Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I haven't the patience

to read all of this drivel from the president of one of my Alma Maters. (Alma Matera? My latin still needs work.) I get the impression it's an impassioned defense of the University as institution, a bulwark against the tide of barbarism surrounding it. Which isn't too far off the mark in NYU's case, given the local population.

I don't expect much else from a University President, and as I say I can't be bothered to read the whole thing. Maybe he's talking about a new strain of genetically modified potatoes, I dunno. But a few things did catch my eye. He writes:

The Internet is a revolutionary tool, which provides the newest basis for such a belief; however, it works not only for but also (and less obviously) against the ideal of an informed and intellectually curious public. It does enable the previously passive and powerless to become actors and interactors in the unfolding drama of public discourse and politics; but, even as it empowers and informs vast numbers of citizens, it also is a tool for misinformation and false attacks, polluting the dialogue with an apparent “knowledge” base undisciplined by traditional standards of accuracy in public communication. Bloggers are their own editors and many make little effort to verify what they post.
Traditional standards of accuracy in public communication? I don't think he understands that a lot of the public now believes there are no longer any standards of accuracy. Memogate was just the most obvious recent example of the loss of those standards. Half the news stories we read in the MSM are from "unnamed sources", when a half an effort would reveal that those sources are utterly wrong.

A second item, along the same lines:
As an information surplus develops, the absence of accountability combines with an absence of formal checks to make it possible for pseudofacts to spread like wildfire. This presents even the intelligent and the rigorous with a serious sorting problem. One unsurprising response to this barrage of undifferentiated information is a kind of nihilism about knowledge which leads almost inexorably to an equation of fact and opinion and the reduction of argumentation to assertion. Paradoxically, this trend breeds and feeds a version of unreflective dogmatism.
I like the term "pseudofacts", but I think the good Prexy needs to examine his own institution for the very same malady. "Unreflective dogmatism" was an issue in my own schooling close to fifteen years ago - it's only gotten worse. Nihilism regarding information is, to my mind, a direct result of the increasing nihilism of society in general, spurred by the left and his own beloved academia's belief that there is no truth. Or that truth exists in the mind of the beholder.

Perhaps this is a brilliant essay, but Sexon's arguments in these two cases strike me as the usual bleat of the elitist uncomfortable with the free market of ideas. It's too easy for them to taken apart by rubes like me.