How Sloppy (Or Dishonest) Historical Research Can Deceive For Decades: The Daniel “Doc” Adams Affair

AdamsDoc

While we’re on the topic of “disinformation”….

Let’s have a show of hands, shall we? How many of you think that Civil War General Abner Doubleday invented baseball? Let’s see, one…two...thirty four…wow, that’s still a lot, especially since Doubleday’s connection to the game was thoroughly debunked almost a century ago and there is no evidence that he ever claimed any credit for the development of the game. Nevertheless, a commission appointed in 1905 to determine the origin of baseball announced in1907 that “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839.”

We now know—well, some of us know—that the “best evidence” was, to put it technically, crap. Abner wasn’t much of a general either.

OK, now those who have heard of “Doc” Adams ( 1814 – 1899) and know he was one of the major contributors to the invention of baseball as it is played today raise your hands. One..one? That’s all? Documents show that all Adams did—he was an early baseball player and later a league executive who oversaw writing “The Laws of Baseball”—was to establish the distance between bases at 90 feet apart, settle the length of a game at 9 innings and define a baseball team as nine players rather than eight, ten or eleven. He also invented the position of “shortstop.”

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A “Bias Makes Professionals Stupid And Unprofessional” Update

Trump photo defaced

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck and the resulting mass effort to bring down Donald Trump was the corruption of virtually all of our society’s professions, and the vast majority of their members. Educators, psychiatrists, teachers, judges— journalists, of course, though they were already pretty far gone; broadcasters, of course. Entertainment professionals and performers, heaven knows (That’s the Dixie Chicks and their clever and subtle political commentary above.) In addition to theater professionals, two more of my professions have disgraced themselves: lawyers and ethicists. The listserv of a legal ethics organization I belong to was virtually cackling with joy over Rudy Giuliani’s partisan and dangerous interim suspension in New York, while the same group has been notably unenthusiastic about criticizing out-of court hyperbole by anti-Trump lawyers like the recently sentenced Michael Avenatti. (I may have missed some more balanced attention because I dropped out of the group for about 18 months in disgust over its bias.) Here is a tweet by a conservative attorney that was just offered to the group for comment on whether it raised issues of professional misconduct:

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Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/28/20: Happy Birthday, Woodrow Wilson!

2020 end

As 2020 staggers to a conclusion, Ethics Alarms wants to express its gratitude to the core of devoted Alarmist commentators who kept the dialogue going during what is always an annual cratering of blog traffic. I appreciate it. I also appreciated the many kind holiday wishes, in what has been a muted Christmas for the Marshalls for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with.

In case you were among the missing, I draw your attention to…

…among other hopefully edifying and entertaining posts.

1. After signalling otherwise or perhaps just trolling, President Trump signed the truly awful pandemic relief and omnibus spending bill, really sending the national debt into orbit. One theory is that doing so was necessary to avoid a Democratic sweep of the two Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia. I will file the event as one more car on the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck, and one that will do more damage in the long run than most of them.

2. In Nevada, Gabrielle Clark filed a federal lawsuit against her son’s charter school last week for refusing to let him opt out of a mandatory class that promotes anti-white racism. It claims that Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus forced William Clark “to make professions about his racial, sexual, gender and religious identities in verbal class exercises and in graded, written homework assignments,” creating a hostile environment, and subjecting he son’s statements ” to the scrutiny, interrogation and derogatory labeling of students, teachers and school administrators,” who are “still are coercing him to accept and affirm politicized and discriminatory principles and statements that he cannot in conscience affirm.” The lawsuit includes nearly 150 pages of exhibits documenting the curriculum in the graduation requirement “Sociology of Change,” which promotes intersectionality and critical race theory, in breach of what was promised when the Clark’s first sent their son to the school.

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From The “Res Ipsa Loquitur” Files: The Presidential Ranking Survey

One of the more depressing developments during the Post 2016 Election Ethics Train Wreck has been how virtually all of our professions have proven unable to remain objective and trustworthy, instead descending into bias and submitting to peer pressure—exactly the kind of behavior professionals are supposed to have the training and integrity to avoid. Journalists have been the worst in this respect of course, with politicians close behind. However, judges, lawyers, educators, academics, psychiatrists, health officials, performers and, yes, ethicists have also disgraced themselves, among others.

