Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bob McDonnell, Pat Robertson and Fake Education

The liberal blogsphere is all a-buzz about a controversial MA thesis by Republican candidate for the governorship of Virginia, Bob McDonnell in 1989 while he was in the join MA/JD program at what was then called "Christian Broadcasting Network University" and has since been renamed Regent University. The title is "The Republican Party's Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of the Decade." Now most of the buzz is about some of the more controversial statements within the thesis itself. From the title, you can imagine some of the highlights: women in the workplace is bad, contraception for unmarried couples is bad, the Roe v Wade ruling is referred to as "the 'legalization' of abortion" (note the sarcasm quotation marks), divorce is bad, divorce and teen pregnancy are "closely related," and a 15 point "action plan" for conservatives. There are also a few choice ideological outbursts like "The family as a God ordained government has an area of sovereignty within which it is free to carry out the duties it owes to God, society, and other family members under the covenant" (page 13).

Now, while I find the world view McDonnell expresses in this "thesis" (note the sarcasm quotations) distasteful and disagreeable, I will not focus on them further in this posting. What I am bothered by most is what passes for an MA Thesis at this "university" (note the sarcasm quotations). I gave the thesis a good skimming and I would want to read more thoroughly to comment on it or grade it if he were my student. But I can say that it is 100% polemic. There is no scholarly content whatsoever. Most of the citations are to other works of polemic or unverifiable public statements at conferences or the like. The entire thing is an expression of Mr. McDonnell's personal political views, passed off as policy analysis. It is the pre-blogger equivalent of an extensive blog entry. I can assure you that it would not be tolerated in any quality political science or public policy department at any level and certainly not as partial satisfaction of the requirements for an advanced graduate degree. If he were my student, I wouldn't even let him get the point of writing a draft before I would head him off and get him to focus on less normative and more positivist aspects of his interests.

I do not contest Mr. McDonnell's right to have these views. Nor do I wish to stop him expressing them or punish him for having expressed them. I do wish to hold up for ridicule anyone who would attach their signatures - and professional reputations - to a document asserting that in expressing these views, Mr. McDonnell has engaged in scholarly research.

There are fields where this kind of pure polemic is accepted. Various fill-in-the-blank studies fields are plagued by this kind of stuff, especially on the left. I don't have much respect for this kind of stuff either. I think these fields give social science and academia in general a really bad name. So please don't try to call me out by saying I'm only upset about conservatives.

This is more than simple academic snobbery (although, I openly confess that is a part of my reaction). Regent University is the alma mater of many of the Bush appointees to the Justice Department (I'll leave it to LTG to elaborate again on that little scandal). One of the hallmarks of a professional bureaucracy is that its members will exhibit appropriate qualifications to perform their tasks. When organizations like Regent University ape real universities in form and style, they allow unqualified people to displace qualified people more easily. They provide cover for politically motivated hacks to claim that one degree is the same as another and so on.



Dr. Strangelove said...

Nice post! I appreciate that you focused your arguments and I am glad you noted that this kind of academic fraud is not unique to conservative institutions.

I read through some of this paper and--wow--it really takes the cake! Even the facts and figures he cites are so misleading (if not outright lies) that an honest professor should have demanded corrections. Here is one whopper from page seven that leaped out at me:

"The Internal Revenue Code also wreaked havoc upon the traditional family. Dr. Allan Carlson, president of the Rockford Institute, blames heavy tax growth for giving the financial impetus for pressuring mothers into the workforce. Between 1960 and 1984, a two-parent family with four children saw its federal income tax liability increase 224%, while the social security tax increased 600%."

First of all, the figures are just wrong. The average percentage of income paid in taxes by the median two-parent, two-child family rose from 7.77% to 10.25% during that tax period--far less than suggested above. Comparing raw unadjusted dollars is crap and everyone knows it.

Second, McDonnell has it completely backward. The reason families paid more in taxes in the mid-80s was that women were out bringing in extra income--not the other way around! The median after-tax income for a typical two-parent, two child family rose 36% in real terms over that period.

Finally, what's with using an average four-child family as the standard yardstick here? A quick look at the data evidence indicates the average number of children (in a family with children) has been between two and three for at least the past half-century. And you should be using the median anyway.

Raised By Republicans said...

Check out his citations, Dr. S. They're a joke. I couldn't find any citation from a major scholarly journal or academic press. Seriously, this is a 90+ page low tech blog entry. For which the author didn't do his homework.

