Take that, you pesky microfascists…

December 12th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, postmodernist bollocks | 89 Comments »

You may remember this little skirmish with the post-modernist posse, where evidence based medicine and the Cochrane library were described as fascist projects.


It’s not entirely clear to me if this is a very elaborate joke, but it would appear that someone has bravely published responses to blog commenters in a scholarly academic article. In fact, as far as I can tell from the abstract below, someone has taken it upon themselves to respond to you blog commenters, in a scholarly academic article. [Edit: oh my god, somebody has sent me the pdf, they quote you and they use your silly made up screen names, it’s like reading academic critique in a parallel fairy tale universe]

Archie Cochrane (left, with stylish Spanish gentleman) as a captain in the International Brigade c.1936.

If true this is surely the best Christmas present ever.

Scientists, postmodernists or fascists?
Professor Alan Pearson RN MSc PhD FAAG FRCN1,2
International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare
Volume 4 Issue 4 Page 385 – December 2006
Volume 4 Issue 4



The somewhat frenzied reaction to publication of a provocative, discursive paper titled ‘Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism’ by Holmes et al. in the International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare is both surprising and worrying. The paper is essentially a postmodernist critique of evidence-based healthcare. In the same issue of the journal in which the paper was published both the guest editorial and a response to the paper refute its claims. However, media coverage on the paper gave rise to numerous defensive responses that attacked the paper through claiming it represents ‘bad science’ or by disparaging the International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare, its Editor, its peer review processes or the organisation linked to the journal, the Joanna Briggs Institute. It is clear that those who mounted these attacks had no knowledge of the journal (or of the editorial and response refuting the claims made in the paper, published in the same issue) or its parent organisation; and none of them attempted to critique the paper in a scholarly fashion. This paper sets out to construct a scholarly argument to refute these claims and to consider why it is that those who support evidence-based healthcare and/or science chose to disparage a journal and an organisation that promotes and facilitates evidence-based approaches to healthcare – and the value of the Cochrane Collaboration – rather than developing a rigorous critique of the argument developed in the Holmes et al. paper. Although this response appears to be an attempt to silence dissenting views (and may, to some, suggest that the reference to microfascism in the paper in question may, indeed, have some validity) we conclude that the postmodernist critique of evidence-based healthcare embodied in the paper sets out criticisms that, though widespread in healthcare, can be challenged in a considered, scholarly way. The ill-informed, reactionary responses to it by the defenders of science make little contribution to the ongoing development of evidence to improve global health.

[If anyone can get a full copy of the article I’d very much like to see it. Fingers crossed that the whole thing is as good as the last sentence of that abstract!]

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

89 Responses

  1. Neil Desperandum said,

    December 13, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    There’s another quote from that Katz memorial link that might help.

    A.V Hill about an exchange with Nazi ex-scientist Johannes Stark: “Laughter is the best detergent for nonsense.”

    So let’s just continue to take the piss.

  2. Neil Desperandum said,

    December 13, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    Cheddar Gorge hasn’t got very far.

    Dear big

  3. potentilla said,

    December 13, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    Come on guys, can’t you see what is going on here? The scholarly paper response, in the bit about you, is mostly complaining that you are dissing the journal. That’s because the guy who wrote the article publishes in it: here he is; and is generally involved with the Joanna Briggs Institute. Here’s the journal.

    Deconstructed, his article says “I am a respectable scientific academic publishing in respectable scientific journals and you’re all very mean to doubt it”.

  4. potentilla said,

    December 13, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    Let’s try that again (no preview funtion?). Here he is.

  5. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 13, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    heh, good fun commentary from the wonderful ophelia benson of the wonderful butterflies and wheels


  6. Dr Aust said,

    December 13, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    Neil quoted:

    “A.V Hill about an exchange with Nazi ex-scientist Johannes Stark: “Laughter is the best detergent for nonsense.””

    Yes, I was going to use that one too, Neil.

    Spot on about taking the piss. A “serious scholarly critique” is an appropriate response to a serious article. The appropriate response to a load of bollocks is a good blog-pasting. The editor’s self-justification was actually rather nervy when he was trying to explain why it had been courageous (?) to publish the full version of the Holmes paper.

    Speaking as an editor, even if he wanted to “inaugurate the debate” he should have started by telling them to come back when they had written a version which stated the essential ideas clearly and without exaggeration, untruths and polemic – in about 20% as many words.

