The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
The Academic Freedom Alliance recently released the third episode of The Academic Freedom Podcast. In that episode, I spoke with Brookings Institution scholar Jonathan Rauch. Rauch has a new book, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, which defends and elaborates on liberal principles of knowledge creation.
In the podcast, we discuss some of the ideas in the book, but also talk more generally about the state of intellectual diversity in academia and the problems confronting free speech on college campuses.
From the podcast, on the marketplace of ideas:
Whenever I talk about free speech in the marketplace of ideas, some undergraduate will invariably ask, well, how do we know that in the marketplace of ideas, the best ideas will surface? Maybe the worst ideas will surface, maybe random ideas, whatever people like. And they're absolutely right, this is a profound question, civil libertarians have kind of pooh poohed it and said, well, empirically good ideas do win out. Thus, you know, I have the covid vaccine in my arm right now, but that's not a good enough answer. The right answer is that if you want to turn raw information and raw conversation into knowledge, you need a lot of structure, you need a lot of settings. It's like converting voting into a government. You need a constitution that develops institutions and establishes professionals and protocols, things like courts, checks and balances, even morals, what the founders called Republican virtues. You need a lot of stuff. And in the Constitution of knowledge, you need a lot of rules like how to do research.
And on intellectual diversity in the universities:
Some things have gone wrong in academia as well. And one of those things is the decline of sufficient viewpoint diversity in a significant number of disciplines and a significant number of departments in universities so that there's no longer enough conservatives or libertarians or even centrists around to ask the hard questions and make sure that they're really doing science and not just ideology masking as science. And in some of these places, you've had the outright politicization of the curriculum and of the research. I'm not sure how much of that there is, it's hard to mention, I think actually lack of diversity is the bigger problem. The public has figured that out, public confidence in universities has declined by about 20 points over the last five years and by the standards of polling, that's falling off a cliff. Most poll results don't change that much. And that's largely from conservatives, both because of the attacks we've mentioned, but also because they increasingly perceive academia as an ideological racket.
It is a wide-ranging and interesting conversation. I hope you'll check it out. And subscribe to The Academic Freedom Podcast through your favorite podcast platform so that you don't miss an episode.