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August 24, 2015


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William D. Markle

Ok. I am convinced. Goffman lied, at the very least failed to conduct careful research. Both are serious failings.


Ha. Nicely done, Prof. Lubet. It's absurd that you should have to argue these points, and it's even more absurd that Goffman's defenders will be unbowed, but many of us are grateful to you for the persistence.


Ok. Let's stipulate that academia gave AG a bunch of accolades for a piece of fiction posing as "science."

Are there other examples in our culture of this problem? Shouldn't ethnographers be studying the reason that truth is playing a decreasing role in our culture (politics, especially), and looking into the reasons that the substitutes for "reasoned analysis" are reverting to the lowest forms of group association?

Steve, time to put AG in a larger context. You've made the point about her book.

Derek Tokaz


As a composition professor, this is something that's been on my mind a lot lately as I've been working on my syllabus for the Fall.

I think one of the main causes for people giving such little credence to the truth is that in academia we tend to see scholarship as a one-way street. I'm speaking mostly about student writing, though some effects will flow through to articles written by professors.

If you take the typical undergraduate essay, the student will write it, turn it into their professor, and then one of two things happens. (1) they get a grade back and a few comments, and that's the end of it; or (2) they get a grade back and a few comments, revise the paper slightly (mostly line edits, nothing major) and return it for a marginally improved grade. What doesn't happen is a genuine back and forth on the ideas. I've had classes, even at the graduate level, where the professor didn't even know my topic until I handed in the paper.

In this environment, you're taught to value certain things like organization, paragraph structure, emulating the sounds of academics, and getting citations in the correct format. What you aren't taught to value is getting it right.



In legal academia, add "celebrity" ... Law profs value, above all else, "placement" and "prestige" and the judges of the content are, in a stunning reversal of what you've described, naïve, inexperienced, untrained students, who, like the profs, value "placement" and "prestige" (of the author) almost above all else.

But, I had in mind the ethnography that Lubet has been obsessing about. He has shown that it is subject to delusions, valuing a "good story" above any sense of truth (again, give AG a break here, and just consider her maturity and level of life experience, training, education etc. in undertaking her "project").

I am seriously proposing that ethnographers, rather than seeking to confirm their elitist world view by means of fictional accounts of imaginary events, should actually examine the reason that this attitude has become so pervasive.

There was a time when "truthiness" was funny. Now, not so much, as folks are generally sensing that this tactic is ubiquitous and not limited to "them."

I, for one, would be far more interested in this than the fiction of AG.

And, BTW, Steve, AD at Harvard has been speaking about "testilying" for a very long time. There is nothing new here, and there is a culture there that merits examination. I don't disagree that uninformed imagining and creative writing is not proof or evidence of anything. However, there is an issue there, as I believe you would agree?

Derek Tokaz


I think Jon Stewart nailed it when he described the two primary biases in journalism. It's not left/right liberal/conservative political type biases. The biggest biases in media are sensationalism and laziness.

I suspect you'll find that holding up for ethnography, law, and any number of other fields, though with a loose definition of 'sensationalism' (such as you suggest, the desire for celebrity).


I referred to the term "truthiness" (that was Colbert's term) not to laud or praise or even make relevant that style of "news," but rather as term to describe a belief in the "truth" of something because of one's group affiliation and "feelings" of truth.

Nigel Paneth MD

The component of the story that I find most difficult to credit is the accusation of hospital collaboration with police in arrests, both in emergency rooms and, even more unlikely, in maternity services. Goffman apparently refuses to name the Philadelphia hospitals, but as someone who worked for several years in large urban hospitals, including especially city hospitals, these stories do not ring true, largely because the medical/nursing culture of large city hospital would not accommodate such police violations. The largest component of staff in big city hospitals are residents of the same inner city neighborhoods that Goffman's arrestees come from. Many doctors and nurses self-select for their concern for minority health to work in large city hospitals. They spend a lot of time protecting their patients from all sorts of outside agencies, including the police if necessary. While I do know of occasional arrests by police in emergency rooms of suspects who sought care after being injured in crimes, these rare episodes are immediately around the time of the crime. I suspect that interviewing staff/directors of labor and delivery units and emergency rooms in the large Philadelphia hospitals (there are not that many) would not confirm these accusations of the kind of collusion with the police described.

terry malloy

HIPAA is taken quite seriously by hospital staff. My mother was a VA nurse for 40 years, and HIPAA violations were a third rail.

Running the visitor list against outstanding warrants may not implicate HIPPA, as the visitors are not likely covered as patients. However, this practice would be so strange that hospital staff would recall and likely object. I know my mother, as a triage nurse in a busy ER, wouldn't let that happen.


It's getting to the point where I feel like I'd benefit from a bulleted list of significant flaws in the book. There have been so many articles, so many updates, so many accusations -- hard to keep them straight, at this point.

Derek Tokaz

Looks like the show's over. An Honest Scholar^TM has weighed in and said all this is quite underwhelming. And I'm pretty sure he's an authority on being underwhelming, so you'd better listen to him.

Tom T.

Also consider the instances where a statement by the police would be expected but is lacking. She claims at one point that someone was shot while getting out of her car, with blood spraying across her seats. This is apparently only one line in the book, and she never comes back to this event. Was there a police report about the shooting? Was she interviewed as a witness? Was her car examined as evidence? Or did she simply flee? Some of these questions ought to be answerable, and the fact that there is no record seems like a significant gap.

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