by Martin Harris
For college grads who follow such things, the post-60’s lean-to-the-Left in American Higher Education has been welcomed by the Leftists in that electoral demographic (back then, a quarter of the college-age cohort actually experienced the halls-of-ivy; today, about half matriculates) and decried by the Rightists, and higher-ed think-tanks periodically publish stats showing that today’s academics (perhaps because their nearer-to-poverty prof parents endured worn-out tweed jackets with elbow patches) are firmly in the Liberal wealth re-distribution, better-than-equality-for-favored-groups, and vocally anti-individual-excellence-and-reward electoral camp, by margins usually exceeding 80% Liberal to 20% Conservative. Maybe that’s because when they were growing up, their parents applauded Prez 32 FDR’s excoriations of the leaders of industry as “malefactors of great wealth” and voted accordingly. But maybe that’s an over-simplification. Occasional bits of evidence emerge to suggest that, on the science-math-engineering side of the campus, as opposed to the distributive-justice, womens’-studies, and racism-in-medieval-literature side, fact-based research still prevails, even though the latter “disciplines” are always nearer the President’s office and Board of Trustees’ meeting room, both physically and philosophically. A couple of cases-in-point, one involving geology and one involving genetics.
The first comes from Duke University, which you may remember was the locus for the 2006 race-and-class-based scandal involving (supposedly) over-privileged lacrosse-team members and under-privileged female townies, with the first group being judged automatically guilty of second-group sexual abuse by a petition-signing /hang-em rally by a large fraction of the faculty before the case collapsed because of prosecutorial mis-conduct resulting in prosecutorial disbarment by the State of North Carolina. Now, it turns out, in labs much farther removed from the President’s office than the social-justice seminar rooms, Duke scientists have been studying the question of natural gas in water wells and have concluded that, where the wells going down a few hundred feet to the aquifer level are sited over gas-bearing shale formations thousands of feet deeper, the likelihood of gas in the drinking water is a lot higher than in wells not drilled over such formations as the Marcellus Shale. That conclusion proves valid even without actual nearby natural gas drilling using the gas-extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing. The Duke study found that 82% of 141 wells drilled in a part of Pennsylvania above the Marcellus Shale were showing gas at the kitchen faucet, and also found “…no evidence that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” …was causing fluids to migrate upwards into drinking aquifers closer to the surface”. It did find evidence of inadequate sealing of wells, the post-drilling process whereby steel casings and a poured-concrete perimeter seal are installed at the drill-hole to prevent near-surface contaminants to enter the well’s water column. AP and WSJ news reports cite the full study, just published on-line by the National Academy of Sciences in its Proceedings. The peer-reviewed study illustrates a couple of points: one is that “the academy” (or at least those parts of it most remote from the politically-correct atmosphere of higher-ed administration in general and the on-campus liberal-arts enclaves in particular) is as capable as ever of studying and teaching structural engineering, molecular biology, and, yes, best-practices-in-well-drilling; and the other is that, for the anti-natural-gas, anti-fracking “green energy” ideologists, mere research and analysis haven’t and won’t change their minds about their preferred tactic of conflating fracking with drinking-water pollution in the public mind. You might recall that the four-score-or-so Duke profs who signed their hang-the-guilty-by-privilege-lacrosse-team petition have never withdrawn, or apologized for, it.
The second comes from The University of New Mexico, which you may remember has been one of the loci of recent periodic “Reconquista” rallies (supported by the sociology and politics profs, ignored by the mining and agriculture profs) on behalf of illegal aliens from whose ancestors the Southwest was so unfairly taken (the $18.25 million purchase and debt-assumption price, agreeable to both sides, isn’t mentioned) in the 1846-48 “war”, started when Mexico decided the Texas Revolution of 1836 hadn’t happened and that the Rio Grande wouldn’t be the national boundary. Recently, at UNM, biologists studying the “Flynn effect” whereby human IQ levels rise over time, presumably because of improved childhood nutrition, also found a correlation with lower immunity levels (more allergies and asthma, for example) because of improved health-environments and reduced physical-health environmental challenge for children. Their work was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, a London-based academy with divisions for various disciplines where research and analysis and facts actually matter, as with biology and immunity. (That’s as opposed to where they don’t, exemplified by various non-quantifiable aspects of wealth re-distribution and various aspects of similarly non-quantifiable ethnic favoritism, presently “taught” in such classes as social systems and political theory.)
Humble Scribe applause for the wrong-side-of-the-academic-tracks hard sciences on college campi notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine the overall image (and impact on young minds) of the American university changing appreciably in the near future. After all, the soft (non) sciences are still ideologically favored over the hard subjects and disciplines. Midway between the two: economics, a soft subject which now tries to appear hard by deploying lengthy math-looking formulae with lots of letters, but no numbers. One way in which the hard sciences might gain more student attention is the post-graduation job market: right now there are more for engineers with structural specialties, fewer for doctorates in Sanskrit Feminist Literature.