MAY 30, 2011 12:20PM

When peons are easily manipulated by bogus "experts"

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Since I joined Open Salon about two years ago, I've written a few controversial posts on topics like health care reform, global warming and the tea party movement. I've read a lot of controversial posts as well, enough by now to have noticed a definite--if not disturbing--trend among the people who write or comment on hot button issues. Many of these writers rely on supposed experts to support their arguments, to the extent of clinging to these 'experts' as if these men and women were their only saviors and the only voices of reason. Proof of the validity of the experts' opinions comes in a long list of their advanced degrees.

Now, my mother-in-law once told me that Ph.D. stands for 'Piled higher and Deeper', which is a succinct way of saying that it's not the degree that makes the expert but what you do with it. I have to agree with her, since I have a Ph.D. myself. In my line of work, your expert credentials aren't established when you get that nifty color-coordinated hood flopped over your head; they're established when you publish work that's evaluated by your peers who are other experts in the same field. But real academic street cred comes when other experts use the product of your research for their own work, even if it's only to show how wrong you are. Hey, at least you're worth the attention.

But if you don't have any work to publish, or if you do publish your work and nobody uses it…well, in the academic world that makes you a 'nobody'. The system's not perfect, but it's still the litmus test for whether or not anyone should listen to what you have to say. Nepotism exists in every walks of life and academia is not immune to it, although it's observed less frequently than in politics.

It's important to point out here that I'm not saying people who don't hold advanced degrees have nothing relevant to write or that they're full of it. What I'm saying is that a sad number of these supposed experts, upon whom so many far-right conservatives (and some left-wing too) heap their accolades and faith, really aren't experts at all.

Take these guys:

Dr. Gary A. Mauser

As many people already know, gun control is a very hot, very emotional topic in the U.S. In some of the most heated, the name Dr. Gary A. Mauser often shows up.

Dr. Mauser is very popular with the NRA because he's a big proponent of all things anti-gun control. Dr. Mauser, a professor of marketing at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. (which gives my very Canadian wife no end of consternation), contends that legislating restricted access to guns has had no influence on the rate of violent crimes in countries where such laws have been enacted.

I'll leave aside the fact that I can show otherwise, because that's not my goal here. My goal is to show Dr. Mauser's credibility, so to get a better appreciation of his work I checked him out on Scopus and ISI Web of Knowledge. These are two key databases that track the academic records of researchers (that is, their peer-reviewed papers and textbooks), as well as how often other people use their work (as in, how often the work is cited). The latter one is usually better at tracking articles published in social sciences and liberal arts (I'm not sure why).

Given how frequently his name is used in the mainstream media, I was expecting a world-renowned researcher. Instead, I found this:

Figure 1

figure 1b  

Figure 1. Scopus Output for Dr. Gary A. Mauser (with close-up) (Note: Web of Knowledge found 5 or 6 more papers)

According to Scopus and Web of Knowledge, since he became a professor in 1974, he's had one book published (in 1983, and not related to gun control) and a total of… about 15 papers! Of those, only 12 or so were related to gun control (over the last 20 years). Those on gun control are the ones important for this piece anyway. I said 'about' since even looking at his CV, it's unclear whether some of the papers are peer-reviewed articles or opinion pieces, a trick unproductive faculty members often use to hide their true track record (mix all publications under one category and label them as 'academic papers').

Looking at Scopus, his papers on gun control have been cited 7 times (which also includes self-citation, which doesn't count). For comparison purposes, I so far published 65 published papers, most of which were produced after 2001; they have been been cited 483 times (self-citations removed); this track record is actually very high in my field of work. Furthermore, many of the journals where Dr. Mauser published his work have what are called low impact factors, meaning that the journals are not well-regarded by the research community.

To be blunt, this poor academic track record would not even give him a tenured position in my department. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we find Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann, who has also conducted a lot of research on the consequences of gun violence. As of May 30th 2011, Dr. Kellermann had 146 peer-reviewed papers, which were cited 3,129 times (self-citations removed) (note: in medicine, papers are cited a lot). Quite a contrast to Gary Mauser.

It's easy to argue that based on his accomplishments, Dr. Mauser actually has no credibility in the area of gun violence. His publication record is abysmal and researchers of gun violence ignore his work, even if it is to refute it. Not good.

He's our first 'nobody.'

Dr. David Evans

Global warming is another hotly debated subject, with many people at opposite ends of the debate of (and at each other's throats about) whether it's human related or not. I've written a couple of times on this topic myself (not that I claim expertise; but I did do a lot of research).

Interestingly, two recent studies have shown that many so-called experts on the skeptic side of global warming often have a less than stellar publication record or haven't worked directly in climate or meteorological sciences, which means that may not actually have the knowledge needed to scientifically discuss global warming issues. You can find the studies here and here. (A big Thank you to Kent Pitman for the links!)

