons probably doesn’t matter. Take New York City’s example:

“The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on, according to city Department of Transportation officials. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined…

… Most of the buttons scattered through the city, mainly outside of Manhattan, are relics of the 1970′s, before computers began tightly choreographing traffic signal patterns on major arteries.”

I’d bet the situation in Boston is similar. Now that we’ve answered one of Life’s Big Questions, let’s move along to the bulk of the post, written by Dr. Margaret Ross, Boston University’s Director of Behavioral Medicine:

“I am not a particularly politically knowledgeable person …”

Eep. Admitting a lack of knowledge about a topic as an introduction to 300 words on it? I’ll let that slide. And though Dr. Ross isn’t a “particularly politically knowledgeable person,” I am – so on with the show:

“…but this election scares me more than others have.  The country is in a very vulnerable state:  people are terribly divided and angry, scared about their survival, we have been in a prolonged recession with no sign of relief, prices for basic necessities are high, healthcare is more of a mess than ever, the weather patterns show inexorable climate change (yet another storm is ravaging the Caribbean, Cuba and will travel to the southeastern United States).”

I agree partly with Dr. Ross – I’m not scared, but I’m concerned. That said, I’m not a hyperbolic fearmonger like Dr. Ross.

We’re not all “terribly divided and angry.” I hold a very unpopular view of the political climate for my demographic, and I don’t sympathize with most of the friends I have. I’m not angry at them, and that philosophical/conceptual rift is normal when one is truly in a diverse crowd. Relax, Dr. Ross – this isn’t a civil war between Code Pink and the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s just people being people.

Also, I’m not worried that I won’t survive. Gas prices are high – it’s a serious hardship for those who don’t live in a city. Those fuel prices make food more expensive, too, but we aren’t starving. Because I’ve cut back on shrimp and clams isn’t evidence that I’m “scared about [my] survival.” It just means I eat more soup and pasta.

And this is where the Good Doctor’s hyperbole and fearmongering really comes in – recession. Things aren’t wonderful – we all know that – but Hell in a Handbasket isn’t around the corner, either. For a crash course on what a recession is, check the Wikipedia entry.

Then consider that the GDP in the second quarter grew by 3.3%, according to the Department of Commerce, that inflation is nowhere near the 12% it was in 1980, and that our civilian unemployment rate of about 6% isn’t all that bad.

It’s also news to me that “inexorable climate change” is linked directly to Hurricane Gustav. Then again, I’ve only got a BA, so she’s the expert.

“We are fighting a war that few can comprehend or believe in.”

Actually, Dr. Ross, the polls aren’t as dire as you make them out to be. About 2 in 3 Americans oppose the war in Iraq – while that’s a majority, considering 1 out of 3 to be “few” is intellectually dishonest or downright ignorant [I'll let you choose]. Feel free to look over these poll results for several questions re: the war in Iraq.

“We are not respected as the force for good that we have been in the post World War II era; quite the contrary.”

I’d dispute that assertion if it wasn’t a book-length discussion. I’ll pass.

“Newspapers are filled with suicide bombings and natural disasters and we almost have to become hardened in order to continue to function.”

I hate to sound crass, but at this point I think that Dr. Ross reads only the New York Times and never leaves Boston/Cambridge.

“So, it seems to me that this election is a turning point.  We have two strong candidates, with very different ideas about how things might be done to begin to repair the horrendous damage of the last few years.”

It should be a turning point either way. I don’t think we have two strong candidates – I think we have only one – and I don’t think that you really think there are two strong candidates, either.

“My hope is that students all over America will vote.  It usually will mean registering and often will require procuring an absentee ballot.  I also hope that students will register to vote in their home states.  In general, Massachusetts votes Democrat.  There is every reason to expect this will be the case in the 2008 election.  Therefore, the votes of the many students in school throughout Massachusetts will be more significant if they are cast in the states from which these many thousands of students have journeyed.”

Any advice for those New Yorkers at Boston University whose vote is useless, using that rational model, regardless of where they cast it?

“PLEASE register to vote, and please register in your home state.  Your vote will be crucial.  The votes of the many American students could well determine the results of what promises to be a very close election.

We have lived for many years with the results of what was a fatally flawed election in 2000.  My hope is that 2008 will bring us a new start.”

I don’t think it was “fatally flawed” at all. Oddly enough, the Supreme Court and our electoral college system both support me.

Dean Elmore takes over:

“Thanks Dr. Ross.  I’m going to take another view.

Isn’t voting in local elections more important?  Do local and state officials, and our representatives to Washington make more of a difference in the quality of our daily routines?”"

That’s an issue worth discussing.

But first, Dean Elmore might want to consider why he posted a tendentious, intellectually dishonest, ill-informed guest editorial that embarrassed his office and his University. Differing viewpoints are good and discussion is good – as long as everyone is informed, fair and honest.

5 Responses to “Intellectual Dishonesty and Fearmongering on the Boston University Dean’s Blog”

  1. Why are you opposed to a campaign to encourage voter registration and participation in the election?

    Sure, it’s not a major issue for the Dean – but neither does it consume very much of his time and resources.

    It’s allowable to take *some* time out for minor issues like democracy, you know.

    I think you fear is that – unlike you – people out there really *are* angry, that the last eight years really have been a disaster, that global warming really is a problem, that the war really is useless, and that a country that pays its way by borrowing really is headed for a disaster 9even if it managed to make the books look good this month).

    I think your fear is that, if the disenfranchised finally voted en masse, they would begin voting, not just in Boston, but in the Red States as well.

  2. Stephen,

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ll break this down point by point.

    “Why are you opposed to a campaign to encourage voter registration and participation in the election?”

    I’m not – I’m opposed to the Dean of Students and his Office doing it. There are many, many other groups/organizations who do this effectively. It’s not a major issue – we agree on this – but it’s a drop in that bucket of wasted resources. I want as few drops in that bucket as possible.

    “It’s allowable to take *some* time out for minor issues like democracy, you know.”

    I didn’t say that it wasn’t or shouldn’t be allowed. I said it was a poor decision. The University is free to do what it wants to do [and it does].

    “I think you fear is that – unlike you – people out there really *are* angry, that the last eight years really have been a disaster, that global warming really is a problem, that the war really is useless, and that a country that pays its way by borrowing really is headed for a disaster 9even if it managed to make the books look good this month).”

    I’m not afraid of this in the slightest. I’ve got my vote, they’ve got theirs. That’s the way it works.

    “I think your fear is that, if the disenfranchised finally voted en masse, they would begin voting, not just in Boston, but in the Red States as well.”

    There are no United States citizens 18+ who are disenfranchised en masse.

  3. Stephen,

    Just read something of interest – if you’re going to point fingers re: who’s afraid, you’re pointing in the wrong direction.

    http://media.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OTg1OTAzOTllYjQzMmYzYzI2NDI5YWFkMGE1YWYyZjQ=

    “For most of us, if the last eight years have taught us anything it’s that the American people can not [sic] be trusted to vote in their own self-interest or that of the country.”

  4. Jared Stein says:

    If people in the US are so damned angry with the last 8 years why do they need any encouragement at all to vote?

    And since this is “the most important election in your lifetime” I would plan for the highest voter turnout in, say, a generation, wouldn’t you?

  5. Jared,

    If you keep using common sense like that, you’re likely to get kicked out of academia.

    That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say – if people are so dissatisfied, why do they need prodding? The voter registration groups would say that people would *like* to register, but the current system provides too many hurdles and said groups are just making it more user-friendly.

    Oddly enough, not once in my life have I been personally solicited to register to vote.

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