The Curiously Postmodern Modern Apologists

Back in November, a debate with a Christian in another comment thread took a curious turn:

But I have faith in the gospel and what it promises me, just like you have faith in your readings. Your suposed facts and my suposed facts, what makes mine so wrong and your so right. Are facts from the bible so different from the facts you read from magazines, books and websites….nope. It all boils down to faith. Until you can tell me that you were there from the beginning up until now, you dont really have facts of your own do you. Neither do I, I dont proclaim to like you do. Faith boys, we all have faith, faith in what is up to you. I think I will stick with the gospel on this one.

Although this Christian believer didn’t notice, what he was actually advocating was postmodernism and relativism. Just like the strawman academics whom conservatives love to hate, he was effectively proclaiming that there’s no objective truth and no way to decide between competing worldviews, so we might as well choose whichever one makes us feel best.

But this bizarre position was not our visitor’s own invention. I doubt he was aware of it, but he was following in a trail that prominent Christian apologists, especially the creationists, have been laying down for some time.

Around the same time, a New York Times article, “Rock of Ages, Ages of Rock“, provided further examples of this phenomenon. The latest young-earth creationist is Marcus Ross, who recently received a legitimate Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island. But how he got that degree is an astonishing story:

Ross subsequently wrote a 197-page dissertation about a marine reptile called a mosasaur, whose disappearance he tracked through the Cretaceous period, about 65 million years ago. Fastovsky [his thesis advisor] described the paper as “utterly sound,” and the committee recommended very minimal edits.

At the conference I asked Ross whether he still believes what he wrote in his graduate thesis. His answer confirmed him as the product of the postmodern university, where truth is dependent on the framework: “Within the context of old age and evolutionary theory, yes. But if the parameter is different, portions of it could be completely in error.”

John Scalzi’s sarcastic tour of Answers in Genesis’ new creationist museum turned up the same bizarre postmodernist approach:

In the first room of the Creation Museum tour there’s a display of two paleontologists unearthing a raptor skeleton. One of them, a rather avuncular fellow, explains that he and the other paleontologist are both doing the same work, but that they start off from different premises: He starts off from the Bible and the other fellow (who does not get to comment, naturally) starts off from “man’s reason,” and really, that’s the only difference between them: “different starting points, same facts,” is the mantra for the first portion of the museum.

And another example long-noted by creationism watchers: the Australian creationist Andrew Snelling, a degreed geologist who writes articles for peer-reviewed, mainstream scientific journals which casually refer to multimillion-year-old rock strata, and then turns around and publishes articles in creationist journals claiming that the entire rock record was laid down by Noah’s flood.

It’s mind-blowingly ironic that creationists and other Christian apologists, who’ve gone on so many jeremiads about our society’s drifting away from God’s absolute truth, are now advocating a relativist view in which the evidence is insufficient to decide any question and what you believe is simply a matter of which arbitrary premises you start out with. Perhaps we should take it as a good sign, an indicator of retreat: instead of arguing that their position is proven and others are disproven, religious apologists nowadays are seemingly reduced to claiming that we can’t know that their position is false. Or perhaps it’s just that they’ve discovered the postmodernist position can be useful: it makes it possible for even the most uneducated apologist to raise an insurmountable defense against rational counterargument.

For the creationists, postmodernism is a useful strategy. The best way for them to be taken seriously as scientists would be to publish in mainstream journals, yet papers advocating the transparently false creationist view would never survive peer review. So instead, they write perfectly valid papers advancing legitimate scientific arguments and then use those publications as stepping stones to legitimacy, pointing them out to bolster their scientific credentials even though their own papers advocate the complete opposite of the view they actually hold.

This presents real scientists with a difficult dilemma. Without a doubt, scientific journals and universities should not be thought monitors, refusing to publish perfectly good scientific arguments because they disagree with the views of the researcher. On the other hand, it seems intrinsically dishonest for scientists to publish and defend positions they do not really hold, just to give a semblance of scientific legitimacy to the positions they actually do hold.

