Higher Superstition The Academic Left and Its uarrels with


  • Paperback
  • 348 pages
  • Higher Superstition The Academic Left and Its uarrels with Science
  • Paul R. Gross
  • English
  • 24 July 2016
  • 9780801857072

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Higher Superstition The Academic Left and Its uarrels with ScienceAnother dreary attack by physics cultists on the humanities Gross wants to defend science and though the enemies of science these days are on the Right climate change deniers anti evolutionists his targets are postmodernist and post structuralist thinkers of the academic Left He seems to be terrified of studies that look at science in a cultural context or of critical theory that asks who gets to define and impose knowledge in society Any discipline that asks simple humanities oriented uestions who gets to decide what science is for? who decides what kinds of knowledge we think are valuable? why do we do science this particular way? is immediately derided as soft and as anti science Gross wants to take science out of culture and politics and social structures and make it into a kind of pure method where no outside influences ever shape what scientists look for see or agree to find acceptable Call this one rant by the physics cultists against the idea that knowledge might not be self evident or that there may not be One Right Answer yielded by hard science that everyone should instantly accept With the emergence of cultural studies and the blurring of once clear academic boundaries scholars are turning to subjects far outside their traditional disciplines and areas of expertise In Higher Superstition scientists Paul Gross and Norman Levitt raise serious uestions about the growing criticism of science by humanists and social scientists on the academic left This paperback edition of Higher Superstition includes a new afterword by the authors The Higher Superstition The Academic Left and Its uarrels with Science by Paul R Gross and Norman Levitt reveals the terrifying irrationality of the left wing elites that control the universities and the bullying tactics they use to enforce political correctness Silly French intellectual fads such as postmodernism have of course done much of the damage and Gross and Levitt have a good deal of fun demolishing thier follies They were also among the first to draw attention to the lies being told on the subject of global warming I'm pulled in two uite different directions by this book so any endorsement comes with significant reservations First I must say that I largely agree with the primary thesis of this book postmodernists cultural constructivists radical environmentalists and other ideological groups in academia have put forth distressing inaccurate and poorly informed critiues of science or else have co opted science when it conveniently supports an agenda and then deny the legitimacy of science when it fails to conform to politics Postmodernists and cultural constructivists enjoy painting science as little than a competing ideology or interpretive discourse with no special claim to truth Obviously this is nonsense Radical environmentalists eagerly circulate environmental doomsday predictions when science produces them but they cry foul when further study disconfirms initial fears It's not difficult to see how this is foolish However though I endorse the thesis of the book I very much dislike the tone and I uestion some of the assumptions woven throughout this argument First the book assumes in absence of all but anecdotal evidence that these kinds of antiscience views are ubiuitous among the humanities not merely that these views are taught as part of the history of the humanities but that humanists in general fully endorse these views with gusto The authors of this book attribute an improbable credulity to anyone working in humanistic disciplines From my experience though postmodernists like Derrida are freuently mentioned in the humanities few working scholars would lend an unualified stamp of approval to these philosophies Granted my experience is also anecdotal but it seems that the charitable impulse would lead one to grant colleagues the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming that the their peers are all fools for lack of a better word Also despite the fact that they criticize many of their colleagues for entertaining millenarian delusions they put forth a series of increasingly dreadful scenarios that might result if postmodernists et al have their way For example the authors claim that continued uarrels with science may eventually lead science to secede from academia altogether Additionally they claim that if this happened scientists would be able to competently teach the humanities but the humanists would be helpless if scientists were to boycott academia This seems naively arrogant A great many philosophers of science would be competent instructors of lower level college science and mathematics courses though they might struggle with higher levels courses However the same would be true of most scientists they could competently instruct lower level courses in the humanities but I'd imagine they'd lack enough specific knowledge to teach higher level courses and the only reason why the authors assume they are omnicompetent is because they do not respect their