Noam Chomsky fails academic standards demanded from HRW

A few days ago, we published in Miguel’s blog a public letter in response to the 100 or so ‘Latin America experts’ who criticised HRW’s report on Venezuela, so there’s no point in rehashhing its arguments here. But as the ‘experts’ stated that HRW’s report “does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility” we decided to check whether the criticizing signatories do observe those standards they are demanding from HRW. In order to do this, we conducted a little experiment and chose from the list the only academic with a global reputation, Noam Chomsky that is. Since Chomsky signed the letter in his professional capacity, as Professor of Linguistics, Massachusets Institute of Technology, I sent him an email. The exchange is pasted below. As can be read, Chomsky does not apply minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality and accuracy. Further, Chomsky is not even bothered by the fact that propagandists of Hugo Chavez are using his name, and that of the institution he works for, to lend ‘credibility’ to spurious and baseless allegations, as rightly stated by HRW, in its response to them.

—– Original Message —–
To: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Date: 1/3/2009 11:22 AM
Subject: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report

Dear Professor Chomsky,

Here’s hope that this email finds you well. A few days ago, I saw your
name as signatory of an open letter
[http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2008/12/17-2] that a group of
people addressed to HRW, wherein criticism about lack of academic
standards of veracity and objectivity was expressed. Since you are
identified as Professor of Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, I am taken the liberty to write to this MIT email address of
yours.

In that respect, and without intention of delving into the personal
motivations you may have had to lend your name and credentials for such
purpose, I would like to ask one thing: the letter claims that I am a
“mentally unstable opposition blogger,” therefore could you please send
me copy of the academic studies, or research, upon which such remark is
based?

With best wishes,
Aleksander Boyd

Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Reply to: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Date: 1/3/2009 5:06 PM
To: Alek Boyd

You’d have to contact the initiators of the statement, maybe Greg Grandin or
the other Latin Americanists who formulated the statement.

Noam Chomsky

—– Original Message —–
Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: “Alek Boyd”
Date: 1/3/2009 5:20 PM
To: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>

Well, thanks for such a swift reply Professor Chomsky, but your name is
on that list and I would have thought that signatories to it, especially
those with a global reputation such as yourself, would exercise caution
at the time of allowing third parties to use your name and position to
support their public statements. That being the case, I respectfully
reiterate my initial request, perhaps you can pass it along to Greg
Grandin and the other Latin Americanists that conducted research about
my mental state.

Cordially, Alek Boyd

Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Reply to: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Date: 1/3/2009 8:09 PM
To: Alek Boyd

Nobody used my name. I don’t know how involved you are in public statements. Signers are expected to know the basic facts, but not to research every specific detail. For that, they rely on the reputation for care and integrity of those who write and distribute the statements. If they were to research every particular fact there would never be a statement protesting the crimes of Iran or the Soviet Union or any atrocities anywhere.

There’s no reason for me to forward your concerns to the Latin American academics who wrote and distributed the statement.

Noam Chomsky

—– Original Message —–
Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: “Alek Boyd”
Date: 1/3/2009 9:44 PM
To: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>

Begging your pardon Professor Chomsky, but there is every reason for you to forward my concerns to those who wrote and distributed the statement, for your integrity is on the line. The public expects you to behave according to certain moral, ethical and professional standards, as an academic of considerable reputation. Allowing others to use use your name, and that of the institution you work for, for questionable political purposes, carries a duty of care towards statements made, as you have rightly pointed out. Your repeated negative to send me information pertaining what you call basic facts, or to put my concern to those who irresponsibly have used your name and credentials to discredit me, suggest that you are not aware of what your name has been used for and that those who have formulated the statement do not have any academic evidence to support their claims.

It should not be difficult for more than 100 purported Latin Americanist demanding “minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility” to others, to produce research and scholarly work upon which their arguments are based, or am I to suppose that they have failed the very principles they are demanding from others? No issue would have arisen had they signed that letter as private individuals, however as you are all using some form of professional accreditation or another, to lend credibility to your concerns, you are duty bound to, at the very least, inform the public about methods followed to arrive at certain conclusions.

It is extraordinary indeed to read from the intellectual claimed as the world’s most influential, that every specific detail should not be researched. Alas a sign of the decaying, condescending, and rotten academic establishment of our times.

Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Reply to: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Date: 1/4/2009 3:13 AM
To: Alek Boyd

I’m sorry that you do not understand how petitions work, or that by your standards there would never be one. But that’s your problem, not mine.

You can easily access the addresses of the Latin American academics who wrote and organized the petition, and if you have some objection, you can contact them.

—– Original Message —–
Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: “Alek Boyd”
Date: 1/4/2009 11:09 AM
To: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>

My only problem is that you have signed a letter, in your professional
capacity, where a statement about my mental state has been made, and
this exchange proves that you don’t apply principles you, purportedly,
demand from others. You do know that claim made is not the conclusion of
research conducted by psychologists/psychiatrists or other such capable
accredited professionals, but rather it’s an unsubstantiated accusation
made for political purposes. Worse still, you don’t seem to care what
others say in your name.