One persistent example of a corrupted profession is historians, and a useful measure of their ethics rot has been Presidential rankings. Here’s one I missed from 2018, when “172 professional historians” were asked to rank the POTUSes from first to last, using a 1-100 scale. A Jimmy Kimmel writer who ran out of current Trump-bashing material circulated this on Twitter, and it is, as they say, “trending.”

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From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “The Siena Research Institute’s Lousy Independence Day Gift: Misleading, Biased and Incompetent Presidential Rankings”

Now and then an old post suddenly get a lot of clicks. Often this will draw my attention to an essay I had forgotten: such was the case with this post from 2010. Someone on Reddit put it up for discussion, and last week the old post had hundreds of views. I was intrigued and re-read it. Good post!

I would change a few observations—in the intervening years we have learned that Woodrow Wilson was even worse than I thought—and add some, but the post was long, and a thorough evisceration of this embarrassing survey’s results would require a book.

***

The Siena College Research Institute persuaded over 200 presidential scholars to participate in a survey designed to rank America’s forty-three Chief Executives. There is great deal to be leaned from the resulting list that the Institute proudly released on July 1; unfortunately, very few of the lessons have anything to do with the men on it.

The list shows us that:

  • A survey is only as good as its design
  • Historians who call themselves “presidential scholars,” working together, could do no better in their supposed area of expertise than to arrive at a ranking that would get most 7th Graders a C in junior high school History, raising serious questions about how history is taught in our universities, but perhaps explaining why Americans choose to be so ignorant of their nation’s past.
  • Historians are, as a group, biased toward liberal causes, against conservatives, and in favor of people who are like them.
  • They are unable to recognize their biases, even when a list like this one makes them stunningly obvious.

Lists are mostly for fun and to start arguments. When one purports to make historical judgments, however, and the individuals doing the judging are supposed to be experts, there is still a responsibility to try to do the task fairly, competently, and responsibly. Continue reading

Corrupting History To Get Trump, And Smearing A Profile In Courage To Do It

Senator Edmund G. Ross. Hero? Corrupt hero? Politician?

It all started when a thoroughly Trump-deranged friend of long-standing–a Georgetown professor!–cited with approval on Facebook a critical article at the CNN site condemning the National Archives idiotic altering of an anti-Trump photo. I discussed the issue, and the article, here, #3, noting that Perry exposes himself as an unprofessional hack by using this incident to suggest, without evidence, untold document mischief throughout the  Trump administration. Noting how completely historians have debased their profession by joining the “resistance” and engaging in partisan analysis, I promised to return to Perry’s unethical screed that day. Well, I’m late, but here it is.

Later in his article, Perry wrote,  “Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence authored a mendacious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which touted one senator’s vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson as a profile in courage, despite historians’ agreement that the senator was, in fact, likely bribed.”

I know all about Edmund G. Ross, celebrated in JFK’s “Profiles in Courage” as the Radical Republican Senator from Kansas who saved President Andrew Johnson from a political coup attempt very similar to what the Democrats are trying now to do to President Trump. Ross’s vote against impeachment conviction was the margin by which the two-thirds requirement for impeachment failed. Kennedy’s book (which he didn’t write, but that’s another ethics story) designated Ross a hero because he knew his vote would likely end his political career in Kansas, as indeed it did. Where did the alleged historical consensus that Ross was bribed come from?

The answer is nowhere. There is no such “agreement,” because there is no proof, only speculation. However, smearing Ross and denigrating his motives are essential to legitimizing  a 19th Century Republican plot to remove a President who was obnoxious, defiant, and widely regarded as  “unfit” as well as being looked down upon as too humble in his origins to be President. Doing so, you see,  makes the current soft coup appear similarly legitimate. By this new analysis, Ross isn’t a hero but a villain, thus the assault on Pence for citing Ross as a role model  Continue reading

I Am True To My Vow: Once AGAIN, Partisan Historian Douglas Brinkley’s Excuse For Hillary Clinton’s Loss Is Incompetent And False History, And As Long As Ignorant Or Dishonest Hacks Keep Repeating It, Ethics Alarms Will Keep Reminding You That They Are Hacks…Like Brinkley

Yes, yes, I know I have written about this several times already. I will keep doing so, too, until this ridiculous piece of Fake History inflicted on the public consciousness by partisan historian Doug Brinkley when he went on CNN election night and lied, I will keep writing it.