Why am I paging Dr. Evans? Well, he recently wrote a piece in the Financial Post about climate change and discussed how all the existing research conducted on this topic is a bogus effort to support a worldwide dictatorship and get the researchers more funding. Dr. Evans consulted for the Australian Greenhouse Office (now known as the Department of Climate Change) for many years, and is a mathematician and engineer who holds six university degrees, including a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

On paper, this looks very impressive. However, let's look at what Scopus has to say about his credentials and background.

Figure 2
 

Figure 2. Scopus Output for Dr. David Evans.

As you can see, Dr. Evans has published two papers in his entire career(!), and both of them were written around the time he received his doctorate, over twenty years ago. I'm sure the careful reader will also notice that neither of these papers is related to climate change.

So what does that tell us? That Dr. David Evans who has absolutely no credentials in the area of climate change (and not all that many in his original field of study either). That means his opinion is only as good as anyone else's. I'm not the only one who arrived at this conclusion, either. The first person who commented on his piece in the Financial Post raised the very same issue.

In short, he's our second 'nobody.'

Dr. Thomas E. Woods

One of the recent pieces written by fellow OSer Paul J. O'Rourke has created a lot of commotion within the libertarian community. In his post, Mr. O'Rourke wrote that Ron Paul didn't understand the U.S. Constitution. The libertarians got wind of that and all hell broke loose. Paul J.'s blog was flame-bombed, and a 'well-known' libertarian historian, Dr. Tom Woods, picked the blog up and wrote a piece on his own--on the very same day, no less--defaming Paul J. O'Rourke as "just some guy" (in other words, a nobody), who dared question Ron Paul's knowledge. Dr. Woods' fans cheered about how Dr. Woods kicked Paul J.'s ass, so to speak. One even going so far as to suggest Paul J. apologize to Ron Paul and Dr. Woods!

I'd never heard of Dr. Tom Woods, though he's apparently a 'Senior Fellow' at the Austrian Libertarian think-tank Ludwig von Mises Institute. I nonetheless read his piece, which I found laughable mainly because he entirely missed the point of Paul J.'s original piece (see his response to Woods' post here); this kind of miss-the-mark response is not uncommon for people who work as a 'fellow' at a third-rated institute rather than as a professor at a Tier I university. Looking at his credentials on his website, you'd think he's an authority on this subject, especially with all the blinking quotes rolling along the top of the page, trumpeting reviews of his books by Fox news and obscure Christian journals. So as with the other two people I discussed above, I decided to find out from Scopus and Web of Knowledge if that flashy website holds up to his reputation. Here's what Scopus said:

Figure 3

Figure 3. Scopus Output for Dr. Thomas Woods.

Just like his conservative peers, our good historian published a total of 3 papers in peer-reviewed journals (some also with low impact factors). One paper was in fact published in an Austrian economics journal that is actually put out by the Ludwig von Mises Institute (which, as you'll recall, has Dr. Woods as a senior fellow. Makes me wonder how rigorous the peer-review process was). And of these three papers, none actually dealt with American history. The final nail is that his papers were cited only once, by himself. I verified his track record on Web of Knowledge, which confirmed the papers extracted by Scopus.

"But what about all his books, Kanuk?" you may ask. It's true--If you visit his personal website and the website one for the Institute, he prominently displays his many books on American history, the Catholic religion, free market economics, etc. Again, the list surely looks remarkable. But if you look more closely, you'll see that most of his books are published by Regnery Publishing. Regency Publishing is a Washington-based company that exclusively publishes right-wing themed (some might say propaganda) books, many of which are aimed at attacking liberals. Here's a quote from some promotional material for one of their books: "The Official Handbook of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has all the ammunition you need to help you win every argument against loony liberals." Not exactly Oxford University Press, is it?

At this point, it's pretty easy to guess that his books didn't go through a thorough and independent review process to ensure the facts are true and given in proper context. In fact, it's been reported that Dr. Woods often cherry picks historical information in order to support his libertarian views. You can see an example here. So much for academic honesty.

The bottom line is that Dr. Woods is also a 'nobody', despite how flashy his website and bio may look. He's far from being an authority on American history, especially when you compare his credentials to world-renowned and more intellectually honest researchers, such as Dr. Richard Beenman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History at PennState, who has published more than 36 peer-reviewed articles and 7 books, most of which were published in academic presses. I'm certain Dr. Beenman, given his other academic duties, doesn't have the same free time Dr. Woods has for writing books (and papers).