peers nor do they respect the fields that they are eager to criticize Scientists are not immune to ignorance Most irritatingly the authors bemoan the woeful state of science education and science literacy in the American general public but there's empirical reason to dispute this According to the PISA American students are not the best science students in the world but they're pretty far from being the worst and our level of achievement has remained pretty stable In 2012 the average score in science literacy for US students was 497 OECD average 501 but we scored above Norway 495 Sweden 485 and Iceland 478 Pew and Gallup polls have certainly revealed deficits in adult science literacy but there are comparable deficits throughout the developed world In other words there's nothing that suggests that the US is a particularly egregious offender against science Finally they scarcely bother with offering genuine counterevidence against their opponents They're satisfied to merely explain the argument using the briefest paraphrase or selecting a single paragraph as representative of a lengthy body of work and then declare it to be balderdash If I didn't already agree with the authors I would hardly be persuaded to embrace their position It's absolutely correct for the authors to point out that an assertion is not evidence but neither is a counter assertionOverall the book highlights some interesting issues in contemporary humanist theorizing but it does so in a high handed hypocritical and arrogant way The task the authors undertake is a worthy one but it reuires a sense of fairness that's lacking here This is a really good book Academia is really full of crap these days Case in point uackademic medicine So called alternative medicine taught by reputable ? medical institutions There are pockets of real science being done here and there but the rest of it is all sell out fads and ideology And that's coming from a dyed in the wool lefty mind you Two smug conservatives go yah boo sucks at leftie straw men That's not uite an accurate summary of this book but it conjures up perfectly my feelings all the while I was reading it revulsion at the abominably orotund and self congratulatory writing style profound irritation that despite a half hearted attempt in the introductory pages to claim non partisanship the authors were framing their very justified criticisms of sloppy antiscientific thinking as a political left right battle A full 100% of Republican SenateHouse candidates this Fall reject the science of climate change The leaders of the campaigns against the science linking tobacco smoke to disease against the science showing the depletion of the ozone layer against the science demonstrating the reality of evolution against the science that showed SDI wouldn't work and now against the science indicating the world is warming it is nary impossible to find a leftie amongst them But you cry Gross's and Leavitt's real targets are the postmodernistssocial constructivists who're definitely a bunch of lefties no? Well okay if you think that people like Nietsche and Nazi Party member Heidegger two of the primary inspirations of that school are lefties To be fair some of the authors' targets are of the left for example that branch of feminism which tried to twist science for ideological reasons but this is by no means uniformly the case Antiscientific idiots are to be found all across the political spectrum but the majority of them seem always to be on the political rightI succeeded in ploughing through this book because I had to for the sake of research What's depressing is that behind the tone of infantile sneer there's some very valuable stuff being said But I imagine that most of the people who should be reading it will have thrown the book at the wall in disgust long before they get that far This is the hardest I've laughed for any book in my 2017 reading theme Higher Superstition is a wickedly perceptive takedown of the absurdities of the academic postmodern left and their perspectivist critiue of science Gross and Levitt defend the epistemological integrity of science from the relativist onslaught with a biting wit and a cavalier disregard for political correctness The book is a useful conservative counterbalance to Otto's generally liberal The War on ScienceOriginally published in 1994 this book just pre dates Harold Bloom's eually hilarious and unapologetic The Western Canon Similar in conservative approach and acidic tone both works take on The School of Resentment and its attack on the foundations of Western culture and civilization On the menu for evisceration are Marxists feminists Afro centrists and relativists and ecotopians for good measure I suspect that neither book could find a publisher courageous enough to publish it todayThe core argument of the book is that postmodern critiues that treat science as just another self referential discursive community fail to appreciate the uniue self correcting relationship that science has with reality Gross and Levitt do a remarkably good job surveying the giants of the philosophy of science from Kuhn and Feyerabend to Latour and Shapin I found his refutation of relativism compelling and his no holds barred demolition of leftist misinterpretations of chaos theory to be satisfyingly brutalSpeaking of brutality here's a list of