Today’s edition comes courtesy of the increasingly inexcusable fools on ABC’s “The View,” who were engaged this week in a Hillary defeat excuse and alibi orgy. Whoopie Goldberg kept darkly hinting of some conspiracy that allowed Trump to triumph (“We may never know why she lost…” Whoopie intoned), while Joy Behar kept saying that Hillary DID win, as if the elections rules don’t count. They were embarrassing, and they were inartuclate, and they made everyone of their viewers dumber by about 50 IQ points, but never mind: I’m going to focus on this blather, by Whoopie…

“You know, there have been very few eight years of one party and eight years of the same party. It doesn’t generally go back to back. The last time I think was Nixon and whoever came in after him was the last. Ford. And he pardoned. That was the last time we had a long stretch. When it wasn’t Democrat, Republican, Democrat Republican. So given all the crap that Obama had to eat from his own party, I don’t think Bernie was going to — I don’t think any Democrat was going to–people were going to vote –“

If you can translate that—Didn’t Whoopie once know how to speak?—, what is rattling around in her head is Brinkley’s false historical note that eight years of Presidents from one party are seldom followed by the election of another President from the same party. This is not just untrue, but spectacularly untrue. As I last wrote here,

…esteemed Presidential historian Doug Brinkley, for reasons known only to himself, went on the air live on CNN and concocted a new alibi for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. using fake history to do it. He said that there were powerful historical patterns at work in Hillary’s defeat, and that it is always hard for any one party to hold the White House for three consecutive terms. Then, as exceptions to the rule and to show how rare the exceptions were, Brinkley cited Reagan successfully pushing George H.W. Bush on the nation as his “third term,” and then went all the way back to 1836 for his other exception, when popular Democrat President Andrew Jackson got his acolyte Martin Van Buren elected to succeed him.

For days after this, I kept hearing Brinkley’s observation cited by talking heads and my disappointed Democratic friends, yet what he had said was wildly, unforgivably untrue. On election night, I ticked off the instances where one party has held the Presidency for more than two terms on the spot, right after Brinkley’s fiction (much to the annoyance of my wife):

After Van Buren, there were a bunch of one term Whigs and Democrats, but Lincoln’s two terms (the last finished by Andrew Johnson) was followed by Grant for two more, Hayes for one, and Garfield/Arthur for four more years. That 6 straight Republican terms, Doug. Then, three terms later, McKinley was elected to two, Teddy Roosevelt for one on top of the McKinley term he finished out, and Teddy anointed Taft as his successor just as Jackson had with Van Buren. That’s four straight Republican terms, or as we call it around my house, “More than two.”

But wait! There’s more! After Wilson and Mrs, Wilson served out two Democratic terms, we got Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, another three Republicans in a row. Then the Democrats made up for those consecutive runs with five straight of their own, courtesy of FDR’s four and Truman beating Dewey. In short, Brinkley gave the nation fake history, which then became fake news.

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Al Luplow And The Duty To Remember

 

A culture is defined by what it chooses to remember and what it chooses to forget. Ideally, a culture would remember everything, because knowing the past, as Santayana famously observed, was insurance against repeating its mistakes.  But time is a huge eraser, as Shelley told us:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
This is why historians have such a crucial role to play in preserving our culture, by preserving stories, lives and memories along with the inspiration and wisdom they can provide.Sometimes a lost memory is rescued from neglect. Today we remember Colonel Joshua Chamberlain as one of the central heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg for his desperate stand with the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Little Round Top, culminating in his using his knowledge of military history (he was a college professor) to improvise the bayonet charge that held his position and turned defeat into victory. That was not the case for almost a century, however, until the historical novel “The Killer Angels” retold the story so vividly that Chamberlain’s entire career became the object of new scholarship and admiration. This was truth emerging, but it was also justice. Chamberlain deserved to be remembered.

Unfortunately, Chamberlain is an exception. Once a life, a deed, a remarkable moment is forgotten, it is usually gone. That is a tragedy for the culture. The duty to remember, which I have discussed here before, is the duty to protect the culture and its riches. It is also based on the Golden Rule. We all would like our lives to be remembered as long as possible, especially when we accomplished something that future generations could and would appreciate or benefit from recalling.