    BTW, if anyone is interested in reading more about Bernard Katz and his life a good intro is David Colquhoun’s appreciation at:


  7. Melissa said,

    December 14, 2006 at 4:50 am

    Is it even possible to write postmodernist deconstructions without using unnecessarily obfuscatory linguistic shenanigans?

    I suppose that if you distill away their verbiage, all they’re left with is, “Nah-nah, we’re right and you’re wrong! Down with everything! Fascists!!!” It’s like listening to Rick from “The Young Ones.”

  8. JQH said,

    December 14, 2006 at 8:16 am

    Has it occurred to anybody that the rest of academia has ignored their obscurantist rant? That’s the only possible reason why they have responded to “unscholarly” bloggers. They certainly don’t like criticism. Melissa’s comparison with “The Young Ones” is spot on. They’re just bouncing up and down shouting “EVERYBODY SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME!”

  9. simongates said,

    December 14, 2006 at 9:14 am

    re #58. Good point. I work in evidence based health care and I can honestly say that I haven’t heard any reaction at all to this article from the wider academic community. There has been some reaction from people I know because I’ve sent it to them so they can have a good laugh. They have universally had the same response to it: (a) what on earth are they on about? (b) are they serious? (c) this was in a scientific journal???

  10. Laurence said,

    December 14, 2006 at 11:53 am

    I think the editorial of the journal and Alan Pearson can be excused for feeling a little peeved at some of the original comments – which are quoted in this subsequent article. There was a lot of bluster and aspersions were thrown at the journal (which certainly appears in Sheffield University’s library) without any real sense of perspective. Perhaps there’s some sense of insecurity behind the sheer volume of some of the comments?

    I’m as concerned for good sense in research as anyone, and would certainly oppose any attempt to use qualitative/quantitative positivist/constructionist arguments as a back door through which to sneak in abusive and nonsensical quack healthcare notions. But some of the more excitable comments about “postmodernism” (whatever that might mean in each of our personal definitions) seem to be going overboard and forgetting that not everything about human beings can be understood, explored, and explained, in terms of numbers and quasi-experimental methods.

    Calling people who insist on blind trials fascists does no good to the sum of human wisdom. But then, nor does immediate dismissal of any other methodology or paradigm in any subject. But then I suppose, this is the internet, and it’s the place for letting off steam! We all get a little braver and more excitable in the virtual world.

  11. ceec said,

    December 14, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    #60 I agree – the problem with the new article is that it quotes the blogs completely out of context. I went back to the original thread and had a look to see how many posts were dismissive of postmodernism etc. and how many were broadly supportive. Anyone with some time on their hands can count them, but there were quite a lot of supportive posts (not supporting the paper, necessarily, but noting the value of using a post-modernist approach). The discussion of the quality of the journal was an adjunct to that broader discussion, not the focus of it. In fact, around the remarks quoted in the new paper, there were others which were contradictory which were omitted. The author simply cherry-picked quotes out of context to suit the argument of the paper. While this is common practice for journalists, it’s rather frowned upon in academic circles.

    To claim, as the article does, that this blog is somehow part of a wider tendency to disallow anything other than establishment voices from comment on evidence-based medicine is not even based on the content of the blog itself, and manages to do exactly what it is complaining about i.e. silencing contradictory voices.

    The editor obviously thinks it’s a good idea to print “other perspectives” in the journal – and this is laudable. The problem is that he/she was unable to identify that this was a very crap article on the subject full of error and hyperbole. It would be interesting to know who it was sent to for peer review (if it was peer-reviewed).

  12. superburger said,

    December 14, 2006 at 12:59 pm


    A journal, claiming to be serious peer reviewed healthcare journal, publishes an article which describes the Cohchrane library as inter alia, fascist. It also contains inaccuracies and fallacies which should not have escaped competent non-ideological editors (see, for example, the original badscience column)

    “The classification of scientific evidence as proposed by the Cochrane Group [sic]… obeys a fascist logic… This ‘regime of truth’ ostracises those with ‘deviant’ forms of knowledge… When the pluralism of free speech is extinguished, speech as such is no longer meaningful; what follows is terror, a totalitarian violence”


    The badscience column in the Guardian got a lot of people talking about po-mo interpretations of the world. Some of the comments were insightful, some were a bit ‘lets slag off all sociology.’ This is the nature of bulletin boards (sorry, we call them ‘blogs’ these days….)

