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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

There's muck-raking, and then there's muck-bulldozing.

It may not surprise anyone that during a recent perusal of Conservapedia, I happened to run across this tidbit of "breaking news:"

For those who can't read the tiny type, or don't want to click the image to enlarge, it reads:

Think atheistic, elite professors should have more power? A tenured Ivy League professor just admitted that he killed his wife, and then falsely made it look like a burglary. The article did not disclose his religious views, but did say he will receive a light prison sentence "of no more than seven years" for his crime.

A few points:

(1) The story in question states that Dr. Rafael Robb of the University of Pennsylvania is believed to have killed his wife. He claims that he did so during an argument about their child's education. Additionally, the marriage of 16 years was apparently in the process of breaking up. This isn't to excuse anything, but the background is useful. It isn't like he hired a hitman or anything.

(2) Dr. Robb, having killed his wife, did try to make it look like a burglary, but apparently did a poor job. This implies that, no, the murder itself was not premeditated.

(3) While a 7-year sentence does, indeed, seem quite short, it's worth noting that the prosecutors decided to go for manslaughter since the evidence was highly circumstantial and getting a murder conviction would be improbable. Most likely they negotiated a plea agreement where Robb would confess to the manslaughter in exchange for avoiding a murder trial. In other words, this isn't favoritism so much as taking the best bet available.

(4) The article does not, in fact, say anything about Robb's religion. At the very least, a cursory web search reveals that Ellen Robb, the victim, was probably a Methodist. Does this mean that Rafael Robb was a Methodist as well? Not necessarily but it's quite possible. He did deliver the eulogy at her funeral in the Radnor United Methodist Church. More importantly, however, why does it matter? Are atheists the only people who commit crimes of passion? No. Do atheists commit the most crimes of passion in absolute terms? Impossible, given how few exist in the population at large. Do atheists commit a disproportionate number of crimes of passion? I'm going to guess... no.

(5) Dr. Robb was a... wait for it... economist. Nothing against economists, some of my best friends are economists, but as a general rule aren't most economists... conservative? Couldn't we re-write the headline as "Think conservative, elite professors should have more power?"

(6) Could Conservapedia possibly make itself look any more ridiculous?

Wait, don't answer that.

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Blogger Tom Bozzo said...

Aw, shucks...

Since I'm less likely to ruffle feathers regarding this story here than at my place, I can say that my first thought was surprise that it wasn't the econ professor getting bludgeoned.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 2:09:00 PM  
Blogger jeremy said...

More econ professors voted for Kerry than Bush (, so it's not the case that economists actually are conservative so much as they have a degree of political heterogeneity that is nearly unfathomable to sociologists.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 5:43:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 7:53:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Good point, Jeremy. At the same time, though, Bush vs. Kerry may not be the best test of the views of economists. As economic policy goes, Bush has been... interesting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 8:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I was going to comment on this post, and the professor killing his wife, but I ended up going to conservapedia myself (for the first time - so, geez, thanks for that), and suddenly I'm just at a loss. Isn't this just too easy? I mean, you've got more bloggin' skillz than to be picking on poor conservapedia. You could pick the random page link and do a whole wackiness-a-week feature..

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 8:29:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Berta's Fundamental Law of Economic Rents.. "The only thing more dangerous than an amateur economist is a professional economist."

Thursday, November 29, 2007 1:55:00 PM  

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