October 28, 2009

Norman Levitt RIP

Writing about web page http://skepticblog.org/author/shermer/

Norman Levitt has died, aged 66, of heart failure. He was awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton at age 24 in 1967 but his fame rests mainly on having been one of the great ‘Science Warriors’, especially via the book he co-authored with biologist Paul Gross, Higher Superstition (Johns Hopkins, 1994). I put the point this way because I imagine that Levitt as someone of great unfulfilled promise -- mathematicians typically fulfil their promise much earlier than other academics – who then decided that he would defend the scientific establishment from those who questioned its legitimacy. Why? Well, one reason would be to render his own sense of failure intelligible. All of the ‘postmodernists’ that Levitt hated so much – myself included -- appeared to be arguing that his aspirations were illusory in one way or another. This is an obvious personal insult to those who define their lives in such ‘illusory’ terms. And yes, what I am offering is an ad hominem argument, but ad hominem arguments are fallacies only when they are used indiscriminately. In this case, it helps to explain – and perhaps even excuse – Levitt’s evolution into a minor science fascist.

As time marches on, it is easy to forget that before Alan Sokal’s notorious hoax, whereby the editors of the leading US cultural studies journal were duped into publishing a politically correct piece of scientific gibberish, Gross and Levitt had already launched a major frontal assault on a broad range of ‘academic leftists’ who were criticising science in the name of some multicultural democratic future. Sokal acknowledged his debt to them. Levitt was clearly in on Sokal’s joke, since Levitt contacted me prior to its publication, in response to which I said that Sokal was toadying unnecessarily to the Social Text editors, without catching the specific errors that Sokal had planted in the aritcle. I had an article in the same issue, which served as Levitt’s launch pad for criticising me over the next decade and a half.

I wish I could say that I learned a lot from my encounters with Levitt, but in fact I learned only a little. His anger truly obscured whatever vision he might have been advancing. To be sure, he did point up a few errors of expression and fact, which I acknowledged at the time and corrected in subsequent publications. But Levitt’s general take on me and my work was so badly off the mark that I never deemed it appropriate to respond formally. (And I am not normally shy when it comes to responding to critics.) In this respect, it is striking that none of his widely publicised criticisms ever passed academic peer review, yet they are enshrined in the internet, not least my own Wikipedia entry. And to be honest, this is the main reason why I am writing this obituary. Seemingly serious people have taken Levitt seriously.

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. My guess is that very few academically successful people have ever thought about – let alone supported -- what Levitt touted as “science’s side” in the Science Wars. Nevertheless, I am sure that a strong constituency for Levitt’s message has long existed amongst science’s many failed aspirants. This alienation of the scientifically literate yet undervalued in society will pose an increasingly painful reality check for policymakers who think that we are easing our way into a global ‘knowledge society’.


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  1. Val Dusek

    Having recently been added to Levitt’s Facebook page, I mourn his loss, having wasted many an hour in the late nineties in flame wars with him. As Nietzsche says, a great enemy is as hard to find as a great friend.

    I think Steve’s claim that being a vituperating science warrior is solely a product of scientific failure may be misleading and needs further investigation and documentation. I do think it is true that the young Levitt had hoped to prove the Poincare conjecture and did some fundamental work in geometric topology, but dropped it and only continued it decades later with a Russian emigre collaborator.

    Levitt’s sidekick Paul Gross had many of the signs of scientific respect and prestige. After all, he was head of Woods Hole Lab, although he felt he hadn’t gotten enough credit for his work on sex and fertilization in embryology.

    Gerald Holton has had all sorts of respectability at Harvard, though one might claim he was no longer a real physicist, as he had gone into history of science.

    Perhaps a case can be made for Allen Sokal, as he was said by some to be formerly in the Courant Institute of mathematics at NYU and moved to physics at NYU. I once surmised in print that Bricmont was jealous of Prigogine for getting a Nobel Prize and a great deal of popular publicity for work in his field of statistical mechanics that may be questionable and contains some non-sequiturs according to Rene Thom and others, for instance, but Sokal and Bricmont accused me of mind-reading— though they didn’t say whether the mind-reading was correct or not.

    28 Oct 2009, 20:49

  2. Vince

    You think wwwwway too much of yourself….

    28 Oct 2009, 21:58

  3. hardindr

    Wow, you are an asshole.

    28 Oct 2009, 21:59

  4. waldteufel

    It’s interesting that your response to Levitt comes only after his is dead, and cannot respond. You showed your credentials of academic vacuity at Kitzmiller v. Dover, and your intellectual cowardice here.

    28 Oct 2009, 23:40

  5. Dan Styer

    “Why? Well, one reason would be to render his own sense of failure intelligible.”

    Gee, Steve, when did you learn how to read minds? Why did you wait until Norman Levitt was dead in order to read his mind?

    29 Oct 2009, 01:02

  6. Steve Fuller

    I may be an asshole but I am not coward. Levitt was well aware of my views of his efforts to police the boundaries of science. I pubiished a critical review of ‘Higher Superstition’ in ‘History of the Human Sciences’ and of ‘The Flight from Science and Reason’ in ‘Metascience’, both of which I recall he responded to. He and I also had a couple of exchanges over my recent book ‘Science vs. Religion?’ in The Skeptic Magazine. (Even my Wikipedia entry gets this stuff right.) Levitt and I were even been on a panel together in the early days of the Science Wars, where he could barely contain his rage—at what, I never quite figured out. So yes I am speculating about the motives of someone whose anger was never far from the surface of his expression. In any case, I doubt that Levitt would be surprised at anything I have said here.

    29 Oct 2009, 01:18

  7. Colugo

    “a pioneer of cyber-fascism … Their resentment demands a scapegoat—and ‘postmodernists’ function as Jews had previously.”

    You are disgusting.

    29 Oct 2009, 01:36

  8. Miles Rind

    “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.”

    Who needs invective when one need only quote such statements to make plain the character of the writer’s thinking?

    29 Oct 2009, 03:15

  9. Ted Lawry

    The post modern “critique” of science was nothing more than a game on the phrase “socially constructed”. If it means that society supports research then it is true but trivial. If it means that the results of science are determined by social forces then it not just wrong but psychotic. The trick was the the post-modernists never said which meaning they meant. Such puerile word games were only popular with lit-crit academics who resented the fact that scientists actually know something and can change the world, where Lit-Crit requires only the ability to read. Some flagrantly vacuous and silly books, e.g. calling Newton’s Principia a “rape manual” (for “raping” nature), were successful enough (only in academia) to win prizes and get their authors tenure. Now they have tenure and are bored with that brand of nonsense, they have largely shut up. Sokal’s hoax helped.

    29 Oct 2009, 13:22

  10. FastEddie

    Wow, calling one of your betters a fascist just after his death. Nice move, Fuller. You’re a coward. I’d be a real shame if my dog dropped a deuce in your office.

    29 Oct 2009, 13:24

  11. Steve Fuller

    I understand that people are upset that I’ve issued such a negative verdict on Levitt so soon after he’s died, but I’ve always hoped that at some point while he was still alive that he would make his peace with postmodernists – or at least contribute something positive to the discussion of science’s place in society. But that never happened. Yes, he probably did succeed in causing a lot of postmodernists to self-censor or backpedal. What an accomplishment – he sent a lot of humanists and social scientists back into the closet! In any case, as the responses on this blog illustrate, my real target here is not Levitt himself – who, unless there is the sort of God he dismissed, is not around to feel ‘desecrated’ – but the cyber-bullies and malcontents who have taken him seriously as some arbiter of scientific judgement.

    29 Oct 2009, 14:06

  12. Liam

    “Bullies”? You just called someone a fascist!

    29 Oct 2009, 14:12

  13. Ann Rudinow Saetnan

    You write that you “never deemed it appropriate to respond formally” ... until the man was dead and therefore unable to respond? Not to take Levitt’s stand here - ontologically and epistemologically I’m more in your camp than his - but I think at this point you should have continued to hold your peace.

    29 Oct 2009, 14:54

  14. WDD

    As someone who was close to Norman Levitt and his family, I must say that this is a classless, clueless, pathetic and disgusting display by you Steve Fuller. It most certainly is cowardice. Offensive does not even begin to describe it. I am quite confident that Mr. Levitt, for all of his “rage” and “bullying” over the years, would not have done the same to you under these circumstances. Yes he was unquestionably passionate in what he did, but I can assure you he did have some clue on how to conduct an intellectual debate with substance and some dignity, and certainly by criticizing only someone who is capable of defending themselves. No, I am sure he would not have been surprised at anything you have said here, but he too would have called you a complete fucking asshole, as I, these other commenters, and the majority of your peers now undoubtedly will. Good job Steve.

