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Academic freedom for me, but not for thee

When Chris Horner was trying to get hold of Michael Mann's emails, the academic establishment moved heaven and earth to ensure that everybody knew where they stood on the question, namely that exposure of an Mann's emails would be an affront to academic freedom. The legal establishment seemed to concur.

Strangely, however, it seems that if an academic is suspected of having (whisper it) free-market sensibilities then exposure of their emails is no longer an affront at all.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) stood by professors in the Wisconsin and Virginia cases, publicly criticizing broad requests for emails on politically charged issues as an assault on academic freedom.

The association hasn’t issued a statement this time around, which has drawn criticism from writers at some conservative publications and blogs, who accuse the organization of being hypocritical. 

In a post on the independent blog of Academe Magazine, which is published by the AAUP, John K. Wilson says the AAUP has always recommended that open-records requests be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some pose a threat to professors' academic freedom, but some could reveal violations of academic freedom or standards, said Wilson, who is a co-editor of the blog and a member of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

Recalling Jonathan Haidt's observation that the hostility of the majority of social scientists to colleagues suspected of being free-market liberals or conservatives has damaged the credibility of their specialism, it is hard not to conclude that the credibility of the whole American education system will soon be at stake as well.

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Reader Comments (50)

This is at the heart and soul of the battle to keep the Scientific Enlightenment. Academic Science has become captured by Marxist Post-normal Science, introduced to the University of East Anglia's Climate research Unit in 1991.

In essence, this is Scientific Jihadism; you can teach incorrect Science, tell outright lies and commit whatever other transgressions you like so long as it is justified by Overarching Good, the establishment of 'Scientific Socialism'.

The parallels between now and the evils of the French Revolution and the brave fight for Objective Science by Antoine Lavoisier, guillotined in 1786, are striking.

Jan 16, 2015 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

In this case, hypocrisy is a demonstration of power. And they have it. It will change, of course. It is changing already, in fact. I wonder what the next bunch to grab the megaphone will do. Since it might be some of us, please don't become thugs too.

Jan 16, 2015 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

Social science has only two problems: it isn't science and it isn't social.

Indeed it combines the worst aspects of both areas. It takes as a dogma the dispassionate "uncaring" attitude that science needs to be impartial, and throws away the impartial bit and replaces it with a sloppy agenda driven attitude toward data and methodology which is common in society.

Jan 16, 2015 at 9:08 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Remember that the university that screamed 'acedmic freedom ' when it cam to e-mails related to Mann where more than happy to hand over e-mails over to Greenpeace when they went dirt digging on another academic.
But I am not sure it related to 'green' accept has in bucks for its the 'high value ' of certain areas and people , that is the money they bring it , which is what I think decides if they hand material over of not .

But one day Mann , Lew , etc may well find their past catches up with them in the same way it caught up with CRU , and that day cannot come soon enough .

Jan 16, 2015 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

In both cases, the emails should just be released.

Academics should not have secrets, and they surely should be clever enough not to put them in an email.

Jan 16, 2015 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Richard Tol
The trouble is that a lot of scientists are not very bright.
Intelligent, yes. Very highly in some cases. Dedicated, yes. Single-minded, without a doubt. Away with the fairies, very often.
The caricature "absent-minded professor" is close cousin to the "mad scientist" of 1940s cheap thrillers!

Jan 16, 2015 at 9:27 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

There is a good reason for the phrase 'it's all academic'.

Jan 16, 2015 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Depraved (morally corrupt) would be a better adjective than hypocritical. The hypocrisy is a consequence and symptom of the depravity.

Jan 16, 2015 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

The Early Bird has found the Worm.

Jan 16, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

The problem with academia, particularly in the UK, is that being almost exclusively public sector, it thinks public sector is good and private sector is the spawn of satan. Not that all academics hate the private sector, but by the time they all reinforce each other's ideas about the private sector and reject that from outside private sector "sceptics" and when you then combine and "consensualize" their thoughts into what is AC (academically correct), the total output is vehemently anti industry, anti commerce, anti private sector.

In contrast, the private sector largely experienced the full "benefit" of public-sector education at school and university ... so the private sector understands the public, but as most of the public sector have never worked in the private sector, the public sector are largely ignorant ..... ummmmmm ..... of the private sector.

