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The Brian Ferguson Interview

I talked with Rutgers University professor of anthropology R. Brian Ferguson about Steven Pinker, Napoleon Chagnon, Marvin Harris, anthropo...

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Connections

There are all kinds of connections among the hard right, the IDW and deep-pocket plutocrats as I documented in my Steve Pinker's right-wing, alt-right & hereditarian connections diagram.

I speculated that Claire Lehmann was getting money from the Kochs for Quillette when she did an interview with Tyler Cowen of the Mercatus Center. I still have not come up with proof that she gets funding from Koch - the only big-pocket donor she'll admit to is a right-wing Australian, Mark Carnegie. But given that so many other right-wing media outlets get money from the Kochs, it seems unlikely that Quillette would be left out.

According to SourceWatch:
Mercatus has received funding from a number of foundations that support conservative causes. 
The Center received $5.5 million from the Koch-linked DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund between 2010 and 2012. The Charles G. Koch Foundation reported giving $8.8 million from 2002 to 2012, and the David H. Koch Foundation gave $100,000 to George Mason University for "Mercatus Center Programs" between 1999 and 2001. 
In February 2014, the Mercatus Center received a $1.99 million grant from the conservative John Templeton Foundation.[32] 
Between 2002 and 2008, the right-wing Bradley Foundation gave $50,000 to George Mason University specifically designated for the Mercatus Center.
Cowen is listed as a member of the Mercatus Board of Directors and "Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University; Chairman and general director of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University."

The Koch influence on George Mason University was documented by the New York Times:
As early as 1990, entities controlled by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch were given a seat on a committee to pick candidates for a professorship that they funded, the records show. Similar arrangements that continued through 2009 gave donors decision-making roles in selecting candidates for key economics appointments at the Mercatus Center, a Koch-funded think tank on campus that studies markets and regulation. The appointments, which also created faculty lines at George Mason, were steered to professors who, like the Kochs, embraced unconstrained free markets.
Today the Atlantic story "We Need a New Science of Progress" popped up in Twitter. It's written by Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison, and says:
Progress itself is understudied. By “progress,” we mean the combination of economic, technological, scientific, cultural, and organizational advancement that has transformed our lives and raised standards of living over the past couple of centuries. For a number of reasons, there is no broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. We believe that it deserves a dedicated field of study. We suggest inaugurating the discipline of “Progress Studies.”
Collison co-founded Stripe"...which received backing from Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Sequoia Capital."

Peter Thiel is of course the employer of the most devoted member of the IDW project, Eric Weinstein.

Collison appears to be an admirer of the Kochs.
Can you give us an example of what you’ve learned from studying Koch Industries?
It’s very striking to me how Warren and Charlie at Berkshire and how the folks at Koch Industries are so into a kind of epistemology, and structuring of doubt, and accounting for biases, and mechanisms for a clarity of thinking, to a very striking degree. Obviously, if you read the public writings, or if you go to Omaha and you listen to what Warren and especially Charlie talk about, it’s sort of half investing and half applied epistemology, half philosophy. And that’s been the case as well to a remarkable degree with Koch. And I don’t know them well enough by any means to opine in a deep sense. I’ve never been to one of their factories, I’ve never looked at one of their financial statements, and so I’m not qualified to assess in any kind of comprehensive way, but just in terms of what it seems that the leadership prioritizes, it’s interestingly consistent across two of the most successful multi-decadal institutions in the U.S.
So Cowen works for Koch, Collison admires Koch, and then there are IDW connections, including a positive reference in the Atlantic article to Niall Ferguson who is married to IDW Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Progress Studies has antecedents, both within fields and institutions. The economics of innovation is a critical topic and should assume a much larger place within economics. The Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University seeks to encourage optimistic thinking about the future through fiction and narrative: It observes, almost certainly correctly, that imagination and ambition themselves play a large role. Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson have called for an “applied history” movement, to better draw lessons from history and apply them to real-world problems, including through the advising of political leaders. Ideas and institutions like these could be more effective if part of an explicit, broader movement.
Ferguson is a right-wing economist who hates Paul Krugman - he seems kind of obsessed with him. Ferguson was also criticized for his homophobic comment about John Maynard Keynes

Of greater interest to Pinkerite is Ferguson's activities as a campus political operative. 

 Emails between the Hoover Institution’s Niall Ferguson and well-known Republican student activists John Rice-Cameron ’20 and Max Minshull ’20 reveal coordination on “opposition research” against progressive activist Michael Ocon ’20 — referenced as “Mr. O” — and efforts to shore up support among members of the Cardinal Conversations steering committee.
Ferguson resigned from his leadership role in the Cardinal Conversations program on April 16, after Provost Persis Drell became aware of the email chain.

***
[The original Cardinal Conversations steering committee] should all be allies against O. Whatever your past differences, bury them. Unite against the SJWs. [Christos] Makridis [a fellow at Vox Clara, a Christian student publication] is especially good and will intimidate them,” Ferguson wrote. 
“Now we turn to the more subtle game of grinding them down on the committee. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” Ferguson wrote.
The previous messages were interspersed with greater discussion of the Cardinal Conversations committee and planning process, as well as a discussion appearing to be about student government.
 
