Monday, October 28, 2002

Jane Galt has a posting where she expresses a degree of condolence for Michael Bellesiles, the author of Arming America, who recently got axed from Emory University for some very distict problems with the veracity of his work (euphamism for the guy was lying through his teeth...). And there's more than a little shadenfreude displayed in the comments section. As Jane sees it, one of the issues Mr. Bellesiles now faces is that:

His life is effectively over. He will never work again in his chosen field. He will never publish again. He stands revealed to everyone whose opinion ever mattered to him as a liar and a fraud. Frankly, I find it hard to imagine what he will do, since professors rarely have a lot of money, and their skills are somewhat rarified. Most of the professors I've worked for couldn't even type or file well enough to work in an office.

I'm not so sure. Even leaving aside the conspiratorial possibilities of some sort of left-wing consolation prize, I think the professor still has a lot of career options ahead of him. Teaching high school history (or even teaching at a community college) or library work might not carry the prestige of serious academia, but it certainly can make for an okay life. Whatsmore, I think it helpful to consider the risk / return tradeoff in Bellesiles' decision to publish fraudulent work.

It could very easily have turned out that the discrepancies in his work didn't get caught. Its been pointed out that 10 years ago, its very likely that he would have. So, where that leave us. Had this not happened, Bellesiles was well on his way to academic superstardom. He was still young and had just won the most prestigious prize for American history out there. His next book would probably top the bestseller list. He would have been doing very lucrative lecture tours, giving amicus briefs to various federal courts, etc. etc. In short, he would have led a charmed life...based on fraud. In short, when he decided to start fudging numbers, this outcome was also part of his agreed upon set of outcomes. After all, do you feel bad for someone who bought a lottery ticket and didn't win?