Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Gelernter's Non-Response

Over the years, I've pointed out a number of times when Yale professor David Gelernter has misrepresented the truth... like the time he claimed that the US Supreme Court "outlawed prayer and Bible reading in the public schools" (they didn't; the decision he cited refers to ending teacher-led devotion and indoctrination only).

But Gelernter -- who apparently doesn't believe that academics have the duty to justify their claims and retract them when wrong -- has never replied.

Until recently, that is. My brief correction of Gelernter's wild misrepresentation of the reaction to Thomas Nagel's silly book elicited this reply from Gelernter:

Little needs saying to Jeffrey Shallit, except that I was not using "lynch mob" to suggest that Nagel’s opponents wanted him to be hanged or even gently murdered. "Nagel had some fundamental misunderstandings about science and biology" is a statement some people might possibly disagree with, especially those who care about what a person knows versus what degrees he holds. As Emerson would have said: Ph.D.’s, Mr. Shallot, are the hobgoblin of little minds.

This is preposterous in so many ways.

1. Gelernter dismisses his own misrepresentations by insinuating I interpreted "lynch mob" literally. Read my reply again, and my longer and more detailed one here. (I sent Gelernter a link.) It is clear I am objecting to Gelernter's exaggerations. Maybe Gelernter thinks describing Nagel's critics as "punks" and a "lynch mob" and "mass attack of killer hyenas" is accurate and appropriate. Does anyone else?

2. Gelernter fails to address my points, saying only "some people might possibly disagree". True enough, but does their disagreement have any rational basis?

3. Gelernter implies I am a person who doesn't "care about what a person knows versus what degrees he holds". Well, which group of people is likely to know more about evolutionary biology? Actual evolutionary biologists, who disputed Nagel's claims in detail, or Nagel and Gelernter, who have no expertise and no training in evolutionary biology? I challenge any fair-minded person to read Nagel's book (I have), Gelernter's praise of it, and the reviews by people like Orr and Elliott Sober and decide who has made the better case.

4. Finally, Gelernter can't even be bothered to spell my name correctly, even when his only task is to copy and paste it from the first line of his own reply.

All in all, it's a pretty poor performance for Professor Gelernter. But -- I am not surprised to see -- par for the course.

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