Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Sins of the Father: The Heartland Institute

The Sins of the Father: The Heartland Institute's Heartless Ways

I've previously documented the ownership of "Expert Editorial, Inc."—an experts-for-hire company servicing mostly the telecom industry—by the author of a recent "editorial" published in the November 23 edition of the Lafayette Advertiser. But that unacknowledged affiliation is only part of the question the author's memberships raise. The one he acknowledges also leads to serious questions. (The editorial, unfortunately, does not appear on the Advertiser website. You can, instead, get it here.)

If openly soliciting the business of editorials for hire is not quite enough to raise questions about Titch and his essay, then his affiliation with the Heartland Institute should do the trick. The Institute is part of a the same interlocked band of far right-wing think tanks that include the Freedom and Progress Foundation that figured in our own "Academic Broadband Forum." Not merely conservative, these organizations go considerably beyond what is considered mainstream even for conservative organizations today. For instance they document disagreements with very conservative Republicans over an issue that received a lot of play in Louisiana: Drug reimportation from Canada. Even Vitter, our recently elected senator whose hard right candidacy discomfited much of the "reform" branch of the state Republican party, made sure to be video taped in Canada looking for cheap drugs for Louisiana seniors. Increasing competition and allowing individuals to make their own choices is not a hard position for conservatives to make. But it is for the Heartless Institute who apparently believe that buying cheaper drugs abroad would infringe upon the rights of the sorts of large corporations that fund them to demand that sick Americans to pay more their medicines than do Canadians.

On the other hand where taking a libertarian position would favor large corporations they are all for it. Even when it involves a little junk science. Check out their strange and tortured logic in the "Smoker's Lounge." There we (try to) follow a logic that attempts to convince us that the chances of a smoker dying from smoking related causes is not really 1 in 3, as the surgeon general following the consensus view of scientists working in the field holds, but is instead only 1 in 12. Leaving aside the strange idea that the Heartless institute actually finds this reassuring, the method applied misuses in a serious way the way the statistical underpinnings of such medical research. You can get a reasonable critique of the research's mistakes from a review at the American Council on Science and Health. A philosophical defense of allowing people to commit suicide in their own way I can understand—if not fully sympathize with. But minimizing the risk involved by citing junk science betrays a foundational dishonesty.

Occasionally the extremism of the underlying ideology peeks out as when the Institute confidently states that "Government schools are islands of socialism." They mean the public schools of our country which are run by directly elected school boards and paid for out of taxes voted for that purpose by the people who are most intimately familiar with the needs of the community in which they live. Socialism? Hardly. But the idea that schools, and consequently spending money on schools, are evil permeates the selection of the so-called research found on this site. One glaring example, and an issue that is under discussion here in Lafayette, is the way they discuss class size. As a former professor of education I assure you that the research on benefits of class size is rock-solid. The lengths to which the commentary here goes to throw doubt on this simple, well researched, and indeed obvious conclusion is amazing. Minimizing what is simply true in order to discourage communities from spending money on public schools in ways that would benefit kids is beyond the pale. Real children will suffer if these distortions are taken seriously. It is heartless. Again, having an ideological objection to public schooling is a possible—if well outside the American tradition. (Or the tradition of any modern society, be it left, right, or center.) But willfully misusing the research strips your intellectual position of any credibility.

No, Titch does himself no favor by attempting to wrap himself in the credibility of the Heartland Institute. It has none.

No comments: