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Reality, What a Concept

In addition to funding issues, perhaps reality itself will eventually make a bold return to academic life in the wake of what Glenn Reynolds has dubbed The Higher Education Bubble.* In the meantime, reality will continue to have a tough go of it on campus. In the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, Christian Smith reports on "An Academic Auto-da-Fé":

Whoever said inquisitions and witch hunts were things of the past? A big one is going on now. The sociologist Mark Regnerus, at the University of Texas at Austin, is being smeared in the media and subjected to an inquiry by his university over allegations of scientific misconduct.

Regnerus's offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research reported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That's it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex relationships. And now he is being made to pay.

In today's political climate, and particularly in the discipline of sociology—dominated as it is by a progressive orthodoxy—what Regnerus did is unacceptable. It makes him a heretic, a traitor—and so he must be thrown under the bus.

Back in 2006, quoting from Harvard University’s Robert Putnam, whom they described as "one of the world’s most influential political scientists," the Financial Times reported, "Study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity." Jonah Golberg explored the topic in his recent book The Tyranny of Cliches:

Robert Putnam, a liberal sociologist at Harvard, famously (infamously, for some) found that as communities become more ethnically diverse they in fact become socially frayed. In a survey that included interviews with over thirty thousand people, Putnam found that as a community becomes more ethnically and socially varied, social trust plummets. People tend to “hunker down,” in Putnam’s words banding together with a shrunken and shrinking group of friends or alone in front of the TV. Trust in political leaders, the political process, and even voting decline precipitously. Volunteerism, from charitable giving to carpooling, deteriorates. Political activism increases as people look to government to solve problems that once might have been solved by a simple conversation across a coffee table or a shared fence between neighbors.

Note: Putnam did not find that diversity fuels racism; the vast bulk of the people interviewed for the study were not bigots. What he found was that diversity promotes alienation, disengagement, and social isolation. This all runs counter to a host of prevailing clichés and pieties (see Chapter 23, Understanding).

Tellingly, in Putnam’s study and in others, Los Angeles ranks at the bottom of the list of communities in terms of social strength. Residents, not to mention political leaders, spout a lot of “happy talk” (to borrow a phrase from researchers of a similar study) about diversity even as diversity fuels a pervasive unhappiness with the health of the community.

In his Bleat today, James Lileks writes:

On an unrelated note, a writer at Frisky talks about the men who saved their dates from the Aurora Madmen, and gets prickly about the idea that there's something gender specific about the good press they're getting.

I can respect and be touched by these men’s sacrifices. But I’m also wary of some byproducts of the heroism myth, the idea that a few good men will have courage under fire and put “women and children first.” The Post crowed over these men’s “old-fashioned chivalry,” which are funny words to use, when you get right down to it. Why does masculinity have to have anything to do with heroic behavior? Their sacrifice was noble, sure. But

My old friend, the fulcrum of the but. Just about anything written after the words "Their sacrifice was noble, sure. But" is something I can probably live without.

No problem there for the hypersensitive Frisky folks, as the contrasting examples Mark Steyn noted last year highlight. We can all jump into them -- as the Pythons would say, women, children, red Indians, spacemen and a sort of idealized version of the Complete Renaissance Man first -- right after the page break.