Every once in a while, I come across a webpage that makes me wonder how on earth it has managed to escape my notice for so long. Today I found one only because the editor of the page left a comment in response to a post I made on The Panda’s Thumb. The site in question, Butterflies and Wheels, is the work of Ophelia Benson, a historian by training, and Jeremy Stangroom, a sociologist. The moment I read there raison d’etre, I knew this was my kind of page:
Butterflies and Wheels has been established in order to oppose a number of related phenomena. These include:
1. Pseudoscience that is ideologically and politically motivated.
2. Epistemic relativism in the humanities (for example, the idea that statements are only true or false relative to particular cultures, discourses or language-games).
3. Those disciplines or schools of thought whose truth claims are prompted by the political, ideological and moral commitments of their adherents, and the general tendency to judge the veracity of claims about the world in terms of such commitments.
There are two motivations for setting up the web site. The first is the common one having to do with the thought that truth is important, and that to tell the truth about the world it is necessary to put aside whatever preconceptions (ideological, political, moral, etc.) one brings to the endeavour.
The second has to do with the tendency of the political Left (which both editors of this site consider themselves to be part of) to subjugate the rational assessment of truth-claims to the demands of a variety of pre-existing political and moral frameworks. We believe this tendency to be a mistake on practical as well as epistemological and ethical grounds. Alan Sokal expressed this concern well, when talking about his motivation for the Sokal Hoax: ‘My goal isn’t to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we’ll survive just fine, thank you), but to defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself. Like innumerable others from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, I call for the Left to reclaim its Enlightenment roots.’ (Reply to Social Text Editorial)
If you’re not familiar with the Alan Sokal hoax, you should be, and you can read all about it on Sokal’s academic page concerning the incident.
The attacks on science come not only from the Religious Right but also from some sectors of the academic left. Those who subordinate reason and logic to their political goals and insist that truth is relative to one’s gender, race, sexuality or economic position are not only peddling nonsense, they’re peddling dangerous nonsense.
If you are like me and you cringe every time you hear someone invoke Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle or the non-locational effects in Quantum Mechanics as a justification for some fashionable hoohah like ESP or whatever crap Deepok Chopra and Shirley MacLaine are shoveling out these days, you’re going to love this site.