Monthly Archives: February 2014

Historians in trouble : plagiarism, fraud, and politics in the ivory tower.

This week I started a new class on Coursera, titled Creative Problem Solving and so much of my time went to it that I neglected to write a new blog entry for the week. Rather than skip a week here is one of the better book reviews I have done over on

Historians in Trouble     If you look at the Amazon reviews of Jon Wiener’s book “Historians in Trouble” you will see that they prove his thesis, disagreeing with powerful conservative ideas will result in unending attacks. Agreeing with those ideas will bring fame and fortune even if you fabricate, (lie about) your data. The book is actually more complex than that, and much more complex than the Amazon reviewers paint it to be.

Plagiarism, sloppy work, lying, and criminal behavior are all looked at as well as the contexts they occur in. Sloppy work and lying are worse in an academic setting, where you are paid to be correct, than it is in the private sector where you are paid to promote agendas or simply to make money. Criminal behavior, actions that will get you into court, may or may not get you fired from a tenured position in academia. None of these will prevent you from becoming a hero of conservative thought.

So far I have managed to review Wiener’s book without testing the thesis myself, here goes. In “Arming America” Michael A. Bellesiles had errors in one chart, a chart discussed on only 14 of 604 pages. The chart adds nothing to the argument, Bellesiles thesis stands without it. Bellesiles agreed that the concerns about the chart were valid and agreed to correct them in the second edition. John Lott invented a study for his book, “More Guns, Less Crime”. Made it up. The book is based on a lie. Read “Historians in Trouble” if you care to know how these cases were handled.


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Review: The Price of Inequality

The Price of InequalityAlthough I took only one economics class, in the 1970s, I am interested in the subject. After all I have to survive in whatever economy the United States has and for the last forty years the economics that politicians talk about is farther and farther from anything that Sorenson wrote about. Ohio’s Governor Kasich says that we need to give companies more money so they will hire more people. If I remember my lessons companies hire to expand their production capacity when the demand is larger than their current capacity. I don’t remember anything about hiring to relieve an over full bank account.
Obviously I need a refresher in economics. Milton Friedman is the current darling among politicians but, while studying history, I learned what happened when countries such as Chile adopted his ideas. Surely nobody in their right mind would want to do that to the United States? Studying history I learned that Adam Smith, yes, THAT Adam Smith, wrote that people worked hardest when it was for their own gain. I also read that many people complained that their slaves were lazy. It occurred to me that since slaves gained nothing from their hard labor there could be a connection between Smith’s theory and slave owners observations. When I went to find if anyone else had considered a correlation between the two ideas I found the name Joseph Stiglitz. He also was a winner of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and an economic adviser to the last President to run a surplus. That was enough for me to decide to read his most recent book.
“The Price of Inequality” is written in plain language, mostly. Of the few economic terms that I had some difficulty with, mostly because they have meanings to economists slightly different than what they have in standard English, Stiglitz eventually got through even to me. “Rents” are bad because they add cost without adding value. My grandparents rented rooms but they had to maintain the buildings, which added value back to the buildings as they naturally depreciated over time. When my parents rented the family farm to someone else they added nothing. The farmer paying the rent also made all the investments in tools, seed, fertilizer, and labor. The land could have laid fallow and still maintained its value. “Rent” to an economist is income that comes not from work but from special situations such as possessing capital (my parents farm), monopolies, and subsidies.
Stiglitz is very good at explaining economic concepts. It seems that demand is out of fashion at the moment but it is still very important in the real world, as is most of what I learned from studying Sorenson 40 years ago. Friedman, in his day made some very important observations but when the data disputed his claims the Chicago School became more faith based than data driven. They adopt stands like “the market is right, but even when it’s wrong its not the market’s fault” and “the government is incapable of beneficial actions, even when they save our bacon”
One of the interesting topics Stiglitz examines is the question “is inequality necessary to provide incentives to work hard”. His answer seems to be a qualified yes with the stipulation that incentive pay has to be designed to be just that. As he pointed out bankers received what were originally called “incentive bonuses” even when they banks failed miserably. After some public outcry over millions of taxpayer dollars being paid out as bonuses for essentially mortally wounding the world economy the the only concession bankers made was to change the name of the payments to “retention bonuses”. Why anyone responsible for the meltdown was retained is beyond my imagination. In fact I agree with Stiglitz that many of them should have been detained in jails for the blatant fraud they perpetrated on their clients.
Every government policy has winners and losers. Adjusting government policy to assure that the top never lost, even when it failed, is what has created the massive inequality we face today. Stiglitz shows us how it came about and explains the dangers involved in allowing it to continue. His explanations are clear and he provides good foundations for his arguments but I do wish he had limited his use of“as we saw in a previous chapter” and the “now we will examine” but that is a minor point. The only real problem I have with Stiglitz is that he is so pessimistic.