This brings us to Al Luplow.

Two nights ago, in an outrageously antic and entertaining game between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox, Indians outfielder Austin Jackson robbed Hanley Ramirez of a home run by leaping in the air at the right centerfield bullpen fence reaching over it mid-air to catch the ball, and tumbling over it. He still held on to the ball—he could have easily broken his neck—and the home run became an out.

Although outfielders have fallen over that fence from time to time, notably in the 2013 play-offs…

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Once Again, Stop Making Me Defend President Trump, And Tell Fox To Stop Making Me Defend The People Who Are MAKING Me Defend Him!

 

See? What does Comey have to complain about?

Fred, my topic scout, sent me this and suggested that it was the apotheosis of  Rationalization #22, Comparative Virtue or “It’s not the worst thing.”

Boy, was he right.

In last night’s episode of the Tucker Carlson show—right-wingers are actually impressed with Tucker’s skills at taking down lame liberal fanatics, which is sad in so many ways—featured the Fox News conservative dilettante agreeing with guest James Rosen, who was making the fatuous and ethically offensive point that people shouldn’t get so upset about what Trump does because the Civil War and the Cold War were worse.

This argument is the Mother of All Terrible Rationalizations, and especially bad because it spoils a good point, which is that absent historical perspective, it’s not easy to know what a real crisis is. Arguing that people shouldn’t object to something, however, because something else was worse is the mark of desperation as well as intellectual deficiency. Explain why the alleged crisis isn’t one (as in the Comey firing); explain why the assumed harm is exaggerated, or being hyped, or the product of bias and emotion. But to say, as Rosen, a “conservative historian,” which only means he isn’t an aggressive leftist like almost all of his colleagues, did,

“During Watergate, the term ‘crisis’ was thrown around as well and there were people at that time who were old enough to remember when there were legless Civil War veterans still in the streets of Washington.”

And I’m sure conservative historians were reminding those Civil War casualties while their legs were being sawed off without anesthesia that the Civil War wasn’t nearly as horrible as the Black Death. “Ah, I feel much better now,” they smiled. “Just call me ‘Stumpy!’

Here, for the sake of reference, is the description of #22 on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List: Continue reading

Willful Amnesia And The Great Cat And Dog Massacre

Did you know that animal-loving British families killed an estimated 400,000 household pets—cats and dogs—in the first week after Great Britain declared war on Germany in September, 1939? Neither did I, and now a new book by Hilda Kean, “The Great Dog and Cat Massacre,” sets out to remind us of that ugly episode.

As the New York Times review of the book notes and Kean explains, the mass euthanasia was “publicly lamented at the time,” but has since been erased from memory.  But why has it been erased from memory, and how? This is a disturbing cultural phenomenon that Ethics Alarms has covered before, notably in the post about dance marathons in the U.S. during the Depression. One of the definitions of culture is what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget. Forgetting, however, while often psychically soothing and an easy way to avoid guilt and accountability, is a pre-unethical condition. That which has been forgotten can no longer teach us, and a society that collectively decides to pretend something cruel, horrible or traumatic didn’t happen risks allowing it to happen again.

This, of course, is one more reason why the recent progressive mania for historical airbrushing is dangerous, irresponsible and unethical. Keep that statue of “Joe Pa” on the Penn State campus. Leave  King Andy on the twenty dollar bill.  Don’t take down that bust of Bill Cosby in the TV Hall of Fame. All civilizations have fallen heroes, moments of panic, times when they forget their values and betray their aspirations. Of course it is painful and embarrassing to remember these things, but also essential if human ethics are going to progress instead of stagnating, or even going backwards. We associate the elimination of cultural memories with totalitarian regimes, and for good reason, for they are blatant and shameless about it.

No nation is immune from the process’s appeal, however. When I was going to grade school and studying the Presidents of the United States, Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were routinely hailed by (mostly Democratic) historians as among the greatest of the great. The first Jackson biography I read barely mentioned the Trail of Tears. I read four well-regarded biographies of Wilson that ignored his support for Jim Crow, and the degree to which he deliberated reversed advances in civil rights, being an unapologetic white supremacist. The influenza epidemic that killed millions was excised from my school’s history books. Thomas Jefferson’s concubine, Sally Hemmings? Who? Continue reading