Monday, June 25, 2012

Defensive? But Of Course

My post yesterday on the NYT op-ed that, well, got much wrong about political science went pretty viral--hitting more than one thousand pageviews here and another near 1k over at the Duck.  Pretty cool.  Well, except that I would have preferred that Jacqueline Stevens had not published her piece in the NYT at all.

Anyhow, I got criticized in one or two places as being defensive.  I don't mind getting criticized.  Indeed, (a) it is a social science after all, which means people tell me that I am wrong all the time, and it is my job to try to persuade them otherwise; (b) I am attention hound and admitted narcissist so criticism = attention > being ignored.

My post was hardly perfect or complete.  For instance, I only took issue with Stevens' depiction of positivist political science--I didn't try to defend post-positivist views.  Why?  I know what I am and I know what I am not.  While I would and have supported the hiring of people who do political science in ways that I don't really think of as political science, I only do political science as I conceive of it--as the development of generalized understandings of how the political world works via development and testing of hypotheses with the aim to provide policy implications.

What I do want to take issue with today is something much sillier and yet much more common: the criticism that one is being defensive.  I got that yesterday, and it does not hurt me.  It just annoys me greatly.   It always has annoyed me.  Why?  Because if one is attacked, one has two responses--ignore the attack or defend oneself. So, silence is certainly an option but not really a strength of mine.  Also, silence is often confused with condoning the accusation.  "If you didn't think it was right, why didn't you say anything?"  If you say anything, you are being defensive.  Damned if you, damned if you don't.

Of course, there is being defensive and there is being DEFENSIVE.  I remember one of my first talks at a conference, I tried to reply to every single comment and criticism rather than just picking and choosing a few of the relevant/salient/useful/harmful.  But the simple act of responding to riposte in one's direction to deflect the accusation and perhaps illuminate why the attack is flawed is defensive, right?  Why is being defensive wrong?  The answer: it is not.  If someone tries to spread rumors about you, and you then broadcast your view of the truth, is that problematic?  I think not.

The point of this particular Spew is just to suggest that if your best criticism is that someone is being "defensive," think again.  There are better justifications for dismissing my arguments than that.

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