May 15, 2003

Ah, Screw It. Seems to

Ah, Screw It.

Seems to be the attitude of the American Historical Association (AHA) these days. My pal Jim sent me an article from The Weekly Standard (no link) with this news:

Following a series of scandals involving high-profile historians, the leading professional organization in the field, the American Historical Association, is reducing efforts to investigate claims of dishonest scholarship. The AHA said last week it would no longer evaluate claims of plagiarism reported to it, as had been its practice, despite the dishonor brought to the profession by such recent cases of plagiarism as those of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose and by Michael Bellesiles's discredited history of gun ownership in America.

So, I decided to check the horse's mouth, as it were. Sure enough, on the AHA homepage is this press release, which states:

The AHA has ended fifteen years of adjudication because it has proven to be ineffective for responding to misconduct in the historical profession. In place of adjudication, the Association will mount a more visible campaign of public education, explaining why the historical profession cares about plagiarism, falsification of evidence, and other violations of scholarly integrity.

There follows a laundry list of "initiatives," which is basically scholar-speak for committee meetings which will produce documents that no one will read. I read the press release several times, looking for the part where the AHA explains how disassociating the profession's national professional body from investigating and adjudicating cases of professional misconduct is a GOOD thing. Alas, I couldn't find that part. I did find this, though:

The Council does not believe that the modest benefits to the profession justify the time, energy, and effort that have gone into the process.

Oh, dear God. I will leave it to you to insert the incredulous ironic comments about the "benefits to the profession" that came from folks like Bellesiles--and while you're at it, add something about truth being a noble pursuit...I'm getting blurred vision here from the twin assaults of Irony and Rage and need to get more coffee. And possibly some heroin.

The AHA defends its actions with a list of "unintended consequences" that their involvement in adjudication had brought about. The upshot is that because they couldn't be everywhere and do everything, and because their sanctions essentially had no "teeth," they must now wash their hands of the whole process. Right. Because they couldn't work to give some weight to their sanctions. And because obviously, being sanctioned by the professional organization of historians bears no signifigance to ANYONE, ANYWHERE, EVER. And because they could never, ever, simply adjust their procedures to be, oh, I don't know--effective?

The boilerplate at the end of the press release concludes with this lovely sentiment:

Over the years, the Association has changed as the discipline and profession have changed, but its central mission has remained unaltered: the advancement of historical knowledge.

To which I would add the following caveat: as long as advancing historical knowledge doesn't include verifying its accuracy. 'Cause that might be, you know, hard.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at May 15, 2003 06:43 AM