This I think is why someone like Mann who pushes anti-CO2 (a proxy for industry & the private sector) is backed to the hilt by the public sector and particularly academia, whereas any free-market sceptics are vindictively attacked.

Jan 16, 2015 at 10:52 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

it is hard not to conclude that the credibility of the whole American education system will soon be at stake as well.

"soon"................... ?

Was there ever a 'golden age'?

Education, fell under the spectre of post normal cultural relativism many years ago, tertiary academia - was the seed.

Lets go back to DDT, CFCs, global cooling - remember that one? Inevitably, political advocacy and big business has corrupted science - it always has, it always did.

Jan 16, 2015 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Ha ha. John K. Wilson says that in some cases, open records could show violations of academic freedom and standards.

And in those cases, he will absolutely fight against the records being open.

Jan 16, 2015 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

I thought that the FOIA applied only to government employees, in which case any communications about work he was doing on behalf of the Kochs doesn't fall under the FOIA.

Jan 16, 2015 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

KnR: I do wish you would take a bit more care in the construction of your comment; you do make particularly salient points, but it can be difficult to actually interpret what you are trying to say. Perhaps you need peer-reviewers.

Richard Tol: there can be a big, big difference between “intelligent” and “clever”, as Mike Jackson has pointed out. (By the way, I suspect that many are not either.)

Steve is right; these folk are not just hypocritical, they are morally corrupt, ethically bankrupt; there is not a trace of conscience in their efforts to soak the public and keep their gravy train on track. While they might be academic, they certainly are not scientific – indeed, they appear to abhor scientific principles.

Jan 16, 2015 at 11:42 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

I don't have a problem with KnR's posts even if they aren't written in perfect English all the time. They're a lot more relevant and comprehensible than some that are.

Jan 16, 2015 at 11:57 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Random Number Buttons are entitled to confidentiality and anonymity, provided they only produce numbers, that are worse than previously thought possible.

Anyone who dares to calculate actual numbers, that are not worse than previously thought possible, is a heretical denier, as is anyone who questions 6×9=42 +/-97%.

Jan 16, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

I would expect a teaching position to involve a fair amount of non-academic (pastoral) email to/from students with all sorts of bizarre problems - this surely must be kept confidential.

Jan 16, 2015 at 12:27 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta

Doesn't the Charlie Hebdo situation have relevance to all of this..?

Jan 16, 2015 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1


The religious extremists involved in Charlie Hebdo believed that any crimes commited, would be rewarded in heaven.

The Climate Science Fiction writers know that financial enrichment is available, now, on Earth.

Jan 16, 2015 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

It already is as my blog and book Credentialed to Destroy: How and Why Education Became a Weapon laid out. Chapter 5 is on the higher ed nexus and its link the the sustainability shift to get to economic transformation. What the OECD used to call Green Growth and now calls the Great Transition as it works with the UN system.

On Michael Mann, he showed up before Christmas on a CRED paper issued by Columbia University on how to change people's belief systems about Climate Change using psychology and K-12 education. It certainly put his Climate Change hockey stick into perpective.

Jan 16, 2015 at 1:03 PM | Registered Commenteresquirerobin is the link for the vision of "Education for Sustainable Development in the UK in 2010.

It is all about creating the desired mindsets that will believe whatever the facts.

Jan 16, 2015 at 1:07 PM | Registered Commenteresquirerobin

Coincidentally, yesterday (15th) in Michael Portillo's excellent Great British Railway Journeys on BBC2, he spent some time with a London historian discussing the cholera epidemic in Victorian London, and the received wisdom at the time that it was caused by 'miasma' (bad air).
Eventually along came a logical thinker (that's us, folks) who worked out that it was due to contaminated drinking water - by the simple deduction that a lady, who became rich and moved to Hampstead but liked the taste of the water from her old pump in central London and had some shipped up to her daily, and promptly died of cholera.
End of the 'miasmatists'....

Jan 16, 2015 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Some pose a threat to professors' academic freedom, but some could revealviolations of academic freedom or standards the presence of heretics, said Wilson, who is a co-editor of the blog and a member of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.


