Sterling Ambivalence (sterlingnorth) wrote,
Sterling Ambivalence

This message is brought to you by Citizens Against PR Masquerading as Scholarship.

Here's a fun game you can play. (OK, fun has a distinctly different definition here than elsewhere, but bear with me.) Pick up the opinion section of your newspaper and find an article written by a scholar in a politically active field, like any of the energy related sciences or a social science. In the article, make note of how many slogans or slogan-ready phrases your op-ed piece contains. If it takes more than one hand to count such turns of phrases, you're likely reading an article not written by who it says on the byline, but something composed in the offices of a PR shop.

For more fun, try jotting down a particularly catchy phrase and running it through any search-engine of your choice. LexisNexis is nice, but Google should prove more than sufficient for this task. What you're looking for are articles that go through authors like Liz Taylor goes through husbands. You'll likely find the same opinion, using the same words but by different authors submitted to different papers.

It's a dirty secret in this town that lobbying and PR shops often give articles to these people for the purpose of having a respected name, or at least a respected degree appear on these articles. In effect, they're soliciting for the prestige, with which to give the argument more merit. Think of it as the reverse of a student buying a term paper. Instead of a student trying to improve his name from someone else's scholarship, scholarship tries to improve its argument from someone else's name.

Today, the Washington Post has not one, but two pieces in its pages about this form of astroturf PR. I assume that William M. Adler and Stephen Gillers each wrote his own piece. (I doubt that there is such a group as "Citizens Against PR..." sending pieces like that to the country's newspapers. Likewise, I wrote this post, with --I hope -- nothing that would be considered plagiarism. Though if questioned, I'll be in trouble, since I lost all my notes.) Though, this version of astroturf differs from traditional astroturf because volume isn't necessary. In fact, it works best if it doesn't look like a professor is plagiarizing another one. It helps keep bored authors and wannabe pundits from uncovering your ruse.
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