    “But some of the more excitable comments about “postmodernism” (whatever that might mean in each of our personal definitions) seem to be going overboard and forgetting that not everything about human beings can be understood, explored, and explained, in terms of numbers and quasi-experimental methods”

    I’m not sure anyone would say that all human life can be understood by numbers or experiment. There are significant difficulties in trying to apply a po-mo appraoch to discussing science. Namely that in science there exist observable truths (if you jump out of a window you will fall towards the centre of the earth at ca. 9.8 m/s/s/) whereas, as I understand it, po-mo takes the position that there are not absolute truths. This is my simplistic view – then again, I am not attempting to write a ‘scholarly’ crtique of the topic.

    Pearson then took these blog comments onboard, and managed to publish, in an academic journal, people’s comments on a blog!! That is absurd. For a start, cherry-picking your data to prove a point is unnacceptable in science or the social sciences, by any definition.

    If he wanted to use badscience blog posts as a representative sample of the scientific communities opinion (a flawed idea, in itself, I believe) then some sort of genuine data analysis would be needed.

    How did he know that all the people he quotes are not the same person posting from multiple accounts?

    Can you think of any serious academic article that cites selected blog posts as sources?

    You’re exactly right that people let of steam on the internet, so Pearson criticising people for not acting in a ‘scholarly’ manner online is absurd!

    I’m glad my alma mater carries the journal though……..

  13. JQH said,

    December 14, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    Laurence, none of the comments were as long as the original article, so if length is a failing what does that say about said aricle? Most of the criticisms were levelled at the deliberately obscure language used by the writers.

    Nor were any bloggers dismissing any other methodologys or paradigms put forward, because the article did not put any forward. Don’t you think doctors can “feel a little peeved” at being called fascists because they insist on evidence that treatment works before generally prescribing it?

  14. RS said,

    December 14, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    “Don’t you think doctors can “feel a little peeved” at being called fascists because they insist on evidence that treatment works before generally prescribing it?”

    That’s the point really, no one has written (let alone published) a ‘scholarly response’ to the article because that is all it actually says, once you’ve stripped away the unnecessary verbiage. We haven’t responded because we don’t take its challenge seriously, it is self-evidently bollocks, and rather pompous bollocks at that.

  15. bootboy said,

    December 14, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    “Namely that in science there exist observable truths (if you jump out of a window you will fall towards the centre of the earth at ca. 9.8 m/s/s/) whereas, as I understand it, po-mo takes the position that there are not absolute truths.”

    This is the problem. If you try to argue in favour of absolute truths, post-modernism wins. They can point to the ‘observer function’, the ‘induction problem’ and you will get bogged down in the impossible attempt to identify a pure objectivity. Before you know it, you’re back with the 18th century philosophers trying to prove that objective reality exists.

    Scientists shouldn’t go there. We should accept the fact that there are no absolute truths as a trivial observation, while also recognising the fact that there are some things that are undoubtedly closer to truth than other things. We just try to get as close as we can, using the simple scientific method.

    Post-modernism, stripped of the verbiage basically reduces to the hypothesis that “all observations are coloured by the observer’s view”. Some of the bigger bullshitters in the game extend this to claim that “all observations are equally coloured by the observer’s view” which is patent nonsense, and its corollary “all views are equally important”, which is similarly nonsense. However, the idea that it is worthwhile considering all points of view and not attempting to consider one particular point of view as authoritative is useful in itself. Some of the non-bullshit filled areas of post-modernist enquiry are quite useful in that they seek to discover alternative views which have not traditionally been considered significant – women’s voices in history for example. Unfortunately, the fundamental confusion that is mentioned above added to the characteristically showy and elitist language used, means that the whole field is a bullshitter’s delight. Still, just because that is so, it doesn’t make it big or clever to write off everything about it without examining it properly.

  16. tjb said,

    December 14, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Chip Morningstar has what I think of as a pretty fair and lucid introduction to (at least one kind of) pomo at:


    “The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the mind set of postmodernism is ‘epistemologically challenged’: a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff.”

    might be the relevant bit here.

  17. Melissa said,

    December 14, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Just to be clear, I’m not trying to slag all pomo approaches to everything. I agree it can be useful in the field of sociology. BUT it is utterly ridiculous when applied to sciences. Yes, it’s impossible to be completely free of observer bias– that is the whole *purpose* of the double-blind trial! For postmodernists to then slag it as fascism… well, at that point they might as well don their yellow overalls and dance to their Cliff Richard song.

  18. warumich said,

    December 14, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    Anyway, postmodernism is, like, soooo mid to late eighties


    Sociology, Vol. 40, No. 3, 529-547 (2006)
    Steve Matthewman and Douglas Hoey
    ‘What Happened to Postmodernism?’