Jan 16, 2015 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke in Central Illinois

HTML failure. :-(

Jan 16, 2015 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke in Central Illinois

Jan 16, 2015 at 10:52 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Exactly Mike, and I'm sure lots of people will agree that the general standard of 'workers' in the private sector is much higher than in the public sector. Also it is much more varied as my definition Academia is filled with people with good Academic exam results - It tends to exclude the many incredibly good people who dropped out of school at 16... The quality and acceptance of many different view points add a lot in general to the 'private sector'. Obviously it is easy to come up with specific examples contradicting both of these points of views but I've seen a good sample of both now and think it basically holds true.

Jan 16, 2015 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

"the credibility of the whole American education system will soon be at stake"

That credibility is long gone. All that is left is haggling over the payments.

Jan 16, 2015 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

Jan 16, 2015 at 1:59 PM | sherlock1

John Snow has a pub named after him in soho. I've been in it more times than I like to think about ;)

The whole story of the origins of science of epidemiology is fascinating. Apparently you were less likely to die of cholera if you drank beer because the brewery used a different water source.

The Aldgate pump is still there, still with no handle ;)

Jan 16, 2015 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

In the 1970s (and presumably later) many student unions had a policy of "No platform for fascists". Some might find that agreeable, except it was used to denounce anyone to the right of Labour and even they were barely tolerated. Too many academics appear to uncritically endorse this type of mindset, and J K Wilson seems to be one of them.

Jan 16, 2015 at 5:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterBudgie

case by case kangooroo courts deliberating behind sociopath curtains where the indefinite entitled lounge..

what is not to like?

ha the 70s when progressives could "freely" scould anyone for fascist, cunningly ignoring adolf hitler czlled himself a socialist!

Jan 16, 2015 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered Commentervenusnotwarmerduetoco2

"Are you now or have you ever been a Conservative?"

"Have you on any occasion met with or consorted with individuals holding Conservative views?"

"Answer the question!!"

The Koch brothers are in fact Libertarians who favour decriminalizing marijuana amongst other initiatives for less controlling government.

Jan 16, 2015 at 6:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

Richar Tol: "In both cases, the emails should just be released."

If so, then all emails by "scientists" should be released. Every one.

Jan 16, 2015 at 7:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Bish astutely notes::

it is hard not to conclude that the credibility of the whole American education system will soon be at stake as well

Actually, there are some in the US who came to just such a conclusion almost two years ago. As I had noted and quoted in a post** today:

In recent years, study after study has found that a college education no longer does what it should do and once did.1 Whether these studies look directly at the capabilities of graduates, or instead at what employers find their capabilities to be, the result is the same: far too many college graduates have not learned to write effectively, they can not read and comprehend any reasonably complex book, they have not learned to reason, and their basic knowledge of the history and institutions of the society in which they live is lamentably poor. “An astounding proportion of students are progressing through higher education today without measurable gains in general skills” is the anguished conclusion of a respected national study, entitled appropriately Academically Adrift. 2 Further, students now spend on average little time studying outside the classroom, and the demands made of them by their faculty teachers have been correspondingly reduced. [emphasis added -hro]

Source: A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California

** Before you click on my shameless plug above, please note that my post derived from some of the responses that I read in our host's recent Those lovely BBC journalists

[Edit cuz I hit Submit too soon] While the two issues (i.e. in my post and this one) are miles apart, IMHO their "primary source" is the same: one arm or finger of the increasingly NGO influenced UN "initiative"..

Jan 16, 2015 at 9:17 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

It is just quality control-conservatives are stupid.

“We try to hire the best, smartest people available. . . . If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. . . . Mill’s analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too.”

- Robert Brandon Duke University Dept. Head, February 10, 2004.

Jan 16, 2015 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

During the early 1970s I worked with an American psychologist at a NZ university, who informed me despairingly that at that time at least one-third of American high school students would not be able to read the diplomas awarded them when they graduated.
I note from current OECD surveys of educational attainment among the OECD countries that America does not fare well.

Jan 17, 2015 at 12:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

"...namely that exposure of an Mann's emails would be an affront to academic freedom."

So academic freedom trumps the public's right to know when it comes to issues that will affect government policy.

Welcome to the new democracy comrade.

Jan 17, 2015 at 12:51 AM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason

Ho and hum ...