    29 Oct 2009, 15:02

  15. Steve Fuller

    Ann, I’ve got to say in retrospect you’re probably right that I should have responded to his original article on me, but honestly I never thought anyone would take what he said seriously—especially since it hardly cited anything I actually said. By the time I realized that people were taking it seriously, the rhetorical moment had passed. It’s that chain of events that led me to think of Levitt’s influence in fascist terms.

    29 Oct 2009, 15:10

  16. Dave Wisker

    Steve,

    You wrote:

    ” I understand that people are upset that I’ve issued such a negative verdict on Levitt so soon after he’s died, but I’ve always hoped that at some point while he was still alive that he would make his peace with postmodernists – or at least contribute something positive to the discussion of science’s place in society. But that never happened”

    Then why didn’t you just lament that fact and leave it at that, instead of performing the internet equivalent of pissing on his grave?

    29 Oct 2009, 15:44

  17. BillB

    ”...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.”

    A very good description of the Intelligent Design mob

    29 Oct 2009, 16:04

  18. ben

    The comparison of yours and fellow postmodernist scientists’ treatment at the hands of Levitt, regardless of what he may have actually said or done, to the treatment of Jews at the hands of the Fascists staggers belief and deeply offends me.

    Please take a moment to explain how having your ideas legitimately criticized or even unfairly attacked in academia compares in any way to the systematic and comprehensive disenfranchisement, exile, dehumanization, torture and mass murder of an entire people based on their ethnicity and religion. Where may I find the gas chambers, firing squads, and horrific medical experimentation on chidren, in this appalling metaphor of yours?

    I think it’s ironic that you would compare your alleged victimization to what Jews experienced at the hands of the Nazis, in a post titled “making the university safe for intellectual life…” I can’t think of anything more intellectually unsafe than claiming to be the victim of some kind of metaphorical holocaust because someone didn’t like your ideas and fought against them. Of course, you already appeared in Ben Stein’s disgusting “Expelled”, so it’s obvious you’re not concerned with the reprehensible and dishonest co-option of the Holocaust in support of totally unrelated arguments.

    29 Oct 2009, 16:11

  19. Maarten

    Utterly disgusting comments on someone who just died. After reading this, it seems that Levitt’s refusal to “make his peace” with postmodernists like you was entirely justified.

    29 Oct 2009, 16:46

  20. wes

    What a disgusting display. You’re an embarrassment to the HPS field, Dr. Fuller. Absolutely despicable.

    29 Oct 2009, 17:05

  21. Mike from Ottawa

    I wonder to what failure one could attribute Mr Fuller’s pandering to the non-science (and nonsense) of creationism. Perhaps Mr Fuller tried and failed to understand actual science and subsequently fell back on the hope he would be delivered from his embarrassment by the triumph of the idea that ‘Goddidit and left no fingerprints’ constituted a viable explanation for natural phenomena.

    That Mr Fuller suffered any such failure would, of course, be mere conjecture, but the sting of the patent failure of his ‘priming the intelligent design creationist pump’ argument as expert witness in the Dover Panda Trial, on the other hand, may be thought by some to motivate his present vile likening of Mr Levitt to Nazis. Of course, I couldn’t possibly comment.

    29 Oct 2009, 18:12

  22. Ray Ingles

    The noted Christian apologist C.S. Lewis coined a term for this kind of argument: Bulverism. As he put it, “You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong… Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is ‘wishful thinking.’ You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself… If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic…”

    29 Oct 2009, 18:15

  23. Steve Fuller

    These comments range from quite funny to interesting:

    Mike from Ottawa, Levitt was on my case for more than ten years before the Dover trial. So, sorry, no cigar…

    Maarten, I’m still struggling with the time loop logic of what you seem to be claiming – Do you really believe Levitt anticipated that I would ‘piss on his grave’ and therefore refused to make peace with postmodernists while still alive? If so, he’s smarter than I thought.

    Ben, hard as it may be for you to believe, 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. I actually think the comparison is very apt.

    Bill B, well, I’m glad you concede that the ID crowd is well-educated! This is some small progress. But in fact, I was thinking about the anonymous science worshippers who populate blogs like this, read things like The Skeptic and Reason, and probably work somewhere in the fringes in science. Levitt was good at channelling their frustration.

    Roy Ingles, yes, I know about Bulverism. I’m not sure it really applies to either me or Levitt, though. Levitt’s problem was lack of proportion in the way he found error in others. He really made a career out of making mountains out of molehills. (Some wag might say I’m doing this to Levitt himself, since it’s perhaps not clear that he’s worth getting so worked up about!) This lack of proportion only served to obscure his motives, so I tried to fill the vacuum with speculation. Val Dusek – who made the first comment – said some very interesting things about the motivational backdrop of several of the Science Warriors.

    29 Oct 2009, 18:55

  24. hardindr

    FWI, the Skeptic’s Society magazine is called “Skeptic,” not “The Skeptic.” Reason is a libertarian magazine, which often publishes articles that are scientifically challenged. You are still an asshole, though.

    29 Oct 2009, 19:01

  25. Mark Johnson

    Amazing!! After being unwilling to engage Levitt “formally” while he was alive you go and lose the argument to a dead guy. Oh that is too funny. And yes you are an asshole.

    29 Oct 2009, 19:21

  26. Bryan

    “What an accomplishment – he sent a lot of humanists and social scientists back into the closet! “

    As a gay man, and a scientist, I feel compelled to point out yet another one of your inapt comparisons. It seems to me that you will spare no lengths in comparing yourselves to others who have suffered actual oppression in order to prop up your feigned victimhood today.

    29 Oct 2009, 19:37

  27. Sergey Romanov

    Levitt a “fascist”? Sir, not only you’re a fool, you’re a 1st class asshole.

    29 Oct 2009, 20:11

  28. Dan Styer

    Steve Fuller writes:

    “I understand that people are upset”

    I, for one, am not upset. I’m very glad to see you first give evidence, and then admit, that you are an asshole.

    29 Oct 2009, 23:11

  29. Bob Lane

    You, Mr. Fuller, really are an asshole.

    30 Oct 2009, 00:11

  30. MPW

    Mr. Fuller, has it been mentioned yet that you’re an asshole?

    Oh, yes, I see that is has.

    I have to part ways with some of the commenters here – I can’t get too worked up over your making this comment right after Levitt’s death. If what you were saying about him and his science-defending colleagues were true and worth saying, it would still be true and worth saying whether he were alive or dead. You’re not sending his family a card calling him a fascist, or picketing his funeral or anything. Shrug. If I’m going to chortle with delight over Christopher Hitchens’ televised comment right after Jerry Falwell’s death (“If you gave the man an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox”), I can’t really complain about your little anti-eulogy on your little blog that most people will never see.

    Thing is, your arguments and analogies are breathtakingly wrongheaded, morally tone-deaf, and smugly egotistical in ways already pointed out several times. THAT’s the problem.

    So, you were an asshole while Levitt was still alive, and you’re still an asshole now that he’s dead. I don’t see that his state of being changes anything there.

    30 Oct 2009, 02:40

  31. waldteufel

    A number of IDiots are now revealing themselves as Young Earth Creationists, joining Paul Nelson and others. It’s obvious that you are a creationist, but just how crazy are you? Are you a YEC, or an OEC? Just wondering . . . . .

    30 Oct 2009, 03:27

  32. Beefey

    Fuller, you really are an ass-clown.

    30 Oct 2009, 03:49

  33. Greg Tingey

    Steve Fuller.
    Liar
    Ignoramus
    Promoter of deliberate lies by others (ID)

    30 Oct 2009, 07:45

  34. Eric MacDonald

    Intellectually, Steve Fuller, you are negligible. Your claim to fame seems to be a shallow idea about the social construction of science. Everything of yours that I have read, has the same pasty quality, no substance, no real basis, just a overweening conception of your own brilliance. Well, this cynical dismissal of Norm Leavitt proves the point. You don’t really have anything to say. The university that hires you does not get value for money. Take a hint. Your form of postmodernism is dead. It died with a whimper, and there are still a few holdouts left, whining pathetically to themselves, and, like you, haven’t really noticed yet. That is a measure of your insignificance. I know it must be hard to live with. But…, well, you haven’t much choice have you? You might, however, try to give your brain a chance. There may be something in it. It’s hard to tell.

