Norman Levitt was a great man, a leonine defender of science against the trendy pablum advanced under the guise of post-modern critique. This defense was most famously advanced in Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, co-authored with the indomitable Paul Gross. He also assisted in an amicus brief in Kitzmiller v. Dover and reviewed a book about Dover by sociologist Steve Fuller, who testified in defense of ID (arguing, for instance, that ID deserved “affirmative action“). Levitt passed away over the weekend, and his widow has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to NCSE.

Fuller has, apparently, decided to wait until Levitt could not answer for himself before replying to Levitt’s criticisms. In writing his own eulogy for Levitt, Fuller quickly shifts into attack mode.

By Fuller’s lights, Levitt was “a minor science fascist” whose efforts to “defend the scientific establishment from those who questioned its legitimacy” were undertaken “to render his own sense of failure intelligible.” Levitt, a professor of mathematics at Rutgers for 40 years and author of monographs on topology, is portrayed by Fuller as “someone of great unfulfilled promise” because “mathematicians typically fulfil [sic] their promise much earlier than other academics.”

Fuller concludes this obituary by writing: “I believe that Levitt?s ultimate claim to fame may rest on his having been as a pioneer of cyber-fascism, whereby a certain well-educated but (for whatever reason) academically disenfranchised group of people have managed to create their own parallel universe of what is right and wrong in matters of science, which is backed up (at least at the moment) by nothing more than a steady stream of invective.”

Yes, folks, it is Levitt, not Fuller and his bizarre cohort of post-modern creationists, who is supposed to have created a “parallel universe of what is right and wrong in matters of science,” and allegedly defended it through “a steady stream of invective.”



  1. #1 Bob O'H
    October 28, 2009

    Fuller is sliding further into the ID mindset. That last paragraph is priceless.

    I’m amused that he also admits he didn’t notice that the Sokal paper was a hoax.

  2. #2 Jim
    October 28, 2009

    Forgive me, Josh, but the claim in the second paragraph is a lie:

    And I know it will pass below the notice of those who paint with such a broad, unknowing philosophical brush, but Fuller is no post modernist.

    Like all of us, Levitt was a complicated human being — perhaps great by those in a position to confer greatness (you, Josh?) — and quite the nasty piece of work. Pointing out such complexity is not desecration, it’s truth — and isn’t truth what scientists are in business of promoting? One can certainly disagree with views held to be unsubstantiated, false or even threatening without stooping to the kind of personal castigation in which Levitt, on occasion, reveled.

    Gah, indeed.

  3. #3 Gerard Harbison
    October 28, 2009

    Fuller wrote:

    First, I claim that it is impossible to design a true random number generator because it is ultimately possible to infer the algorithm.

    Oh dear. Heisenberg, anyone?

    One shouldn’t write about science if one knows so little about it.

    I knew Levitt slightly. He wasn’t a great man, but he had a finely tuned BS detector. Fuller would have pegged it.

  4. #4 Sam C
    October 28, 2009

    Steve Fuller-Schitt wrote:

    I wish I could say that I learned a lot from my encounters with Levitt, but in fact I learned only a little.

    This says more about Fuller-Krapp than about Levitt. Fuller-Poo’s arrogance and ignorance make him incapble of learning from anybody – that’s why he’s joined the Discovery Institute, the home for intellectually dishonest failures.Fuller is a giant of sociology in the same way as Behe is a giant of biochemistry, Luskin is a giant of dialectics and Dembski is a giant of contemporary knitwear. He probably fits in well there.

    How long before this pooping piece of nastiness turns up to blow his own trumpet through is well-controlled ring muscle?

    No, Fuller, this isn’t attention. It’s contempt.

  5. #5 eric
    October 28, 2009

    Steve Fuller is a twit, but he does live in England; they spell it “fulfil” there. You should ditch the [sic].

  6. #6 Bob O'H
    October 29, 2009

    Jim @2 –

    Pointing out such complexity is not desecration, it’s truth — and isn’t truth what scientists are in business of promoting?

    Where foes Fuller deal with any “complexity”? Where does he write something about Levitt’s virtues?