I have an alternative suggestion. Certainly, we should allow any working scientist to publish a solid, evidence-backed paper defending any view they see fit. But thesis committees and editorial review boards should insist that the applicant make a sworn statement that they stand behind the reasoning and conclusions in their own paper. (Even the postmodern creationists won’t go so far as to lie about that – I hope.) This strikes me as a good idea for numerous reasons, and I don’t think it violates anyone’s academic freedom. What could be wrong with a simple declaration that an author actually supports the position which they claim to support?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Stacey Melissa

    AiG would tell you that “man’s reasoning” is inferior to “God’s reasoning”, so I wouldn’t count them among the postmodernists, at least given the above example. (Next time I come across a religious person claiming that man’s reasoning is flawed compared to “God’s reasoning”, I think I’ll have to ask them what sort of reasoning they used to arrive at that conclusion, so I can watch their head explode.)

    I’ve noticed when I attend fundie churches, that the preacher often goes on and on about the evils of postmodernism. And I wonder to myself, just where are all these nameless postmodern boogie men? I can hardly find them. But now I read this, and I find out they’re Christians. lol

  • http://fallofhate.blogspot.com BJNebraska

    It seems to me that a requirement like that would have a chilling effect if not on academic freedeom, then on creative thought. True scientists ought to be free to play “devil’s advocate” and it can often be a useful thought experiment to advocate a position in which you do not believe. Valid science ought to be taken on its own face, I can’t see much benefit to saying “Your data are invalid now that we know you’re a closet creationist.”

    I think the more useful way is to argue vociferously that the facts are NOT the same. You cannot look at the geological record and say that the earth is both 6,000 years old AND billions of years old. One “viewpoint” has evidence supporting it, the other does not. This kind of double-think certainly ought to be taken into account when making career decisions with any given scientist, but if the science they publish stands up on its own, then where is the problem?

  • Joffan

    I don’t think the declaration you suggest serves any useful purpose… It looks pretty but it’s a logically redundant activity. I’m sure these guys can happily say they stand behind the reasoning and conclusions drawn therefrom, silently reserving their opinion on the framework. It feels too much like a descent into Inquisitorial tactics – I don’t to go there.

    The simple but unfortunate truth is that debunking will continue to be required, and part of that can be an investigation of the qualifications of creationists, as you have here. Their relativistic juggling to keep both their career and their faith alive is indeed hypocrisy, which once brought to light has a counterproductive effect on their arguments.

  • Kevin Morgan

    I can see how they do it. It being the ability to work inside the framework of science when it suits their ends. E.g. writing a scientific paper based on evolution and a 4.5 billion year old earth requires them to follow the ‘rules’ of the scientific framework, and then turning around and saying, “yeah, but God did it in 7 days and the geological evidence is from Noah’s flood, and stuff only looks old because God makes it that way to fool us and test our faith.” It’s like playing poker with different wild cards. A full house is still 3 of a kind and a pair, but the cards can be different depending on what’s wild. Same game, different framework.

    Personally I think you have to be a little schizophrenic to manage it, but our brains aren’t foolproof logical computers. Just evolved matter for making our way in the world that can be used for other stuff too. So it’s no surprise that many people can hold 2 conflicting ideas in their heads simultaneously.

    I also have a hard time not breaking out in laughter when someone refers to “facts in the bible.”

  • http://unix.culti.st/ Ceri

    Here’s a quick question–why does it necessarily matter, in this case? I’m by no means a fan of the pluralistic relativism we see manifesting these days, but to me, it feels like you’ve missed a layer in your argument.

    I’d think it’s important to note that people will make the inference that because say, creationist author A has a paper in a well-reviewed scientific journal, the rest of their output will have a similar level of quality and integrity. Which is fine in itself–I’m not saying that’s strictly a bad thing, either.

