***There is an update at the bottom of this post with yet another email and response***
I received an email this morning from Todd Zywicki, the person I criticized yesterday for making false and inflammatory accusations against PZ Myers and then, in Orwellian fashion, attempting to make them disappear as though they’d never happened. Here is the text of that email:
“Frankly, I suspect that what really happened here is that Zywicki used the term without knowing what it meant. I suspect he thought that “Lysenkoist” was just a Russian word for “Darwinist” when, of course, the opposite is true. And when caught saying something really boneheaded, rather than admit that he now seeks to wish it all away. It’s not very good behavior for a scholar.”
You can pop off about ill-informed suspicions all you want, but there is only one person here who doesn’t know the meaning of the term “Lysenkoism” and it is clear that it is you.
“In a broader context, Lysenkoism is often invoked to imply the overt subversion of science by political forces. Lysenkoism has also been known as Michurinism or Lysenko-Michurinism.
Today, the term “Lysenkoism” survives as a metaphor for other beliefs challenged by empirical evidence but preferred for ideological reasons. Carl Sagan compared American creationists to supporters of Lysenko.”
Why don’t you read the definition before you accuse others of failing to do so.
I’m well aware of that usage of the term, but it does not apply to Myers any better than any other usage of the term. Do you have actual evidence that Myers has engaged in “the overt subversion of science by political forces” or that he holds “beliefs challenged by empirical evidence but preferred for ideological reasons”? It seems to me that when you make such a public accusation, you should either back it up or retract it and apologize. To just erase it as though you’d never said it, and remove the comments criticizing you for it as well, is absolutely the worst way to handle it. And I find it especially ironic that you want to take me to task for my accusations – which I will happily defend publicly, and will not engage in Orwellian history erasure to make go away – given your behavior in this circumstance.
He then sent a second email, continuing to try and shift the focus from his behavior to mine:
You provided your personal definition of the term which was an inaccurately narrow definition. You then “suspected” that I didn’t understand what the term means. That is plainly wrong. You may believe that term does not apply in this particular context, but you are simply wrong, however, in “suspecting” that I didn’t know what the term means.
And my reply:
It is certainly possible that my speculation is wrong and I knew that it might be. That’s why I said it was a suspicion, rather than a firm conclusion. But the fact still remains that even with the alternative definition you’ve provided, you have not attempted in any way to provide any support for your inflammatory accusation (and surely comparing someone, particularly a scientist, to a man responsible for sending many scientists to the gulag or to their deaths is, by any standard, highly inflammatory and offensive). Given that, I think you have a responsibility to support that accusation or retract it and apologize. Those are really the only two acceptable options. Deleting it in silence, along with the comments criticizing the claim and then banning all subsequent comments is not an acceptable way of cleaning up the mess created by your false and offensive characterization. It is, in fact, quite Orwellian. And it’s not the sort of behavior that a scholar should be engaged in.
Update: Round 3 with Professor Zywicki. He writes:
Let’s try again, from Wikipedia:
In a broader context, Lysenkoism is often invoked to imply the overt subversion of science by political forces. Today, the term “Lysenkoism” survives as a metaphor for other beliefs challenged by empirical evidence but preferred for ideological reasons. Carl Sagan compared American creationists to supporters of Lysenko.
In language, a metaphor is a rhetorical trope defined as a direct comparison between two seemingly unrelated subjects. In a metaphor, a first object is described as being a second object. Through this description it is inferred that the first object has some of the qualities of the second. In this way, the first object can be economically described because implicit and explicit attributes from the second object can be used to fill in the description of the first.
Since you indicate that you have read the definition, perhaps the word you are actually getting hung up on is “metaphor”. Are you familiar with that term? I don’t think Wikipedia is suggesting that American creationists want to send people to the gulag.
And my reply:
Prof. Zywicki, you seem to be intent on ignoring the only thing here that really matters – whether your accusation, whether metaphorical or not, is justified. You have not justified it; you have not even attempted to justify it. In order for your accusation to be accurate, even as a metaphor, you need to make the case, by the very definition you are offering for the term, that Myers either has engaged in “the overt subversion of science by political forces” or that he holds “beliefs challenged by empirical evidence but preferred for ideological reasons.” You made that accusation publicly; it is therefore your responsibility to either justify it, or retract it and apologize. You seem to want to go to great lengths to distract attention from that central fact, making a big deal out of someone else engaging in speculation (clearly labelled so) as though it was terribly unfair to you, while dismissing your own unjustified conclusions as no big deal at all. That strikes me as both highly hypocritical and highly convenient for you.
Imagine for a moment that I wrote the following on my blog:
“I see that Mr. Myers has had the misfortune to cross paths with the blogosphere’s most infamous fascist, Todd Zywicki.”
Imagine then that someone challenged me to provide some evidence of your fascism and, rather than doing so, I simply deleted the original accusation, along with the comments challenging me to support the charge, and then banned all further comments on the subject. Imagine further that I then posted something clearly implying that while I’m not retracting the charge, I really don’t feel like debating it right now, so while I can’t be bothered to justify it, I also refuse to retract it and apologize for it. I suspect your attitude would be quite different if the shoe were on the other foot.
The difference between you and I, it appears, is that I would not just go back and try and erase what I said. If I believed I was right, then I would offer the evidence that supports my accusation. If I didn’t believe I could justify that accusation, then I would leave it in place but update the post to issue a retraction and an apology. I think that’s the only honorable way to handle it. I think that’s the way a genuine scholar would handle it. We all make mistakes. We all say things we shouldn’t say from time to time, and we all are called upon from time to time to correct those misstatements. It is in how we handle such situations that we show our essential character, and I would strongly suggest that the Orwellian manner with which you’ve handled this one, and your continued refusal to do the honorable thing, are speaking rather loudly on that subject at the moment.
Final Update: Prof. Zywicki emailed yet again, not to answer my criticism but to complain that I had published his emails and to tell me to take them down. When I pointed him to the disclaimer on the right sidebar of my blog, which states that all emails may be published by me in their entirety, he grudgingly replied, “Fine. Bully for you and your email policy.”