Re: Brian Leiter Won't Be Nice


You just can't resist punching that tar baby, huh?

Posted by: unf | Link to this comment | 10-24-03 9:24 AM
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Nice post. There is, I grant, a danger to treating, say, the Discovery Institute civilly, because such treatment gives the appearance of a certain kind of live scientific disagreement, and this, in turn, supports the DI's political agenda. On the other hand, insulting them gives them evidence that their opponents are refusing to engage with them because they're blinded by ideology, opposed to Christianity rather than to bad science, and so on. Since it's possible to say "the DI is not engaged in a serious research program; here are the twenty-seven reasons why" in a civil tone, I'm not sure I buy Leiter's point about civililty and legitimacy.

Well, isn't that rambling? It's partly because I just read the latest Terri Schiavo article in the NYT, in which Randall Terry et al. claim that the Florida Legislature's ad hoc, single-case lawmaking is a victory for the people over Big Bad Elitist Repressive Judiciary. In fact, of course, the lawmakers are (a) tampering with the well-established rights of patients (or their guardians) to refuse treatment, thus undermining patient autonomy; and (b) urinating on the separation of powers. What really drives me crazy about this is (a), because these due-process interpretations protect individuals from government intrusion rather than force the Liberal Elite's view on everyone. This is relevant here, perhaps, because it's very, very tempting to drop all trappings of civility when talking about these people. So on today of all days I feel the Leiterian pull.

He's still kinda mean, though.

ok, I need some sleep.

Posted by: Fontana Labs | Link to this comment | 10-24-03 10:18 AM
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Oh, the pull is strong. I can't count how many posts I've started with something like "So-and-so, the friggin' moron, says...," before I went back and made the edit.

"Since it's possible to say "the DI is not engaged in a serious research program; here are the twenty-seven reasons why" in a civil tone, I'm not sure I buy Leiter's point about civility and legitimacy."

Exactly. A great example of the right way to respond is this Eugene Volokh post in response to the argument that gay sex is "unnatural." It is dispassionate and dispositive. There is no room for anything but a quibble and no peg upon which to hang a charge of bias. We needn't all argue in Volokh's style, of course, but I think it's impossible to say that his post legitimizes the "unnaturalness" position.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-24-03 10:58 AM
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Civility also protects a speaker from the consequences of his own fallibility. If I misread, or misinterpret an opponent's argument (or am simply ignorant), remaining civil keeps me from looking like too much of a jackass.

And -- what do you know! -- this point is relevnat to the case at hand. Leiter berates Bernstein as hopeless, noting that "anyone ... who knows anything about schooling knows the two main problems actually afflicting public schools are inadequate funding [which affects class size, in particular] and the socioeconomic pathologies of american cities."

As it happens, Leiter's first point is wrong. There's substantial debate whether educational inputs like overall spending (and class size, in particular) really do substantially influence educational outcomes. See here">">here, and here for two sides.

I don't claim to know the answer: maybe lower class size really does correlate to better results. But for Leiter to depict the correlation as a black ink fact of educational science recognized by all but the ignorant is, simply, inaccurate. Nor does his discussion of Bernstein display a great deal of sophistication. So here's a case where civility would have protected ... Leiter.

Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 10-25-03 9:13 AM
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21 than that of the dealer, without going over 21 pai gow to start driving towards the site.

Posted by: Kyler Malakai | Link to this comment | 01-25-06 12:35 AM
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