The Corner

Opposing the Excesses of Liberal Academia Doesn’t Make You ‘Anti-Intellectual’

In response to Homer Motivates

Like Yuval Levin, I object to Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaplan’s description of David Gelernter as “fiercely anti-intellectual.” Gelernter is reportedly being considered for White House science adviser, and Yuval rightly calls him “about the most learned person you can hope to find in the wild.” Indeed, the very article that calls him anti-intellectual lays out a few of his more impressive credentials: 

Gelernter is a pioneer in the field of parallel computation, a type of computing in which many calculations are carried out simultaneously. The programming language he developed in the 1980s, Linda, made it possible to link together several small computers into a supercomputer, significantly increasing the amount and complexity of data that computers can process. Since then he has written extensively about artificial intelligence, critiquing the field’s slow progress and warning of AI’s potential dangers.

So if the man is an pioneer in computer science (In 2016 a Time writer called him an “arch-genius,” but whatever), why is he anti-intellectual? Well, he thinks the academy is too liberal:

Beyond computer science circles, Gelernter has made a name for himself as a vehement critic of modern academia. In his 2013 book, “America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats),” he condemned “belligerent leftists” and blamed intellectualism for the disintegration of patriotism and traditional family values. He attributed the decline in American culture to “an increasing Jewish presence at top colleges.” (Gelernter himself is Jewish.)

Oh, and he offends the bishops in the Cathedral of Climate Change:

But he would be an unusual choice for the role of science adviser. If appointed, he would be the first computer scientist to take the job, and the first adviser who is not a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He has expressed doubt about the reality of man-made climate change — something that 97 percent of active researchers agree is a problem. And his anti-intellectualism makes him an outlier among scientists.

None of this is true “anti-intellectualism.” To decry the modern intellectual elite is to defend and protect intellectual integrity. The modern academy is a narrow place, full of ignorant condescension. To call many members of even the top faculties “intellectuals” is to give them far too much credit. Yes, there are many outstanding and rigorous liberal professors, but all too many of them are ideological radicals first, scholars second. One of their many great cons is persuading gullible reporters and pundits that critiquing their closed and narrow-minded institutions is somehow “anti-intellectual.” 

As if on cue, here comes Andrew Rosenburg from the left-wing Union of Concerned Scientists to be, yes, ignorant and condescending:

Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he hadn’t heard of Gelernter until Tuesday.

“He’s certainly not mainstream in the science community or particularly well known,” Rosenberg said. “His views even on most of the key science questions aren’t known. Considering the huge range of issues the White House needs to consider, I don’t know if he has that kind of capability.”

Gelernter went from “arch-genius” to “anti-intellectual” at the speed of a potential Trump appointment. And to think, pundits wonder why the public often distrusts mainstream media science reporting. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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