    And no, scientists aren’t in the business of promoting “truth”. It’s a slippery thing, truth. What to you is a truth to me is an opinion, and to some of Levitt’s friends and family is “lies”. If you want to know what we’re in the business of doing, Henry has a nice post about it.

    eric @5 –

    Steve Fuller is a twit, but he does live in England;

    He is also a Yank, poor fellow. Hopefully this means we’re corrupting him. One day we might drag him down to the level where he’s respectful of the recently deceased.

  7. #7 Glen Davidson
    October 29, 2009

    The great thing about ID is that it doesn’t intrigue any very capable minds.

    Only mediocrities are either dumb enough or cheap enough to sell themselves to such rot.

    Glen Davidson

  8. #8 Josh Rosenau
    October 29, 2009

    Jim: You’ll note that Fuller’s own post claims: “Levitt’s general take on me and my work was so badly off the mark that I never deemed it appropriate to respond formally.” I think this justifies my statement in the second graf. Fuller prefers to be considered a social constructivist, but this is a distinction utterly missed in general discourse, where postmodernism has taken on an umbrella meaning that encompasses social constructivism and related fields.

    Criticizing someone is fine, but using an obituary to besmirch a rival’s reputation is not. Calling someone a fascist is not “point out out … complexity.” It reflects a casual approach to the meaning of words that undermines Fuller’s work more broadly, but that in this instance is inhumanly offensive. Was Levitt forceful toward his opponents? Yes. Is that the same as genocidal tyranny? No.

  9. #9 Ophelia Benson
    October 29, 2009 – that is some disgusting stuff. Steve Fuller is…incredible.

    Well done, Josh.

    (I was email-friendly with Norm. He did an email interview for Butterflies and Wheels when B&W was barely out of the egg – which was very generous of him.)

  10. #10 Chris Lawson
    October 29, 2009

    Sorry, Jim, but how exactly is Fuller being truthful when he calls Levitt a fascist? *Twice*. And how is it truthful to deny that Fuller is a postmodernist when his entire body of work is in full post-modern mode? Frankly, I don’t think you have the faintest understanding of what truthfulness means.

  11. #11 Keith Douglas
    October 30, 2009

    Okay, that (Fuller’s remarks) tears it. I, in the interests of attempting to keep some sort of intellectual open mindness, even after Fuller’s stuff with the ID crowd, tried to see again if the guy had any sense. Now I read Fuller’s remarks about Levitt … absolutely appalling.

  12. #12 Tom Morris
    October 30, 2009

    “First, I claim that it is impossible to design a true random number generator because it is ultimately possible to infer the algorithm.”

    What the…?

    You only have to read something like Introduction to Randomness and Random Numbers to understand the problem here. A good secure random number generator is good enough for many purposes. And these days, with the Internet available, it’s really easy to get hold of enough representations of entropy to do decent random number generation. You can even get quantum random number generators now commercially.

  13. #13 Alex
    November 2, 2009

    Fuller’s now closed off further comments on his blogpost. Couldn’t stand the criticism. Who’s the fascist again?

  14. #14 Dustin
    November 4, 2009

    mathematicians typically fulfil [sic] their promise much earlier than other academics

    Fuller pretends to study the sociology of science, so it’s particularly telling that he can’t even get this right. This notion that a mathematical career is defined by what’s done in the mathematician’s early twenties is totally wrong. I have never seen a research-driven mathematics department with twenty-somethings at the helm. That a few geniuses produced important mathematics at a young age has much less to do with their age, and more to do with the fact that they were geniuses. Unless they also died at a young age, they continued to produce mathematics for their entire lives (a fact which is usually forgotten).

    Fuller is a fatuous slimeball. His head is filled with something, but it isn’t a brain.

  15. #15 Dustin
    November 4, 2009

    …and if there’s any fascism to be found in this, it’s because Fuller brings it to the table. Making critical distinctions and thinking rationally is antithetical to fascism. Fascism itself requires a core of radical syncretism so that it can create a sense of unity, and so that its inconsistent sloganeering can survive. Mussolini (or at least his ghost writer) remarked that “If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth … then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity… From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for hmself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.”
    It’s also worth remarking that there’s a great deal of similarity between Fuller’s antiscientific screeds and those written by Paul Feyerabend, whose complicity with Nazism speaks for itself.

    There’s nothing fascist about demanding that a theory can withstand criticism. Demanding suspension of critical thought and imagining a conspiracy behind critical thought is, on the other hand, a thoroughly fascist attitude.

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