Conditional Credibility of Academics, Redux

by Martin Harris

The definitive book on the tilt-to-the-Left of American Higher Education has yet to be written, and two aspects of that fairly remarkable post-WWII ideological emergence have yet to be studied by historians (how far back into the late decades of the 19th century its roots go) and academicians: how the hard sciences (like engineering and biology) have remained fairly aloof from that new ideological fashion, while the so-called “liberal arts” and “soft sciences” (like cultural literature and sociology) have embraced it, and contrasting examples are more widespread than one might expect. Yes, Conservative think-tanks still warn about a critical young-college-grad voter bloc increasingly pre-conditioned to favor all the usual Progressive governance objectives, but don’t focus sufficiently (a little Humble Scribe unproveable opinion, here) on the critical role of the white-lab-coat folks on college campi in researching and publishing facts on subjects previously presented to the broad voting public only in not-very-useful sound-bite speeches and less-than-complete, by intent, MainStreamMedia reporting. From the halls of ivy, there have been more anecdotes of suitably professorially-pre-enraged students shouting down invited speakers with politically-incorrect views than there have been reports on scientific studies of, say, natural gas in water wells above gas-bearing shales, even where no drilling and fracking have been done; or the correlations between recent improvements in human IQ with recent improvements in human nutrition and equally recent weakenings in human disease-immunity, both resulting from improvements in commodity farming (mostly. like crop-genetics, decried by the Left) enabling easier and less-challenging growing-up experiences for children. Both have been briefly mentioned recently in this space: one study from Duke, the other from the University of New Mexico.

To further prove the point (excuse the HS use of the split infinitive, there) here are two more: from the University of Texas comes a report documenting the relative small quantity of water used in the State for natural gas drilling and fracking, compared to the vastly larger quantities used for lawn-watering by the same population; and from the quasi-academic Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, CA (with linkages to the State University system, similar to the Hoover Institution’s linkages to Stanford University) comes a report documenting the high cost, acreage demands, low productivity and erratic reliability of “green” power compared to that generated by coal, oil, gas, or nuclear.

The Texas study makes a number of points you won’t ever hear from anti’s like Vermont Guv Peter Shumlin or his similarly-pre-decided New York counterpart Guv Andrew Cuomo: a large (and increasing) fraction of drilling/fracking water usage is either unuseable-brackish or re-cycled, or both) and Texas households use 18 times more water for lawn-greening than the industry uses for drilling/fracking: in 2011, 495 million gallons for residential-outdoor use compared to 27 billion for oil/gas purposes. Actually, the residential-outdoor category is insufficiently detailed in the UofT study: it doesn’t differentiate between water sprayed on lawns versus water sprayed on gardens or into livestock troughs, aspects of do-it-yourself mini-farming and grow-your-own and local-vore which the anti-fossil fuels activists have repeatedly declared their enthusiasm for.

Data published by the Breakthrough Institute are similarly not-widely-published and therefore not-widely-used, as they should be, in the continuing energy debates: using data from Germany’s supposedly successful use of solar energy (they quote Robert Kennedy from the Natural Resources Defense Council and William McKibben from Middlebury College in Vermont, describing him as an activist, not a scientist) the BI report quotes them as asserting that “..on one day in 2012, half of Germany’s power came from solar…” and goes on to document that, unique low-demand days excepted, more typically “…in 2012 solar generated less than 5% of Germany’s electricity despite a decade and over $100 billion spent in subsidies.”

What both these anecdotes illustrate is that, while collegiate presidential offices, trustees’ conference rooms, and such newly-minted “disciplines” as “gender studies” are easily visible examples of ideology-in-academia, the profs and research associates in the hard sciences are doing what they’ve always done: advancing the boundaries of knowledge. Princeton University, for example, frequently publicizes some new initiative in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, or multi-sexual diversity (recent example: the full-tenure appointment of two new professors in “gender and sexuality studies”) , but the atomic-fusion research work of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory receives no comparable beyond-the-campus-connections public notice. Just as Duke is better known, beyond the campus gates, for its lacrosse scandal than for its forensic-geology breakthroughs, so Princeton is better known for its Van Jones appointment (the self-described Chicago Socialist-Communist has been a visiting lecturer) than for its research efforts in hot fusion, the sun’s own continuous atomic reaction which, 93 million miles away, produces “…3 million times more energy each second than the entire world population uses in a year…” quoting from a small publication the Laboratory has independently started, to try for some public awareness not coming through and from usual university channels. You’d think that any or all of the solar advocacy groups, on a subject normally a favorite of the progressive-Left, would help; but apparently not. HS hint: the Conditional Credibility Contrast would be a fit subject for a brave university sociologist/author daring to examine his/her own institution’s newly-native culture.