Higher Superstition The Academic Left and Its uarrels with

Higher Superstition The Academic Left and Its uarrels with Science 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

10 thoughts on “Higher Superstition The Academic Left and Its uarrels with Science

  1. Bukk Bukk says:

    Imagine you held a belief so fervently that it superseded everything else in your life came above every other value principle or claim that you were exposed to for this almighty worldview and belief system was of utmost importance And imagine that the subject of your unyielding faith was unfortunately built upon faulty ideas flawed understanding irrational concepts And imagine then that sometime around the 17th century a highly rational reasoned and logical system of thought had been developed upon which so many historically and technologically significant achievements had been not only made possible but had been brought into reality And imagine this proven mode of thought that would later be attributed to the period known as the Enlightenment flew in the face of your sacred belief system You want your belief to be treated not only as valid but as substantially true and important and you want it to be seen as the totalizing intellectual power that you imagine it is How can this be done if the overwhelmingly successful system of thought which has proven itself over many centuries immediately discredits the greater part of your belief system? Simple Devote all your intellectual energy to trying to discredit disavow disengage and most importantly deconstruct the entire Enlightenment accomplishment and convince impressionable youths that your superstition has merit precisely because of the reasons Western thought proclaims it does not I could be talking about any number of things from religious fundamentalism to New Ageism I'm talking about postmodernism and its related subjects of relativism subjectivism deconstruction post colonialism and a dozen other silly little things for it has been the only trendy form of public intellectualism to attempt to tackle reason reality rationality and logic at an academic level And despite the tenure of its many professors and the seemingly infinite list of publications such thought has produced and the unfortunate fashionable winds that have been set into motion generations later it has been an utter failure Gross and Levitt have written a devastating tome of sharp surgically precise and sometimes even poetic intelligence and examination aimed right at the segment of the Academic Left responsible for the spread of feeble minded ideas like postmodernism For the first two thirds of the book almost every page maybe almost every paragraph is a uotable chunk of rational thinking that fairly sets up the prevailing vogue ideas in postmodernism complete with their champions and lays it to waste spectacularly elegantly and thoroughly I don't have the time to give examples of all the laying to waste Gross and Levitt do it is far too comprehensive and complete for me to attempt But they take on Marxism Feminism Afrocentrism Cultural Studies and a variety of other areas of study I hesitate to call 'disciplines' And on this note Gross and Levitt do a wonderful job toward the end of the book examining the vast differences between scientific scholarship and the hand wavy free pass low rigor excuse for scholarship that passes in many of the humanitiesThe book isn't trying to be a political battleground and certainly isn't a bastion of conservative thought like some say Levitt is an avowed leftist It is an honest look at a real epidemic For so long the misconception has been that the right is the only side of the political spectrum capable of gross negligence and anti scientific thinking Granted any honest person has long understood this is wrong but many entertain it as truth The fact of the matter is that the left is just as filled with hocus pocus nonsense and superstitious faith healing as the right and it's nice that a competent engaging and thorough book has been written on itAs I read the book there were many moments where I had just finished reading a colossal segment that logically and thoroughly tore apart a popular figment of postmodernist ideation and I paused and reflected and made sure I would remember the text I had just read so that I could talk about it in my review But those moments became so freuent that by now having finished the book it is impossible to go back to any standout paragraph or page or chapter or section and discuss it at length I could do this but picking those segments to discuss would be tiresome as there are so many all deserving of being shared and examined and discussed openly Science does not work the way many Humanities academics believe it does nor does it posit the kinds of things so many are eager to attribute to it Forgive me for being vague and not including all the bizarre details of the postmodern lunacies that were cracked open and burned up within this book that is too long a process Many of these wacky things I have experienced in my own life some of which I continue to see often Despite there being a few points of disagreement between myself and the authors and a period where I felt that unlike the bulk of the rest of the book they failed to provide a thoughtful and well reasoned response to a philosophical uestion that was central to an issue they briefly touched on animal rights animal testing overall the book was a grand accomplishment You will read strange criticisms of the book right here on Goodreads and this is perplexing Perplexing because if one were so eager to discredit a book it would seem they'd want to read it first to be sure that their criticisms were valid Alas what we see is that all criticisms seem to come from people who haven't read the book who think Gross and Levitt are avowed Right Wing Conservatives trying hard to preserve the Holy Conservative Doctrine of Science strange to think that someone on the Right would have to defend science from someone on the Left but this is the world painted by critics