I take that you are as prone to abandon minimum accuracy standards -to
side with ideological partners- as the guy next door, and for the
record, I am not interested in the slightest in communicating with the
propagandists who organized the petition. Of all the signatories, you
are the only one who does have a global academic standing to care for.
Therefore before escalating my concerns to MIT authorities, I will
respectfully ask you, for the third time, for academic evidence in the
form of research and studies conducted, which led you, Noam Chomsky,
Professor of Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to
sign a letter wherein I am referred to as a “mentally unstable
opposition blogger.”

Thanking you in advance, Aleksander Boyd

Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Reply to: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Date: 1/4/2009 6:44 PM
To: Alek Boyd

I’ve already explained to you how you should remedy whatever problem you perceive, and why your charges make no sense at all, and if applied, would simply terminate all petitions — whether from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or anyone else.

If you don’t want to remedy the problem, I’m afraid I cannot help you.

Noam Chomsky

—– Original Message —–
Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: “Alek Boyd”
Date: 1/4/2009 10:13 PM
To: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>

It is not about how you want me to remedy the problem, but about how I
want you to remedy the problem and you can, in fact, help me, by simply
saying what sort of academic standards were followed to reach a
conclusion about my mental state. The onus is on you, for it was you who
signed a letter containing defamatory and baseless allegations.

Aleksander Boyd

Subject: Re: Your criticism of HRW’s Venezuela report
From: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Reply to: Noam Chomsky <chomsky@mit.edu>
Date: 1/5/2009 3:00 AM
To: Alek Boyd

I’ve explained to you how you can remedy the problem that you perceive. And I’ve explained to you the very reasonable standards for petitions. There is no point running through it again.

—-End of exchange—-

There are some aspects that need expanding on. First, it is truly a shame that serious and reputable organizations, such as MIT, allow staff to make use of institutional credentials for questionable political purposes of personal nature. Second, it is also a sad spectacle to see serious and reputable organizations, such as HRW, wasting limited resources and staff in addressing criticism from a bunch of sycophants (some of them, like Greg Wilpert for instance, having benefited from public funds dispensed by Hugo Chavez’s revolution), for none qualifies as expert in anything other than official propaganda, as far as Venezuela is concerned. They are not valid interlocutors at discussing Venezuelan affairs, no one elected them and most, if not all, are not even Venezuelan. Third, it is evident that rigorous academic standards are not the forte of Chavez’s international cheerleading squad, while their absolute ignorance of Venezuela’s legislation and binding international human rights treaties is patent. Fourth, it is remarkable to read, from perhaps the world’s most renowned leftist academic, admission that it is perfectly correct to be dishonest, false, inaccurate and sloppy.

4 thoughts on “Noam Chomsky fails academic standards demanded from HRW”

  1. Wow, you totally have it spot on. Way to go with harassing a respected academic who has more intelligence in his thumbnail than you do in that cavernous echo chamber you call a skull.You’re attacking one small part of a strong argument because you feel it is the weakest and easiest to prove wrong. How about you take on the real crux of the argument?

  2. Harassing? I was simply asking a ‘respected academic’ to produce evidence supporting his allegations. Unfortunately, for his reputation, he’s had no qualms in admitting that not every details needs be researched. Impressive stuff, coming from one of the Left’s academic totems. Certainly a disservice to the institution he works for.As per the ‘strong argument’ I shall defer to the opinion of truly respected people, who considered Chomsky et al as unhelpful critics that disseminate < HREF="http://infovenezuela.org/HRWVenezuelaResponse01.28.09.pdf" REL="nofollow"><>baseless allegations<><>.

  3. Is one able to be one person in his public life and another on the academic? I´m saying: can someone accepts that being dishonest is normal in public life and, at the same time, be honest and accurate in his academic works?

    And if one uses his academic name to support his public ideology, can he keep acting in a sloppy way? More than the greatest cientist, wouldn´t he be the greatest ilusionist?

    All I ask from people is coherence… Is Noam Chomsky incoherent? Maybe he is absolutely coherent in public, academic and personal life.

    Why am I not surprised?

  4. Noam Chomsky may well be a great academic, an unbelievable linguist at the forefront of that field.

    However, as far as Venezuela is concerned, he is nothing but an ignoramus, way beyond his depth on the subject. His repeated denial to furnish academic evidence, to back up spurious and politically motivated accusations made by peddlers of baseless allegations, shows that either he cares very little for his public persona or that he is convinced that his reputation in one field of study can be extrapolated to absolutely everything he does in public, which is of course, not only impracticable but impossible to accept by any reasonable person.

    Infallible he ain't, that much is certain.

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