Monday, November 21, 2005

Outstanding achievement in the field of excellence

We wandered over to The Volokh Conspiracy via an amusing Kieran Healy post at Crooked Timber that chronicled a double catch of a dodgy post at the former; once when an allegation of academic misconduct that couldn't be substantiated was made, and second when the post was altered, unflagged, to remove the allegation. Anyway, scrolling up from the multiply altered post, we came to the eponymous conspirator complaining about one particular aspect of the coverage of California death row inmate Stanley Williams:

Many stories about Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the co-founder of the Crips gang who was convicted of having "shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles" note that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature (for writing children's books warning children against becoming gang members) ...

Any social science, history, philosophy, law, and theology professor, judge, or legislator in any country (plus a few others) can nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize (past nominees, just in 1901-1951, included Hitler, Stalin, and Molotov). Any literature or linguistics professor can nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize in Literature. Naturally, many nominees have real merit; but that someone has been nominated by one of likely hundreds of thousands of potential nominees is little evidence of such merit ... And in any event, wouldn't it have been helpful -- both to listeners and to the victim's daughter -- if the stories that mentioned Williams' nominations had stressed how unselective the nomination process really is?

This is a commendable standard, because there are indeed other cases where people have cited a Nobel prize nomination as a credential. Consider for instance the case of the already-dead Terri Schiavo, as analyzed by Fox News thug Sean Hannity:

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: As we continue on "Hannity and Colmes," I'm Sean Hannity. Right now, we're broadcasting live outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo is right now. Of course, her feeding tube has not been reinserted as of this point. Joining us now is Dr. Bill Hammesfahr. And Dr. Hammesfahr, thanks for being with us.
DR. BILL HAMMESFAHR: Thanks for having me.
HANNITY: You were nominated for a Nobel Prize in medicine?
HANNITY: In 1999? For your work...
HAMMESFAHR: ... in patients like Terri. For brain injury and stroke patients. We discovered how you get these people better, and we did it for 10 years with Medicare. We got evaluated by the state of Florida and we first discovered a technique that works in people like Terri


HANNITY: Doctor, wait a minute. I've got to get this straight here. You were nominated to get a Nobel Peace Prize in this very work. Are you saying that this woman could be rehabilitated?
HAMMESFAHR: Absolutely.
HANNITY: Could she talk one day?
HANNITY: Then how is it possible we're in this position if you have examined her, you were up for a Nobel Prize. I -- this is mind boggling to me.
HAMMESFAHR: I don't understand it myself. You know, this is a -- this is a case of a terrible error that's happened and it's a grievous case.


HANNITY: Well, this is what I want to understand. This is your area of expertise that got you nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in medicine, the Nobel Prize.

Note the extra piece of buffoonery in Hannity's reference to a non-existent prize, the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine. One suspects that in the context of the Williams case, the Fox News clarity on the meaning of a Nobel nomination will sharply increase.

UPDATE: A by-the-way remark; it seems that the first issue mentioned above in the Crooked Timber post is just another manifestation of the Intelligent Design pseudo-science dispute, because the hastily withdrawn accusation was levelled at P.Z. Myers, apparently based on his highly critical views on I.D. Freestater explains why Irish readers should care about this debate. And Volokh's point about the dubiousness of a Nobel nomination credential is bouncing around the blogosphere now, big play from Pajamas/Open Source Media and Glenn Reynolds (not a coincidence, of course).

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