23 February 2014

Please Take This Oath of Allegiance

Remember back when the Bush Administration wanted academics to offer an "oath of allegiance" of sorts in order to be considered for a role on an expert advisory committee? Well it appears -- surprise, surprise -- that the Obama Administration does the same sort of thing.

The Washington Post yesterday published an account from Danielle Allen of the Institute for Advanced Study on being approached by the Obama Administration to serve on the National Council on the Humanities:
I was not willing to commit to never criticizing the administration, nor to restricting my publishing agenda to topics that were unlikely to be controversial. There is just no point trying to be a public intellectual if you can’t speak your mind. This requirement was conveyed and discussed through phone calls; I have no written record to prove it. But that was how it went.

Why did the White House want such restrictions? Lawyers told me that the administration didn’t want to have to deal with even one news cycle being overtaken by media frenzy about something some low-level official had said. The administration was trying to survive in our 21st-century media environment.
Back in 2007 when I testified before Congress o the inevitable political nature of the advisory committee process I said the Bush Administration was engaged in "ham-handed information management" (here in PDF). Demanding that an academic refrain from criticizing the Administration or restrict their publishing certainly evokes this same theme.

Efforts to manage what experts can and can not say as advisers to government did not make sense under Bush and they do not make sense under Obama. I wonder if the "war on science" crowd would agree?