In the email chain, Ferguson wrote, “Some opposition research on Mr. O might also be worthwhile,” referring to Ocon.
Krugman observed:
Ferguson later sort of apologized, but it was more of an “I’m sorry that you feel that way” than a true apology, and he began by decrying the fact that these days few academic historians are registered Republicans, which he takes as ipso facto evidence of biased hiring and a hostile environment. 
So what’s really going on here? It’s true that self-proclaimed conservatives are pretty scarce among U.S. historians. But then, so are self-proclaimed conservatives in the “hard,” physical and biological sciences. 
Why are there so few conservative scientists? It might be because academics, as a career, appeals more to liberals than to conservatives. (There aren’t a lot of liberals in police departments — or, contra Trump, the F.B.I.) Alternatively, scientists may be reluctant to call themselves conservatives because in modern America being a conservative means aligning yourself with a faction that by and large rejects climate science and the theory of evolution. Might not similar considerations apply to historians? 
But more to the point, conservative claims to be defending free speech and open discussion aren’t sincere. Conservatives don’t want to see ideas evaluated on their merits, regardless of politics; they want ideas convenient to their side to receive (at least) equal time regardless of their intellectual quality. 
Indeed, conservative groups are engaged in a systematic effort to impose political standards on higher education. For example, we now know that the Koch brothers have used donations to gain power over academic appointments at least two universities.
Ferguson has tweeted his support for another rightwing political operative on campus, Andy Ngo.




With all this far-right, IDW and Koch baggage, it seems likely that Cowen and Collison are motivated by something other than the disinterested quest for knowledge.

For one thing, their Atlantic article seems to offer a defense of the Koch attempts to influence academia:
In 1861, the American scientist and educator William Barton Rogers published a manifesto calling for a new kind of research institution. Recognizing the “daily increasing proofs of the happy influence of scientific culture on the industry and the civilization of the nations,” and the growing importance of what he called “Industrial Arts,” he proposed a new organization dedicated to practical knowledge. He named it the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 
Rogers was one of a number of late-19th-century reformers who saw that the United States’ ability to generate progress could be substantially improved. These reformers looked to the successes of the German university models overseas and realized that a combination of focused professorial research and teaching could be a powerful engine for advance in research. Over the course of several decades, the group—Rogers, Charles Eliot, Henry Tappan, George Hale, John D. Rockefeller, and others—founded and restructured many of what are now America’s best universities, including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago, and more. By acting on their understanding, they engaged in a kind of conscious “progress engineering.”
Cowen and Collison don't mention that William Barton Rogers "...was a slaveowner, with two slaves in his household in 1840 and six slaves in 1850."

I think it's likely that once Quillette starts talking about this "science of progress" project we'll have a better idea of how it aligns with the IDW project of mainstreaming race science, although I think this passage in The Atlantic article is probably a hint:
Looking backwards, it’s striking how unevenly distributed progress has been in the past. In antiquity, the ancient Greeks were discoverers of everything from the arch bridge to the spherical earth. By 1100, the successful pursuit of new knowledge was probably most concentrated in parts of China and the Middle East. Along the cultural dimension, the artists of Renaissance Florence enriched the heritage of all humankind, and in the process created the masterworks that are still the lifeblood of the local economy. The late 18th and early 19th century saw a burst of progress in Northern England, with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In each case, the discoveries that came to elevate standards of living for everyone arose in comparatively tiny geographic pockets of innovative effort. Present-day instances include places like Silicon Valley in software and Switzerland’s Basel region in life sciences.
One of the greatest moments in the "science of progress" is James Burke's TV series "Connections." Someone has posted the first four episodes of the original series on Youtube.

One of the lessons of "Connections" is that innovations from many different cultures often end up combining for technological change unanticipated by the original inventors, and which may not be used until long after they are discovered or invented. "Ideas ahead of their time" as Burke says.

Burke makes this point in the second episode of "Connections" 




TRANSCRIPT:
beginning at 11:09 
Now if you're not a sailing buff you may not be turned on by the lateen sail, but as you'll see it means a great deal more to you than you might think. 
See, although it was nice to be able to zigzag everywhere, sailing, like that, wasn't the only thing that happened because of this canvas triangle. 
The lateen sail permitted one other thing. With it you could leave port pretty well when you wanted to, without having to wait for a wind that was going in the same direction you were, and that meant you would leave port more often, that meant there was more cargo on the move, more trade, more prosperity. 
It's probable that the Arabs introduced the lateen sail into Western Europe just about in time to play a major role in the recovery of the European economy after the chaos and confusion of the so-called Dark Ages. 
However by about 1200 there was so much bulk cargo like grain or Crusaders going to the Holy Land, so much bulk cargo on the move that the ships had got very much bigger and then they ran into another problem, the problem of steering.
You see up until that point you've steered with a couple of oars one off either side of the stern. But by about 1200 the ships are so big that those oars just really weren't feasible anymore. Which is why they probably picked up an idea from the Chinese that solved the problem - this - the stern post rudder. With the stern post rudder you could handle a ship of almost any size in almost any sea condition. 
So by the 13th century the Europeans had all the technology - the lateen sail, the old square sail, the stern post rudder to go anywhere they wanted to. 
They didn't need to use it until 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Turks and after that it was if you wanted something from the Far East it was either pay that price the Turks wanted, for letting it come through their territory oh go get it yourself. 
Which is just what the Europeans did in the great 16th century voyages of discovery.
In other words, Europeans owed "the great 16th century voyages of discovery" and subsequent imperialism to the Arab lateen sail and the Chinese stern post rudder - but which they didn't use to cross the Atlantic for over two hundred years - until they were prompted by superior Turkish military might.

So components of three different cultures allowed the European trans-Atlantic trade, which involved of course slaves and slave labor, which William Barton Rogers, a hero of the Collison/Cowen "progress of science" narrative, used to increase his wealth.

Given the IDW and rightwing connections and given the project begins by lionizing a slaver, I don't hold much hope for this "science of progress" project resulting in either science or progress.