Most people don't mind being hypocritical, they just mind it being pointed out

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

UK; one third of children leaving UK state schools are functionally illiterate, 25% have only a basic understanding of maths which is = to what a child should know by 11 years of age [OECD].

It ain't the kids fault [sorry Suffolkboy] it usually is their teachers. Men but mainly women who only have an almost irrelevant general education certificate - [ a specialist degree is a rarity ]. Thus, many school teachers are unable to impart knowledge because they themselves are ignorant of the subject: therefore cannot teach to syllabus. Intelligent children leave schools disenchanted and more importantly unfulfilled because teachers have only a distant relationship and a tenuous command of core subjects - particularly - in Mathematics. And as others have pointed out - spending more money Edukashun, Edukashun, Edukashun, on wages and IT - does not necessarily a good student make.

Finally, how many PC's are allowed in Chinese classrooms during lessons - none at all - blackboard and chalk is all they get and oh yeah - a teacher who has a degree in Mathematics. The UK, has fallen to 28th place in comparison with other developed nations - in Mathematics.

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

I would expect a teaching position to involve a fair amount of non-academic (pastoral) email to/from students with all sorts of bizarre problems - this surely must be kept confidential.
Jan 16, 2015 at 12:27 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta
Yep, and FOI legislation in every jurisdiction that I know of redacts personal information. Emails from the spouse (please pick up milk on the way home); stuff that reveals your home address or other family information; pastoral care such as your example - all that kind of thing is redacted.

It is no excuse for blocking the release of what people have been seeking, which is strictly professional.

Jan 17, 2015 at 2:53 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

what is the principle of FOIA ?
- In the old days people paid by the taxpayer had information which was
1. Useful to the public
2. Could be released at no cost.

- So FOIAing details of the BBC 28gate meeting is legitimate
- But When a university starts a new business to market their new magic energy solution, FOIAing them for the true cost is not legitimate, as it would harm the business.
- FOIAing BBC re Richard Black's salary. No it's private.
- FOIAing BBC re Richard Black's salary, to ask if it is true he received payments from external businesses which could bias his reporting. A Yes; no answer is in the public interest. (although specific amounts are commercial & private.)
"Students for a Sustainable Future requested contracts and correspondence related to Hall’s hiring. " ..No it's private
"The students want to see documentation of donations given to the university from 11 different organizations, all of which have ties to the Koch brothers." No, it's commercial info. If donors make donations on the premise of secrecy then publishing them will deter future donations.
"The request also asks for any of Hall’s emails since 2004 that contain mentions of Right wing orgs". No, catchall requests are not allowed. Neither does the request justify why that info is in the public interest.

FOIA is not there to facilitate vigilantism in every circumstance.
Yes, Even private/commercial emails should be investigated if there is genuine cause for concern, but done thru the proper channels of police/courts.
That is why the Mann case of requesting thousands of emails may not just be a vigilante fishing expedition; as one of the parties was a state attorney general, seeking to substantiate claims of fraud based on info in the already public climategate emails. IMHO

Jan 17, 2015 at 5:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterstewgreen

@Tol's magic solution of just release every email doesn't stand scrutiny.
- Privacy is an important part of life : to protect sources, patient/participant confidentiality etc.
Though in principle :
1. private email addreses should be used for personal emails
2. Work email should only be done thru work email addresses & should be accessible to your superiors , thus protecting the org from corruption.
3. Transparency culture means you should be thinking about whether an email is really just private before you click send. Having a blanket policy of "well all this projects emails are private" is poor transparency culture.
- The only reason the climategate emails were exposed were cos those involved thought they were above transparency. It might account for why #GreensGoByAir to climate conferences (which exclude sceptics) to whisper in each others ears instead of doing it the (sure to be on the record) video conference way.

Jan 17, 2015 at 5:58 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

It ain't the kids fault [sorry Suffolkboy] it usually is their teachers. Men but mainly women who only have an almost irrelevant general education certificate

Oh for goodness sake, stop making shit up.

In the UK 75% of Maths teachers have a Maths in their degree. Some of those without degrees in Maths will have a degree in some other subject. Some of those without a degree will actually be OK (and, for sure, some won't).

That stat is not great, but your exaggeration is just plain stupid.

