Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paranoid Science

At Slate, Daniel Engber has been doing a series called "The Paranoid Style in American Science" about "radical skepticism and the rise of conspiratorial thinking about science."

The first piece was on reactions to Richard Dawkins on atheism and the second on how industry (Big Tobacco in particular) have made doubt their product. The third starts with treating Ben Stein's insult to our national intelligence, Expelled. This film, in case you've been in solitary confinement lately, exposes the conspiracy of the all-powerful evolutionary biologists who are imposing Darwinism on us and suppressing the Truth of 'intelligent design'. (Before you turn your flamethrower on and head for the 'comment' button, that is a tongue in cheek summary. More seriously, the film argues at length, apparently, that evolutionary theory caused the Holocaust.) It has been excoriated repeatedly by knowledgeable folks over at, so no need to bludgeon that equine corpse here.

Engber uses the film as a way to tie back to his bigger topic, 'paranoid science'. He draws here on Richard Hofstadter's 1964 essay on "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" (available here, and absolutely worth a read). The present little stub of a post is mostly a public reminder to myself to eventually come back and write about how popular views of language do and don't fit into this — not just the peevologists, but also non-mainstream views about genetic relationships among language ('long rangers') and others. There must be lots of work in history of science, philosophy of science, etc. on this, if not yet for linguistics particularly.

By the way, this is post number 666 on this blog. Just in case things weren't sinister enough. That probably influenced the choice of image … .

No comments: