It was one of the more irony-laden incidents in the history of celebrity social scientists. While in Sweden to receive a $50,000 academic prize as political science professor of the year, Harvard’s Robert D. Putnam, a former Carter administration official who made his reputation writing about the decline of social trust in America in his bestseller Bowling Alone, confessed to Financial Times columnist John Lloyd that his latest research discovery—that ethnic diversity decreases trust and co-operation in communities—was so explosive that for the last half decade he hadn’t dared announce it “until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity, saying it ‘would have been irresponsible to publish without that.’”Two points
In a column headlined “Harvard study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity,” Lloyd summarized the results of the largest study ever of “civic engagement,” a survey of 26,200 people in 40 American communities:
When the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust. ‘They don’t trust the local mayor, they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t trust institutions,’ said Prof Putnam. ‘The only thing there’s more of is protest marches and TV watching.’Lloyd noted, “Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, ‘the most diverse human habitation in human history.’”As if to prove his own point that diversity creates minefields of mistrust, Putnam later protested to the Harvard Crimson that the Financial Times essay left him feeling betrayed, calling it “by two degrees of magnitude, the worst experience I have ever had with the media.” To Putnam’s horror, hundreds of “racists and anti-immigrant activists” sent him e-mails congratulating him for finally coming clean about his findings.
Lloyd stoutly stood by his reporting, and Putnam couldn’t cite any mistakes of fact, just a failure to accentuate the positive. It was “almost criminal,” Putnam grumbled, that Lloyd had not sufficiently emphasized the spin that he had spent five years concocting. Yet considering the quality of Putnam’s talking points that Lloyd did pass on, perhaps the journalist was being merciful in not giving the professor more rope with which to hang himself. For example, Putnam’s line—“What we shouldn’t do is to say that they [immigrants] should be more like us. We should construct a new us”—sounds like a weak parody of Bertolt Brecht’s parody of Communist propaganda after the failed 1953 uprising against the East German puppet regime: “Would it not be easier for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?” [More]
I promise we weren't trying to get him congratulatory emails. If we were, we would have said "Congratulate him."