    30 Oct 2009, 09:25

  35. Vince

    Steve Fuller said:
    “Bill B, well, I’m glad you concede that the ID crowd is well-educated! This is some small progress. But in fact, I was thinking about the anonymous science worshippers who populate blogs like this, read things like The Skeptic and Reason, and probably work somewhere in the fringes in science. Levitt was good at channelling their frustration.”

    Well there you have it folks – Science Envy!

    I’d call you an ass Fuller, but that has been done numerous times already and such epithets have no impact on the deranged. Ever thought of doing something useful with your time??

    Vince

    30 Oct 2009, 09:42

  36. Bruce Gorton

    What a contemptable wanker you are steve.

    30 Oct 2009, 10:41

  37. Steve Fuller

    Yes, I’m an asshole. But yes, Levitt was a fascist. Even Nick Matzke, famed gossip writer from Panda’s Thumb admits as much. Check out his ‘eulogy’ to Levitt. I have never seen such a transparent celebration of intellectual thuggery (i.e. sending postmodernists back into the closet). Oh, and yes, there is the obligatory mention of Levitt’s having been nice to his wife and kids and having voted left. With friends like Matzke unwittingly revealing the meagreness of Levitt’s legacy, the poor dead man doesn’t need enemies!

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/steve-fuller.cfm

    And for the record, I never hated Levitt. The man clearly had ‘issues’ that were never quite reflected in what he wrote. What really irks me is how seriously he was taken by the lumpen-cybertariat.

    30 Oct 2009, 11:33

  38. Andy Birss

    I first came across Steve Fuller’s work some years ago and was reminded of the “emperors’s new clothes”. This appalling obituary is typical of his approach, lacking in both intellectual depth and any sense of knowledge outside of his small world. I will not resort to name-calling (though heaven knows Mr Fuller deserves it) but merely hope that his own words result in him being reduced to consort with the “intelligent design” crowd and not expose any students in the UK to his infantile ramblings.

    30 Oct 2009, 11:38

  39. Steve Fuller

    ...oh I forgot to mention the punchline of my last message. Matzke’s organization – the National Center for Science Education -stands to gain financially by Levitt’s death. So was Matzke’s the best obituary that Levitt’s money could buy? I hope not.

    Sometimes life is indeed stranger than fiction…

    30 Oct 2009, 11:41

  40. chris moffatt

    Steve: sounds like you’re pissed. Sounds like you’ve been pissed a long time. Because Levitt wouldn’t take your posturing seriously, perhaps? Perhaps because he wouldn’t take seriously the intellectual fraud that was postmodernism? You seem like a really unhappy person, you should get over it (and yourself). De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.

    30 Oct 2009, 12:39

  41. Liam

    “I first came across Steve Fuller’s work some years ago and was reminded of the “emperors’s new clothes”.”

    There’s one major difference. In the story the emperor, the courtiers and most of the people are duped by the sophistry of the tailors. By contrast, pretty much nobody is stupid enough to belive anything Steve Fuller says (Note that he does not have a single ally in these comments.)

    30 Oct 2009, 13:04

  42. Bruce Gorton

    Steve Fuller

    No he doesn’t (Or at least not in the article you link to). He mentions that YOU call him a fascist. In otherwords you aren’t just a cowardly wanker, you are a stupid cowardly wanker.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:05

  43. ben goldacre

    wow, steve, this is seriously not very stylish behaviour.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:05

  44. George Balanchine

    Dear Dr. Fuller,

    No offense man, but you sound like a really strange and weird dude. Slagging someone like this right after they died? Then you conscientiously reply to all the people calling you an a—hole(which you are)? This is the best entertainment I’ve had in awhile, almost as good as watching “Californication” episodes on DVD. You obviously have no intellectual integrity at all and are a complete fraud, why are you in academe? is it the chicks(American-speak for young females)? Oscar Wilde comes to mind, ‘the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about’. At least I’m pretty sure he said that.
    You probably don’t give a damn anyway about the comments here, because you’re tenured(probably), get published and have a reasonably nice life in the UK. Well, Tartuffe, enjoy the rest of your life! And I mean that with all sincerity.

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    P.S. And yes, I did meet Prof. Levitt a couple of times and he seemed to be a very nice man, I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him better.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:14

  45. Steve Fuller

    George, I’m glad you’re amused. That is part of the intention—but only part. Since Dr Levitt attracted only the finest minds to his cause, I have felt it my obligation – within my demonstrably meagre abilities – to respond to my critics. Admittedly, some of these messages are so devastating that I am humbled into silence.

    Ben, I think you’ve nailed it on the head. What I’m doing is ‘not very stylish’.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:24

  46. 6000

    Poor show, old chap.

    Whatever your repressed feelings about old Levitt, this really wasn’t the most sensible time to air them.
    Both for reasons of sensitvity and dignity – yours and his.
    I’m sure that – however long it may take – looking retrospectively, you will realise that.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:28

  47. Daniel

    Did you see all the attention Jan Moir was getting and set out to do something similar? That’s the only reason I can imagine for posting this.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:31

  48. Francis F

    Calling someone a fascist is simply lazy. What do you actually mean? Someone who dares to disagree with you and isn’t afraid to defend their viewpoint robustly? I thought this kind of nonsense went out in the 1980’s.

    I don’t see a huge connection between 1930’s political movements and Levitt’s attack on your views. I haven’t even read your stuff and your attitude makes me not want to even bother.

    So, what do you mean exactly with your lazy catch all shorthand bullshit? Or does it not have any meaning, just empty nothing tripping from your keyboard that allows you to vilify someone who can no longer defend himself. Some kind of default crap that just comes out of your mouth whenever you are disagreed with?

    Defend your views – stop using bullshit labels to attack people who disagreed with you. It does you no favours. Defend what you have to say or say nothing. Your intellectual laziness is shocking. I hope any students that come your way don’t pick up your bad habits.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:38

  49. Dan Styer

    Steve Fuller:

    “The man [Levitt] clearly had ‘issues’ “

    We all know that professional psychologists, given many months of interviews with a client, frequently diagnose a condition where none exists.

    Now we find that Steve Fuller, with no professional qualifications in psychology, and having observed Levitt on “one panel together in the early days of the Science Wars”, thinks that a diagnosis is “clear”.

    What’s clear is that Fuller is careless.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:47

  50. George Balanchine

    Ah, Dr. Fuller, you little flatterer you! Fancy a coffee the next time I’m in the UK?

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    30 Oct 2009, 13:49

  51. ben goldacre

    Ben, I think you’ve nailed it on the head. What I’m doing is ‘not very stylish’.

    well, no. what you did in writing your blog post initially was “not very stylish”.

    what you’re doing now, standing by it, with a stance of “isn’t it fascinating, on careful reflection, that i am continuing to be so crass someone who has only just died”... it’s that second move which takes you into a whole new realm of unpleasantness.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:50

  52. Tim

    Steve Fuller just repeated, “But yes, Levitt was a fascist.”

    This just says it all about the depth of the intellectual immaturity on display here. It is indistinguishable from the nasty hyperbole of someone like Glenn Beck.

    30 Oct 2009, 13:53

  53. ben goldacre

    apologies, my last post was missing a word.

    Steve Fuller said:

    Ben, I think you’ve nailed it on the head. What I’m doing is ‘not very stylish’.

    well, no. what you did in writing your blog post initially was “not very stylish”.

    what you’re doing now, standing by it, with a stance of “isn’t it fascinating, on careful reflection, that i am continuing to be so crass about someone who has only just died”... it’s that second move which takes you into a whole new realm of unpleasantness.

    30 Oct 2009, 14:06

  54. Natalie

    Wow Steve, I can’t believe you’re still bitter that Levitt thought your book was shit, even though the guy just died. Your posts are like watching a car crash, you’ve whole heartedly employed the theory that if you can’t get out of this mess now, the only way is deeper in!

    30 Oct 2009, 14:10

  55. Liam Buckley

    ”...oh I forgot to mention the punchline of my last message. Matzke’s organization – the National Center for Science Education -stands to gain financially by Levitt’s death. So was Matzke’s the best obituary that Levitt’s money could buy? I hope not.”