some of the sickest burns in the book To put the matter brutally science works What Hayles does is not analysis It is name dropping This is exhilarating it is radicalism without risk Wishful thinking is the customary name for this such “analysis” There is not masculinist or feminist science just good and bad science Apocalyptic movements don’t do honest and comprehensive costbenefit analyses the only book foretelling the end of the world that routinely advertises next year’s edition Science is above all else a reality driven enterprise In sum we are accusing a powerful faction in modern academic life of intellectual dereliction One can’t assume in these matters that possession of an advanced degree or a professorship euates to intellectual legitimacyThe book is full of uotes like these They makes the text a joy to read but also underscore how bitter discourse in the academy has become Gross and Levitt echo Bloom by highlighting this resentment It is impossible to understand fully the academic left’s attack on science without taking into account how much resentment is embodied in it They argue that the humanities envy the increasing funding and prestige of science departments and thus they have leveled their constructivist weapons upon them Seems a bit too Freudian?My big takeaway was that much of the conflict between the left and science comes down to a matter of perspectivismPerspectivism on the left is the true legacy of the activism of the 1960s and early 1970s a time when it was assumed that the oppressed are endowed with uniuely privileged insights and that the intellectual as well as moral authority of victims is beyond challengeOverall this is a cranky but useful read It was certainly uite helpful in helping me frame some current scientific controversies in their recent historical contextA word of warning because the authors attempt to engage with contemporary postmodern academic literature the books is awash in complex confusing vocabulary hermeneutics comes up with astonishing freuency In general the vocabulary level of this book is uite high I often found myself having to look words up Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised after all we're neck deep in epistemology nowFull review and highlights at Skip this one I am biased in favor of the overall thesis but the presentation is exceedingly dry The authors are aping the puffed up language of those they are attacking and 250 pages is far too long for that particular joke When the authors simply summarize work they waded through while they were preparing the book the reader is treated to such gems as Hunter Adams an apparently respected academic who in his zeal to promote African culture has made claims that ancient Egyptian science rivaling modern capabilities was enabled by telepathic capabilities Instead most of the book describes from considerable distance why the approaches of certain movements are misguided That point is basically self apparent and repeating it gets old fastmy favorite uote How do we permit a wide public to have a serious voice in such deliberations without inviting in gullibility ignorance and mere faddishness without inviting in the PR operators? The easy answer of course is to educate the great mass of citizens in such a way that thinking accurately about science is possible if not uite second nature This was a fairly interesting read Basically written in response to what many scientists view as an attack on the foundations of science from the academic left which is generally identified as post modernism Right off the bat they authors make clear their distaste of when social schools of thought interfere and attempt to put a spin on the scientific method Some culprits include multiculturalism feminism and environmentalism They clearly did a lot of research into this and do a good job of putting together their arguments on how each attempt by postmodernists to label science as simply a social construct are flawed Not sure i'm totally convinced but they do bring up some good points As with everything else balance is the correct key It really isn't a contest between the academic left and right that matters So two elitist academic extremes are arguing What does this mean for the real world for the public? I wish there was a bit of that discussion Ended up just as too much of a political treatise The target of this book postmodernism has thankfully dwindled in uantity and influence as its absurdities became undeniable Much of the book's relevance thus is past Still many of the arguments still apply to today's post truth attitudes Plus the take downs are fun to readHowever Gross and Levitt seriously fail with one of their arguments In arguing about extremist claims of the environmental movement they consider probability of the threat coming to pass but they neglect the magnitude of the threat If there is a one percent chance that something will kill thousands of people that something deserves attention In the case of global warming Gross and Levitt in 1994 stated that the science is not certain so there is no cause for alarmist remarks Yet they also acknowledged that the threat is plausible and they are smart enough to recognize that should it occur the warming would harm hundreds of millions of people from sea level rise alone That to me is cause for alarm even in 1994