    … dudes

  19. Laurence said,

    December 14, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    In answer to #62

    Oh I’m not doubting that this was an error of judgement, in many ways. But I’ve found articles in every serious journal of my subject interests (landscape, horticulture, and landscape planning, for what it’s worth) that I’d say were badly written, ill thought out, and should not have been included. As it is, (a) I doubt it’s fair to discuss a journal’s reputability on the basis of isolated occurrences (b) I’m rather convinced by the journal concerned printing repudiations of the article – after all these are mounting issues in public debate, and so should at least be presented by a supporter before they are then given a comeback by a sound critique.

    I admire Ben’s newspaper column hugely – it’s funny and informative, and contains a heck of a lot of good sense. I was more trying to suggest that there’s summit about the nature of blogs that tends to get us a bit more excitable and looser in our talk – and that, in this virtual context, it’s easy to forget some critical faculties, and that some people appeared to be jumping on some gleeful bandwagon (whether what they are against can be called postmodernism or constructivism or whatever). After all, science covers a very broad range – though a lot of Ben’s original concerns are medical related. This is more a matter for the board, as a whole span of months of comment.

    A very real concern of yourself and “ceec”, which I share, is that this ‘fascist‘article appears to be a case of people assuming that using qualitative methodology and non-positivistic (whether that be deconstructionist or realist or whatever) paradigms allows us to say what we like. As you’ve pointed out, there are real concerns with validity, analysis, and generalisability that come out of what was written in the article (and the subsequent one that quotes people from this board). On all counts it aint too sound. I suspect this was the wrong place to publish it, reading more like a newspaper or commentary piece – perhaps they should set up some counterpoint to badscience!

  20. Laurence said,

    December 14, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    As an appendix, I’d say that the writers of the ‘fascist’ article should be a heck of a lot more worried about how our research – whatever our fields of concern – relate to, and are affected by, political power, media power, economic power, etc, rather than each other (though we should continually reflect upon who are the ‘gatekeepers’ in academic and scientific knowledge). This is where the real abuse of truth can and does readily occur – as witnessed, in an in extreme form, by the contemporary USA:


  21. jackpt said,

    December 14, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Laurence, my problem is that being published in a journal (rightly or wrongly) raises the status of the work. Blog comments, indeed blog entries, can be as much off the wrist as that fella from Silence of the Lambs that flicks jizz at agent Starling. That’s a given. A journal that claims to have a certain limited range of subject matters publishing something so clearly in opposition to its limited range of subject matters is at best bogus. It’s not like they can show that there was any particular benefit in publishing it, or that it’s original. If people in evidence based medicine want to dabble in (the worst of 20th Century) philosophy there are half a dozen other journals they can subscribe to. Effectively by publishing the original article they were wiping up jizz and giving the spanker a platform.

  22. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 14, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    “Effectively by publishing the original article they were wiping up jizz and giving the spanker a platform.”

    you are just too obviously trying to get quoted in their next academic article.

  23. jackpt said,

    December 14, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Yes, the thought did cross my mind. But isn’t it all equally valid? What is wrong with multiple sides to the debate? 😉

  24. RS said,

    December 14, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Whilst I’m not a raving postmodernist, you have to remember that the editors of journals have interests that aren’t necessarily completely in line with ‘the interests of science’ (or however you want to put it). So they will often stick in stuff that they think will ruffle a few feathers to raise the profile of their journal – I’m thinking of that shit animal research is useless article in the BMJ, or even the Iraq death toll study in the Lancet (not necessarily shit, but definitely there to provoke a response).

    I have to share my absolute favourite paper of all time:
    “Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia?”

    Which I’ve always assumed was an amusing spoof, but then that was how I felt about the Holmes article until relatively recently.

  25. Dr Aust said,

    December 14, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    For published medical curiosities, as well as startling examples of human weirdness, journals of Forensic Pathology are hard to beat. For instance:


    – and there are more like this. You couldn’t make it up…

  26. Laurence said,

    December 15, 2006 at 9:24 am

    “A journal that claims to have a certain limited range of subject matters publishing something so clearly in opposition to its limited range of subject matters is at best bogus.”

    Not if they want to discount the thesis of the article, it isn’t. After all, here’s a journal that’s part of the so-called ‘fascist’ community allowing the very charges to be made in public – then carefully examining them in public. It’s a pretty good way of nullifying the claims, if that’s what you’re after.

  27. superburger said,

    December 15, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Lively debate about controversial topics in academic journals is a wonderful thing.