But think about this. This guy presents himself as an educated, trained individual. He was awarded both a JD and an MA in public policy from this organization. One does not need to do original research to get a JD so there is no thesis for us to get LTG to shred for us. But if there were such a thesis for the JD, I'd be willing to bet it would be of similarly low quality.

The people who are focussing on the ideological content are upset because McDonnell is trying to present himself as a post-Bush, moderate, relatively secular type Republican. This thesis makes him look like a bible thumping wing-nut.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm a little disappointed by RBR's implication that if I had written a thesis for my JD, it would have been a polemic piece of crap. I think that's the implication here about law schools. That is a bit unfair.

Most of the "elite" law schools do require a number of papers to be written that involve original legal research, and most will write at least one "note" for a law review along the way. These are rarely empirical works, but they seek to make arguments based on the available law. They should not be pure polemic. But academic law is more akin to philosophy than a social science. Empirical legal research is a part of academic law today, but a fairly small part. And it is (often correctly) criticized for being a poor imitation of economics or social science. There is some really good work in this area, don't get me wrong, but it's not the mainstream of what legal scholars do. In general, legal scholars theorize. That this leads to a great deal of crap is readily conceded, but that is scarcely unique to law.

The Law Talking Guy said...

What I wonder about is whether Mr. McDonnell has apologized. I would not like to be held responsible for things I wrote when in college. Some was good. A lot was probably total crap. That's what happens when you're 20. But you see, I would disavow it. When I was a child, I spake as a child...

If he disavows it, that's fine. Of course he won't. He still believes it, no doubt. And he probably cannot imagine why it is not scholarship.

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG, you misunderstood RbR's remark entirely! RbR laments that McDonnell was not required to write a thesis for his law degree--for if he had, RbR is certain it would have been pathetic and therefore you (as the resident expert lawyer on this blog) could have shredded it to pieces. It is actually a compliment to you... RbR implies that you write high-quality academic legal papers and thus you could easily tear apart any poorly written legal thesis.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S has explained my intent, exactly. :-)

Raised By Republicans said...

I believe that McDonnell is saying stuff like "My opinions have evolved since then" and stuff. But since one of the things he says is that social conservatives should conceal their true policy preferences to get elected, I don't think people are going to buy that all that easily.

Shel said...

Appendix B has 2 lists for Character education. The first comes from a survey that "asked business leaders what skills leads to job success."
Followed by a 13 point list.
The one I like best is #13 Understand Required Mathematics.

This is followed by a 15 point list "This is Freedom's Code" from the American Institute for Character Enducation. As written, they're as non-controversial as mom and apple pie. The slightly unusual ones are
12. Understand citizen obligations 13. Fulfill citizen obligations creditably.
14. Stand for Truth
15. Defend freedom's human rights.

Hey, wait a second, I think this list is cribbed from a Komsomol manual.

I haven't tracked down where Appenidx B is referred to in the paper. But it's just weird and bizarre that a whole page of the thesis would be taken up with this.

Raised By Republicans said...

From a purely academic/mentoring point of view, Shel's observation (and my own reading of the thesis) leads me to think that this student (now Gubernatorial candidate) is unclear in his own mind about what the research question and argument of the thesis actually is. Again, this is more reason to question the overall quality of the program in question.

Anonymous said...

It's actually a great and useful piece of information. I'm glad that you shared this helpful info with us.
Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

Also visit my blog :: world of warplanes gameplay

Anonymous said...

Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but
after I clicked submit my comment didn't appear. Grrrr...

well I'm not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

my web site - carpet sale ottawa

Anonymous said...

For newest information you have to visit web and on the web I found this web page as a
finest website for hottest updates.

Also visit my web-site - sunnyvale construction

Anonymous said...

If you are going for most excellent contents like me, simply go to see this site daily since it
provides quality contents, thanks

Also visit my web blog: Realm of The Mad God Hacking

Anonymous said...

Highly energetic article, I liked that bit. Will there be a part 2?

Also visit my blog; escorts in central london (

Anonymous said...

Hey there! This is my first visit to your blog!
We are a team of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.

Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a outstanding

Also visit my homepage; how do i find out my credit score

Anonymous said...

I am sure this piece of writing has touched all the internet visitors, its really really fastidious piece of writing on building up new web site.

My blog post cruise control diet ksat 12
news in san antonio ()