    It might lead to people being mislead, in cases such as this, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. To give an example. Martin Heidegger, the philosopher who’s made some outstanding contributions to western philosophy, was pro-nazi. Now; the question is, do we devalue the man’s entire life work, because of some poorly chosen association? Or do we simply take into account the fact that the virtue of his philosophical output is (in this case entirely) independent from his moral viewpoints?

    Let me really close by stating that whilst it does sound like the Dr Snelling does have a case of a split personality, and may well be in need of some help in order to recombine these aspects, it could simply be a grandiose practical joke. Admittedly, the possibility of the latter is small.

  • D

    I agree with what seems to be the general consensus that the written oath won’t really help anything. The crazies (and holding two conflicting worldviews simultaneously is crazy) will still be crazy and will just go crazier to make it still work, whether legally or in their own heads. The only way to actually make it work would be to effectively become Though Police, which I don’t think is good for anybody.

    I say we let them wallow in their schizophrenia and permit them to contribute to legitimate science. Since they can do both right now, it actually serves as a sort of early warning system so we can keep an eye on these folks. This way, we know to watch out for bad science or non-science from those who are more likely to provide it, but we can still reap any genuine benefits that come along, too.

    Oh, and this also gives us the ability to rebut arguments from authority with the rejoinder that all their legitimate science is legitimate, but that doesn’t make them authorities on metaphysics and they don’t get a free pass – they’ll have to do that same kind of hard science with everything they want to assert, not just a few things to get their feet in the door.

  • D

    Oh jeez, that should have said “Thought Police,” I’m sorry (can’t find an “edit” button). I also agree with Ceri’s comment re: Heidegger. Sometimes you get someone who’s quite useful but crazy in one respect – so you use the useful stuff and ignore the crazy. I guess that’s sort of a good thing, too, because it’s a reminder that no one person is a fountain of unblemished truth.

  • velkyn

    thank you, ebonmuse, for taking on these “post-modern Christians”. I may find them even more annoying than the evangelicals. Talk about people who are just too afraid of letting go that they’ll claim *anything can be true* to support their religion. They are like the idiots who try to change basic word meanings to support their arguments. Hypocrites of the highest caliber.

  • Brock

    I’m not surprised that post modernism has made inroads into Xianity. It’s been my observation that lots of people, who wouldn’t know postmodernism from Shinola, are starting to use postmodern outlooks in general. The most common form I hear is, “Well, if that’s what you believe, and it works for you, then it’s true for you.” I’ve also had an acquaintance notice that I’m reading a book on Islam, and, not knowing my slant on religion, assure me that she believes that, “All religions are the same.” (This is also my opinion, but I probably mean something different) I think of it as an extension of the general reluctance to discuss religion with other people. Taking a postmodern approach to truth allows you to sidestep the discussion completely.
    The refutation of postmodernism, by the way is as follows:
    1) All points of view are equally valid.
    2) My point of view is that mine is the only valid one.
    3) The point of view expressed in 1) is invalid.
    I beieve I got this from Dr. Paul Kurtz. If he didn’t say it, someone close to him did.

  • Ric

    Yes, I too fear the chilling effect such an oath would have. While I agree with your frustration, I can’t support the oath suggestion.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Wow.

    I’ve been reading this amazing book (“Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts,”) on cognitive dissonance and the rationalizations we use to reconcile our beliefs with facts that contradict them. And the authors give some pretty darned fascinating examples of these rationalizations. But the post-modern apologetics leave them all dead in the water. That’s just… I don’t even know what to say.

    Except this: “All points of view are equally valid” is not an argument for why your point of view is the right one.

    The thing is, I think relativism does have value. It is important to remember that our perceptions are shaped by our upbringing and our expectations, sometimes making it difficult to see things outside of those assumptions and expectations. The history of science is riddled with scientists who were blinded by cultural bias, and we need to not forget it.