    But can it honestly be appropriate to publish selected blog comments in a ‘scholarly’ article,,,,

  28. jackpt said,

    December 15, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Laurence, fair enough, good point. But sometimes merely engaging with people raises their status. Sure, I think allowing the charges to be made in public is generally a good thing, but not when the position is so obviously absurd. Deconstructivism, post modernism, and the tangential off-shoot are mostly unrelated to science (unlike much 20th century philosophy). I can imagine many of the more relevant philosophers turning in their graves at what’s going on with post modernism and it’s inbred children.

    I read a wonderful piss take of that sort of thing by Harry Frankfurt, called On Bullshit, published by Princeton University Press, of which the only bit my sleep deprived brain remembers right now is “And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit” which I think is at the end. The first chapter is available here. Great stocking filler. If you’re into that sort of thing.

  29. Andrew Clegg said,

    December 16, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    I can’t help feeling that the fatal flaw with post-modernism is that the general policy of giving equal footing to dissenting views, and refusing to treat any opinion as less valid than any other, actually — when you think it through — supports unpleasant lunatic-fringe ideologies like fascism.

    If telling right from wrong is itself bad-and-wrong, how can you dismiss fascists as evil bastards?


  30. Dr Aust said,

    December 16, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    Re #79

    Quite so, Andrew. This was implicit in Alan Sokal’s opposition to po-mo which led him to dream up the “Social Text” hoax/parody – see:


    Francis Wheen also covers this in “Mumbo-Jumbo” – for instance, if all views are equally valid, what does po-mo say about the Holocaust and other documented examples of genocide and mass extermination? They were “texts”? And the deniers, whether of the Holocaust or apologists for Stalin or Mao? Do they have an equally valid “narrative”? A better example of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of po-mo would be hard to find.

  31. Laurence said,

    December 18, 2006 at 1:51 pm


    Oh I agree that this is an abuse of post modern and deconstructionist approaches – which, for what it’s worth, have allowed so much potential for picking apart the shams of the powerful. (Where I have issues, personally, is where people try to go on and deny the reality of a material world beyond ourselves – which is a supremely arrogant and anthropocentric mistake). This is an inappropriate use of such approaches. I just happen to think it’s better to deal with it in public, when the very charge is that there is deliberate stifling of debate. But then, as columns on this weblogg have shown, time and again, the public and media are easily bamboozled and carried away.

    That book sounds grande – I’ll have to take a peek.

  32. Laurence said,

    December 18, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Oops – that was meant to be in answer to 78 rather than myself. That might be seen as arrogant.

    “But can it honestly be appropriate to publish selected blog comments in a ’scholarly’ article,,,,”

    It depends what they’re being used for. If they are being quoted in the same way as one would with a literature review or selection of a theoretical position on which to based interpretation of results, then it’d be potentially both inappropriate and dangerous. The nature of the weblogg beast is too unstable and often uninformed. But. If they’re being quoted as a sample of information (results) – a la interview transcripts, diaries, etc – which are going to be analysed, and if they are used carefully, then there’s nothing wrong with using them in academic research per say. If the research is about what people think/perceive of something.

  33. bootboy said,

    December 18, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    “But can it honestly be appropriate to publish selected blog comments in a ’scholarly’ article,,,,”

    More to the point, why not publish the response as a comment, surely the fairest and most appropriate choice. I mean, it’s really a bit unfair to carry out your side of the argument in a forum where most of the participants are excluded from when there is a level-playing field available where everybody can have their say.

  34. Delster said,

    December 19, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Seeing as Science, such as chemistry & physics anyway, is basically about trying to explain the world around us how are scientists supposed to develop theories & advance knowledge with anything but evidence based observations?

    There is no other way but to have a poke at the world and watch how it reacts.

    Having said that, what has to be done is to poke part of the world in a certain precise way and watch for a reaction to that poke.

    How you tell if the poke is what’s caused the effect is by having another part of the world, which is simillar in all other ways, remain unpoked.

    And, to ensure the scientist in question does not bring personal bias into it, you get somebody else to do the poking so the scientist just watches for the reaction to the poke or non poke.

    Oh hang on… that looks like a blinded control trial to me…. who’d have thought it?

    If any postmodernists wish to explain another method for advancing science then please let me know…. i’ll even give my real name and address if they want to publish this as serious scientific comment.

    Oh and while i’m avoiding work on here… Evidence according to my big book of words can also be said as Proof, Confirmation, Facts, Data, Substantiation, Verification, Support & Indication.

