Eduwonkette or Jennifer Jennings, Makes No Difference

I’m glad that Eduwonkette decided to end her anonymity and identify herself as Jennifer Jennings, a sociology graduate student at Columbia University.  I’m not glad because I think it was inherently wrong for her to blog anonymously.  As I’ve previously written: “The issue is not who Eduonkette is, but whether she is right or not.  Knowing who she is does not make her evidence or arguments any more or less compelling.” 

The problem was that Eduwonkette did not share my belief in the principle that we should focus on the veracity rather than the source of claims.  She repeatedly emphasized the credibility of the source of information.  Emphasizing the credibility of sources while blogging anonymously, preventing analysis of her own credibility, was logically untenable and had to end.  I wished that she would end this inconsistency by embracing the view that ideas are true or false independent of their sources.  Instead she has resolved her inconsistency by ending her anonymity.

Now that we know that Eduwonkette is Jennifer Jennings we can see another prominent example of the logical inconsistency of blogging anonymously while focusing on the credibility of sources.  In 2005 Jennings published an article in the American Educational Research Journal that argued that accountability systems encouraged schools to focus on the achievement of “bubble” students — those close to an achievement cutoff — at the expense of high and low achieving students.  She arrived at this conclusion after visiting a school in Texas and observing it for a period of time.  She was aided in drawing this conclusion by using jargon like “neoinstituionalism” and “normative isomorphism,” but I kind of zoned out during that part of the article.  I’m guessing that neoinstitutionalism is bad following my theory that anything starting with “neo” is supposed to be bad while anything starting with “post” is supposed to be good.

A few years later Matthew Springer published articles in Education Next and in the Economics of Education Review that empirically examine Jennings’ claim of “educational triage.”  The Education Next piece actually began with a lengthy quote from Jennings’ article as a foil for its findings that NCLB accountability improved the achievement of “bubble” students, but not at the expense of lower and higher achieving students.

Jennings then took-on her critic, Springer, but she did so as the anonymous blogger Eduwonkette, never revealing that she was attacking the person who criticized her own research.  And her first argument against Springer was that his work was published in Education Next and “Education Next is not a scholarly journal.”  Jennings targets the source of the critique of her own work while concealing her identity to prevent analysis of her as a source.  The irony is too rich.

Why Jennings did not just focus on the version of the paper published in Economics of Education Review or the unabridged version linked to on Education Next, , which would have been free of the unscholarly taint she perceives in Education Next,  is unclear.  It was obviously important for her to discredit Springer’s argument against her own study by attacking the credibility of Education Next as the source of Springer’s argument — all the while preventing assessment of her credibility by doing all of this anonymously.

Let me be clear that I have no problem with Jennings defending her own work anonymously.  Her arguments against Springer are true or false regardless of who she says or doesn’t say she is.  My point is that by arguing her own case anonymously, Jennings betrays the principles that she appears to endorse.  Namely, if the source of information is important in assessing claims, it would clearly be inappropriate to attack your critic without revealing who you are. 

Even now that Jennings has revealed her identity, I hope that she abandons her reliance on assessing the source of claims.  Doing so would justify her past actions and help us move forward in analyzing ideas rather than analyzing people and motives.

6 Responses to Eduwonkette or Jennifer Jennings, Makes No Difference

  1. matthewladner says:

    Any of the reviewers for the AERJ read Campbell and Stanley? Threats to internal and external validity ring a bell?

    Anyone? Anyone?

    Bueller?

  2. Stuart Buck says:

    “Education Next is not a scholarly journal.”

    As compared to AERJ? Hmmm.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Her contention that Education Next is not a scholarly journal sort of vitiates her enormous investment in the importance of peer review, doesn’t it?

    I mean, she can say something like, “The peer review at Education Next doesn’t make it a scholarly journal because they only pick their peer reviewers from like-minded people who share their worldview and will thus usually return the verdicts that Education Next wants.”

    And if she said something like that, she’d be right. But the same goes on at every other peer-reviewed journal. That’s how peer review works.

    (It’s true that there are a handful of really big discipline-wide journals, like APSR, that just from their sheer size can’t help but include a variety of worldviews among their peer reviewers. But the selection of worldviews that’s available is still hand-picked by the journals’ editors. The fundamental problem remains the same.)

    The point is not that peer review is bad, just that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Although I disagree with her (transparently silly) assessment that Education Next isn’t scholarly, I agree with her (implicit) stance that having been peer reviewed doesn’t make a study or article scholarly. I just wish she applied that position consistently.

  4. Patrick says:

    You all may disagree but I was talking to my friend back in Oklahoma last night who is taking a sociology class and I remarked to her how I thought sociology was a subject where a lot of smart people studied really stupid things. They tend to get caught up in “social justice” and “income equality” and become concerned about made up words like heteronormativity.

    Sociology has been, in my experience, a petri dish for rabid socialists. In fact, I’ve seen studies that have looked at the political leanings of different departments and sociology (and anthropology) tend to be the ones who lean toward big government the most.

    As far as APSR is concerned I’ve seen some really stupid articles in there. One Ivy League professor wrote theorizing that we could save American democracy by restricting the Senate to the rich, the House to the poor, and randomly selecting a tribunate from the citizens who get one vote in a year to veto a law passed by Congress.

  5. […] Jennifer Jennings.  The whole thing kind of speaks for itself and folks like Jay Greene have been quick to point out episodes where she tried to have more than one bite at the apple.   Though I suspect […]

  6. Sock Puppet says:

    […] allow people to write anonymously under their good name, they make it clear that you can’t do stuff like this. Apparently […]

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