    What are you implying here? That Levitt, prior to his death, agreed to have his wife tell people to donate to the NCSE after he died, in exchange for a favourable obituary from Matzke? That’s just bizarre.

    30 Oct 2009, 14:16

  56. Steve

    Posting this article/blog so soon after his death seems very impolite.

    Continuing to defend your decision to post is crass.

    You may or may not be right academicaly about him and his views. That is not the point.

    It is also not right that you should be subject to the abuse in these posts.

    May be worth waiting for a decent time and publish your views and subject them to sensible peer review

    30 Oct 2009, 14:24

  57. Steve Fuller

    Ben, I guess what I’m hoping is for one of Levitt’s defenders to actually nail down some substantive contributions he’s made, even ones connected to his anti-postmodernist tracts. Admittedly, this blog may not turn out to be where it happens. But I would love to see it. His main achievement seems to be basically what has been happening on this blog – and others – namely, he’s a talisman for wide range of frustrations relating to the apparent lack of respect that science receives in society today. He’s the guy they can always cite who reinforces their view that postmodernists/creationists/multiculturalists/whatever are killing modern society with their steady stream of bogus rubbish. As I am happy to admit, he sometimes made some good but fairly limited points. But that’s not really the nature of his influence. It’s really been more about legitimising a certain tone of anger and resentment at targeted groups – just as you see here. It just has the effect of silencing people who don’t want to be subject to abuse or invective. That is a very bad legacy for one person’s life. That’s why I wait for someone to provide a seriously different story to his life – not simply that glorifies his most odious characteristics, as I’ve seen so far.

    30 Oct 2009, 14:29

  58. Andy Birss

    Fascinating-Mr Fuller calls the dead fascist and implies that favourable obituarities are given because of possible donations. He then laughs off any criticism and thinks that by reffering to ‘my demonstrably meagre abilities’ we can all join in the joke.

    The “intelligent design” school have indeed found a kindred spirit-lacking in intellectual rigour and hopelessly clueless about science.

    30 Oct 2009, 14:37

  59. Neurath

    Wow, so much bitterness. Well, it could have been more caustic; you might have taken a dump on his grave.
    But I do think you really should look up ‘fascist’; casually tossing such words around diminishes whatever gravitas you may still have.

    30 Oct 2009, 14:42

  60. George Balanchine

    Dear Dr. Fuller,

    No? no coffee? we could meet in the cafe in the National Gallery in London and go look at Titians, ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My offer is serious, you can email me at the address I gave for my posts.

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    30 Oct 2009, 14:48

  61. Stan Polanski

    Reading this exchange is the most surreal experience I have had on the internet since I followed the daily transcripts of the David Irving / Deborah Lipstadt libel trial on Irving’s own website. As the evidence inexorably mounted, unequivocally demonstrating the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of Irving’s holocaust denial, it was eerie to observe his reaction. Not only did he continue to make publicly available the ongoing exposure of his defects as a scholar and a human being, he seemed perversely to take pride in the whole train wreck.

    It’s déjà vu watching the unravelling of Stephen “I’m-An-Asshole” Fuller . Fuller has a perfect right to be confused about science, fascism, human decency, and anything else, but isn’t it odd that he wants the world to see him take himself apart?

    30 Oct 2009, 15:16

  62. toby

    Christopher Hitchens had a go at Rev. Jerry Falwell before the man’s corpse was cold, & I did not see much wrong with that.

    This seems to be of a different order, however. In some circles Falwell did real material and personal damage. Are academic disputes really that bitter “because there is so little stake”?

    30 Oct 2009, 15:46

  63. George Balanchine

    Dear Dr. Fuller,

    So which actress did you have a go with in your play? I rather fancied the blond myself, although the brunette looked more intelligent. Maybe you dated both of them. I have to admire you, Dr. Fuller, you’re a bit of a ‘lad’, I must say. Writing a play where you act William James with three beautiful women chasing you, is quite the thing. If only I had the audacity to pull stuff like that off, I’d be comfortably settled in a nice research institute somewhere in the UK(3 hours away from Paris, summering on the Normandy/Brittany coast) instead of teaching high school math out in a provincial backwater here in the U.S.

    My hat’s off to you, you’re an inspiration to all of us!

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    30 Oct 2009, 16:20

  64. Darryl Arthur

    Since when is an ad hominem argument a fallacy only when used indiscriminately? Let’s face it. Your post isn’t an argument at all. The irony is that it is an example of the kind of “odious characteristic” that hurt your feelings in the first place.

    I’m reminded of a quote made prior to WWII:

    “He is the most bloodthirsty or amateurish strategist in history . . . For over five years this man has been chasing around Europe like a madman in search of something that he could set on fire”

    It was Hitler describing Churchill.

    I pity the uninformed students who happen to find themselves unknowingly in one of your classes. At best, they’re getting cheated. As for the ones who search them out, well, they get what they’ve asked for.

    30 Oct 2009, 16:50

  65. George Balanchine

    Dear Prof. Fuller,

    Did I forget to add that you’re a complete fraud? What I’d really like to know is which female(assuming you’re heterosexual, no offense) graduate student you’re currently sleeping with.

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    30 Oct 2009, 16:51

  66. R.S.H. Tryster

    While it is undoubtedly horrible that someone who sports the kind of personality possessed by Mr. Fuller has found a place in academic life, I tend to look for silver linings. I did not have the honour of knowing Norman Levitt personally, but find it hard to believe that he would not recognise a great victory if he were able to read Fuller’s bitter lines. Fuller claims to be “hoping… for one of Levitt’s defenders to actually nail down some substantive contributions he’s made…” Most of us here will probably agree that we need look no further than Levitt’s exposure of the lack of substance in the posturings of Fuller and his ilk, of which his “obituary” above is an unusually nasty example, even for Fuller. The tasteless and hyperbolic lashing-out against a dead opponent is a clue that Fuller knows as well as the rest of us that Levitt did succeed in unmasking him before the world. In fact, he seems to realise that Levitt did the job so well that there was no longer any point, in this farewell to a better adversary than he merited, in pretending to be anything other than what Levitt had shown him to be.

    Fuller will doubtless draw plenty of the attention he seems to enjoy with these genuinely thoughtless insults hurled into the grave. I do not wish Fuller’s death, but it is bound to come to him as it comes to all of us. When it does, those of us who do not consider our standing to be enhanced by invective aimed at the departed will simply have to maintain a discreet silence… which may prove deafening.

    30 Oct 2009, 17:08

  67. WDD

    I commented earlier, but perhaps I was too subtle for you Mr Fuller. As someone who knows the Levitt family, and on the off chance that they have the unfortunate luck of reading this or hearing about it, I would hope you would have the basic human decency to apologize to them for what you are doing here during their time of grief and just let it go for now. I know Norman himself would have laughed this whole thing off, but just have a tiny bit of repsect for those who are still mourning his loss. Just stop it now and move on to something else please. We have heard what you have to say.

    I cannot even begin to comprehend how anyone with half a brain could think that this type of behavior is acceptable under any circumstances, in any universe. I can only conclude that the answer has to do with the type of person you must be, some sort of defect of psyche, and an obvious shallowness of intellect. But I really don’t care, I would just like you to shut up at least for a few days. Thank you.

    30 Oct 2009, 17:19

  68. Dan Styer

    Steve Fuller says:

    “Levitt’s ultimate claim to fame may rest on his having been as a pioneer of cyber-fascism”

    but then says that what he really intended to say was:

    “I guess what I’m hoping is for one of Levitt’s defenders to actually nail down some substantive contributions”

    Wow, Steve! I never though that by calling someone a fascist you’re really asking about what his contributions were.

    Norman Levitt wrote some two dozen papers on mathematics. They are not widely cited, they contain no great advances or contributions. In this respect he is like most mathematicians (and most scientists and most scholars and indeed most people). While he was a far better mathematician than, say, me, it is not for his contributions to mathematics that he will be remembered.

    Just as Ehrenfest propelled the development of relativity and quantum theory by bringing up questions and pointing out flaws, so Levitt propelled the public understanding of science by bringing up questions and pointing out flaws in the extreme “science as social construct” movement. He did so with verve and a sense of fun, as well as with the justifiable anger that Steve has already alluded to.

    Want an example of that sense of fun? “The one comforting fact in all of this is that those most eager to challenge the efficacy and reliability of rational thought have not, as a general rule, shown themselves to be particularly good at it.” (The Flight from Science and Reason, page 49.)