    The way scientists use it is the last two. Support & Indication i.e. Evidence supports the theory or evidence indicates the theory is correct (or incorrect of course)

    As for Normalising evidence (think that was the one they criticised… should have taken notes with the length of those articals) That is just about taking lots and lots of pokes at the world and finding the average (or normal) response.

  35. atomic dog said,

    December 20, 2006 at 3:20 am

    Look, the article’s crap. And it’s probably useless trying to make this point on this kind of list, but just for the record “postmodern” is a pretty vague term. Most people who use it in a positive sense are poseurs; most people who use it negatively are slanging away at huge swathes of literature they haven’t read, as is usually true when someone brings up Sokal (_Social Text_, which he hoaxed, is not even a refereed journal).

    There *is* a minor tradition in French intellectual life of saying stupid things about science, most prominently Lyotard’s irresponsible 1979 _La Condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir_. But the broad, indiscriminate comments above about an entity called “postmodernism” are also silly in their own way. Bruno Latour, mentioned briefly above, is not an idiot. Foucault, who took science very seriously, was a lot smarter than most people who write “Foucauldian.”

  36. ceec said,

    December 20, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Even leaving aside the problem of knowing who they are exactly, challenging “postmodernists” to explain things like gravity (or other stuff cited in this thread), is like asking physicists to explain symbolism, historians to explain chemical reactions, or biologists to explain pragmatics. Different disciplines, different areas of enquiry, different aims, different purpose.

    The idea that science advances on the basis of evidence (rather than, say, on the whim of funding agencies/journal editors/big pharma/US political interests), however, is a lovely thought which I will cling to for yuletide comfort.

  37. atomic dog said,

    December 20, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Re Sokal (#44 is astute)

    Berube, M. 2006 “The Sokal Hoax for Beginners.” Pp. 15-34 in _Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities_ UNC Press.

    Re “postmodern:”

    Anderson, Perry. 1998. _The origins of postmodernity_ Verso.

    Quick oversimplification: “postmodern” arises in the 70s as a label for a set of artistic styles, and as the banner under which Lyotard attacks “grands recits” (referenced in my last post). Lyotard seems to be the basis for what Anderson terms the “street-level relativism” that a lot of people associate with postmodernity, as evident in the thread above.

    Lyotard’s book fits the pattern of using poorly-understood snippets about quantum physics, nonlinearities, complex systems etc. to claim that reality is impossibly weird and systematic knowledge impossible. Scientists are right to mock this as well as opportunistic uses of Kuhn and Lakatos. Lyotard later admitted (there’s a fn in Anderson) that this was a bit of a con.

    What’s less thoroughly understood by the scientists I talk to is that Lyotard’s position was not, nor has it become, the hegemonic position of humanities and social sciences or even any large chunk of them. Instead Lyotard was, in this and subsequent writings, attacking the “grands recits” of Marxism, Sartrean humanism, Habermas’ communicative ideal, Freudianism, Structuralism, and whatnot.

    As developed by Fredric Jameson, “postmodernism” has been used *against* poststructuralism (whose most prominent representative is Foucault), which includes a great deal of work on race, gender, and sexuality.


    1. When I hear people using the term “postmodern” to include what postmodernism attacks, I know they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    2. All the scientists of my acquaintance have run into the “street-level relativism” Anderson refers to, whether from the ill-trained humanities grads or in silly articles like the one cited at the top of this thread. But some of them then conflate *any* critique of knowledge or the institutions in which knowledge is made with the stupidest critiques.

  38. Delster said,

    December 21, 2006 at 10:32 am


    science always progresses according to the evidence…. the key word there being progresses… the rest is flim flam wearing a mask

  39. raven23 said,

    December 29, 2006 at 3:41 pm

    As a philosophy grad….

    … no, really, you can stop blowing raspberries now, I AM a philosophy grad (well, 3rd class hons drama & philosophy to be precise, which I believe qualifies me to talk loudly in restaraunts and not much else)…

    … Can I just say how badly these guys misrepresent post-modernism as well as science? I can hear several folks I deeply respect from the philosophy world muttering “that’s so wrong, I can’t even dignify it with the word wrong. ‘wrong’ would imply that they had made a few errors that you could correct. This is beyond wrong”.

    I’m reminded of a friends opinion on “The Tao of Physics”: “This would be a great book if the author understood anything about quantum physics. Or Daoism.”

    It’s amazing that a movement that started partly as a reaction against irrational “priveliged narratives” has become a tool to privelige any narrative, so long as it’s irrational.