The upshot is, fancy credentials can be misleading, and holding a doctoral degree doesn't automatically mean you know what you're talking about. In order to be a real expert, you need to show that your work has been valued by your peers. Just like you can't be the prom queen if no one knows your name, you can't be the authority on an issue if no one respects your work enough to read it. (And of course it helps to have actually written something on your claimed expertise.)

Anyone can have an opinion, but opinions aren't facts, and if you're going to say your opinion is the only one that counts than you really need to have the credentials to back it up. Unfortunately, there are far too many people out there who don't understand that, and are therefore easily manipulated by bogus experts like these.

You've been warned.

Thank you to Taste is Sweet for her input and suggestions.

 

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Except for a couple of things, and obviously I have an ax to grind here, although I have documented proof that my take on troop levels in Iraq was ahead of the curve, as was real estate, if you like your "logical postivism."
Number one: Kuhn, Thomas, not the math Kuhn, and structures of scientific revolutions. You know the drill.
Number two; I know for a fact that the journals are not totally blinded.
Number three: People game the rankings by citing each other. Lots of people do that.
Number four: Grants always influence results, Tier One or not.
finis
Nice post. I think you raise subtle points that are sometimes missed in public discussions of controversial issues, even issues that shouldn't be controversial. This has long been the case in the evolution/creation debate, for example, where the supposed experts one side (supporters of intelligent design, nowadays) never submit their work for peer review. Sometimes when I get involved in a discussion with someone who disputes the science of an issue, I'll have to say in the end, "Look, I'm not the person you should be trying to convince. Write up your arguments in a paper and submit it to people who really know what they're talking about." Hardly anyone ever does this. (I have, which is why I'm comfortable suggesting this approach. I had an idea about how to conceptualize a phenomenon in animal behavior, so I wrote it up, submitted it to an animal behavior journal, and three revisions later it got published--probably the only article the journal has ever received from a couple of computer scientists.)

On your point, Don, I think that Kanuk's observations are still relevant. It might be that the experts he calls out will eventually be recognized as today's Alfred Wegeners or Barry Marshalls, but in the meantime their views should be taken in the context that Kanuk offers.
The nice thing about Woods, or anyone like him that chooses to write for the public, is their words expose more about them than do their credentials. Put it out there like Woods did in my case, and I don't see a PhD, I see some ideological clown in his BVDs. Even if did not know the first thing about US history I could have ripped on him all day long for the absurdities of his construction.

I have decided to give Paul, Woods and their Mini-Me minions one more swat from the paddle of reality before I move on. I just wish Woods were truly as famous as he seems to think he is, as his efforts to make me famous would lead somewhere.

As far as the academic ratings go, I think that in Woods' case, his "nobody" ranking compliments his efforts at being a historical revisionist/negationist, and vice-versa. As to whether I should be impressed, or apologize for ridiculing a prima donna whose arguments can't achieve prima facia validity...I have conversed with people far more accomplished than Woods, and who have had far more fame and impact on history than he or Ron Paul or I ever will. Woods is just...some guy...

Thanks, Kanuk, for quantifying Woods' disabilities.
Even if we assume that the various professors you mention are "nobodies," especially when operating outside of their areas of expertise, the question then is the extent to which a nobody can come to valid conclusions through their own research. Stated differently, perhaps there is a significance between nobodies, especially when a nobody does his homework.

I consider myself to be a nobody, especially since I don't have an advanced degree. But on a couple of occasions I have been inspired to investigate the "conventional wisdom" of the somebodies, and found it lacking.

For example, for years I heard that there was a causal connection between lack of prenatal care and low birthweight babies. The State Health Division publishes data on those topics in their Vital Statistics publications. Just for the fun of it I put together those two sets of numbers -- prenatal care rates and low birthweight rates. There was no relationship. Within particular groups (e.g., Hispanic women) the results were the same: no relationship.

One day I called the State Health Division and asked about that. They basically said "yeah, we've seen that too, and we can't explain it."

Some years before that I did some extensive research on the relationship between the study of foreign languages in college and job placement because of such study. All I ever heard for years was how "important" it was for students to take two years of a foreign language so that America would be more "competitive" in international markets.

What I found was that there is no relationship between two years of foreign language study and jobs. This was consistent with my own experience; I had never seen any job advertisement expressing any preference for someone with two years of a foreign language.

I also found that there are jobs for people with oral proficiency in a language AND some technical skill -- finance, engineering, and so on. But two years of a foreign language were insufficient to give someone adequate oral proficiency.

Hundreds of thousands of college students were given the story about two years of a foreign language and job opportunities. But it was all a crock. There may be other reasons to study a language for two years, but they don't include jobs.

