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Science fascist

‘Postmodern’ persecution complexes

The preposterous Steve Fuller ((Author of a risibly poor book called Dissent over Descent, which I reviewed here.)) denounces the recently deceased mathematician Norman Levitt as a “science fascist”. ((Via Ben Goldacre.)) Is a science fascist someone like Josef Mengele? Apparently not: Levitt’s crime was merely to have argued strongly against the “postmodernists” (among whose number Fuller counts himself) in what are sometimes called the science wars. ((In particular, Levitt called one of Fuller’s books “a truly miserable piece of work, crammed with errors scientific, historical, and even theological”. Fuller now claims that Levitt’s criticisms were “so badly off the mark” that he “never deemed it appropriate to respond formally”: a curious turn of phrase since, formally or otherwise, Fuller did in fact respond in the same forum that printed Levitt’s original review, and Levitt responded to the response. Readers may judge for themselves who came out better from that exchange.)) Lest we imagine that Fuller is merely abusing the term fascist in the well-known manner of lazy idiots everywhere, ((See Unspeak, p.150.)) he goes on to round out his devastating historical analogy:

I believe that Levitt’s ultimate claim to fame may rest on his having been as a pioneer of cyber-fascism, whereby a certain well-educated but (for whatever reason) academically disenfranchised group of people have managed to create their own parallel universe of what is right and wrong in matters of science, which is backed up (at least at the moment) by nothing more than a steady stream of invective. Their resentment demands a scapegoat — and ‘postmodernists’ function as Jews had previously.

You may charitably suppose that for a comfortably employed academic — one perfectly free to make a monumental fool of himself in his books, in courtrooms, and on the internet — to arrogate to himself and his “postmodernist” colleagues ((Many of whom, of course, are far more intellectually respectable than Steve Fuller.)) the kind of suffering historically experienced by Jews is merely a tasteless slip. Not at all! When challenged in comments, Fuller expands upon the “idea” still further:

I did not have the Holocaust in mind, since as far as I know Levitt didn’t even succeed in exterminating an idea, let alone an entire population. (I may be disrespectful but I’m not crazy!) You may recall that the Nazis scapegoated the Jews for all sorts of problems besetting Germany for nearly 20 years before exterminating them. It’s that orchestrated Anti-Semitism that is the basis of my comparison with the treatment of postmodernists, who ever since the end of the Cold War have been scapegoated for every public and policy ill that seems to have befallen the scientific community. ((Personally, I will never forget how, when the Large Hadron Collider broke down last year, the fascist cry went up around the world that it was all the fault of the postmodernists.)) I actually think the comparison is very apt.

How apt do you think the comparison is, readers?

  1. 1  andrew  November 2, 2009, 9:44 am 

    is an internet comment flame not unlike a cattle train transpprting bloodied yet unbowed academics to the work camps?
    Is a heated email not equivalent to a bullet to the back of the head in some Polish forest?
    Is an angry blog post not akin to the warsaw ghetto and a snippy reply a veritable Uprising?
    No. Not even a little bit.
    Has this man suffered so little that he equates his hurt feelings to an actual pogrom? Man, he is going to rrequire therapy the first time he gets haemorrhoids.

  2. 2  Martin Hollis  November 2, 2009, 10:03 am 

    If I hate you, you must be evil. Therefore you are a fascist.

    Seems watertight to me.

  3. 3  Katherine Farmar  November 2, 2009, 11:13 am 

    You may recall that the Nazis scapegoated the Jews for all sorts of problems besetting Germany for nearly 20 years before exterminating them.

    Hence the utter disappearance of the Jewish people and the non-existence of the state of Israel oh wait.

    Has nobody told Fuller about Godwin’s Law? Comparing things to the Nazis is almost never a good idea.

  4. 4  Leinad  November 2, 2009, 12:08 pm 

    Aren’t we all tired of word-nazis like Steven and his einsatzgruppen drawn from the snarkofascist Crooked Timber-AaroWatch-Dsquared axis goosestepping their way all over the Internets denouncing, Goebbels-like, those few free-thinking souls who challenge their dogma that words like fascist, nazi etc mean something and must be ruthlessly guarded against impurities lest they be diluted?

  5. 5  Leinad  November 2, 2009, 12:09 pm 

    addendum: we are all Steve Fuller now.

  6. 6  Torquil Macneil  November 2, 2009, 1:57 pm 

    “Has nobody told Fuller about Godwin’s Law? Comparing things to the Nazis is almost never a good idea.”

    You are right, but it has nothing to do with Godwin’s law which is neatral on the value of Nazi analogies.

  7. 7  Freshly Squeezed Cynic  November 2, 2009, 3:55 pm 

    Fuller in grave-pissing trollery shocker; the postmodernist is the Jew of science fascism.

