A single-cause theory of single-cause theories

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Fri, 21 Apr 1995 00:52:23 -0500

The discussion started by Carter Pate and Diane King leads me to reveal
another one of academia's "dirty little secrets": The existence of
competing single-cause theories is a vital link in the chain of academic

The world of publish or perish can easily lead to desperation. If you
really buy into the system (and I don't, but that's another thread), you
must develop a strategy that guarantees publication and gives the aura of
wisdom at the same time. Of course, the best strategy probably would be
to have something worthwhile to say at frequent intervals--but NOBODY can
do that often enough to satisfy the tenure/promotion/salary increment
game. (Yeah, I know you saved the world LAST year, but what have you
done lately?)

The alternate strategy accounts for a helluva lot of publication. When
you CAN'T think of anything worthwhile to say, what you can do is find
two opposing and conflicting single-cause explanations and go from
there. Step 1: Present the opposing views. Step 2: Present a set of
empirical data (preferably from fieldwork, but any data will do in a
pinch.) Step 3: Attempt to explain the data with each of the opposing
views in turn. Step 4: Show what you have to leave unexplained if you
take Position A that would be explained by Position B, and vice versa.
Step 5: Come down firmly in favor of the middle by saying BOTH
approaches are necessary, and neither is sufficient. Step 6: Submit for

There is, of course, a minimal sub-strategy involved here: if you don't
want to take the trouble to go through steps 1 through 6, you do a simple
Step 7: Write a brief answer to the one who published using the first
six steps. In your answer, point out that both the dichotomy and the
author's suggested solution are too simplistic for application to the
real world.

I say this is one of our dirty little secrets because it's the best
explanation I've found for an awful lot of what passes for profundity in
anthropological publications. But please don't let anybody know that I
was the one who revealed the secret to the uninitiated!

-- mike salovesh <salovesh@niu.edu>