    In short, Levitt helped to delegitimatize the myth that facts are socially constructed. It is now widely recognized that foreign policy, for example, must be built on facts rather than vice versa. He was not the only one to delegitimatize that myth, and perhaps not even the most important one to do so. But he was one of the funniest and one of the most humane to do so. If Steve Fuller can’t see that, that can only reflect Steve’s lack of humor and lack of humaneness.

    30 Oct 2009, 17:22

  69. hardindr

    ...oh I forgot to mention the punchline of my last message. Matzke’s organization – the National Center for Science Education -stands to gain financially by Levitt’s death. So was Matzke’s the best obituary that Levitt’s money could buy? I hope not.

    Did you not read in Matzke’s posting that Levitt’s wife requested donations to the NCSE in lieu of flowers at his funeral? If Matzke is a gossip writer, then you are a classless bum…

    30 Oct 2009, 17:59

  70. konradheller

    Far, far better to be a merely competent mathematician or scientist (or lawyer, or schoolteacher, or plumber, or what have you) than a top-notch professional fraud. And on the resentment issue, I’d like to see how many ‘successful’ science studies theorists were first failed science students. My own experience in academia suggests the number is rather high.

    30 Oct 2009, 18:05

  71. mixmasterprof

    Live and Let Die, or Levittate…

    But in this ever changing world in which we live in
    Makes you give in and cry
    Say live and let die

    While Bond is being fed to the sharks folks, beware what happens to Dr. Kananga; – )

    Sur/real? Cyberspacial? Do any of these eulogistic protocols about treating death this way or that apply? This is made clear in the charter statement of A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Do we love libertarianism, as we allow atheism to make us feel warm inside?

    Indeed, can a better or more appropriate wake and send-off be designed for Dr. Levitt?

    With due respect, we don’t know what killed Norman Levitt but we know it wasn’t journalism or social epistemology or STS or [post- your favorite here]. Nor do we know, on an all hallows’ eve, what is animating all this eulogging. Spooky…

    So, here is a return of the repressed [that is scientific, like or not]. Finally. This particular deceased may necessarily have to Levittate for a spell. Imagine, if you will, the spirit enduring a journey of afterlifelong learning.

    Pomo is dead. Long live higher superstition!

    30 Oct 2009, 19:17

  72. Steve Jones

    “Levitt’s general take on me and my work was so badly off the mark that I never deemed it appropriate to respond formally.”

    Or maybe “I’ll wait until he’s dead and can’t respond” and throw around terms like “cyber-fascism”. How very erudite.

    30 Oct 2009, 19:55

  73. Dave Weeden

    Since you linked to Nick Matzke’s article, Dr Fuller, I’d be obliged if you explained to the hard of understanding here (like me) where Matzke calls Levitt a ‘facist’ or a ‘thug’ or implies that he was either. Now I could have clicked on the link, NOT READ THE POST, and just searched for the word ‘fascist’ and found it, and thereby proved you correct, but I think most degree-educated people have the reading comprehension skills to actually interpret a few hundred words on our own.

    However, thanks for the link. For those who haven’t followed it, this was priceless.

    Back in 1996, Steve Fuller – that’s Steve “affirmative action for intelligent design” Fuller, for those of you who followed the Kitzmiller case – wrote one of the “serious” articles in Social Text, and, I learned today, apparently also read Sokal’s article when it was submitted, somehow without catching the obvious signs of parody.

    When I said that most degree-educated people have reading comprehension skills, I didn’t mean to imply that Dr Fuller was among them.

    30 Oct 2009, 20:15

  74. Hazel Covill

    Well, I don’t believe I have ever seen anyone so comprehensively “out” themselves as a nasty little narcissist as Steve Fuller has with this blog entry.

    The timing of this post so soon after a death could (charitably) be put down to insensitivity. However, the grandstanding and the bitterness in the face of criticism is unmistakable.

    I hope your students view this blog, Dr Fuller, and save themselves some time wondering whether or not you are worth dealing with. You cannot ‘see’ yourself, but I hope they will now be able to.

    Frankly, you are a blight upon the good name of the University of Warwick. N.B. I say this as an alumna.

    30 Oct 2009, 21:59

  75. Mike

    There is a lot of hostile rhetoric here. Steve has apparently crossed a red line: you don’t comment negatively on someone’s character after they’ve just passed away- that’s considered bad form.

    What I’m wondering is this. If someone who didn’t know Levitt in person, say someone born a generation after Levitt’s death, were to make similar comments based on the historical record of the man’s academic output, would there still be this same scandalized reaction to Steve’s comments?

    It seems to me that such an uncrossable red line is serving here merely to silence a legitimate criticism of the way Levitt conducted himself in terms of academic discussion. Sure, Steve’s rhetoric is provocative, but many of those criticizing him have this idealized conception of science as a purely epistemological project guided solely by rational processes, without seriously taking into account the destructive uses to which science has been put or the way in which institutional changes in the scientific process are altering the contexts of research.

    30 Oct 2009, 22:11

  76. George Balanchine

    To Mike,

    No, the really important thing to discuss or find out is which female graduate student Professor Fuller is currently sleeping with, that’s the most important thing. Everything else is besides the point. By the way, did I mention that Prof. Fuller is a fraud and phony? Oh yes, it seems I have, a number of times.

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    30 Oct 2009, 22:37

  77. R.S.H. Tryster

    Mike, how likely do you think it is that someone born a generation after Levitt’s death, someone who felt no personal enmity to the man, might use an epithet like “fascist,” or any permutation thereof, to describe him? What reason would someone so far from the conflict have to sound as unhinged as Fuller does here? Or do you merely want to replace what you’re calling “an uncrossable red line” with “an uncrossable red herring”? Fuller’s performance long ago disqualified him academically; unfortunately not all such intellectual failures are excluded from finding employment in academia. All he has done now is to cement his untouchability on a personal level as well. I don’t know where you’re coming from or what your relationship to Fuller is, but your comment reads as if you had neither properly read nor digested what he actually wrote.

    30 Oct 2009, 22:50

  78. Hazel Covill

    Mike

    “There is a lot of hostile rhetoric here. Steve has apparently crossed a red line: you don’t comment negatively on someone’s character after they’ve just passed away- that’s considered bad form.”

    No, no. It’s more subtle than that. You can comment negatively on someone’s character after they have just died iff you have openly, consistently and frequently commented negatively on their character prior to their death. (E.g. See the Hitchens example above). In that type of case you are demonstrating consistency, honesty and a healthy contempt for societal mores. (I might be wrong, but I think this is you something that you would deem admirable).

    However, if you comment negatively upon someone’s character immediately after an individual’s death when you have been less vociferous immediately prior to it then people are justified in wondering whether the (cough) ‘form’ is indeed bad.

    “If someone who didn’t know Levitt in person, say someone born a generation after Levitt’s death, were to make similar comments based on the historical record of the man’s academic output, would there still be this same scandalized reaction to Steve’s comments?”

    Unlikely. However, this lack of reaction would be attributable not to scandalised middle class sensibilities (as you imply). It would be simply related to a pragmatic understanding that no-one is above criticism. If someone is long dead then criticism without the possibility of direct counter from the object of criticism is simply unavoidable. This is not the case here so your analogy does not hold.

    “It seems to me that such an uncrossable red line is serving here merely to silence a legitimate criticism of the way Levitt conducted himself in terms of academic discussion.”

    I disagree – the reasons for which I have stated above.

    30 Oct 2009, 22:58

  79. Josh Slocum

    Fuller wrote:

    “Alan Sokal’s notorious hoax, whereby the editors of the leading US cultural studies journal were duped into publishing a politically correct piece of scientific gibberish”

    Are you mad? The editors of this journal weren’t “duped,” they were foolish, empty-headed, and credulous enough to accept and print Sokal’s gibberish as legitimate. This was the purest demonstration of the intellectual vacuity of postmodern studies – I cannot believe you don’t grasp that it’s you and your colleagues who should have been deathly embarrassed.

    You, Mr. Fuller, are an intellectual fraud, and a very nasty piece of work to boot. Your performance in service of the ID (creationist) crowd in the Dover case was intellectually and ethically reprehensible. Your posthumous pissing on Norm Levitt is disgusting.

    30 Oct 2009, 23:48

  80. Will H

    You are right in saying some of the comments on this post have been amusing. These posts all belong to you – though I have to say I found nothing amusing whatsoever in your original message, and indeed nothing substantial.