It should be no surprise that the critics are not themselves scientists knowledgeable about what they read or even familiar with the pages of Higher Superstition It seems almost too perfect that these criticisms come from relativists subjectivists and those susceptible to Higher Superstition The harshest criticisms of this book are in essence like a boatload of religious fundamentalists throwing rocks at the people who dare criticize their ancient holy texts It need also be made abundantly clear how incompatible subjectivism and relativism are with science and reason and how postmodernism is the least euipped intellectual enterprise to try to tackle such matters This is made clear in this book as well as other books like Fashionable Nonsense But unlike Fashionable Nonsense by Sokal and Bricmont another fantastic read Higher Superstition gets to the guts of the matter and takes a stronger approach to addressing the wrongmindedness of trendy anti intellectuals Where Sokal and Bricmont merely point and laugh and make a few useful comments Gross and Levitt engage fully with the ideas presented and examine them as scientists should with all the scrutiny and rigor that Humanities Scholars have never been subject to in their own departments Make no mistake though Gross and Levitt are not saying that all the humanities as a monolithic entity are guilty of this postmodern nonsense Many in the academic left in humanities disciplines are eually hostile to the strange positions of postmodernism and GL make this clear time and time again So it has confused me to see so many reviewers including professors at Caltech and Worcester Polytechnic Institute among them making claims to the contrary GL do not misrepresent the entire academic left nor the humanities Repeatedly they remark how important the humanities are in order for us to live happy and fulfilling lives as parts of civilization Gross and Levitt also suggest that external examinations of science are all well and good and should be encouraged but should be conducted by people who know what science is how it works Not by people who trumpet loudly their scientific ignorance as though it is a badge to be worn while on Science Busting duty This is not a far fetched concept and in fact seems only sensible I could really go on about how grand this book is what an excellent job it does of crushing bad ideas by intellectually lazy dishonest and irresponsible people or how the politically charged reviewers have taken offense at the book's thesis and proclaimed in the highest of holy tones that only the right is capable of flagrant disregard of reality Oh sad dumb world with such people in it But I won't go on Too many of the insubstantial commentaries on this book ironically prove Gross and Levitt right or at the very least provide ample evidence as to why one should never take second or third hand accounts of someone else's work or words too seriously Which is why I highly recommend this book not as a thing you toss around in anger and skim only to find reasons to disagree because it purports to discredit your sacred politics but as a thing to actually read reflect upon and considerAn interesting part in Higher Superstition appeared toward the end with a compelling explanation as to why this kind of academic nonsense has been allowed to flourish for so long and the explanation given makes sense than any other I've seen The scholarly standards in the realm of postmodernism are abhorrently low so low in fact that it is a constant surprise to intelligent people that such garbage is spouted openly and freely and excitedly in academic circles by supposed scholars So it is not by any sort of scholarly depth or validity that these disciplines continue to exist It is largely because the underlying political or social convictions of the academic left are of course shared by many outside of the humanities by many within science and other fields I myself share plenty of similar ground to an extent So when your underlying political currents run parallel to those of the people making wild statements based on fiction and imagination you are less inclined to call them out or to submit their ideas to the same scrutiny you would submit other ideas to You and others will see your challenging of bullshit as a challenge to all of the entailed assumptions and political values many of which you might hold Best not disturb the water of sacred ideation This is a reasonable explanation and takes into account human nature and tribalism which can prevent many a decent and honest person from being fully intellectually invested and honestI won't spend any time explaining how incapable I am of elaborating on this book It is great it is astute it is fair it is honest it is a much needed spear in the throat of postmodernist trash an enlightened fist in the impotent face of the academic left It should be noted that the illiberal Marxistfeministcultural constructivist wildness GL dissect in 1994 has become out of control and rampant merely 20 years later and has a flourishing contingent of anti intellectual 20 somethings championing its weak ideas This book is needed now than it was during its original publication

  2. DoctorM DoctorM says:

    Another 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

  3. Dfordoom Dfordoom says:

    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

  4. Dovie Dovie says:

    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

  5. Emanuel Landeholm Emanuel Landeholm says:

    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

  6. John John says:

    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

  7. Max Nova Max Nova says:

    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

  8. Benjamin Benjamin says:

    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

  9. Scott Smith Scott Smith says:

    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

  10. Mark Isaak Mark Isaak says:

    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

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