Thursday, August 05, 2004

Do University Presses Have Left-Wing Biases?

Daniel Pipes thinks so. He makes his case in this essay for The New York Sun:

What sorts of books, then, are being written by today's top scholars?

For a representative sample, I looked at the Spring 2004 catalogue of one of the largest and most prestigious university publishers in America, the University of California Press. The catalogue is a substantial affair, 116 pages long, lavishly designed, boasting full color illustrations and a striking cover.

The books being published by California, however, leave much to be desired. Yes, there are apolitical inquiries into mammal evolution and Mark Twain's final years, but a uniform leftist tone of hostility toward established institutions and an embrace of the radical fringe characterize the list.

It's pretty gracious of him to concede that the catalog contained “apolitical inquiries”. Actually, most of the books in the catalog fit into that category.

Pipes goes on to list a few examples of books that, in his view, promote a leftist viewpoint. He bases his assessments of the books in question on “calaogue copy and blurbs”. In other words, he has not actually read the books in question and makes no attempt to engage the arguments they contain.

Here are the first three examples Pipes gives:

American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons, by Mark Dow, “tells the horrifying story of men, women and children detained indefinitely by U.S. immigration officials” and explicitly compares their circumstances to those in “Stalin's U.S.S.R.”

There's Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence, by David Cunningham, “examines the bureau's massive campaign of repression” in the 1960s.

The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border, by David Bacon, “paints a powerful portrait of poverty, repression, and struggle.”

Inicdentally, Pipes does not provide links to any of the books he considers. Doing so would ential the risk that his readers would follow the links, thereby learning that all of these books are far richer than the two sentence caricature Pipes provides.

So if you write a book critical of the U.S. prison system or examine civil rights abuses by the FBI during the 60s, you're a dangerous leftist.

The only reference to “Stalin's USSR” in the catalog copy and blurbs for the first book are found in an endorsement from Anthony Lewis. Here's what he actually said:

Prisoners who have had no trial, guards who humiliate and assault them: It sounds like a scene from Stalin's U.S.S.R., but it is a reality in the United States today. American Gulag tells the horrifying story of men, women and children detained indefinitely by U.S. immigration officials as it has never been told before. It sounds an alarm for us all.

Gives rather a different impression, doncha think?

Reading the full list of Pipes' examples makes it clear that he has an awfully expansive view of what constitutes left-wingery:

Other anti-government books expose the Three-Mile-Island “nuclear crisis” in 1979 (it was just a partial meltdown) and the first Bush administration's alleged “assault on the constitutional freedoms of the American media.”

Business gets its comeuppance in a “gripping exposé” claiming that systematic overcharging by the pharmaceutical industry makes drug costs “so needlessly high.” The Catholic Church is mauled in two studies, one denigrating the Roman Curia, another comparing Jesuit and Nazi art.

He doesn't even provide the titles and authors of these books!

But let's grant Pipes' premise that the U of C Press publishes more left-leaning books than right-leaning books. Does that prove bias? Of course not. This point is obvious to right-wingers when they are arguing against affirmative action or Title Nine, but Pipes seems to have forgotten that here.

There are many plausible reasons other than bias for why a university press would put out more left-leaning books than right-leaning books. Dare I suggest that in univeristies, unlike the wing-nut think-tanks Pipes prefers to frequent, getting your facts right actually matters? Maybe few professors are willing to endorse right-wing arguments because the facts do not support them.