Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Koch Grants and Government Grants: What's the Difference?

Many academics object to Koch grants but not government grants. As far as I can tell, the objections to the former apply with equal or greater force to the latter. Consider two:

1) The Kochs have committed injustices and accepting Koch money makes you complicit in those injustices, even if the funded project is wholly unrelated to them.


But of course the government has committed injustices; indeed, injustices far graver than anything the Kochs have been accused of (e.g. murdering people daily).  Furthermore, most of what people find objectionable about the Kochs is their lobbying efforts. Yet the government should also bear some responsibility for seeking and accepting the influence of Koch money in that case. If you accept money as part of your murder for hire business, you are at least as morally blameworthy as the buyer.


2) There are allegations of cases where Koch has applied ideologically-motivated pressure to recipients. But the same is true of government funding. Addiction research is an example:


“There are ideological constraints tied to what gets funded," says Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York City. An example? The tendency to fund "abstinence only" programs and the war on drugs at the expense of drug prevention research. "There is not a lot of evidence of what works because it does not get studied. Today, kids lose their drug virginity before their sexual virginity. What’s the needle exchange of today?"


Here’s a plausible reply that a defender of government funding could make: just because the government applies ideological pressure in one case doesn’t make it wrong to accept government funding in a different case without that pressure. Fair enough, but this reply works just as well for the defender of Koch funding.


Furthermore, 56 percent of left-leaning philosophers (who make up the vast majority of the profession) express an explicit willingness to discriminate against right-leaning job candidates. This atmosphere of discrimination creates a tremendous amount of pressure to publicly conform to the dominant political ideology of the field. Consider these statements from anonymous philosophers:


“I said that I am left-leaning and sometimes feel pressure to stay quiet about my beliefs. [. . .] I think this pressure is not coming from right-wing members of the profession, but from left-wing members who might believe that I am not left-wing enough.”


“If my professional colleagues knew that I am moderately right-wing then half of them would call me a ‘subhuman pig’ and treat me accordingly. The other half would keep silent for fear of being next.”


And here’s Robert Nozick—then a tenured professor at Harvard—explaining what a relief it was when his colleagues mistakenly thought he had abandoned libertarianism:


“You know, it was a moment of weakness on my part, but it was so nice for people to be slapping me on the back and telling me that they had faith in me and they believed in me. Because they hadn't been saying that for years. And they started welcoming me back into the fold. And you know, God help me, but I just liked to not be vilified for a change. I liked to not be not a pariah in my own department. And so I went along with it. I could have done the snarky thing and said, No, your approval of me is based on a misunderstanding. I could have said that, but I just didn't. I was tired and I just let it go.”


This sort of widespread viewpoint discrimination creates vastly more pressure to conform to a political ideology than some Koch money.