    What I love is the use of “science” rather than “scientific”. Scientific as a word suggests use of some kind of process that we would regard as empirical and generally A Good Thing; “science” however, (or even better, “Science”) assumes some kind of monolith that could be described as “science”, an ivory lab-coated tower perhaps?

  8. 8  Dave Weeden  November 2, 2009, 4:32 pm 

    Fuller didn’t just call Levitt a cyber-fascist (an odd term, since some of the Levitt-Fuller antagonism took place outside cyberspace), and a ‘science fascist’, he called him in comment 37 a ‘fascist’. He also said that Levitt “sent a lot of humanists and social scientists back into the closet!” Which seems an odd comparison, to say the least. Besides Fuller being the supporter of religion dressed as science in the Dover trial, he is now concerned about ‘humanists’ – by which I think he means “people with degrees in the humanities.” Because surely Levitt was a humanist by the dictionary definition. I like how, by imputing timidity to his fancied legions of fellow-thinkers, Fuller arrogates courage to himself. He, and he alone, dare speak the truth to science.

    I suppose I should be quite smug that I hold the dubious honour of having written the last comment before Fuller closed the thread. Fuller still hasn’t explained where his own special interpretation of Nick Matzke’s post came from.

  9. 9  hellblazer  November 3, 2009, 2:29 am 

    I’ve been meaning to add a constructive, or entertaining comment, but reading that comment thread brings down a red mist and all I can come up with is “Fuller, you bell-end…”

    I like (in the sense of laugh desparingly) the way that, despite a mathematician popping up to point out that Fuller wasn’t exactly a failure in his own field seeking to compensate by kneecapping other domains, Fuller presses ahead in his boneheaded closing posts with saying:

    the most we have seen here are apologetic remarks about Levitt’s apparent failure to live up to his early promise, and that such is often the fate of mathematicians

    The worst thing is that, although I haven’t read Gross & Levitt, I’m not yet convinced that the case made in his name against Teh Evilz of Postmodernism is all that. I suspect many scholars/researchers who think that this Muscular Empiricism is overconfident or overblown, must be appalled that someone of Fuller’s crassness and apparent inability to read/parse is claiming to be `on their side’.

    Meh. I guess you could sum up my blathering above with one of dsquared’s earlier comments, which was put rather more nicely.

  10. 10  hellblazer  November 3, 2009, 2:33 am 

    Random thought: what’s the right word, or phrase to describe certain people online (Fuller, Moir) who seem to think that just because they attract criticism and opprobrium, that means they’re the victim of a witch-hunt? Something about taking all the credit for one’s success and denying all responsibility for one’s foot-on-rake missteps.

  11. 11  Stiif  November 3, 2009, 9:41 am 

    @ Hellblazer

    He has illusions of grandeur? (If he really thinks he is the victim of a witch hunt) Or he’s just a very opportunist twat. (If he tries to gain advantage by stating he is)

  12. 12  Steven  November 3, 2009, 11:22 am 

    I think dsquared’s very useful rules for contrarians apply here too.

  13. 13  Dave Weeden  November 3, 2009, 3:59 pm 

    Blimey, have you seen Fuller’s latest? “I also suspect that politicians are becoming more informed about the sociology of science, which teaches not only that uncertainty is always present in science but also that the overall weight of scientific opinion can shift drastically with the appearance of a few well-supported studies. Imagine if Nutt got his way, and then as a conscientious scientist he was forced to change his mind six months later in light of new evidence, and then government policy changed alongside it.” But uncertainty, and ways of dealing with it, has been addressed since scholastic philosophy, if not before. Approaches to uncertainly are taught at undergraduate level if not to school students. Who hasn’t heard of ‘best fit’ curves? Data from measurement is almost never clean. No one serious needs the sociology of science to teach them about uncertainly.

    And I find it very hard to believe that after so many people (including myself) have taken cannabis, etc – after in other words, many, many thousands of experiments with drugs – that one new study can overthrow so much evidence. That’s not how science works. I know bout paradigm shifts – physics at the end of the 19th century, plate tectonics, etc; health isn’t remotely similar.

  14. 14  hardindr  November 3, 2009, 4:01 pm 

    Fuck Steve Fuller

  15. 15  flyte  November 3, 2009, 4:09 pm 

    Taking into account Steven’s footnote 3 and Dave Weeden’s comment 8 – isn’t Steve Fuller just a liar?

  16. 16  Steven  November 4, 2009, 11:32 am 

    Oh no, I’m sure he believes everything he says.

  17. 17  Roger Juanson  November 4, 2009, 4:14 pm 

    You might be interested in this discussion of Fuller’s obituary in Talking Philosophy. It includes quotes and a video from Levitt.

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