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Please join the debate.

May 4, 2012, 5:44 pm

Parody aside, I have a few semi-substantive thoughts on the L’affaire Schaefer Riley:

1) The original post is a byproduct of a media culture that (increasingly?  I honestly don’t know) rewards people for ginning up page views rather than for producing high-quality work.  Which is to say, for more and more people working in more and more media, the rewards are there for getting an audience to pay attention.  It often doesn’t matter why the audience is paying attention.  In short, so long as the Naomi Schaefer Rileys of the world enjoy perverse incentives for generating controversy, that’s what they’re going to do.  For example, rather than engaging with her critics (or the people she attacked), Ms. Schaefer Riley chose instead to toss fuel atop the fire.

2) The dissertations that Ms. Schaefer Riley mocked are on topics of real merit to a variety of disciplines, including my own.  Midwifery?  Housing policy?  The rise of the New Right?  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Midwife’s Tale won a Pulitzer Prize, Tom Sugrue’s Origin of the Urban Crisis won a Bancroft Prize, etc.  Which leaves me wondering what Ms. Schaefer Riley is actually so upset about.  And no, saying that the works in question aren’t “relevant” isn’t a substantive argument.

3) The editor’s response to this firestorm is pathetic.  A more honest and interesting post might have said something about the political economy of blogging, about the nature of the discourse that the CHE is hoping to foster by publishing Ms. Schaefer Riley, or even about the importance of free speech (as distinct from academic freedom).  Instead, what we get is, “Please join the debate.”  No, thank you.  Ms. Schaefer Riley has no interest in honest debate.  Put another way, see point #1.

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