Anyway, my point is that even a nobody can research and find out things for himself. Expert opinion certainly is important, but we need not be slaves to it, nor should we necessarily discount the opinion of someone who is not a recognized expert.

Of course, I also agree with you that just because someone has "Ph.D." behind his name doesn't automatically make him an expert in every field in which he opines.
Now maybe my dander got a little up because you brought up the Von Mises people, and I have three articles with them.
I have a book chapter too, not with them. But, the fact of the matter is that was a total miracle as an adjunct community college professor to do that, and no one knows that better than Canook.The Powers that Be always want to keep membership as low as possible, academia included, and they do make errors, like with Tesla. Not that I am Tesla. I can just count numbers as in Iraq, or know a bubble when I see one, and know my monetary theory and history, the lack of knowledge of history being what is the most dangerous lacunae in economics for a long time. Eichengreen has barely held off the quantitative barbarians.
I am sorry someone from Von Mises attacked PJ, since he owes me a Sam Adams in fifteent months, :), but I don't know that guy, who attacked PJ.I am a Realist about Original Intent, which is that the Condorcet Paradox is a warning about what Harlan talked about roaming the Constitution, a noble lie, but not more than that.
Von Mises was an important economist in the field of money and the busisness cycle, if not so good about sociology and the state in On Human Action, although that is still a major tract, and Von Mises had other important insights into economics, especially the role of time.
As to what Von Mises argued in the field of money, and was my relationship to the Von Mises Institute, and this is a research paradigm dating to Hume, if Money increases in Quantity, the price of something will move eventually. Nash makes this argument in On Ideal Money, and he was no dummy, or is no dummy, if sometimes crazy. Then again, when he started to go over the edge, what do you think happened when USG saw boy genius start talking about leaving the country, and maybe working for the Russians?That is quite real too, if not something people want to think about as to the nature of reality at the micro-level sometimes. But, I will confess that is a slight digression. Now to my point.
Per all this peer review stuff as it pertains to economics, believing that the Federal Reserve System can alter output above its' long run equilibrium value is convenient if you work for the Federal Reserve System, since it rationalizes your existence, as opposed to a non-discretionary monetary order, which does not have to be gold standard, but could be a Taylor feedback rule, or other form of monetary base, like what I believe is my original contribution, a BTU standard.
I will grant that "The Literature" has its functions, most of the time, to keep people focused, and "On the Reservation." All you have to do is watch Krugman on politics to see that.
On the other hand, egotism and grant incentives can make social scientists dangerously blind to what they are doing, especially at the Holy Grail-Sacred Cow Tier Ones, if in effect they are rationalizing bureaucratic interests, a particular problem in the national security field, altough not only there. Thus, there is a place for "outsiders," especially if they have a demonstrable command of The Literature, and are not making word-salads, which is how you know Nash is going off a little, but just arguments that some people don't want to hear, because they threaten their social status derived from being "the expert," or because in effect, the "expert" is actually a front for other people.
That happens all the time, especially in finance, where a lot of money is on the table, and there are multiple equlibrium possibilities.
And again, sorry PJ got whacked, so maybe the first round is on me.
Don,
I didn't get whacked, I got swamped by the True Believers. I am more impressive than Woods, whatever that's worth. Woods' basic argument is that Madison's viewpoint--of which even he had doubts--represents the Original Intent of the clause. That it doesn't in many important ways is ignored, and the differences and nuances in Madison's and others opinions are conflated into a binary false dichotomy-- the clause is either a preamble (it isn't) or it permits unlimited power (it doesn't).
Anyway, if I got whacked, it was more like the open-handed, limp-wristed downstroke my sister would have delivered when we were kids.
But I do agree that words and ideas can stand or fall on their own, no matter how much they weigh.
Excellent article. (I am accepting you as the expert here...)
I thank everybody. I'm currently away. I'll therefore respond or discuss additional points later tonight. (Sent via my iPhone).
Look, the internet has proven that people don't need credentials or authority to fool people. Look around here nut job after nut job tweaks, tricks and torments the readers and they continue to fall victims to the nut jobs.

You don't need credentials to fool anyone, you just need the fools to fool.
PS Don -- It will take more than one beer to assuage the injury to my humble sense of being (sniff) and touchy-feely sensibilities.

I see a Kegger comin' on!

Let's up the bet... :)
Don: You made relevant points about the publication process. As I discussed early in the piece, the peer-review process is not nepotism (or favoritism) free. I have seen on very rare occasions papers being accepted because the authors were friends with the journal editor. However, I also had a few of my papers rejected by colleagues and I rejected a few of my own too. Thus, people can still be objective when they review paper written by friends. As for citing each other, I don’t think this is a major problem (at least in my area). If your stuff is good, it will get cited by friends and others. On my side, I don’t include paper just because they are my friends, but to insure that I covered the subject very well. Despite its flaws, I still have faith in the process. Mind you that I could discuss in more details how people and journal editors try to ‘rig’ the system, but I’ll leave that for another time.

