After learning the gabbling Stephan Lewandowsky was able to complain in the Associate for Psychological Science’s Observer magazine that some loon called him a self-contradictory bad name, I became curious about that official organ. Were all articles as sloppy, whiny, and unhinged? Or was this an aberration?
In the same issue was “Inconvenient Truth-Tellers: What Happens When Research Yields Unpopular Findings” by Scott Sleek, which opened:
Throughout history, scientists have found themselves the subject of scorn, slander, ridicule and even violence when their discoveries have failed to mesh with authoritative doctrine or public sentiments…After Galileo’s telescope challenged the belief that the sun orbited the earth, the Holy Office of the Inquisition accused the astronomer of heresy and sentenced him to house arrest.
No aberration, then.
A man purporting to be a scholar latching onto the worn Galileo myth. How banal. Galileo’s house arrest was not for “challenging” the belief about orbital dynamics. And Sleek forgets it was fellow academics who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, not the church, which is more to the point.
But [scientists] still face the enmity of people who simply don’t believe the empirical results or who have a vested interest in the status quo. Individual ideologues, interest groups, industry lobbies, social networks, and even policymakers freely lash out at researchers whose work threatens their belief systems or their livelihoods.
Scientists do face enmity for their beliefs; they do endure acrimony; they do suffer ignominy—but the most vicious and wounding attacks come from fellow scientists, not civilians. Georg Cantor, anybody? Alfred Wegener? How many stories do we know of men whose work was vilified, whose livelihoods were trashed but who saw ultimate vindication (usually after death)?
Then there were the fellows whose views were wrong but who were not politely informed. They were attacked and eaten alive in academic feeding frenzies. B.F. Skinner, Emanuel Velkovski. I’m still waiting for Fisher to get his for cursing us with p-values and eugenics (beloved anew by a fresh generation of the Enlightened).
Why are scientists’ attacks so cruel? Because they know better than anybody else how to best stick it to you. They know just who to whisper to behind your back. They know who’s in charge of funding and are pals with the dean and journal editors. A nastier group cannot be found outside a girl’s locker room after cheerleading practice. What harm can a civilian do besides hurting the feelings of overly sensitive coddled academics by calling them bad names?
Scientists are too used to deference. This attitude might have been the proper reflexive stance for civilians back when the number of scientists was small and the preponderance of their work sterling. But now when PhDs are minted faster than plastic Halloween decorations at a Chinese factory, and the quality of their research of the same durability as spiderwebs in a can, the appropriate response is, “Is this guy for real?”
Sleek calls his enemies “Deniers”, that most asinine of labels. Not only is it offensive, but implicit in it is the fallacy of our generation, the idea that whatever a scientist says is true. What cheese. What an affront to sanity. What gall.
Licking his papercuts in public, Sleek sniffs that, “Psychological researchers have in no way been immune to” attacks Now I wonder why. Frontal lobotomies ring any bells? Phrenology? Recovered memories? Life-long analysis? Drugging twelve year-old boys to make them act like five-year-old girls? Psychology has been an uninterruptible font of cockamamie theories. Why shouldn’t every new idea be greeted suspiciously? Especially when some diploma-wielding nut is dashing toward you or your issue intent on implementing his “science.”
Funny Sleek should bring up Elizabeth Loftus, for whom I have said before I have tremendous respect. Her work “drew considerably hostile reactions when her studies challenged people’s claims that they had uncovered—often with the help of therapists—repressed memories of abuse, molestation, and even alien abduction.” This is true, but what slick Sleek forgets to say is that most of the abuse Loftus suffered was from rival self-certified experts. How many pickets of citizens did Loftus push her way through? I’ll tell you: none.
It’s almost as if Sleek, and every Sleek-like scientist we endlessly hear from, has no idea of the history of intellectual thought.