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The Drakes and Valentine’s Day

The DrakesI would argue that there was a major change in the study of history that began sometime around 1961 roughly with the publications of Edward Hallet Carr’s work, “What is History?” Although I use that as a marker I think the change had more to do with the G I Bill financed history professors coming into their professional prime about that time. They had a wider life experience than the WASP professors of earlier times. After the 1960s a wider range of players began to turn up in scholarly works of history. By the 1990s history was told in a way that included both sexes and all genders, all colors, all nationalities, and most economic levels.

What does this have to do with Dr. Daniel Drake and Valentine’s Day? When something out of the ordinary turns up in historical writing, even secondary sources like biographies, is needs to examined. The unusual feature that turns up in Drakes biographies is Harriet Sisson, his wife. Older histories mention wives as a gateway to mentioning children or important male relatives, or for a few decades in the mid 20th century just as assurance that the male being written about was not homosexual. But Harriet, who did have Drake’s children and did have important male relatives*, is mentioned far more than just for that information.

I have not yet read any of Drake’s letters so I won’t go out on a limb and say that Drake “loved” his wife in the modern sense but I will say that from all accounts it looks like he was very fond of her. Most healers of Drake’s time rode a horse to visit patients outside the city or village. “Doctors on Horseback” was even the title of James Thomas Flexner’s 1937 book of biographies of Early American physicians. Drake drove a carriage so he and Harriet could be together. In the fall of 1815 Drake traveled to Philadelphia to attend his second and final year at the medical college to earn his medical degree. Daniel and Harriet left their two small sons with his brother’s family and they went together. The trip, like much of their life together was bitter-sweet. On the road to Philadelphia Harriet became sick and delayed them for three weeks. Daniel stayed by her side even though he arrived two weeks after classes began. Before the term ended Drakes brother arrived with news from home. Charles Daniel, their eldest son, had fallen and badly broken his leg and John Mansfield, their youngest, had fallen ill and died. According to the sources Daniel took his heartbroken wife to Annapolis to grieve the loss of their baby with family. I can only imagine that Daniel was also heartbroken but even when his most recent biography was published. 1961, you would not say that for fear of making him look “unmanly”.

Shortly after returning to their family in Cincinnati Daniel Drake, now M.D., received an offer to teach at the Transylvania College Medical Department in Lexington. In the autumn of 1818 the Drakes relocate for the school term to Lexington. Except for two years that Drake spends founding the institutions that would become the University of Cincinnati and the UC College of Medicine, the family moves between summers in Cincinnati and winters in Lexington. Harriet’s health suffers but Daniel is always there to give her the best care available in the 1820s. One year they leave Cincinnati early so Daniel can take Harriet to “health spas”, resorts built around mineral springs where they believed the water restored health. At one they met and became friends with Henry Clay.

By the end of the 23-24 school term it was obvious that Harriet’s health was failing again. Daniel resigned his position and took Harriet home to Cincinnati. She rallied enough that they attended a celebration of the official opening of the Miami Erie Canal which connected Cincinnati and the Ohio River system to the Great Lakes and the New York Erie Canal System. Then she really became sick. Daniel, a professor of Medical Materia, think pharmacology, vowed that she would have only the best, the purest medicine that could be made and he made it with his own hands.

Unfortunately for the couple he did just that. I don’t know exactly what “medicine” he prepared for her but mercury and arsenic were then considered important medications. Daniel’s mentor at the Philadelphia Medical College, Dr. Benjamin Rush, was a big advocate of both mercury and bleeding. It is likely that Harriet was bleed by her husband in his quest to save her. She died September 30, 1825 at the age of 37. Their youngest daughter, Harriet Echo, was 6. Daniel never remarried. On November 5 of 1852 he was found dead, according to rumor in a pool of blood. He had been sick and although bleeding was out of favor he still believed in the practice. He opened his own vein looking for relief but, at age 67, he passed out before he stopped the flow of blood. He and Harriet rest next to each other in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove where he had her and his parents moved when it opened in 1851.

* Her uncle, Jared Mansfield, who she was living with him when she met Drake.

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Review: America Walks into a Bar

Book cover     Christine Sismando’s book America walks into a bar : a spirited history of taverns and saloons, speakeasies, and grog shops, looks at our love / hate relationship with alcohol and commercial establishments that serve it. Starting in Colonial America we learn that the Salem Witch Trials were less about black magic and more about profitable real estate to put a tavern she brings the bars history in America right up to date with the backlash against young mothers congregating in neighborhood bars with their infants. I really wanted to like this book, it is entertaining, pleasant to read and seems cover the subject thoroughly. I pleased that Sismondo managed to explain something that I should have already known, the importance of bars and taverns to both the woman’s and the LGBT movements.


     Unfortunately I came across her explanation of “the Cincinnati incident”, what we call the 1884 Courthouse Riot, and my confidence in Sismondo’s ability as a historian was shaken. Her research on this was superficial and her interpretations were defective as a result. Still, for a big picture view of the importance of public houses have had in the history of the United States this is worth a read. Just be sure to double check any details you find here.

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