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The Spirit Level's authors should stop whinging

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-08-14 at 08.40.38 There being no dominant political story today - as Audit Commission bosses reel from being sacked by Eric Pickles, and the Treasury limbers up for its next tussles over Trident and welfare - it's time to turn to the Guardian.  The paper clears space today for Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors of the Spirit Level, to complain that their work is being savaged.  The report cites the Taxpayers Alliance, Policy Exchange, and Toby Young and Ed West of the Daily Telegraph.

According to the Guardian -

"Wilkinson was shocked by what he believes is part of a worrying trend in political discourse, also happening in the US, where a few people, often attached to right wing institutes, have set themselves up as professional wreckers of ideas. "Do they even believe what they are saying?" he said today. "I suppose it doesn't matter if their claims are right or wrong; it is about sowing doubt in people's minds."

But think-tanks and journalists can't wreck ideas.  They can only test them in the court of opinion, which is as it should be.  The jury (that's to say, the public)  is more than capable of making up its own mind.  Furthermore, it's deeply insulting  - as well as wrong - to suggest that Policy Exchange and the Taxpayers' Alliance don't believe in their own work.  What would the Spirit Level authors say if the same was said of them?

In sum, Wilkinson and Pickett's arguments are either strong enough to bear scrutiny, or they're not.  If they want to play the game, they must expect to be tackled.  (And both think-tanks were operating well within the rules.)  If our sensitive academics can't cope on the pitch, they should return to the dressing room - and take an early bath.


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