This article was originally published at FrontPage Magazine, on March 02, 2006.
Like several local media outlets, the Seattle Times recently ran a story about the treatment of one of its hometown academics who was profiled in my book, The Professors. Like most local papers the Times also tilted its report heavily in favor the professor I had criticized. To make its defense of the indefensible plausible, the Times suppressed the heart of the case I had made both in the book and in my interview with its reporter. The academic under scrutiny is David Barash, Professor of Psychology at the University ofWashington and co-author of a standard textbook used in “Peace Studies” courses. In the Times’ account Professor Barash laughed at the idea that he should be included in my book and so, in effect, did the Timesitself. Without any information other than that provided by the Times, I probably would be laughing, too.
But with this information the story looks very different indeed. The first point I made both in the book and in my interview – not mentioned by the Times — was that as a trained animal psychologist Barash was academically unqualified to write an academic text on the complex issues of geopolitics and in particular the social, cultural, and economic causes of war and peace. In other words, Barash’s co-authored text was not a scholarly work and should not be presented as such to students. It was, therefore, a perfect example of the widespread intellectual corruption in the university that The Professors was written to expose.
Academics like Barash make $100,000 plus per year for 6-9 hours work per week in the classroom; they have four month paid vacations and lifetime jobs. The minimal workload for professors is justified by the need to do research. But an animal psychologist is not qualified to do research in the field of war and peace. The granting of tenure, on the other hand, is premised on the fact that professors are credentialed as experts in a field and the very fact of their expertise means that laymen are not qualified to judge their work. That is why they require the protection of academic tenure. But if professors are going to pontificate as amateurs in areas where everyone is his own expert, why should they have any more protection than radio talk show hosts or politicians? In other words, Barash’s textbook and the academic courses based on it are a species of academic consumer fraud, and we should have the same attitude towards them as we do towards Enron officials or members of other institutions who violate procedures and laws. That was my point – entirely unreported by the Seattle Times.
I also argued that Barash’s book is an advocacy tract and therefore even if its author were academically qualified to write it, which he is not, it is not a proper book to be assigned as the basic textbook in an academic course. In other words, this is a form of indoctrination, not education. A piece of this latter point did manage to find its way into the Times account.
In the Times article, the reporter also gave Barash a platform for doing some professorial slandering of me. “Barash, a biologist by training, has taught at the UW for 33 years. As well as Peace Studies, he teaches animal behavior and evolutionary psychology. He said he felt honored to be mentioned alongside notable academics like Noam Chomsky, Paul Ehrlich, Michael Eric Dyson and Howard Zinn….Barash said his profile in the book is full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies. For instance, it claims he blames the Cuban missile crisis on the psychology of President Kennedy — when in fact his book mentions many factors, including the Soviet Union’s missile buildup. It’s just a lie. He either didn’t read the book or look it up,’ Barash said. ‘The whole thing is just a cartoon.’”