Brad DeLong observes as Jonah Goldberg shoves his foot so far down his mouth that it comes out his ass, wraps around, circumnavigates the globe, goes back into his mouth, and lodges firmly in the empty space in his upper cranium:
But Krugman also notes that engineers and other faculty in the hard sciences are also disproportionately liberal. It's not just in the humanities. Good point.
What he - Mr. Prize-Winning Economist - neglects to mention or consider is that engineers in the private sector make good money. Ditto many scientists. Indeed, I don't have the data to back this up handy, but it would hardly surprise me to find out that the most liberal members of the science faculty are probably the least likely to be able to find work elsewhere. I'm sure there's a market for private-sector biodiversity experts, but something tells me it's smaller than the market for electrical engineers. Never mind when the last time a Marxist hermeneuticist got a job with Union Carbide.
Observe my jaw, like that of all my computer scientist friends, dropping to the floor at superluminal speed. Computer science is arguably the science and engineering field in which it is easiest to be well-compensated in the private sector. Yet it is an empirical fact that only the brightest undergrads go to top grad schools, and of those only the brightest of the brightest Ph.D's get top faculty positions. Getting a lucrative private-sector position out of grad school is almost considered a consolation prize (particularly if it's a development position, as opposed to a "purer" research position that more closely resembles an academic post). Being successful faculty at a top-tier school requires a comprehensive mastery of the discipline (including strong teaching, research, and interpersonal skills, not to mention massive raw brain power) that no industrial position does. If these faculty decided to go into private industry, they would kick ass and take names, and they would make a bundle of cash along the way. Indeed, many do: top professors remain highly sought-after by private industry for well-paid part-time consulting work; and then, of course, there are professor-initiated startups.
And yet the faculty at top CS departments remain largely liberal. (Although they obviously do not conform to Goldberg's bizarre caricature of "Marxist hermeneuticists" --- erm, I thought we were talking about liberal scientists, not far-left-wing culture critics?)
Now, having said that, let's try to get away, for a moment, from the fact that Goldberg's statement is outrageously false. Let us also set aside the sloppy thinking that lets him slide from all science and engineering faculty, to "biodiversity ecologists", to "Marxist hermeneuticists" (incidentally, if one of my friends started exhibiting this kind of thought process, I would be seriously concerned --- and this is not hyperbole --- that (s)he had suffered severe brain damage).
Let's consider, rather, Goldberg's supremely asinine arrogance in how he constructs this argument. Goldberg clearly does not know a goddamn thing about science and engineering academia. I repeat: he does not know a goddamn thing about science and engineering academia. He does not know enough to make educated guesses; he does not know enough to have even the faintest throb of a gut instinct. But he's an expert in the ape-man grunts that constitute current conservatarian ideology ("Private sector good! Academia bad! Money good! Liberal bad! Oook ook!"), which enables him to deduce, a priori, the probable truth about any given subject. And he's an expert in the low, low standards of punditological writing, which permit him to describe his total ignorance with the phrase: "I don't have the data to back this up handy", as if there were some wealth of both statistical and anecdotal evidence and he just didn't have enough research assistants to compile it at the moment. Hence, he feels comfortable smearing liberal academics in science and engineering fields as unemployable jokers.
Now, this would merely be an occasion for a hearty laugh at the village idiot's expense, if not for what it represents in its broader media context. The fact is, Goldberg doesn't care in the least whether what he says is true and well-reasoned, and neither do his backers and readers. Goldberg's function is not to say things that are true, nor is his function to present a reasoned argument. Goldberg's function is to spew forth some roughly grammatical stream of words that appear to reinforce conservatarian ideology, so that his readers can listen, nod, and feel vindicated in their beliefs.
And --- this is what's really maddening, all the outrages I've brought up wouldn't matter in the least except for this point --- virtually all right-leaning commentators, running the gamut from David Brooks to Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Reynolds, whether consciously or not, perform roughly the same function, and they're wildly effective. The entire right-wing movement is like a hovercraft floating on the perpetually roaring whirlwind of sub-rational, self-reinforcing nonsense that gusts through the minds of its adherents. It goes on and on and on, and nobody stops the people who feed it; most of the time, nobody with a prominent voice even stands up to them and calls them on their nonsense. For writing this column, and numerous other pieces of garbage like it, for filling people's minds with offal, Jonah Goldberg will never face judgment; he'll die peacefully, with a fat bank account and a kid gloves obituary.
UPDATE (8 April): Urp. This post got linked by both Pharyngula and Atrios. This is way more attention than I ever bargained for. This is only worth remarking upon because, as one dissenting commenter noted, I did not provide much in the way of hard data in my previous post, and I should explain why. It's because, under normal circumstances, barely anybody reads this blog aside from myself and my friends, and more than half of the latter are also grad students in computer science, for whom the empirical evidence of liberal predominance in CS academia is confirmed every day by firsthand experience.
So, for the broader audience that may read this post: I should make absolutely clear that I do not have any systematically gathered, statistically sound evidence that CS academics are liberal. My assessment is purely based on the informal data-gathering implicit in living, working, and breathing in CS academia. As a grad student, I interact extensively with both present and future faculty in my own department, as well as with present and future faculty from other institutions at scientific conferences. And although, for the sake of professionalism, everybody largely avoids political outspokenness in professional contexts, the prevailing political climate nevertheless inevitably seeps through, in jokes and other informal social interaction. And that climate is, alas for Goldberg and his ilk, definitely liberal. To be more precise, it exhibits considerable ideological diversity, but along a spectrum with strongly progressive liberalism at one end and libertarianism at the other, and with more people on the liberal end. The fraction who subscribe to National Review-style "conservatism" is vanishingly small.
The question of why CS professors tend to have this distribution of political beliefs is an interesting question, and I'm not going to speculate about the reasons right now. But Goldberg's explanation --- they can't get jobs, those worthless liberal loonies --- well, as I've already said, it's ludicrous.
Lastly, it is probably worth further clarifying one other point. As Nicholas Thompson wrote in the Washington Monthly a while ago, even top Republican strategists have agreed for decades that scientists, as a bloc, are so liberal that it's not even worth trying to win them over. That scientists are liberal is not something that Goldberg disputes. What Goldberg insinuates is that scientists are liberal because they are unemployable.
And with that, I have wasted far too much of my life rebutting this b.s. I have some code to write.
META-UPDATE (10 April): I was going to compile a list of reciprocal links to everyone who linked to this post, but that grew impractical. Instead, I set up the hack invented by BoingBoing for using Technorati's automatic link tracker; for example, here's the list for this post. Technorati's tracking gets most blogs, though it isn't perfect --- for example, it omits DC Media Girl, a blog which I've never heard of, but which generated a fair number of referrers.
Also, if anybody's still reading, thanks to all, in comments and other blogs, for the positive response. Truthfully, I have mixed feelings about the level of vitriol on display above --- as my friends know, I tend to slip into a vindictive mode in my writing pretty frequently, and I often wonder if it's healthy. I mean, I believe my anger was justified, but I also hope that people mostly responded to what is true or thoughtful in the above, rather than taking cheap satisfaction in the anger alone. Well, OK, this is the Internet, so some number of people will inevitably do the latter, but I hope that what I write is more satisfying to people looking for the former. It's hard to judge.
OK, enough navel-gazing. Metablog mode off.