Correcting Nancy MacLean, One Error at a Time

In a recent blog post, David Bernstein provides an update on what he calls, “The biggest academic scandal of the year”:

Duke University History Professor Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains … posits that the late Nobel-winning prize economist James Buchanan, resentful of the Supreme Court’s racially egalitarian jurisprudence in Brown v. Board of Education, invented public choice economics as a means of undermining American democracy. Charles Koch later stumbled upon Buchanan’s work, and used it to mastermind his own well-funded assault on everything good liberals hold dear.

The book is wrong in its general thesis, and in almost all of its particulars, as various reviewers and bloggers, myself included, have pointed out in excruciating detail. When asked about allegations of error and misrepresentation, instead of responding substantively MacLean has claimed that her critics haven’t read the book, and accused her critics of being part of a Koch-funded conspiracy to undermine the book’s “revelations.”

Until now, it’s been difficult to point the curious and non-closed-minded to a single source that summarizes the range of mistakes and fabrications in the book. Fortunately, Phil Magness has posted a spreadsheet listing these, the relevant page numbers, the sources that demonstrate the relevant problems, and a somewhat subjective ranking of the importance of each error to the book’s overall credibility.

Magness’s spreadsheet is well worth a look. It lists 69 errors, including 12 “fabrications”; 17 “factual errors;” 3 “misleading claims”; 12 instances of “misrepresented evidence”; 12 “quotation errors”; and 12 “unsupported claims.”

You might think the author of such shoddy work would be hiding her head in shame, but, no. Prof. McLean is the plenary speaker at the American Association of University Professors’ annual conference which is taking place right now in Arlington. The title of her speech is, “The Origins of the Radical Right’s Attack on Higher Education and Democracy—and What We Can Do About it.” And if you think that’s ironic, get this. The theme of the conference this year is, “Free Speech on Campus.” America’s students are in the best of hands!

Jon Guze / Director of Legal Studies

Jon Guze is the Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over twent...

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