    But the idea that this therefore means that, because we can never know the absolute truth, therefore we shouldn’t even try to understand reality and distinguish between more or less likely explanations of it… that’s not just crazy. That’s an abdication of intellectual responsibility. Fuck that noise.

  • Kevin Morgan

    I’ve been reading this amazing book (“Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts,”) on cognitive dissonance and the rationalizations we use to reconcile our beliefs with facts that contradict them. And the authors give some pretty darned fascinating examples of these rationalizations. But the post-modern apologetics leave them all dead in the water. That’s just… I don’t even know what to say.

    Hey Greta, good book. I read that a couple of months ago and it’s very true. If I may make a suggestion, read Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” next. Dovetails nicely.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Let’s see if I’ve got this right. The po-mo Xians want to say,

    “What is ‘truth’ anyway? How can we claim to truly ‘know’ anything?

    Therefore, I am right and my particular version of the sky fairy exists.”

    Dinesh D’Souza is the champion of this form of so-called reasoning. But I don’t know if I’d characterize it as “all points of view are equally valid,” so much as, “all points of view are equally INvalid, so you might as well accept mine.” Right.

  • Gary

    I really don’t understand postmodernism. Can you define it, and tell me where you found your definition?

  • Karen

    I’ve been reading this amazing book (“Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts,”) on cognitive dissonance and the rationalizations we use to reconcile our beliefs with facts that contradict them. And the authors give some pretty darned fascinating examples of these rationalizations.

    I had the great pleasure of hearing the author, Carol Tavris, speak at a Skeptics Society meeting last spring. She was absolutely terrific! You can get a copy of the lecture here.

  • Karen

    “What is ‘truth’ anyway? How can we claim to truly ‘know’ anything?

    Therefore, I am right and my particular version of the sky fairy exists.”

    They typically say that their version of religious or cultural truth is just as valid or invalid as any other. In this paradigm, there is no absolute “truth” because truth only exists as people define it. I find it quite maddening, frankly.

    This is why, of course, they are hated and feared by the fundamentalists. Fundies are all about absolute morality, right and wrong, black and white.

  • Chad

    I think the terminology here can be a source of confusion. Postmodernism does not necessarily equate with relativism. There is a pendulum of postmodern thought that swings from “soft” postmodern (There is such a thing as truth, but it is not assumed that any of us can fully perceive it in its entirety) to “hard” postmodern (Truth does not exist, everything is relative). Christianity is not compatible with Hard-postmodernism, but it is compatible with soft-postmodernism. In fact, I would say that postmodernism is sort of like the air we breath in the 21st century – you can’t really be unaffected by it.

    To the aforementioned quote that started off the article, it brings up an interesting point. While clearly the commenter is grammatically challenged and seems to advocate blind faith, I do think think postmodern apologetics are helpful. I am a Christ-follower and the best way I can begin to explain my view of things is not through argumentation, but through suggesting a different paradigm from which to view the world. Basically, I’d say “stand here with me and tell me if you don’t start to see what I’m seeing”.

    It’s kind of like those “magic eye” pictures of repetitive dot patterns that were popular in the 80′s/early 90′s. You would sort of relax your eye and a giraffe or something as would emerge from it. We all have preconceptions that change the way we see the world. What it gets at is the fact that not all truth is propositional truth. I contend that you can start to see a general story of redemption in all the world, but only if you’re looking for it. Believing is seeing.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Ebon –

    Add my voice to those disliking the oath idea. It smacks of a loyalty oath to me, and could still be finessed as others explain above. Perhaps instead, their students and supervisors could be made aware of their Creationist leanings, so that their body of work may be viewed as a whole — at least insofar as such Creationist leanings are pertinent to the classes taught by these “trojan horses.”

    Philosophically, I find relativism pretty useless, except in cultural anthro or sociological considerations, and even there it is riven with limitations. Of course, that is the case with any tool. Hammers are great for pounding nails, but make poor drills.