    I do not normally post personal criticisms, but everything you have said has been reprehensible.

    It always seems tragic to me that post-modernism and science are so vehemently opposed. To my mind there has always seemed something sympathetic between the two subjects – the abstract mind-games of the former are right at home with the latter, and both recognise the subjective and flawed nature of the physical interpretation of the real world. At their heart they both deny the idea that we know the fundamental truth to the universe. The difference seems though that science and inductive reasoning has not abandoned the notion that we can work towards truly knowing what we once dumbly believed we knew for certain.

    When I read opinions such as yours, I begin to understand how this opposition has come about, and the need to actively deny such intellectual and moral cowardism. That you hide behind the idea that postmodernisms occupy the space of ‘jews’ as enemies of science is baffling, and frankly adding insult to the injury you have already inflicted upon decency.

    [Note: I found the anti-spam question very amusing in this case; “my t-shirt is red. What colour is my t-shirt?” “Well, SOCIETY says your t-shirt is red but how oh how can I ever know???”]

    31 Oct 2009, 02:28

  81. Dale

    Wow, Steve Fuller, you really are a first-rate asshole, and I say that as an asshole. I have no idea if you’re a coward or not, but generally speaking, coward/non-coward is one of those distinctions best conferred by others. As it happens, I don’t care if you are or are not a coward; the asshole-ness outshines everything based on the evidence at hand.

    I gather you’ve made a career of issuing “postmodernist” twaddle (heroically fracturing doxas, problematizing metanarratives, reveling in discoveries of heretofore underappreciated polysemy, and otherwise typing gibberish) and have long since become weary of situations where you have to defend your ideas using coherent English sentences. I concede it must be frustrating, but then again, you’ve managed to rub that sand grain into a pearl of self-declared bravery (and success!) that, today, manifests as trashing one of your tormentors even as his body chills.

    Well played, Steve Fuller. May you be as bravely mourned and soon.

    31 Oct 2009, 03:11

  82. Alex

    Erm…... Godwin’s law?

    If you meet the standard of that Warwick sets for its academics, then this University has seriously gone down in my estimations. I hope they consider your position.

    Oh yeah, and you’re an asshole. When you die, would you like us all to piss on your grave and daub your tombstone with swastikas?

    31 Oct 2009, 07:07

  83. Wyatt Earp

    “Their resentment demands a scapegoat—and ‘postmodernists’ function as Jews had previously.”

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha God Almighty. Sense of proportion fail, as the kids say.

    What a spiteful and nasty-minded little article.

    31 Oct 2009, 11:43

  84. Steven

    Using a colleagues death as an opportunity for self aggrandizement? Nice one Steve.

    31 Oct 2009, 11:53

  85. Steve Fuller

    Look, people, smarten up or I’ll shut this down. You’re not saying anything initeresting, other than simply reinforcing my point about Levitt and his fan base.

    In particular, please read response 6 again – or even Nick Matzke’s obituary: You can’t call me a coward if tabloid Nick is correct in pointing out my long-standing ‘hatred’ of Levitt. Am I in the shadows or out of the shadows? You cyber-fascists need to get your stories straight! Maybe my problem is that I am way too picky in the sorts of things I respond to. Levitt crossed a line in TalkReason because he seemed to be issuing a purely ad hominem attack that was then catapulted into a demonisation of an entire field and/or school of thought. I refused to respond to that, though I responded to everything else of his that came my way and – as Matzke helpfully points out – often I initiated the attack.

    Now, you might say, ‘But Fuller, you asshole, aren’t you issuing an ad hominem attack after the guy is dead?’ Yes, I am, because when someone is dead – and I am sure the atheists amongst you will especially resonate to this point – there is no more room for improvement. The life-project is over, and let the evaluation begin! Mike (post 75) really got the point here. if I am guilty of anything, it is of succumbing to the rolling news syndrome, which encourages instant opinion about everything. But my guess is that we’ll get used to such quick negative verdicts on people’s lives in the not too distant future. And in any case, such verdicts are reversible in light of evidence…once provided.

    31 Oct 2009, 13:09

  86. Joanne Mullen

    Post modernism is nonsense, you’re an idiot and this article is disgusting. Telling people to ‘smarten up or I’ll shut this down’ sums up your attitude completely doesn’t it? Everyone’s telling you that you’re completely wrong, yet you persist in thinking that you’re right and everyone else is wrong. We’re the cyber fascists right? What an appalling excuse for a human being you are. Let’s hope this tops the google searches for your name for a long time to come. You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself, but you won’t be will you? Not even for a second.

    31 Oct 2009, 13:58

  87. Liam Buckley

    Can you please explain what you mean by “fascism” and why Levitt and the commentators on your blog are fascists but you yourself are not, given that your insults and name-calling are no less severe than those of your opponents.

    If you shut down comments as you are threatening to do you will be stifling opinions that differ from your own, following the lead of a certain group of people from history (Hint: their name begins with F).

    31 Oct 2009, 14:06

  88. Steve Jnes

    I’m a self declared atheist, so I do not think that Steven Levitt can feel any pain from the sort of attack you make. He does, of course, have relatives who maybe will take offense at somebody that they no doubt love being called a fascist, but even that isn’t the real point. The real issue is that your posting has nothing much more to say than that your academic independence and freedom of expression is being restricted by bullying. Frankly, if the limit of you objection to Steve Levitt’s criticism of you work is typified by your blog, then you are going to get everything you deserve. It’s notable that almost nobody has come to your support – it’s really your behaviour as a human being that has come into question on these responses. I think there are valid issues about your views as an academic as well, but there’s a vanishingly small component of that in this blog.

    31 Oct 2009, 14:24

  89. Wesley R. Elsberry

    Prof. Fuller appears to have selected for himself a role of Rufus Griswold, as Fuller has himself labored to achieve a legacy of “voluminous worthlessness” while railing at the dead.

    Most of humanity labors to attain simple competence, and few can hope that they will be long remembered for their intellectual contributions. For Griswold, the reviewer appears to have had the word with staying power:

    “What will be his fate? Forgotten, save only by those whom he has injured and insulted, he will sink into oblivion, without leaving a landmark to tell that he once existed; or if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust.”

    31 Oct 2009, 14:24

  90. Steve Jones

    Norman Levitt of course – too many Stevens in this world. I confuse myself.

    31 Oct 2009, 14:48

  91. Mike

    I think the comments posted here are very indicative of the intellectual environment in which we are unfortunately operating.

    Someone responded to my comment with this: “I don’t know where you’re coming from or what your relationship to Fuller is..”

    So someone posts a defense of Steve, and automatically he’s affiliated with him in some way? Should I bring my identity papers for a thorough check to make sure my affiliations are legitimate?

    Where I’m “coming from” is from an undergraduate American college in which all the teachers I’ve run across think that we should talk about science as a purely epistemological project, and separate all the postmodernists, relativists, and constructivists, since they are taken to have nothing worthwhile or valuable to say about science. Personally, I think that the approach to science education which is prevalent in many American colleges is severely deficient, since we never once hear about the ends of science and science’s relation to society. Instead, we hear about “method” nonstop as well as how evil religion is. It’s for this reason that I do have a lot of sympathy for Steve as well as for his diagnosis of the intellectual environment in which he’s operating.

    31 Oct 2009, 14:48

  92. valdemar

    A third-rate academic proves himself a fifth-rate human being. Go on, shut the comments down. Better still, why not try and obliterate this ghastly mistake? Except nothing ever really disappears on the internet, does it? So now this piece of crap will define you, Fuller. And it’s what you deserve.

    31 Oct 2009, 14:51

  93. Liam Buckley

    Mike: So he’s working in an intellectual environment where one cannot baselesly accuse others of being fascists without being called out for it? How awful!

    31 Oct 2009, 15:08

  94. George Balanchine

    I’d still like to know which female graduate student Steve’s currently boning(before he ‘shuts us down’).

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    P.S. I think I’d go for the blond actress, come to think of it.

    31 Oct 2009, 15:15

  95. George Balanchine

    P.S. someone should save this web page!

    31 Oct 2009, 15:16

  96. Liam Buckley

    George Balanchine: Do you really have to keep feeding Fuller’s persecution complex.

    31 Oct 2009, 15:17

  97. Mike

    Liam: What’s awful, in my opinion, and this is just from my personal experience, is that science is given a free pass in terms of academic reflection, and those who seek to question it in any way are quite often marginalized. Granted, Steve’s comments are a bit over the top, but the general diagnosis he’s giving us here seems to be accurate. People like Levitt have seemingly done little to advance our understanding of science, but base their entire careers bashing academic fields such as STS.

