Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Grasping A Bad Analogy

Ruth Marcus (sort of ) defends John Yoo, contending that his arguments in favor of torture and expansive executive power were amateurish and wrong, but that it would somehow be 'dangerous' if he were subjected to any professional consequence.
Yet the message sent to students by dumping Yoo would be even worse: that some opinions are too dangerous to express. Lawyers are used to staking a foothold on slippery slopes, but this one, with academic freedom at issue, is too treacherous to risk.
I would find that argument more compelling had Yoo made public pronouncements on torture. The controversy is over a confidential memo, something that the Bush Administration and probably Yoo himself would have preferred to have never entered the public realm. But on to the analogy:
The most useful analogy I've read on this subject comes from Princeton professor Deborah Pearlstein, who asked what Berkeley would do if a molecular biology professor "had written a medical opinion while in government employ disclaiming the truth of evolution," and continued to dispute the theory of evolution once he resumed teaching.
That's suggesting that Yoo's sole offense is bad scholarship. And you know what? I don't think that professors should be shielded from scrutiny, or from possible loss of position, if they engage in bad scholarship. Fundamentally, what good is a professor who is unable to grasp the subject matter of his supposed area of expertise? The better argument, attempted on the Volokh Conspiracy, is premised upon a defense of the scholarship.

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