  • Grimalkin

    I don’t know how much this applies, but I minored in Religion at a totally secular university. We studied religion like a science (studying the texts with the same critical eye as we would any other historical document and studying the expressions of religion rather than discussing actual theology). My professors talked about “bracketing faith.” Essentially, their argument is that you could participate in a class that viewed religion through a secular lense, you could even teach it, but that you had to learn to put all your religiosity aside while in the classroom – to “bracket” your religious beliefs.

    It’s quite possible to believe one thing in a certain setting and another thing in a different setting. In fact, many of the most intelligent scholars of religion we studied, some of whom were extremely critical of the Bible, were priests or ministers on Sundays. They were able to simultaneously believe in God and criticise the “evidence” provided for God’s existence.

    My point here is just that there may be more than just one reason why someone may be a legitimate scientist five days a week and then religious on Sundays – and even write articles for journals in both roles.

  • Brock

    You’re right, Greta, I’ve misstated the argument, and I’m not sure I can restate it correctly. Let’s try this:
    1) Every conception of truth is equally valid.
    2) One conception of truth states that there is absolute truth
    3) If it is valid to say that truth is absolute, it is not valid to say that every conception of truth is equally valid.
    What I am hopefully suggesting is that truth is the same across the board, and if I can successfully demonstrate a particular fact, it is not permissible to say in response, “Well, that’s true for you, but not for me, because I have faith.”

  • nfpendleton

    The Oath seems a bit too extreme, I agree. One panacea appears to be more prudent scrutiny by peers, more people willing to publicly “out” those who play both sides of the field, in both words and in print. Another idea–but arguably as bad as an oath–is to require a full list of all published papers.

  • OMGF

    Ebon,
    Add me to the concensus that the oath is a bad idea.

  • Karen

    I contend that you can start to see a general story of redemption in all the world, but only if you’re looking for it. Believing is seeing.

    The problem here is that you can “see” anything you want to, if you look for it hard enough and long enough. But that’s not a reliable way to look at the world. It’s only when we look at the world objectively, dismissing our preconceived notions, that we get a shot at seeing the truth.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Did anyone else smile at this?:

    Like any group of elites, they were snobs about their superior degrees. During lunch breaks or car rides, they traded jokes about the “vulgar creationists” and the “uneducated masses,” and, in their least Christian moments, the “idiots on the Web.”

  • MisterDomino

    Gary,

    This is the best definition of postmodernism I’ve ever heard:

    “Weird for the sake of weird.” – Moe Szyslak

  • Christopher

    I’ll be honest: I do have a Deconstuctivist bent – one of the schools of postmodern thought. I hold that – when all is said and done – there is no way to be 100% certain of anything as we all start from our own subjective viewpoints.

    However, I also hold that the best way to find “truth” is to try and remove as much of that subjectivity as possible. So far, the best way to do this has been the scientific method – not faith. It doesn’t always tell us the “truth,” but it’s still far more reliable than the words of ancient texts and their dead “gods…”

  • http://www.decrepitoldfool.com decrepitoldfool

    While a written oath may not be the solution, I have to say that one’s PhD dissertation defense is NOT the place to be playing “Devil’s Advocate”. If there is any time in your life where sincerity matters, it is here.

    I have a Christian friend who openly professes his postmodernism, BTW. My guess would be, it’s the only way he can keep his faith going in today’s world.

  • http://tiedemies.blogspot.com Tiedemies

    Why on earth would you stand behind your reasoning as a person? The reasoning is there, on paper, whether you stand behind it or not is completely and utterly irrelevant. You should be expected to defend it, but that can mean no more than filling out the gaps; if you want to be a scientist, not only are you allowed, but required to admit when you have erred.

    If the reason you later wish to retract your statements happens to be religious, then so be it. The earlier reasoning is valid or invalid completely independently of this change of heart. I know that some creationists still claim that Darwin was wrong, because he alledgedly became a Christian on his deathbed. I sincerely hope no one here would like to use the same argument?

