Rob and Scott have been doing just fine without me during my unplanned blogging sabbatical, to the extent that the vast majority of you probably hadn’t noticed. At any rate, I’m still here. My lack of blogging can be pretty directly linked to some serious (and seriously overdue) dissertating. If I thought our readers might be interested in my views on the underappreciated and misunderstood implications of understanding democracy as an essentially contested concept, the advantages of Ian Shapiro’s conception of democracy over Phillip Pettit’s and David Held’s conceptions, or the reasons why David Miller’s recent work on responsibility undermines some of his critiques of cosmopolitanism, well, I’d be delusional. This relative lack of blogging will probably continue into the near future, although I do hope to post a bit more regularly than I have over the last month.
I was awoken from my blogging slumber this morning by Gregg Easterbrook. I know he used to have a reputation as a smart and occasionally insightful writer and policy analyst, and I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it clearly gives us no insight into the shell of a thinker the reader has been presented with for at least ten years. A lot of clearly foolish ideas have been put into motion and eventually into print at theNew York Times in recent years. One of them was clearly (and predictably) the decision to hire Gregg Easterbrook to write something. The folly of this decision was compounded by the subject matter of what he was, presumably, paid to write about: A review of the new book by the successful and popular science writer Jared Diamond. I’m not going to track down all the links here, but some of the things that rather obviously disqualify Easterbrook from being paid to write about science are: pointing out that it’s crazy that scientists won’t take dishonest creationism intelligent design seriously, but hold conferences on wacky ideas like super-string theory, writing op-eds presuming to fisk peer-reviewed scientific articles he clearly doesn’t understand, and generally picking and choosing which science to take seriously based on how well it fits with his carefully cultivated status as the contrarian of environmentalism (hey, when you’re wrong as often as Easterbrook, going the contrarian route is a good career move. Just ask Chris Hitchens!). Here’s a good set of general and specific rebukes of Easterbrook on environmentalism written by people who probably had better things to do with their time.
At any rate, Brad Delong and Henry Farrell have beat me to the punch on the most obvious problem with Easterbrook’s “review.” I would also note that the review is almost entirely devoted to Easterbrook’s gross misreading of Diamond’s previous book, Guns, Germs and Steel. I don’t presume to take a stand in the debates about the merits of that book here, but I would think all sensible defenders and critics of the book can find common ground on the idiocy Easterbrook’s understanding of the book as a “quintessentially postmodern” work, the success of which can be entirely attributed to its “high P.C. Quotient” (Yes, it’s 2005 and Easterbrook is still babbling on about political correctness. That pretty much says it all.)
So let this be a lesson to all you editors out there. When you hire Gregg Easterbrook to write a review, he’s liable to a)review the wrong book, and b)thoroughly and comically misunderstand the book he chose, for some reason, to review. Now–and think carefully about your answer to this question–is this what you’re looking for in a reviewer? Easterbrook is like a student assigned to write a paper comparing Hobbes and Locke who submits an essay explaining why Burke thought the French Revolution was neat. Come to think of it, my students never miss the point that badly. If the editors of any prominent book reviews would like me to recommend some of them, I’d be happy to pass along a few names.
To be fair, Easterbrook does seem to be mastering the skill of avoiding gratuitous anti-semitism….