Saturday, May 19, 2012

In which George Mason University gets caught teaching its students how to lie

Small disclaimer: my youngest son, formerly a student at George Mason University, has shaken the dust off his sandals and transferred to Texas State University, in San Marcos.

Frankly I'm glad, though I was enthusiastic about his attending when he applied.

There are any number of reasons I'm glad he's back in Texas, not the least of which is that tuition costs will be about a third of what they were at GMU. Though Mason has an exemplary technology and computer science program, they are also Ground Zero for various academic apologists for the whole Libertarian movement. The Cato Institute, bankrolled by Princes of Fucking Darkness David and Charles Koch, is housed there, and the Economics department is awash with Libertarian shills for the Kochs such as Don Boudreaux and Russell Roberts.

A recent dustup has arisen over at  GMU over Professor T. Mills Kelly's class, "Lying about the Past," which had as part of the coursework, assignments to go out and fabricate facts and stories on various public websites, most notably Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, likened it to dumping trash on the street to see if people would pick it up. This has been going on since 2008. The Atlantic has a good write up on the whole sorry mess. Kelly, the professor responsible for this fiasco, attempts to reframe this as a free speech issue on his blog.

Is Professor Kelly sociopathic pond scum, as some have said? Or just an arrogant douchebag? Your call, gentle reader.

For me, the more interesting question has to do with the fact we have a professor at a university which proudly boasts of its Libertarian credentials supplying a generation of little Libertarians with the tools to rewrite history to suit their own ideology. Who says one can't learn useful skills while in college?

Next time you find yourself re-reading how the past is rewritten to fit the party line in Orwell's Nineteen Eight-Four, consider that George Mason now offers training.


Hot Sam said...

While I think the college assignment is akin to vandalism and should be treated with contempt, I think the professor has a good point. It is feasible to corrupt information by repeating it often enough. If the lesson is how to lie, I'm opposed. If the lesson is recognizing lies to fight them, I approve.

I generally also frown on raining on someone's parade. But if Wikipedia has an open source philosophy, they need to take the bitter with the sweet.

I use Wikipedia on a daily basis, and I think it's marvelous. But I am finding more and more entries infected with POV bias in violation of their general policy. This is supposed to be policed by the users, but if the vandals are outpacing the cleaners, I'm afraid Wiki is a doomed experiment.

More and more of the articles are being politicized to the Left, by people who have a very low opportunity cost of their time.

I used to edit an entry about my favorite book and movie. But the knuckleheads and know-it-alls invaded. I couldn't keep up with their nonsense. The trouble is that they weren't intentional vandals. They just didn't understand what an encyclopedia entry was supposed to look like, or they couldn't grok the subplots. A movie about a WWI pilot shouldn't have eight paragraphs and several photos devoted to the damned airplanes!

My pet peeve is when people change BC and AD to BCE and ACE. I usually leave this alone when the subject matter does not concern Christianity, Europe, or post-Columbian Americas. But when they invade pages about Christianity specifically, you know they are atheist vandals.

To answer your point more generally, while GMU might have a class in it, apparently other places do too. I worked for an Army ROTC department, and university professors of Architecture and Photography would assign students to draw diagrams and take photos of our offices. They would particularly send minority students. Then they would cry profiling if we protected the security and privacy of our offices.

If I assigned students to draw sketches of the inside and take photos of the outside of an abortion clinic, I think they'd understand the problem.

I agree with you on GMU. Just because others do wrong is not a reason to follow suit.

Dr Ralph said...

Hot Sam - I completely agree that learning the need to verify information (especially on the web) is an important lesson.

This seemed to go beyond this - it just seems irresponsible.

The prof who taught the class isn't helping his case much, either, by his dismissive responses. He'd better hope he's got tenure, otherwise he's liable to be teaching classes in some junior college next year.

Teaching the dangers of nuclear proliferation by teaching a roomful of 20 year olds how to build suitcase nukes would certainly make a point, too, but is it the best way to make it?

It wouldn't surprise me if other places were doing this sort of thing, too. GMU, for all of its fine qualities, has no monopoly on stupidity.