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “You’re right, Greta, I’ve misstated the argument, and I’m not sure I can restate it correctly.”

    Actually, Brock, I wasn’t disagreeing with you. I was just restating what you said, in slightly different words.

    Because anything worth saying is worth saying again, in slightly different words, by MEEEEEE.

  • shifty

    Greta,
    you crack me up.

  • James B

    Surely the fact that such people are being, at best profoundly inconsistent eccentrics is enough to make people wonder about their credibility or even their sanity?

  • Nentuaby

    I think the problems of such an oath become obvious after just a couple seconds thought. After all, Scientists are wrong. A lot. How many paleontologists can stand their decade-old work? Anyone in the room? (I’m a software engineer. We have it worse, but then that’s applied science, not research.) That’s the entire idea behind having the scientific method, people still DOING science a couple millennia after Aristotle had all the answers, etc. etc. Who’d want to be forsworn every couple of years? Who’d want to say they entirely stand behind something they’re tossing out for a wider opinion, something they think is an Intriguing Direction for Further Study, etc? That’s all to ignore the really disturbing thought police aspect- and even the actual benefit, however ironic, the world can gain from these hypocrites’ “scientific face” papers.

    Personally, I just think we should print out the hypocrites’ papers and smack them over the head with them repeatedly. But then, I’m a direct person.

  • RollingStone

    I noticed a scientific error in some of the replies. Calling postmodern creationists “schizophrenic” because they seem to have two different personalities is incorrect. You’re thinking of Multiple Personality Disorder. Schizophrenia is a disorder that causes hallucinations. This is a VERY common mistake.

    I’m sorry that this is so off-topic, and I realize that you’re not using the word literally, but since we’re talking about science, I just thought that we should get all our scientific facts straight. Sorry.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I see that reader opinion is strongly against my idea. I accept that – although just in case there’s any confusion, I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not suggesting any scientist should have to affirm the consensus position to publish. I’m suggesting that a scientist should have to affirm that they stand behind the reasoning and conclusions in their own paper at the time they publish it. I don’t think this is doing anything more than explicitly codifying something that should already be implicit in the act of publishing any peer-reviewed paper. Why would we punish academic fraud or plagiarism, for example, unless we understood that publishing a paper is in essence a declaration that you stand behind your work as you’ve presented it? (Contrary to one comment, I’ve never heard of a scientist publishing a paper solely to play devil’s advocate. It takes hard work to gather the evidence and do the legwork necessary for even one good paper in a legitimate journal.)

    Granted, a person can advance a perfectly valid scientific argument even if they don’t believe in it themselves. Still, I find it to be fundamentally dishonest, as well as contrary to basic scientific integrity, for creationists to write papers using reasoning and making arguments which they themselves reject at the time they write them. And what makes it even worse is that they’re writing these papers to polish their credentials and thereby hope to win support for the actual antiscientific positions they hold – positions which totally contradict the papers they’re publishing in order to win an audience for them. If they’re so willing to play this kind of deceptive game, shouldn’t we be wary of trusting the claims in even their “legitimate” papers?

  • http://tiedemies.blogspot.com Tiedemies

    Isn’t the idea that a scientific author somehow “owns” the ideas he writes about contrary to the whole idea of science? This swings both ways, meaning, once you’ve published anything, you are in no way better positioned to counter the argument you’ve made, assuming you reported your evidence truthfully.

    It simply does not matter, who wrote a paper, whatever they subsequently say about it. A scientific result is not in anyway dependent on the author. If it were, we would be completely rejecting the whole idea of evidence based science and replacing it with something that more or less resembles *gasp* religion.

  • Alex Weaver

    I noticed a scientific error in some of the replies. Calling postmodern creationists “schizophrenic” because they seem to have two different personalities is incorrect. You’re thinking of Multiple Personality Disorder. Schizophrenia is a disorder that causes hallucinations. This is a VERY common mistake.

