The Washington Post has published an unintentionally amusing article this morning about one Danielle Allen, a “razor-sharp, 36-year-old political theorist” at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. Allen, with doctorates from Cambridge and Harvard, won a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation genius grant a few years ago and now conducts studies at the Institute, where, according to the Post, “she works alongside groundbreaking physicists, mathematicians and social scientists. They don’t have to teach, and they face no quotas on what they publish. Their only mandate is to work in the tradition of Einstein, wrestling with the most vexing problems in the universe.”
And one of the most vexing problems in the universe, which Allen has decided to pursue in the tradition of Einstein, is the origin of a number of e-mails claiming that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Using the advanced research tools at her disposal, the razor-sharp Allen found…a couple of posters on the Free Republic website, plus a former political rival of Obama’s who sends out zillions of e-mails to reporters every day.
The former political rival appears to have been completely open about the stuff he sent out, some of which was based on arguments similar to an op-ed that appeared in the pages of the New York Times. As for Free Republic, according to the Post, Allen “counted 23 freepers among those engaging in regular discussions about Obama’s religion, and isolated a handful whom she began to suspect as having a role in the e-mail. Sifting through hundreds of postings, she began to piece together their identities.”
Allen gave her information to the Post reporter, who used it to track down two allegedly offending freepers, one a 69-year-old retired grandfather in the suburbs of Boston and the other a 60-year-old schoolteacher in rural Washington state. Both said they had nothing to do with the emails. And that’s about it.
But the article has a pretty clear subtext, and it is that the exchange of such information on the Internet should be controlled. “I started thinking, ‘How does one stop it?’” Allen told the Post. “Citizens and political scientists must face the fact that the Internet has enabled a new form of political organization that is just as influential on local and national elections as unions and political action committees…This kind of misinformation campaign short-circuits judgment. It also aggressively disregards the fundamental principle of free societies that one be able to debate one’s accusers.”
Of course, we have laws that regulate the political activities of unions and political action committees. Is it going too far to guess that the scholar from the Institute for Advanced Study might be searching for some way to do the same for Free Republic?