Animal Farm was Optimistic

Animal Farm was Optimistic

The other day, the billionaire hedge fund manager and recent political activist Bill Ackman noted, on Twitter/X, that not all protests and protestors are treated the same by academic institutions.  A hierarchy of “identity” exists on campus, and some classes/collections of people are, to borrow a phrase from Orwell, more equal than others.  As Ackman observed, at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s perfectly fine to set up an illegal encampment, just as long as you use it to demand a global intifada and call for “the genocide of Jews.”  But woe be upon the accursed wretch who dares to peel six LGBTQ+ “pride” stickers off the office doors and desks of various faculty members.  The wrath of hell will be unleashed upon him so fast his little head will spin.

This is an interesting contrast, but one that should surprise no one.  College campuses are radicalized hotbeds of selective outrage as well as “repressive tolerance.”  The academic world tends to see Napoleon as a hero, rather than the villain of Animal Farm.

Moreover, Wharton is notoriously in the vanguard of academia’s fight for inequity and flight from reality.  Indeed, not quite two years ago, the good folks at Wharton announced that they intended to keep the school and its students on the cutting edge of business performance and productivity by offering two new majors for both undergraduate and graduate students:

Over its nearly 150 years as the global leader in business education, the Wharton School’s continued curricular evolution remains a cornerstone by which the School’s excellence is sustained. This month, as the University of Pennsylvania’s fall semester unfolded, Wharton again applied this philosophy in acknowledgement of the rising relevance of two burgeoning industry priorities.

Wharton’s Curriculum Innovation and Review Committee (CIRC) voted to approve the introduction of two official curricular designations to the School’s existing fold of robust and renowned educational opportunities: 1) Environmental, Social and Governance Factors for Business (ESGB), and 2) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Both ESGB and DEI are available to function as either a concentration at the undergraduate level or a major at the MBA level, and will see its first students graduate in May 2025.

For a mere $87,000/year, you too can earn an MBA in state of the art intellectual pablum!

In a related story, The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on the sad state of academic publishing and the associated sad state of academic research:

Fake studies have flooded the publishers of top scientific journals, leading to thousands of retractions and millions of dollars in lost revenue. The biggest hit has come to Wiley, a 217-year-old publisher based in Hoboken, N.J., which Tuesday will announce that it is closing 19 journals, some of which were infected by large-scale research fraud. 

In the past two years, Wiley has retracted more than 11,300 papers that appeared compromised, according to a spokesperson, and closed four journals. It isn’t alone: At least two other publishers have retracted hundreds of suspect papers each. Several others have pulled smaller clusters of bad papers.

Although this large-scale fraud represents a small percentage of submissions to journals, it threatens the legitimacy of the nearly $30 billion academic publishing industry and the credibility of science as a whole.

We have noted before in these pages that academic research in general is undergoing a “crisis of replicability,” which is to say that a great deal of the research published under the much-ballyhooed “peer review” system is fraudulent, plagiarized, or extremely poorly designed.  And this applies both to the hard sciences and the social sciences, the latter of which includes a great deal of research purporting to demonstrate the importance of DEI and ESG.

The Journal blames this wider crisis in research on the usual bad actors – greedy and unscrupulous foreign entities looking to make a quick and easy buck:

The sources of the fake science are “paper mills”—businesses or individuals that, for a price, will list a scientist as an author of a wholly or partially fabricated paper. The mill then submits the work, generally avoiding the most prestigious journals in favor of publications such as one-off special editions that might not undergo as thorough a review and where they have a better chance of getting bogus work published….

A signature move is to submit the same paper to multiple journals at once to maximize the chance of getting in, according to an industry trade group now monitoring the problem. Publishers say some fraudsters have even posed as academics to secure spots as guest editors for special issues and organizers of conferences, and then control the papers that are published there.

While it is hard to argue that these paper mills are not a significant part of the problem, it is also hard to argue that they are the source of the problem – because they’re not.  They exist explicitly to meet a demand, a demand created by a system to which the Journal alludes but on which it does not dwell: “World-over, scientists are under pressure to publish in peer-reviewed journals—sometimes to win grants, other times as conditions for promotions.”

The heart of the problem with academic research, I’d argue, is the same as the problem that causes institutions like Wharton to treat some identity groups more equally than others and to take pride in “educating” their students in pseudo-intellectual fads and “woke” gimmicks: the American university itself.  The American higher-education system is, by and large, modeled on the German system, but without that system’s sense of history and gravitas.  As I note in a long section at the front of The Dictatorship of Woke Capital, in the mid-to-late 19th century, a handful of institutions and a handful of individuals had an outsized impact on the direction of American higher education, transforming it from a system dedicated to “educating” the best and the brightest into a system that dedicated, almost exclusively, to the discovery or creation of “new” knowledge.  “Whereas Harvard was founded to train Unitarian and Congregational clergy, Yale was founded to teach theology and religious languages, Dartmouth was founded to teach Christianity to Native Americans, Princeton was founded to serve as a seminary for Presbyterian ministers, and so on, Johns Hopkins was founded not just to teach but to ‘discover’ as well.”

This, coupled with John Dewey’s detestation of the idea of “an existing body of acquired human social and moral knowledge that could and should be passed down from generation to generation,” has fostered a system in which existing knowledge is, by definition, passé and tedious.  Only that which is new and different and “progressive” is considered truly intellectual.  Only that which breaks from convention and promises new and profoundly unnerving insights is considered worthy of academic recognition.

In other words, Wharton treats Jews and the LGBTQ community differently for the same reason that it now offers MBAs in ESG and DEI, which also happens to be the same reason that academic publications are overwhelmed by fraudulent, plagiarized, and haphazardly designed and executed research: because that’s the system we wanted.  We created a system that rewards ingenuity – even ingenuity used in the service of deception – even as it dismisses knowledge and wisdom.

That system is rotten to its core, and frankly, rehabilitating it seems extremely unlikely at best.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.