Friday, September 29, 2006

Where are they now: Thomas Lenard

Where Are They Now...Thomas Lenard

Telcomm shill Thomas Lenard popped up on my radar again last night with a short opinion piece in C|Net news promoting the Cable industry line on "cablecards"--devices which would enable real competition in the settop cable box market and eliminate that monthly digital box fee on your cable bill. No one should be surprised to find that Lenard opines in favor of corporate control of the boxes in your home.

Readers with a long memory will recall Lenard as one the panel on the Cox/BellSouth faux "academic" forum (analysis, report) that was one of the incumbent corporations first serious tries at disinformation and FUD here in Lafyette. In it Lenard joined his fellow industry-funded experts to downplay the possibility of a successful public fiber build going so far as to claim there had been no successful municipal telecom utilities anywhere. He also supported the odd--and demonstrably false--claim that competition in the cable industry had never forced down way of making competition from municipalities seem useless. Suffice it to say that the event, and Lenard's participation in it, was far from academically disinterested.

Lenard, and the incumbent-funded Progress and Freedom Foundation of which he is a "senior fellow," popped up again when Lenard told Wired that "case studies," including one of Lafayette's fiber system, had shown the muni fiber didn't work. What case study you might ask? Since there could be no case study of a system not yet built your puzzlement would be appropriate. Such is the quality of the invented research that Lenard and his foundation indulge themselves in.

There's a whole industry of faux academic "pay for play" researchers out there that are deliberately polluting the conversation. What's encouraging is that the commenters at C|Net are on to him. A few years ago that wouldn't have been the case. Today he gets roasted and his connection to PFF and its industry-funded research are highlighted by regular readers. (Would that the editors of C|Net been similarly discerning.)


GumboFilé said...


As you well know, all "experts" have to be funded by somebody, and all "somebodies" expect a return, including the "experts" advising LUS and the "somebodies" funding them.


John said...


I don't agree. At least not in the sense you mean. There is a large body of expertise that is honest and is guided by their knowledge and professional values.

Believing that all experts are dishonest is a unhealthy hallmark of the current round of corporate propaganda and, frankly, of the current administration.

You can generally tell which side in an argument is dishonest even if you have no expertise in the area yourself if you follow these rules: 1) look for which side claims that it is "still in dispute." 2) See if they always trot out the same 2-5 "scientists" to support this point. 3) Notice if these guys have "regular" positions at real top-notch universities or standard businesses or are employed chiefly by "think tanks" with direct ties to those industries their "research" favors. 4) The "research" is announced in a Press Release which carefully details its pro-industry conclusions. No mention of publication or peer-review is made in the PR. (Or even less: See Lenard's claim that a "case study" had shown how poorly muni fiber worked in Lafayette...that's a case study no one could have done. That confident reference by this expert was pure fabrication.)

With those small checks anyone can develop well-founded suspicions.

If you've got the background and the time to do the research you'll also notice that the research is not fully documented and almost never published in a peer-reviewed journal. Psuedo-scientific publication (using scientific format) in trade journals is as good as it gets. Most often the research is unavailable in any form except that of the press release summary of findings.

Finally if you have or have developed some expertise in an area you just know that some of the claims are outrageous. (Like Lenard's claim that cable competition doesn't bring down prices. It does. And scads of actual research shows it does.) Much of the current claims about educational research that is used to defund things like headstart or reading programs is similarly bogus--and ANY researcher in the area, including those that favor other approaches, will tell you the same.

These guys are giving real professionalism a bad name.

All experts whose future income or continued employment depend upon their reputation (most) are unwilling to tell lies for clients (unless these clients agree to completely set them up--hence the "think tank" refuges).

Real engineers will tell you, for instance, that fiber to the home is no longer a technical problem and that installation and maintenance are both cheaper than the installation and maintenance of copper. Real systems engineers will tell you flatly that fiber's bandwidth can be virtually limitless because light doesn't not interfere with light-- need another lambda of bandwidth--add another color laser. Real economists admit that there are such things as monopolies and will talk to you clearly about why water, for instance, is one and why it will always be cheaper for the community if there is only one supplier of water.

Sorry to have gone on so long but you touched a sensitive spot: the idea that there are no trustworthy experts and that we as regular citizens can't tell the difference between faux jerks and real professionals (and shouldn't try) is a pet peeve of mine.

Truth is, with a little effort it is fairly easy to tell who is dishonest (just like in daily life). We should be willing to make that effort. And willing to point out the dishonest few whenever we find them.

They are enemies of true communities--just as liars in our daily lives are enemies of true conversation.