H.L. Mencken was less than enthusiastic about the democratic process, with particular misgivings for its American variety. Much of his contempt rested on democracy’s putative constituency. He bristled at the notion of championing the common man yet never took favor with high society. He detested populism, religious fundamentalism, pseudoscience, and anything that smacked of anti-intellectualism.
Mencken was a journalist, editor and satirist, spending most of his career at the Baltimore Sun (1906-48). His most memorable contributions were his daily reports on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial in the 1925 court case against high school teacher John Scopes, accused of violating Tennessee State law (Butler Act) for teaching evolution. Mencken’s satirical style penetrated in a way that forever branded fundamentalist Christianity as a base superstition for the frightened and ignorant.Continue Reading
What makes a scientific claim or practice scientific? We’re bombarded daily with reports of promising new medical breakthroughs, troubling socioeconomic trends, path-breaking technologies, but rarely do we delve into the relevant details to find out what these findings actually claim. There are good reasons for this. Most research today would leave many of us scratching our heads despite our efforts to understand the science behind it. Scientific research has become so specialized that even those competent in the sciences have difficulty wading through the particulars. So trying to figure out what qualifies as a genuine scientific claim can be as elusive as the claims and practices themselves. But this still remains a distant concern given a more fundamental set of obstacles, and the prognosis is not all that encouraging.Continue Reading
Leon Wieseltier’s September 3rd article in the New Republic, Crimes Against Humanities, takes Steven Pinker to task for his August 6th piece, Science Is Not Your Enemy. Wieseltier is loath to surrender the humanities to the sciences while Pinker insists that his mission is peaceful if not illuminating. Like most disputes in the academic world this one has its precursors. So what’s all the fuss about?
The sciences and humanities have a longstanding history of territorial disputes over tracts of intellectual space, with each side believing its borders to be well-defined or at least secure enough to guard against the barbarian hordes. Periodically, one side will claim newfound territory at the expense of the other, thus provoking defensive posturing that often begets acute amnesia. For instance, the postmodernist intrusions into the sciences by Wieseltier’s colleagues in Science and Technology Studies provides a good example of crying foul while ignoring ongoing offensives.Continue Reading