As for the Mises Institute, I would not have written this piece if it weren’t for the condescending attitude of Woods and his followers. It was obvious that he felt that he was ‘superior’ to somebody else because of who he is.

Rob: I completely agree with your assessment. I have witnessed many people who argue to death about certain topics, often relying on Wikipedia and other internet links. I also tell them that since they have access to the data (as did the original researchers), they should conduct their own analysis and have it reviewed by people who also know this stuff. Alternatively, I also forwarded to some people the contact information for the editors of peer-reviewed journals. If they felt that the research was not done to their standards, they could complain to the editors saying that the paper should never have been published in the first place. I doubt anyone followed suit. Congrats for your paper about animal behavior! Job well done!
Paul: I’m glad I was able to move Woods off his pedestal. Looking forward to your “final” post about Woods. As you indicated, he’s worth my time anymore (although I’m interested in writing some about the mandatory health care program set up by the Founding Fathers, but on the economic side – we’ll see).

Mishisma666: You’re far from a nodody! ;-) I agree with your assessment that people can be very knowledgeable. You don’t need advanced degrees to know your material. As I discussed in the article, I want to warn readers that holding advanced degrees can be very misleading about whether these ‘experts’ are reliable and academically honest. We’ve also seen examples here with Dr. Amy for instance. As usual, I always like your comments.

Myriad: Thank you! Greatly appreciated.

Tilapia: True! With the internet, a lot of people suddenly become experts, although many don’t even understand what they cut and paste (both in terms of content and whether the information is reliable). This is why I often rely on peer-reviewed publications to make my points (when it is warranted).
Philosopher Sidney Hook stated, "What makes a thing true is not who says it, but the evidence for it."

So you go check online if Thomas Woods has published papers in academic journals, and then promptly return and report that he has only published a few, making him a "nobody." Great. I guess you really smashed all of the historical evidence he presents to support his arguments. I guess the debate is over.

All of the arguments Woods presented in the "general welfare clause" debate with Paul O'Rourke are supported by the scholarly research of historian and professor Kevin Gutzman, and Harvard's late, great legal scholar Raoul Berger. Check them out.
Larry3000 writes “All of the arguments Woods presented in the "general welfare clause" debate with Paul O'Rourke are supported by the scholarly research of historian and professor Kevin Gutzman, and Harvard's late, great legal scholar Raoul Berger. Check them out.”

It should then be easy for Woods to use Gutzman and Berger’s work and write a good paper on this subject (we hope). Once it’s finished, he just need submit it to a high-impact journal and let the rest of the community evaluate his work. This way, Woods could slowly increase his credibility, because right now he doesn’t.
Philosopher Sidney Hook stated, "What makes a thing true is not who says it, but the evidence for it."

I take Kanuk's main point, as indicated by the title of this post, to be that there's little evidence for these guys being experts.
"...he just needs to..." above.
Well said, Rob!

Me too, I have also used the work performed by very well-known experts (real ones) for my own effort, especially when I started. But rather than writing blog posts to discredit other people, I submitted my work to be evaluated by my peers. Now, I have researchers all around the world coming to me for advice. Many have expressed an interest to work with me. Not only that, but many have claimed that I’m now one of these experts. You should see how I’m being introduced when I’m being invited to give seminars abroad.
Larry,
Woods' response to me was Kindergarten garbage. Now you want to blame another revisionist. Here's an interesting thought -- look into it yourself.
Rob St. Amant: Why should we question Thomas Woods' expertise in history just because he has not published fifty articles in academic journals? I agree with Sidney Hook that the soundness of a person's argument is not necessarily dependent upon who the person is, but upon the evidence that the person uses to support their arguments.

As I said, when Woods refuted Paul O'Rourke's claims about the constitutionality of Obamacare, Woods could point to powerful and authoritative evidence from primary and secondary sources. He wasn't just making bald assertions while simultaneously pointing to his Ph.D.

The fact Kanuk admitted above that he was more bothered by Woods' "condescending attitude" than anything else (I would call Woods' style as witty), hints more at the fact that Kanuk doesn't really know how to respond to Woods' arguments other than to question his authority over history by some lame publication test.

(It's interesting that Justice Elena Kagan fails Kanuk's "expertise test" miserably. Despite considerable time in legal academia, which involves teaching and writing, Kagan only published a few law review articles. Kanuk must find the absurdity in President Obama's claim that Kagan is "an accomplished legal scholar.")
Larry,
Obamacare was never mentioned. Obamacare can't be realistically considered under Gen Welfare, just N&P and commerce. Medicare is purely applicable to general welfare.
If you're going to comment, it helps to have read the articles.

