Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Logrolling and cliques

A good friend of mine, a fellow academic, believes that in the scholarly world one should withhold criticism from one’s friends. In addition, one must unfailingly praise them, even when their opinions are dubious or manifestly wrong. This practice is a form of logrolling.

Logrolling is the exchange of favors or quid pro quo, such as vote trading by legislative members to secure passage of bills of interest to each legislative member. Another category is the "cross quoting" of papers by academics in order to drive up reference counts. The Nuttall Encyclopedia describes log-rolling as "mutual praise by authors of each other's work."

Logrolling may be conducted on an ad hoc or a habitual basis. When the latter--a form of bonding--occurs, the participants belong to a clique. While this social formation may offer satisfaction to the participants, clique status renders them vulnerable to being found out. Such exposure can drastically reduce the benefits of the bonding. Before this happens, though, the gains may seem worth the sacrifice in integrity that acclaiming dubious ideas entails.

In obscure circles, such as the ones my friend and I inhabit, one may get away with cliquish behavior for quite a long time. Still, there is something smarmy about the practice.

The smarminess of habitual or obligatory logrolling becomes easier to detect when international figures practice it. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez goes out of his way to praise Mahmud Ahmedinajad of Iran.

Chávez’s acolytes Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia sing the same tune. For all I know, the latter two do not accept the anti-Semitic views of the Iranian and Venezuelan leaders. But outwardly, they maintain solidarity.

This group is a clique, and a rather transparent one.



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