Saturday, January 5, 2013

Professors and adjuncts -- inappropriate aggregation watch at Forbes

As a follow-up to Joseph's last post on this much-maligned piece from Susan Adams at Forbes, I'd like to add yet another complaint based on this bit from Adams' post:
As for compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for professors is $62,000, not a huge amount of money but enough to live on, especially in a university town.

Another boon for professors: Universities are expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professors by 2020, according to the BLS. All of those attributes land university professor in the number one slot on‘s list of the least stressful jobs of 2013. 
As I've mentioned before, adjuncts have no job security and work very hard for little more than kind words and Pez (the median being a lot less than 62K). By jumping from a statement about professors to one about professors and adjuncts, Adams is using a variation on the rhetorical deception I call the cigarettes and cocaine argument.

"We just don't have the money for you to keep smoking. Do you realize that between your smoking and my cocaine habit we're spending more than two thousand dollars a week? You're just going to have to give up cigarettes."

The gold standard of the C and C argument is the ever popular case for Social Security reform that goes like this:

I. We have to do something about SS

II. The combined costs of SS and Medicare is projected to be more than a gazillion dollars in the red by twenty-whatever

III. That's why we need to cut/privatize/phase out SS

Of course this is just one of many problems in Adams' piece (as Joseph said, James Joyner does a great job addressing the major flaws here), but inappropriate aggregation is an embarrassingly large part of the public discourse and it supports any number of bad arguments and ill-conceived policies despite being relatively easy to spot and correct.

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