Woods didn't point to his PhD, he simply made highly questionable and laughable assertions, and threw in irrelevant fluff...and used an intro that reeked of paranoia and rallying the faithful on a...let us say...crystal night.

Somewhere in that twaddle, he lays out his case. I will cull out the fluff and respond only to his attempted justification.
Larry3000 writes “Rob St. Amant: Why should we question Thomas Woods' expertise in history just because he has not published fifty articles in academic journals? I agree with Sidney Hook that the soundness of a person's argument is not necessarily dependent upon who the person is, but upon the evidence that the person uses to support their arguments.

As I said, when Woods refuted Paul O'Rourke's claims about the constitutionality of Obamacare, Woods could point to powerful and authoritative evidence from primary and secondary sources. He wasn't just making bald assertions while simultaneously pointing to his Ph.D.

The fact Kanuk admitted above that he was more bothered by Woods' "condescending attitude" than anything else (I would call Woods' style as witty), hints more at the fact that Kanuk doesn't really know how to respond to Woods' arguments other than to question his authority over history by some lame publication test.

(It's interesting that Justice Elena Kagan fails Kanuk's "expertise test" miserably. Despite considerable time in legal academia, which involves teaching and writing, Kagan only published a few law review articles. Kanuk must find the absurdity in President Obama's claim that Kagan is "an accomplished legal scholar.")


If you don’t even understand the meaning of this post (about peons like you – you were very happy to gloat about Woods’ blog post on Paul O’Rourke’s original piece), we don’t expect you to understand the original topic discussed by O’Rourke. This piece is not about Woods’ blog post. Woods is ‘a nobody,’ period. (You should see how Woods was skewered on Amazon.com by someone who reviewed one of his books. It was obvious that the reviewer knew his stuff better than Woods did.) He doesn’t even understand why the 1798 Act was implemented.

I use the same standards whether it is Woods, Mauser, Kagan (and whatever Obama may think of her credentials) or any other so-called experts.
Kanuk: I understand your claim in this post, that Thomas Woods is not an "expert" in history because he has not published extensively in scholarly journals, and that therefore people who listen to him are basically being duped.

My response is that of philosopher Sidney Hook, who basically said to focus on the actual evidence and arguments presented, not on the person. If Woods is wrong on the "general welfare" clause, then it's going to be from unsound evidence he presents, not because he doesn't satisfy your standards of what is an academic historian.

As I said before, your reasoning suggests that whenever Justice Kagan argues constitutional meaning, we should all be immediately skeptical because she hasn't published enough law articles. I find this reasoning erroneous.

My own independent studies on the "general welfare" clause's original understanding, studies based on the work of Raoul Berger, Kevin Gutzman and the ratification debates, confirm Woods' arguments, which is why I originally cited Woods' website in the first article. If Woods goes about arguing in a witty manner, so be it.

Who cares if Congress passed some 1798 healthcare act. They also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts as well. Both are unconstitutional according to the original understanding.

Paul O'Rourke: I forgot the Ron Paul interview specifically talked about Medicare, but then again it doesn't really matter. Obamacare or Medicare, either one can be justified on the post-1937 commerce clause "legal reasoning" of the Supreme Court, reasoning so broad and absurd that law professor Lino Graglia basically said that it's embarrassing for the court to even pretend to go through the motions and charade of "reviewing" congressional legislation, to see if it violates Article I, Section 8. We know what the court will say every time. If the court does strike down Obamacare (which is highly doubtful), then it will be from some invented exception to their already invented interpretation.

When you consider that the court thinks that growing your own wheat or marijuana on your own property, and then consuming it by yourself, is somehow "interstate," "commerical" activity, and is therefore within the legislative jurisdiction of Congress to punish or regulate, then it's clear that there are no limits any longer to Congress's enumerated powers. The Blacks, Brennans, Ginsburgs, and Breyers on the court should have admitted long ago that they aren't going to find any limits to Congress's enumerated powers anymore and save us the suspense. At least that would be honest, rather than going through the usual charade.

