Slurring Bush at the New York Times

The utter disdain of New York Times reporters for President Bush makes a mockery of the supposed "separation of church and state" (putatively reporting neutrally, editorializing from the left) in their brand of journalism. The Times' condescension or loathing of the President seeps into news stories subtly. But there was nothing subtle in the case in a remarkable Times story which appeared on May 3rd .  In a worshipful article and interview with new MIT President Dr. Susan Hockfield, reporter Cornelia Dean stepped into it so deeply that the Times was forced to acknowledge the problem.

MIT is of more than passing interest to this writer, since I have a graduate degree from the school. In many ways, MIT is an admirable place. In particular, I admire the fact that by and large MIT is one of the only true meritocracies among the elite undergraduate schools.

MIT is certainly not alone in the almost—impossible—to—get—into category — so are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Stanford, among others.  But only MIT among this group, provides little or no preference in admissions to athletes, and only a very modest advantage to legacies (Princeton on the other hand, is very discriminatory in favor of both types of applicants, and Stanford is very disposed toward athletes).

MIT also does not go out of its way to select among the many highly qualified applicants, those who appear most earnest about saving the world — the suburban prep school elites who spend their summer vacations building latrines in Honduras, or joining up with the Venceremos Brigade to work on the sugar harvest in Cuba. This 'how I spent my summer vacation ' story is surely a plus for the applicant at Brown, and many other elite schools.  MIT, and Cal Tech and Harvey Mudd are also more like the military academies than the Ivy League schools in another important way — it is as difficult to succeed and remain in these engineering schools, as it is to get in. Grade inflation is not a huge issue at MIT as it is at most of the Ivies, because where it is most rampant — in the humanities — there are few MIT students taking many classes.

President Hockfield had not been in her job very long when she stepped into it herself. As reported in the Times story, President Hockfield co—authored with the Presidents of Princeton and Stanford an op ed piece  which appeared in the Boston Globe after the controversy arose over Larry Summers' comments at a women in science conference.

Harvard President Summers raised hypotheses about why relatively few women were professors in the science and engineering faculty in American universities. He offered three possible explanations: 1) that some lingering discrimination against women remained (he thought this was on the decline, and did not exist to any great extent any more); 2) that the requirement of putting in 80 plus hour weeks for many years at a time (a lot on research) was more difficult for women than men, given their greater family obligations (and might lead more women to choose less stressful, time consuming academic careers in other areas); 3) and finally, that  at the very  high end of the aptitude scale in math and science, there might be more men than women.

This last hypothesis so shocked MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, that she was forced to leave the conference to avoid a nausea attack in front of her colleagues. However, this speculation on Summers' part has some empirical support. As Steven Pinker,  a Harvard professor, has argued in defense of Summers, many studies have shown that men and boys are found in disproportionate numbers at the very highest and lowest levels in math and science aptitude. Since universities, and especially elite ones, select only the most qualified candidates for faculty positions in the sciences, the relative pool sizes may be an issue.

All hell broke loose for Summers after his speech, including a vote of no confidence at a Harvard faculty meeting, despite his several apologies for his comments and any offense they might have caused. In this environment, with the Harvard faculty piling on Summers, one might have thought he could count  on a little support from his fellow elite university presidents. But instead they chose the politically correct course to side with the gender feminists, who maintain complete gender equality is the rule, and any differences in results between the sexes must come from discrimination or socialization, but certainly not from anything innate. If this pattern of discrimination against women is so pervasive, one has to wonder why 57% of all undergraduate degrees are now conferred on women, and only 43% on men.  This vast disparity seems to be a problem which universities have either not recognized or care not to mention: that men do not get into college in equal numbers, and do not succeed there in equal numbers.

For Hockfield and the two other college presidents, Summers' raising the aptitude question was a thought crime too dangerous to entertain. Of course were Ward Churchill to be invited to any of their schools, one can be sure that his vile comments would be defended, since at universities, we are told, the unpopular point of view can be discussed without fear or retribution. But the Larry Summers controversy proves this is nonsense; it is only certain issues, which fall into the protected speech controversy. A challenge to feminist notions of gender equality is not permissible.

Given the fact that Hockfield is the first woman president of MIT, and given her role in the Summers controversy, it is not surprising that she would be the subject of a flattering Times profile.  But Cornelia Dean, and the editors who reviewed her story (I assume there were editors who reviewed her story), seemed to think the following paragraphs were worth including in the story:

'But how easy is it to advocate for science at a time when many Americans, including the president, do not accept evolution, the idea that human activity is altering the earth's climate, or other ideas science   regards as more or less established?'

Dr. Hockfield did not answer that question directly. But she said she was "profoundly worried" about what she called a  "disrespect' for the wonders of math, science, engineering and technology. "As a nation, we have ceased to be inspired by these things.'

In reality, President Hockfield, who is no fool, must have understood that Dean's question was not designed to elicit a serious response, but merely to take a cheap shot at President Bush.

After I read the May 3 article, I sent the following missive off to the Times demanding a correction, and copied the public editor Daniel Okrent:

In the May 3 New York Times, on Page D—3, there is a fawning article by Cornelia Dean about the new MIT President Dr. Susan Hockfield (admission: I am a graduate of MIT).

In the final column, one finds this gem from Ms Dean (a question she poses to Dr. Hockfield):

"But how easy is it to advocate for science at a time when many Americans, including the president, do not accept evolution, the idea that human activity is altering the earth's climate or other ideas science regards as more or less established?"

I would be interested in having Ms Dean refer me to any evidence she has that the President (Note I used capitals for President), "does not accept evolution, or that human activity is altering the earth's climate, or other ideas science regards as more or less established?"  This is blatantly biased reporting. Does Ms Dean hold the view that anyone who believes in God, or holds religious beliefs,  must reject science? if she does, she should not be writing for the news pages, but might do better  on the op ed pages,  worshipping at the feet of the Times' columnists who routinely put forth this type of trash.  Maybe she should interview Dr. Francis Collins, one of America's most distinguished scientists, and also, get this, a devout Christian, to get an alternative view of science and religion. Science and religion do not have to be in opposition to each other, except in the minds of Times reporters who seem to think that scientists are educated and atheists, and religious believers are in the dark ages.
By the way, has Pinch Sulzberger made it a requirement that a Times reporter slander the President in every article? Or is there bonus money to be shared among those with the highest percentage of slanderous mentions?

Oh, and one other thing: the global warming debate is not more or less settled. The Times' book reviewers, naturally, made sure to trash Michael Crichton's new novel, which provided dozens of footnotes linking to research studies which challenge the current Times/environmental lobby views on the subject. My review of the book:

After hearing nothing for a week, the Times responded to my letter:

Dear Mr. Baehr,

Bill Borders, a senior editor in charge of corrections, said that your point is a good one and that he will include it in an internal memo circulated to the staff.

Joe Plambeck
Office of the Public Editor
The New York Times

In other words, the Times knows that the question posed by Dean to President Hockfield contained false and invented statements about what President Bush supposedly believed on various science issues. But the paper would not print a correction, since doing so might reveal what a whopper Ms Dean concocted, and her general level of viciousness towards, and ignorance about, President Bush. So, we can rest assured that an internal memo will be circulated, telling the Times reporters to behave a little better, and get back, presumably, to safer, more subtle Bush bashing.

The accelerating decline of the 'paper of record' continues.