    I’m sorry that this is so off-topic, and I realize that you’re not using the word literally, but since we’re talking about science, I just thought that we should get all our scientific facts straight. Sorry.

    In this usage by Adam and others who should be familiar with the difference, I always assumed that the writer’s intent was to convey that the person’s behavior was not necessarily suggestive of multiple personalities, but rather bizarre, irrational, disturbing, and above all unpredictable, in a fashion suggestive of intense delusionality.

  • Jim Speiser

    I think the problem that Adam is trying to correct with his “oath” is the ability of the creationist movement to “pad its credentials” by being able to point and say, “See? We HAVE been published in peer-reviewed journals!” Adam’s intent is laudable, but I agree that the oath thing is not the answer. I think the answer is to narrow the scope of the counter-argument and state that “No pro-creationism article has even been published in a peer-reviewed science journal,” or something similar that has been well-qualified to get the point across.

    Also, add me to the list of those who see nothing wrong with holding two different points of view, each of which is valid within its own paradigm. As one commenter stated, there is precious little we can be 100% certain of (I didn’t know this was a post-modernist thought, I figured it was Epistemology 101). We CANNOT be certain that tomorrow we won’t wake up in a vat of goo, connected by cables to a vast machine. All of science is performed within the point of view that this admittedly remote possibility will not occur. However, it is also possible to conjecture about what life would be like if that WERE to occur – and all manner of fun and merriment can then ensue from such a conjecture. Why, someone might even make a movie about it!

  • Eclectic

    I don’t support something even as minimal as such a declaration. It’s too close to thought police. The goal of academic review is to judge the worth of the results, not the author. That’s why it’s normally anonymous. (Even though that’s something of a polite fiction once authors become well-known in a field.) Is a constructivist mathematician who doesn’t believe in the axiom of choice to be forbidden from publishing a theorem that depends on it?

    What you can legitimately ask is if the author has omitted information that would materially undermine the point of a paper, but even that would have to be tested for practicality; there are such things as length limits, for one!

  • André Phillips

    After reading this thread I have to say I’m surprised to see that nearly every commenter seems to think the idea of a sort of declaration of honesty is somehow forcing authors to pledge their loyalty to the establishment. As was said it’s merely explicitly stating the implicit. Yes, absolutely, all authors published in peer-reviewed journals should be expected to believe at the time the articles are submitted that what they are saying and the methods they employ are true to the best of their ability. This should go without question. If an author doesn’t support what he or she puts forth as science, if the author is willingly lying or deceiving, that person has no right to be submitting it to the world. Even if they directly say in their articles that some aspect is still up in the air, or open to refinement, or even playing devil’s advocate, that itself is the position they are taking and the position they have to stand behind. There was nothing that I read in the original post that made me think we were going to have people intellectually strung-up for not falling in line with the rest. The idea is simply asking when an article is submitted, “do you support your claims,” and the answer for every single publication should be yes.

    As to the question of whether or not authors own their ideas after they’re published: I don’t see at all how that applies to this. As to the question of whether or not findings will be judged more on who found them as opposed to their own merit: scientific articles aren’t published anonymously, so nothing changes about what role the author plays in the community’s reception of the conclusions. As to the question of whether or not scientists will still be able to change their minds: why would that change? Since we already allow scientists to be proved wrong and correct their mistakes, even though we already implicitly expect them to support what they say when they say it, why would it be any different if it was in writing? This isn’t about claims of infallibility. It’s about intellectual honesty.

    That said, while I fully support this as a valid idea, I’m not sure it would have much of an effect. These charlatans we’re talking about are already speaking out of both sides of their mouths with little regard for scientific decency and I’m not sure this would prevent them from continuing to do so. It might make it easier to hold them accountable for their swindling, but I don’t really think even that would be greatly affected.

  • Jenyfer

    This is why post-modernism so often enables the very tendency it tries to fight.