And no, it's not some wacky libertarian view that the court lets Congress legislate in areas that are supposed to be left exclusively in the states, it's a view that Harvard liberal and godfather of originalism, Raoul Berger, argued his whole academic career.
Larry,
2 quick points.
1. Woods' and others analysis of ratification arguments don't prove anything but there were ratification arguments. Madison's view was an argument. An argument not supported by most, nor observed or prevailing. An argument defeated by the record, by the language and by those others who also helped craft the Constitution. It helps to read history for what it is, not read into it what you want.
2. Woods might be a lot of things, but witty isn't one of them. In fact, he should refrain from attempting wit. There is no such thing as extremist wit.
Okay, 3. Soc Sec was general welfare, Medicare is also. Obamacare does not tax. General welfare is part of the taxing power. And yes, Commerce clause rulings can be a bit strange, per Wickard and Raich, and we may not agree with the rulings, but that's the way the ball bounces.
Larry3000 writes “My response is that of philosopher Sidney Hook, who basically said to focus on the actual evidence and arguments presented, not on the person. If Woods is wrong on the "general welfare" clause, then it's going to be from unsound evidence he presents, not because he doesn't satisfy your standards of what is an academic historian.

As I said before, your reasoning suggests that whenever Justice Kagan argues constitutional meaning, we should all be immediately skeptical because she hasn't published enough law articles. I find this reasoning erroneous.

My own independent studies on the "general welfare" clause's original understanding, studies based on the work of Raoul Berger, Kevin Gutzman and the ratification debates, confirm Woods' arguments, which is why I originally cited Woods' website in the first article. If Woods goes about arguing in a witty manner, so be it.


The issue is not what Berger and Gutzman said, but what Woods reported (and you for that matter). It’s very easy to argue a one-sided view point and cherry-pick information from ‘other experts’ accordingly, which is what Woods have been heavily criticized to do. This may work well for blog posts and sway simple-minded people, but this won’t fly in an academic setting. I have rejected my fair share of papers from such individuals.

When the government or a corporation needs to get a serious answer to an important question, will they ask someone who has 3 papers, published books via a right-wing publisher and is known to cherry-pick historical facts or ask someone who has a proven track record, respected by his or her peers, and has the objectivity and the credentials to support the answer they are looking for? The answer is very easy. I even have been there myself (being asked to answer a very important question).
What a great piece! As someone firmly in the "just some guy" camp, I delight in finding the intrinsic logic, or lack thereof in any so-called expert's toolkit. Paul should feel honored. To be brought up on trial by some expert hack--a classification into which I often toss Libertarian fantasy PhD's--would be a great ride. I personally consider the Cato Institute to be the think tank of choice for people who can stretch logic into twisty balloon animal shapes.

Paul is just among the best of the "nobodies", the "pipsqueak bloggers" as the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer would have it, who delivers value every time out. And Paul's logical constructions are creative while retaining a firm hold in a logical universe--and, like the Libs--one of his own making. And yes, he enjoys throwing a bomb once in a while, which just makes him refreshing web-based fare.

I very much appreciate your explication SCOPUS. Really interesting. Really, there's so much in your post, I could go on for a while.

I take my experts with a grain of salt. But sometimes, and I am not really talking about academic credentials here, I find someone like Robert Reich or Frank Rich, who consistently delivers tangible value in terms of the cases they build and the logic they employ, and I know I am on solid ground.

Once again, 4 Stars!
Damn. I want this sentence back: "And Paul's logical constructions are creative while retaining a firm hold in a logical universe--and, like the Libs--one of his own making."

Should be: And Paul's logical constructions are creative while retaining a firm hold in a logical universe--and, unlike the Libs--not one of his own making.

So sue me.
Steve,

Thank you very much! I’m glad I was able to show how the credentials of ‘experts’ are established. I’ll take Paul’s viewpoints over Woods’ any day. Don’t worry, I don’t think Paul will sue you… ;-)

Padraig, who is no longer with us, also praised the article (via Facebook). Thanks Padraig! Greatly appreciated.
I was amazed, reading Woods' add-on condemnation of O'Rourke, when he wrote:

"In the comments section of the O’Rourke piece you can see further how confused our author is. He thinks we have seen a major move in the direction of the free market over the past 30 years, and that this is the reason for our current problems. If that were so, I wonder why the most free-market economists were the ones most likely to predict the crash. "

The most free-market economists were the ones most likely to predict the crash?

Mars. Pure Mars. And Cato.
Steve: Thanks for pointing this one out. I missed it! Yeah, well if they knew something about it, why didn't react? Perhaps that, given their erroneous ideology, these ‘economical experts’ were not interested in salvaging the economy before it crashed and burned. This shows why Woods should not be taken seriously.
Steve,
I thought, but didn't add that I am positive Woods and I weren't reading the same economists. Woods did another hack book about how the Community Reinvestment Act caused the meltdown, along with Fannie/Freddie. The hilarious thing about Libertarians writing about the meltdown is you'll never see any of them even mentioning the repeal of Glass-Stegall or the SEC basically eliminating inv. bank capital requirements. That's one reason why they can't be taken seriously, among many.
Woods, though, is in a league of his own...in a world of his own...with a history of his own.
When he speaks of free-market economists who predicted the economic crash, Woods is referring to economists of the Austrian School. For example, Peter Schiff had been sounding the alarm for years on all the major network financial shows, but the typical response from the mainstream, Keynesian types was to simply laugh him off. Schiff videos are all over youtube. Here's one classic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I0QN-FYkpw