    How about instead of people bashing Steve (or perhaps in addition to doing so), someone actually points to one major idea or concept that Levitt has used to advance our understanding of science? I’ve seen a lot of angry posts so far, which may be legitimate as a response to over-the-top comments goes, but how about a poster actually takes Steve up on his challenge and identifies one accomplishment of Levitt’s in advancing our understanding of science?

    31 Oct 2009, 15:18

  98. Liam Buckley

    I couldn’t possibly comment on what contributions Levitt had made to science; I am not a mathematician and do not have the knowledge to evaluate his papers. Is the implication you’re making here that if a person is not a prolific and revolutionary scientist then they are fair game for malicious personal attacks. This is completely wrong. For example, Steve Fuller knows little science and has made no substantial contribution to any meaningful field, but he should not be derided for this fact (He should instead be derided for the revolting attacks of this blog post. What a joke that someone who makes comments like his would accuse others of bullying.).

    31 Oct 2009, 15:35

  99. Wes

    Mike,

    As a phd student in an STS field, I can assure you of this: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    The people in our department were sad to hear that Levitt has passed. Many people here disagreed with him, but no one-and I mean no one-thinks he’s a fascist. Fuller’s kind of substance-free ad hominem nonsense has no place in any academic field. The strong social constructivism that Fuller promotes is a thing of the past, an embarrassment to STS. We are critical, sure, but we work with scientists, not against them, like any good interdisciplinary field should.

    As I said above, Fuller is an embarrassment to science studies. And if you follow his lead, you’ll be one too.

    31 Oct 2009, 15:42

  100. Wes

    I don’t know how that strike-through got into my comment above, but it’s a typo…

    31 Oct 2009, 15:44

  101. George Balanchine

    Liam Buckley,

    How am I feeding his persecution complex? I’m just making a polite inquiry about his personal life, that’s all. We’re talking about a man, a tenured professor(I assume), Fuller, who wrote a play starring himself and three very attractive women all importuning him about his, ahem, “soul”. For me this says a lot about his real motivations.

    Let me point out:

    1). Fuller compared himself and the post-modernists, science studies people to the Jews suffering persecution and later extermination under the Nazis.

    2). He called Norm a fascist and cyber-fascist(whatever that exactly means).

    So, Fuller stopped just short of calling Levitt a neo-Nazi. Is this a reasoned response to anything by anyone? Did Norm ever say something so extreme about Fuller? Not that I know of. Norm was very tough I grant you, but he always gave reasons for what he was saying, he always gave arguments for what he was asserting.
    So, please Fuller, do everyone a favor and ‘shut us down’.

    Very Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

    P.S. I’ve saved this web page, and you can email me at anonymouscoward@billburg.com if you want a copy of it.

    31 Oct 2009, 15:45

  102. Andrew Norris

    Why waste your time with this hack obit when you can read perhaps the last written words of Norma Levitt – i.e. his excoriating review of Fara’s “4000 years of science” http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-10-26 Lucid scholarly prose, as usual. You won’t find much of that around here.

    31 Oct 2009, 15:51

  103. Liam Buckley

    George Balanchine: My problem is that by making this personal you are using the same tactics as Fuller, taking attention away from the many legitimate criticism that can be made of him. This may lead to him shutting down the thread with the excuse that people are prying into his personal life.

    31 Oct 2009, 16:15

  104. Henry Wilton

    Is there any evidence that Levitt had a “sense of failure”? As a geometric topologist (after a fashion) myself, I can assure you that Levitt’s publication record is pretty good. He had a paper published in the Annals of Mathematics, the premier maths journal. Admittedly, he could have been more prolific, but he published papers steadily for twenty-five years. And if he was disappointed that he didn’t prove the Poincare Conjecture – well, he’s in good company.

    As for Val’s “Russian emigre collaborator”, there are plenty of people fitting that description in mathematics, but I don’t see one on Levitt’s publication record. (Anyone with access to a university library can check this out for themselves on MathSciNet.) Honestly, does either Val or Steve actually know anything about Levitt’s mathematical career, or did you both just make this stuff up? Because “he wished he had proved the Poincare Conjecture” would be an apt epitaph for thousands of topologists.

    I had never heard of Levitt before yesterday, so I can’t comment on his “interdisciplinary” work, but mathematically he undoubtedly worked on “major idea[s] ... to advance our understanding of science”. I hope my career is such a failure.

    31 Oct 2009, 16:45

  105. Wyatt Earp

    Henry W: “evidence”? Oh no no no no no, you haven’t got it at all. Only fascists insist on “evidence”.

    Interesting that Fuller assumes that any scientist who doesn’t become a superstar-who simply tolis in the vineyard, as it were-must be filled with resentment and anger. One could speculate, ad hominem, about the psychological source of that opinion, but that would be DESCENDING TO HIS LEVEL, dammit. All we can say for certain is that it shows yet again that he’s badly missed the point about science.

    You know, Fuller might perhaps just entertain the idea that there were other reasons for Levitt’s “anger” when they met. When someone’s angry with you, the fault isn’t necessarily theirs.

    (Yeah, go on, shut it down. Because it’s not “interesting” enough. Yeah right.)

    31 Oct 2009, 17:47

  106. Wyatt Earp

    Another weirdass strikethrough; some idiosyncratic markup at work, I’d say. Anyway, stet.

    31 Oct 2009, 17:57

  107. Henry Wilton

    Mike,

    Regarding your comment 97:

    “People like Levitt have seemingly done little to advance our understanding of science, but base their entire careers bashing academic fields such as STS.”

    Levitt got his PhD in 1967 and published mathematical papers regularly till the mid-’90s. Higher Superstition was published in 1994.

    31 Oct 2009, 18:09

  108. Liam Buckley

    Val Dusek: If you are still reading this thread may I ask you a possibly irrelevant question? In an article you wrote which I include at the end of this post, you mention that the biologist E O Wilson, upon being soaked by a pitcher of water at a scientific meeting, stated that he “felt like he had been speared by an aborigine.”

    I find it shocking that anyone would make such a racially offensive statement in that situation. However, I find it even more shocking that I cannot find a reference for the quote outside your article written over 20 years later. Given that Wilson was a controversial figure and had many critics, many of whom would have been present, I would have thought that such an unambiguously racist statement from him would have been common knowledge. For example, Stephen Jay Gould was both a great critic of sociobiology and a exposer of the racist goals that have motivated scientists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, yet as far as I know he never made any reference to the “speared by an aborigine” slur. This made me suspicious of your claim when I saw it a while ago: a suspicion that has only grown now that it emerges that Levitt’s “Russian emigre collaborator” may not exist.

    Did E O Wilson really make the racist statement you attribute to him and if so can you provide any corroborative evidence from other sources? Could you please also state the name of the Russian collaborator if he or she exists?

    I apologise if my accusations against you are unfounded but if you weren’t so vague with your references I would have no need to make them.

    http://www.human-nature.com/science-as-culture/dusek.html

    31 Oct 2009, 18:14

  109. Henry Wilton

    To be clear, I don’t personally know any of Levitt’s collaborators, and cannot say whether any of them originally come from Russia. [I also have no idea why it would matter. Although the Poincare Conjecture was eventually solved by a Russian.] However, a quick look at his publication list indicates that the assertion that he “did some fundamental work in geometric topology, but dropped it and only continued it decades later with a Russian emigre collaborator” is false.

    31 Oct 2009, 19:03

  110. John Wilkins

    Liam, you’ll find a good account of Wilson’s soaking in

    Segerstråle, Ullica. 2000. Defenders of the truth: the sociobiology debate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, page 24

    She does not mention the aborigine quote. Dusek seems to be the only source for that claim.

    31 Oct 2009, 19:04

  111. Ian MacDougall

    .
    Steve Fuller, I think your above humble contribution to the literature of the world will be what that world remembers you for, long after all this dust here has settled. Your Levitt obit will be your ‘Principia’, your ‘Origin of the Species’, your ‘Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ (and indeed, can I suggest a provisional title: ‘An Enquiry into the Origin and Principles of My Understanding, Part 1’? God knows, you have enough inquirers involved: a real collective effort.)

