Like many of you, I'm partial to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science
column in the Guardian, and its various exposures of flawed usage of scientific information or language in the press. It has its faults, certainly: Goldacre sometimes seems to be of the belief that humanities graduates as a whole are all engaged together in a vast conspiracy of unscientific muddle-headedness and woolly thinking, which seems most unfair. Perhaps it's just that all the humanities graduates he knows are Derrideans.
Nonetheless, I do enjoy the column: not only is it extremely amusing, it has the not-entirely-un-self-fostered feeling of a lone voice of reason in a lunatic and culturally relativist world, not unlike Francis Wheen's splendid How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World
, which I would heartily recommend. In particular, the Emperor's-New-Clothes-ing chapter on the obfuscating rubbish perpetrated by some in the name of deconstruction and critical theory is vastly enjoyable to anyone who has to deal with those who parrot this nonsense on a regular basis. It was this that first properly drew my attention to Alan Sokal
's superb exposure in 1996 of precisely how much unsupported drivel
it is possible to spout in a reputable journal of Cultural Studies and still be taken seriously, so long as one throws in sufficient buzz-words. This is like balm in Gilead and needs always to be kept in mind whenever faced with the obscurantist and convoluted blithering which has somehow become acceptable currency in much writing on critical theory. What a damning indictment of how cowed everyone in the humanities has been by the postmodernist assault on reason that it took a natural scientist to do it...
Anyway, shattering all your expectations by returning to the point, I do sometimes wonder if there isn't somewhat of a need for a Bad History
column for Livejournal. Perhaps this is taking an unnecessarily large professional sledgehammer to a very small (and amateur) nut, but, honestly, there are times when the wrongheadedness and misconception is just so egregious that it's a wonder hair is not being torn out and heads are not being beaten on desks after reading. And I'm not talking about my
So, anyway, yes, before the cut tag, an important health warning!
The proximate inspiration for this rant is indeed something posted on livejournal (by someone I don't know) and extensively linked to by my friends in the past day or two. However, the points I make below are not necessarily aimed at that piece and reflect some more general statements and beliefs that I've seen expressed in various places. Update
Ah, even better, I am informed that the piece in question was actually a hoax. Which is a relief, but if I took it seriously I guess it's only a sad testament to lowered expectations... At any rate, everything still stands.( Does it make your blood boil, Simon? )