If you actually read Woods' books Meltdown and Rollback, he addresses all the "deregulation caused the meltdown" myths, including Glass-Stegall and the SEC.
Larry,
Anyone trying to lay blame on the CRA is not credible, period. I'm sure Woods spins a tale about it, just as he spins constitutional history. You don't seem to get he's making money servicing a market full of the gullible wanna-believers. Woods isn't the first hack in history to jump in front of a ideological parade.
Knowing bad information is worse than not knowing anything.
Do. Your. Own. Thinking.
Woods never blamed the CRA as the main contributor, which you would know if you read his writings.

As any Austrian School economist will demonstrate, the cause of the business cycle is central banking and government intervention in the market, which cause terrible distortions and bubbles. The current economic meltdown is not just some natural phenomenon of a free-market.

It is you who needs to "do your own thinking." Stop listening to all the Keynesian witch-doctors and court historians and read some genuine economists like Murray Rothbard, Walter Block, Ludwig von Mises, or Peter Schiff. Learn Austrian business cycle theory.

Look, I'm not here on behalf of Woods to defend him. He is just a fellow traveler promoting the truth and liberty, and who happens to be correct. But you say you are "sure" Woods has some sort of spin on economics, just as he "spins constitutional history." What "spin" is Woods peddling to make money off of people, or are you even sure you know what you're talking about?

Maybe read his stuff first before making conclusions. How, exactly, do you even know that Woods is a "phony expert" when you haven't read anything he has written? The Woods-hasn't-published-much-in-scholarly-journals-so-he's-a-hack argument is a little lame. It seems it is easier for you to just dismiss any opposing viewpoints as "non-credible," rather than actually addressing the arguments.
The CRA had zero, zip, nada, nothing to do with the meltdown. I didn't say he blamed it all on the CRA, I said anyone who would blame it isn't credible. Woods is not credible, for that reason and the above reasons. You think America waited 223 years to have Woods discover some heretofore hidden secret?
Larry, obviously you're not equipped to discuss this, or to see what a hackneyed revisionist/negationist Woods is. His "people trying to shut us up" sentiment is pure whackjob ideologue twaddle. You should expect him to invite you to Guyana some day to start a new society...in his case, though, you'll have to pay for your Koolaid. That you would take a paranoid perp seriously says enough about you anyway.
His "Story's commentaries have been exploded as unhistorical" is typical history negationist assbabble, and a whopper lie. You should see what he leaves out, conveniently, that destroys his premise.
You, being convinced without examination, are also not one to argue with, as nothing will change your mind. The only redeeming factor here is Woods' pay-for-viewpoint books and babble have no substantial impact. He's simply a liar.
Harvard's late, great legal scholar, Raoul Berger, no "ideologue," demonstrated that Joseph Story, who had nationalist biases, got history plain wrong in several areas. Law professor H. Jefferson Powell wrote that Story's Commentaries "were a massive self-vindication. . .as well as an indictment of the man Story personally despised [Thomas Jefferson]." Story had contemporary critics as well, such as Abel Upshur and John Taylor of Caroline. More scholarly critics could be cited. Are these people guilty of "assbabble" and "lies" too?

I'm sorry Thomas Woods hurt your feelings. You seemed to be more respectful and receptive of other scholarly viewpoints on his site and in other posts. I guess being wrong and seriously challenged is getting to you. To describe Woods as a "liar" is pretty extreme.
Larry,
Have Woods show you where Story's account of the events surrounding writing the taxing power differs from Madison's.
Have him show you where it differs from others accounts. Have him detail why Story was "exploded" as unhistorical. He waves the inferences around, but doesn't deliver the proof. Why ask me? Ask him.
Woods' excuses as to why medicare and soc sec are unconstitutional are pure absurdities backed by no evidence and a whimsical suggestion that the constitution was ratified under false pretense and now...he can claim to void all that has passed for the last 220+ years.
I was nice on Woods' site because it's not mine. Woods didn't upset me in the least as it's plain to see he's a chucklehead whoring out a degree to cash in from the chumps. If you had a logical mind you'd see what his game is. Either he's a total ignoramus not accountable for what he says, or he's a liar of commission and omission.

I notice you also can't deliver on the facts, just inferences. You have 3 guys you cling to, but offer only the aura of their dissent. Maybe you should find yet another guy to tell you how to think, as you already have one telling you what to think.

Adios, Larry.