Heroes and heretics
Keneth Miles (permalinks bloggered) reports that Lyndall Ryan has finally made a detailed reply to Keith Windschuttle’s attacks on her, conceding sloppy footnoting, but showing that she did indeed have evidence to back up the crucial claims on which Windschuttle based his claims of fabrication.
Also, at Surfdom, Chris Sheil reports on the Windschuttle vs Reynolds travelling circus. I gave my own take on the debate here. You can read ‘Gummo Trotksy’s take on Windschuttle’s ideas about the philosophy of science here.
Looking at the whole Windschuttle business, it’s clear that his general approach is similar to that of Bjorn Lomborg and the cottage industry of global warming sceptics. Although some elements can be traced back to Immanuel Velikovsky (Windschuttle links to a defence of Velikovsky by his mentor David Stove) the crucial innovations were made by the creation scientists, notably Duane Gish.
The archetypal version of the story runs as follows
(a) The official centres of scientific research in field X are dominated by a leftist/environmentalist/evolutionist orthodoxy, maintained by an establishment that ruthlessly crushes dissent
(b) The hero, a person with some academic qualifications in another field, but none in the field in question, formerly accepted the establishment version, but subsequently saw the light and now rejects it utterly
(c) Now, following the methods of academic research (in particular, lots of footnotes), but doing it better than the official exponents, he exposes the contradictions in the establishment version, and proclaims an alternative model.
(d) The anti-orthodox hero doesn’t publish in peer-reviewed journals (peer-review is a device for the establishment to suppress dissent). In fact, he typically doesn’t do original research, preferring to survey the writings of his opponents for embarrassing errors, contradictions between authorities and quotes that can be used to support his own viewpoint
(e) Despite the overwhelming hostility of the establishment elite, the hero manages to carry on, supported only by the largesse of rightwing governments, major corporations and surprisingly well-endowed thinktanks
Lomborg is a perfect fit on all points. Windschuttle does engage in some original research, but otherwise fits the pattern pretty well.
Not surprisingly, there is a fair degree of mutual support among the different practitioners of this approach, even if there are some points of difficulty (for example, it’s difficult to argue about the interglacial warmings while maintaining that the earth is 6007 years old). Quadrant for example, buys the entire package, from global warming scepticism to anti-evolutionism, and has even given a sympathetic ear to Stove and Velikovsky. Similarly, sites like Steve Milloy’s Junk Science mostly either support equal time for creationism or leave the whole subject alone for fear of annoying their supporters.
And, all these ideas are accepted as straightforward fact in the US Republican Party. In fact, as I pointed out a while ago,
there is now almost no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans. The other social sciences (sociology, anthropology, political science) are even more suspect than economics. The natural sciences are all implicated in support for evolution against creationism, and for their conclusions about global warming, CFCs and other environmental threats. Even the physicists have mostly been sceptical about Star Wars and its offspring. And of course the humanities are beyond the pale.
To speculate a bit further, it seems that the collective and non-profit orientation of the whole academic enterprise makes it suspect for Republicans. This adds to the attraction of hero-heretics like Lomborg and Windschuttle.