Also, the idea that the Chinese learn Maths better is deluded. The top end of Maths is not </b<dominated by Asians, who rote learn skills at school, then are unable to work independently (an exaggeration, but also true to quite a large extent). That they do well on PISA tests says 1) how much work they do on the tested skills and 2) the amount they cheat. (Note the PISA test compares the typical UK school vs the best of Shanghai. The back country of China isn't tested.)

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

"The top end of Maths" WTF?

I did a quick survey, all anecdotal of course but I've also seen it first hand, although trying very hard not to hear and watch with the cogs creaking. Talking to so many shop keepers - they all averred the same. English school kids, trying to attempt basic mental arithmetic in a sweet [any] shop - and it tells you all you need to know, Does it not follow, that, if you are unable to work out simple sums - a little geometry etc - can be too big an ask.

Jan 17, 2015 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

stewgreen, in every place I've ever worked, emails are indeed accessible to your superiors, although not necessarily on demand. They are the property of your employer.

It is unrealistic to expect people not to ever use their work email accounts for private purposes. Most employers have policies about this. They don't mind if you use it to arrange to pick up the kids after school, or confirm a medical/dental appointment. They draw the line at using it to run an outside business, or for leaking information.

I don't see the problem here.

Jan 17, 2015 at 9:37 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

It ain't the kids fault [sorry Suffolkboy] it usually is their teachers. Men but mainly women who only have an almost irrelevant general education certificate - [ a specialist degree is a rarity ]. Thus, many school teachers are unable to impart knowledge because they themselves are ignorant of the subject: therefore cannot teach to syllabus.

Well Athelstan. I have worked in inner London schools and colleges helping to teach maths and I have a very different take on the reasons for the functional innumeracy. The problem is not mainly to do with the teachers - there is not much wrong with their quality, it is the fact that during the last thirty odd years, it has become an option for children not to learn anything at all, if they so choose. The lack of discipline and compulsion in schools means that too often, sixteen to seventeen year olds do not have the arithmetical and mathematical knowledge or ability that I had aged eleven in 1965!

Jan 17, 2015 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterTammly

@Johanna "It is unrealistic to expect people not to ever use their work email accounts for private purposes." "I don't see the problem here."
- The problem is people using their work email to discuss private stuff with their wife and then saying "you can't FOIA my work email cos it's got private stuff in"
- There is a grey area of course when Prof X emails Prof Y on his home account to talk about their kids party tomorrow ..he might add "by the way interesting error was found at work today", therefore a record of that event will not be on his work email where it should be ..capice ?

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:52 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

"inner London schools and colleges helping to teach maths"

My experience ranges all across the Midlands and the north - where Blair's money spreader never arrived. I have read quite convincing polemic, implying that London [education] and purely for political advantage became a priority and thus was money poured in. I regularly, am in contact with two retired teachers both with degrees; one a mathematician, the other a doctor of physics, indeed they are askance at declining standards in British schools - what goes on in London, is another story it seems.

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

stewgreen, in your example the personalia would be redacted from that email, but not the work related bit.

It's just like how they sometimes black out parts of hard copy documents.

I still can't see the problem.

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:57 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Art Hall and the Center for Applied Economics occupy a strange niche. The Center and Hall himself are 100% soft money, e.g. the University of Kansas does not provide any funding for them. Hall himself has what surely looks like a pro forma Lecturer's position (this is not the same as a Lecturer in a British University, but in the US usually is used for full time instructors) in the School of Business..

So frankly, the interesting Emails would be between whoever set this thing up and the University administrations, however there is some strange going on. For example, the restraining order issued to support Hall and stop the University from releasing the Emails asserts that there is a first amendment right to academic freedom. Very odd in US Constitutional terms. There is a right to freedom of speech, but academic freedom as commonly understood goes way beyond that.

Hall asserts that since he raises every cent for the Center, he is a private individual and therefore does not have to disclose because the state contributes nothing. (He is also the only employee of the Center). Then it gets complex

Popcorn please

Jan 19, 2015 at 3:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabett

Michael Mann is at my local university this evening but not sure if I should go and ask questions - he might sue me !

Jan 19, 2015 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen

Good question asked over at the Bunny's link. Where's the ACLU's position in this?

Jan 20, 2015 at 8:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

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