A Touch of Alyricism

Dedicated to the equally fascinating topics of autistic advocacy and the 'sisterly sophistries' of radical gender feminism. Other topics may occasionally crop up. Contactable at alyric@gmail.com

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Polemicist since Grade 8

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Peddling Prejudice

Letter to the Editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education concerning their article : The Nutty Professor: http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i04/04b00701.htm

Dear Editor

I read with dismay the opinion of Dr Mikita Brottman concerning the unseemly presence of eccentrics in academia. She refers specifically to Asperger's Syndrome. While the intolerant will always be among us, I find it disturbing that a journal such as the Chronicle of Higher Education would lend editorial space to an article with such basic flaws as errors of inductive reasoning, research quality for which a freshman would be roundly condemned and pronouncements that the author is totally unqualified to render.

Taking the research quality first, Brottman seems to think that Asperger's Syndrome is a character disorder and then goes on to perpetuate that misrepresentation by talking as if those with Asperger's Syndrome have definable personality traits. Dr Brottman is categorically wrong. Asperger's Syndrome has nothing to say about the personality at all, which should be obvious in the most cursory examination of the literature. I refer you to Dr Tony Attwood for the expert's view: http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/.

Prima Donnas and the miserly, two variants in the human landscape are around to be sure, but there is nothing in the literature that says that these are more common in the Asperger's population than in the general run of humanity. It is quite amazing that Brottman should make such a logically fallacious argument. Just because two former colleagues had what she interprets as personality problems, and it should be noted that we have only Brottman's version of events here, does not mean that those same foibles belong to Asperger's as a class, a classic error of inductive reasoning. That the Chronicles failed to edit that out is indeed 'peddling prejudice'.

That leads to the third flaw in Brottman's article - her assumption that the two colleagues who made such an impression on her for their lack of collegiality could have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Dr Brottman is entirely unqualified to make such pronouncements, and given her limitations should not have been allowed to do so.

Finally, the only positive that I can find in Dr Brottman's article is perhaps the partial answer to a puzzle. For some time now, there has been growing concern about declining standards in the university, particularly in the Humanities. Where this miasma of mediocrity is coming from, no one could say with any certainty. I think it would be reasonable to say that one of the vectors is Dr Brottman and other assorted like minds. Brottman acknowledges that the gifted can be eccentric and also concedes that they may be wonderful 'on paper and in the classroom'. One would think that this is precisely the best job description for an academic. Yet for Brottman, the subjective 'collegiality' must be elevated to a position of pre-eminence, given that the average can never compete with genius on any other variable. And academe is the correct abode for the best minds in the business. To aim for anything less is to encourage a creeping conformity to social norms that are actually antithetical to the aims of higher education, namely inspiration of the finest minds, by the finest minds. Brottman confesses that if she were in a position to hire someone who from her perspective is an oddball, she would not. Let us hope for the sake of the academy, that she never is put in such a position.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dave Seidel said...

Well done, Al!

6:18 AM  
Blogger Adversarial said...

A very fine rebuttal of a pernicious article masquerading as middle-brow entertainment.

I can understand Brottman's manifest 'cognitive deficit' to some extent, after all, her 'discipline' is hardly one of the most exacting, though the absence of editorial rigour is unforgivable.

7:19 AM  

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