    As for your threat to take it down, that would be in its own small way, your version of the burning of the Library of Alexandria. But rest assured that it would be in vain. To my knowledge at least two copies of this whole thread to date have been filed, by people like myself who recognise it for the classic that it is, and it will no doubt appear elsewhere on the Web in its own good time. As they next enter the seminar room, lecture hall, public lavatory or wherever it is you hold your classes, half your students will probably have the whole thing on their laptops, and by the end of that class they all will.

    31 Oct 2009, 20:54

  112. R.S.H. Tryster

    “So someone posts a defense of Steve, and automatically he’s affiliated with him in some way? Should I bring my identity papers for a thorough check to make sure my affiliations are legitimate?”

    I probably shouldn’t get in any deeper, but since it was my post that caused that reaction…

    You are about the only person to be on Fuller’s side in these comments. We are not all right because we have the overwhelming majority, but we think we are right because we think Fuller’s original post deserves only condemnation on a personal level and that his subsequent additions have only made it worse for him. On threads elsewhere on the internet, his mental health is being seriously discussed. Please note that I was not interrogating you; I said I didn’t know where you were coming from. It was a confession of ignorance on my part and I’m surprised to find that the reaction is so over-defensive. Solely on the basis of what Fuller wrote, I’m surprised that even one person wishes to say anything that conveys understanding of his position. Had I been shown nothing other than Fuller’s original post and then been told someone had written a non-condemnatory comment, my first reaction would have been that it must be Fuller under a pseudonym. Sidetracking the discussion to what goes on in universities nowadays is unhelpful here. Something unconnected to all that had obviously been festering within Fuller and chose the least auspicious moment to reveal itself to the world. If this kind of outburst doesn’t end your career, what will it take?

    31 Oct 2009, 21:29

  113. Ophelia Benson

    Hmm. Val Dusek says (in comment 1) that “I once surmised in print that Bricmont was jealous of Prigogine for getting a Nobel Prize” -

    so perhaps this surmising thing is a habit. (And what a nasty habit it is. How on earth do people think they can know this kind of thing with enough confidence to say it in print? Is it Freud who set the horrible precedent?)

    For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from people who know Ed Wilson in real life (which I don’t) that he’s an exceptionally nice man. I ‘surmise’ that the aborigine remark is a canard.

    Yo, Steve – remember that ‘In Focus’ of mine that annoyed you a few years ago? I’ll have to update it and put it back on the front page. You’re a trip, dude.

    31 Oct 2009, 21:40

  114. R.S.H. Tryster

    Yes, Ophelia, I just reread it and it definitely belongs back in the spotlight for a while, especially as it quotes Levitt on him in a way that makes the claims of “fascist” sound even more like the projection they seem to be.

    31 Oct 2009, 21:50

  115. Ophelia Benson

    Ah, well I’ll hurry up then.

    Lots of welcome attention you’ve brought on yourself, Steve! Must be very gratifying. Remember this thread at Talking Philosophy? Your tone was lovely then, too.

    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=50

    (That ‘potentilla’ who pressed you so hard, but so politely, is dead now, just like Norm. Her name was Christian Jago. Like Norm, she is missed.)

    31 Oct 2009, 22:05

  116. Dave Weeden

    Mike:

    science is given a free pass in terms of academic reflection, and those who seek to question it in any way are quite often marginalized.

    Let me give you an example of someone who questioned the academic reflection of a branch of science. There was once a person who doubted the methodologies and rigour of a certain scientific journal, so he sent in paper which contained no real research, just a lot of made up mumbo-jumbo. Various editors of the journal saw this paper, one of those being our good friend here, Steve Fuller. None of them could tell balderdash from empiricism. Science isn’t apart from academic reflection. Science is academic reflection. Academic reflection which isn’t interested in gathering facts and analysing them is just hand-waving.

    OTOH, Steve Fuller tried to question science in a court in the Dover trial. A judge (not a scientist) found him unconvincing. It’s not a question of “free passes”. Papers are rejected all the time in proper journals because they lack evidence, or rigour, or something. I don’t care if Fuller believes that only goat sacrifice makes the sun rise and that all this talk about the earth “rotating” is just the close-minded babble of “scientitsts.”

    Mike, perform a simple test: read Nick Matzke’s piece. Decide for yourself whether, as Fuller claims (but won’t back up), that Matzke calls Levitt a ‘fascist.’ Consider whether Fuller summarizes Matzke or merely reiterates his own prejudices:

    Yes, he probably did succeed in causing a lot of postmodernists to self-censor or backpedal. What an accomplishment – he sent a lot of humanists and social scientists back into the closet!

    At least one person in this fight is not being honest. Make up your own mind who it is/they are.

    01 Nov 2009, 09:02

  117. Steve Fuller

    GAME OVER!!!

    PART ONE OF TWO

    Let’s see what we have here…. Now, the point of this exercise was to see whether Norman Levitt was more boon or blight to the world. In my typically tasteless fashion, I provided a case for ‘blight’, declaring him a father of ‘cyber-fascism’ only a few hours after his death was announced. (However, I consoled myself with the fact that, as an atheist, he could not accuse me of arrogating divine powers!)

    Now, you would have thought that across the 100+ responses to my obituary, someone might have made some clear noises about Levitt’s positive intellectual contribution to one of the many academic fields that he accused postmodernists of polluting. As a matter of fact, 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. I appreciate the pathos invoked here, I really do, but that still does not license – let alone excuse – cyber-fascism. Just because you fail in your chosen field, it doesn’t mean you can have a field day with those who succeed in their chosen fields.

    This returns me to my original point: Postmodernism and its fellow-travellers were a problem for Levitt not simply because they exerted no quality control over what they said (in this respect, Levitt’s enormous reputation on the internet was most ironic) but because the content of what they said implied that Levitt’s own ideals were wrongheaded and, more importantly, the postmodernists were making substantial academic reputations out of such debunking stances. This is striking because postmodernists do not have a monopoly on the commission of technical errors in academia. Moreover, the outright frauds that go undetected in the most prestigious journals in the physical and biomedical sciences rise by the day – and these cannot be blamed on confusion brought on from reading too many French authors! Levitt may have said something interesting about these problems, but I don’t seem to recall these remarks making much of an impression.

    PART TWO FOLLOWS

    01 Nov 2009, 11:28

  118. Steve Fuller

    PART TWO

    So, where exactly did Levitt’s authority come from? In the early and more naïve days of the science wars, many of the accused postmodernists published responses to Levitt’s various misreadings, oversimplifications, false contextualisations, etc. (I have also published such responses, but I wasn’t part of his first charge.) But that didn’t seem to have much of an effect. (The same was true in the case of Sokal and Bricmont.) Clearly Levitt’s critiques carried ‘surface validity’ – they sounded right. It probably helped that Levitt inserted a lot of unnecessary ten-dollar words into a faux Victorian prose style that gave an air of high seriousness and righteous indignation. People who have no other way of judging what he says are impressed by this, especially if they sort-of know a suspected postmodernist who they can’t quite figure out yet seems to get away with stuff.

    It’s worth saying that, contrary to what some people have suggested, I don’t normally spend my days persecuting scientists or science warriors. For example, if Alan Sokal died tomorrow, I wouldn’t subject him to this treatment. I think our side poorly handled the hoax, for reasons that I won’t go into here. I also think that Sokal’s subsequent work – which continues to be very critical of postmodernism – is quite civil and unlikely to launch the sort of flame campaigns that are associated with cyber-fascism. As you can see, my main concern here is with the legacy of the person – what sort of an example does one set in one’s life. I believe that Levitt set a very poor example, and the evidence is amply on display in this blog entry, in which Levitt’s fan base made their presence felt. And what a presence it has proved to be!

    No blog entry would be complete without a Mel Brooks Moment, when someone goes so over the top that one is simply shocked without knowing whether to laugh or be scandalised. George Ballanchine tried hard to win this one, but in the end the award goes to Ophelia Benson (post 115) for her completely baffling invocation of a blogger who died shortly after I had shortshrifted a line of inquiry she was pursuing with me. Is cause and effect seriously being suggested here?! In any case, I am happy to have people look at the particular entry that Ophelia cited and draw their own conclusions. But given Ophelia’s quite arbitrary ‘throw a corpse on the stage’ move in the conversation, I now don’t feel so guilty about having commented on Levitt so soon after his death. Obviously there are others who take people’s deaths even less seriously.

    Norman Levitt, RIP

    Amen.

    01 Nov 2009, 11:28


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