Boycotting the boycotters?

by Chris Bertram on June 7, 2007

I try to avoid commenting on the material posted on Norman Geras’s site. But today he posts a letter from Professor Daniel Statman to “a colleague” in the British Society for Ethical Theory explaining why Statman feels unable to attend the forthcoming BSET conference at Bristol (my institution). Statman—who specializes in writing on the ethics of war and whose oeuvre contains a philosophical defence of targeted killing in the so-called WoT—is clearly a political animal and not just a wounded academic. You can read the whole letter at Normblog, but I thought I’d just comment on this paragraph:

As you surely recall, in the past I used to come regularly to the meetings of BSET, which I always felt were among the highest-quality conferences in ethics worldwide. For the last two years, I haven’t been able to attend the meetings, but I did plan to do so this year and I sent the registration forms to Bristol two weeks ago. But after learning about the UCU resolution to promote an academic boycott of Israel, I have changed my mind. In the present circumstances, I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable at an academic institution or conference in the UK. I don’t feel like sitting down to dinner with people some of whom may have voted to boycott me and my colleagues. Nor do I feel like having dinner with people who, though against the boycott, nevertheless believe the offensive and absurd claim that Israel is an “apartheid state,” which makes all Israelis, academics in particular, morally polluted. And maybe, above all, I’d rather avoid the heightened self-consciousness which I fear will be inevitable in the circumstances. (Which of these folks voted to boycott me? Was that a friendly smile or the opposite? Is he being nice to me in spite of my being Israeli, because of, or regardless of? Was that political comment a provocation or just innocent small talk? And so on and so forth.)

The first thing to say is that Statman is, of course, free to associate or not with whoever he chooses, and thereby to boycott whoever he likes (including people he suspects, without evidence, of beliefs he might find offensive). The second is that just 158 people voted for the motion at the UCU conference, so it is very unlikely that Professor Statman would indeed face the prospect of dinner with anyone who voted to boycott him and his colleagues. In fact, since the motion passed is at best construed as being a vote to “promote” the boycott (that is to require discussion of it in branches), a point he acknowledges in his initial formulation, it seems certain that he won’t have to dine with such a person. The third is that it is hard to imagine why the claim that Israel is an “apartheid state” (absurd or not) is particularly morally polluting for Israeli academics , as Statman states. He worries that even non-boycotters might have beliefs he finds offensive—I wonder if he is so fastidious about avoiding people who might have morally offensive beliefs elsewhere (Haifa, for example?). I suggested in my last post on this issue (to remind people, I was opposing the boycott) that one effect of the proposal is to facilitate we-are-the-victims grandstanding. Statman’s letter, and his use of Geras’s website to publicize it, would seem to be just such an instance.

{ 178 comments }

1

Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 11:38 am

(Initial comment: I’ll delete on sight generalized pro- and anti- Israeli rants. If you think Statman is talking sense or that my commentary is garbage, or vice versa please feel free to say so (politely if you can). But stick to the topic.)

2

abb1 06.07.07 at 11:55 am

I wish I was a psychiatrist, that’s enough material for a dissertation right there.

3

Barry 06.07.07 at 12:02 pm

“I suggested in my last post on this issue (to remind people, I was opposing the boycott) that one effect of the proposal is to facilitate we-are-the-victims grandstanding.”

Since when do right-wingers need an excuse for playing the victim card?

4

Kelly 06.07.07 at 12:14 pm

I’ve run into this myself, and it always baffles me. I’m capable of separating out my opinions on a state from my opinions on a person, just as I am capable of remaining civil to people I disagree with.

Can you imagine every academic deciding to “boycott” a conference where there’s someone who holds a differing opinion than they do? We’d never have conferences!

5

Firstname Lastname 06.07.07 at 12:48 pm

Kelly,

I can understand where he’s coming from. It is all nice and dandy to talk of separation of person and state, but it isn’t always easy. It is easy should the state be associated with a person, like –insert favourite punching bag–. But not in a democracy. People vote for those curmedgeons who in turn get a chance to implement –insert personally repulsive policy–.

More so for academcians. After all, they are at the forefront of policy rationalisations, post facto, especially the those in the “soft science” business.

Yet, I agree with you to some extent. Your second paragraph sort of compensates for the first.

6

bill in Turkey 06.07.07 at 12:50 pm

‘The third is that it is hard to imagine why the claim that Israel is an “apartheid state” (absurd or not) is particularly morally polluting for Israeli academics , as Statman states.’

Well, presumably part of the case (a case?) *for* the boycott ıs that academics have some special responsibility to oppose some of the policies that the boycott is targetting.

So this particular aspect of what Statman is saying doesn’t seem absurd.

To put it another way: part of the point of the boycott is to put *moral pressure* on Israeli academics – and Statman doesn’t want to associate with people who want to put moral pressure on him to oppose policies which (I imagine) he thinks shouldn’t be opposed on the merits.

I suspect I’d feel the same way, if I held Statman’s views. And, if I supported the boycott, I suspect I’d be saying – or at least thinking – that that’s how I’d hope that Israeli academics might react.

(Which raises the question of whose view – if anyone’s – he is expecting to change with his letter)

7

SG 06.07.07 at 12:51 pm

Reading that paper on assassination, I can’t say it seems like much of a loss. Maybe discussing the boycott achieved more than you expected.

8

Mike3550 06.07.07 at 12:51 pm

Correct me if I am wrong, I am still a grad student and might not understand the ways of the academy, but I thought that the entire purpose of conferences was to disagree!!! Isn’t that how knowledge is advanced — by reasonable people disagree and to find the best possible solution from different claims?

9

SG 06.07.07 at 1:02 pm

And further, from a paper on freedom from religion:

the right to adopt a certain religion or to act in accordance with it does not entail the right not to adopt any religion

Ethics at its very finest.

10

Barry 06.07.07 at 1:13 pm

sg, assuming that your extracts are representative, it sounds like he’s squealing precisely because he’s the sort of person who this boycott protests.

11

Bloix 06.07.07 at 1:24 pm

“a political animal and not just a wounded academic”

What an odd turn of phrase. In what sense is he an animal? He is not a “political animal” in the usual meaning of that expression – he does not publish in the daily press, or work for a political party or a think tank, or do “spin,” or do any of the other sorts of things a “political animal” usually does. So why “animal”?

And then the next phrase: “a wounded academic.” A political animal who is also a wounded academic. A wounded animal?

The entire tone of hostility in this post culminates here. Chris Bertram is so outraged that this man is offended that he cannot conceal his desire to hunt and wound him as if he were an animal. And if Chris Bertram, who is a reasonable fellow and is against the boycott, responds this way, think how will hotter heads react.

It may be necessary to say that in my view Statman is wrong to refuse to attend the conference and his letter reveals his misunderstanding of his own role as an academic and a philosopher. But it is fatuous to assert that an Israeli academic who takes offense at the proposed boycott must be a grand-stander. The whole point of the boycott is to shock and offend. It designed to provoke anger and to destroy the possibility of reasoned dialogue. In Statman, those who support the boycott have had their first victory.

12

SG 06.07.07 at 1:31 pm

Bloix, need I remind you of this comment you made?

If she feels she cannot in good conscience publish the best work in the field due to her political convictions, then her only honorable course is to resign. Otherwise she collects her salary under false pretences.

Where is your outrage? Now this academic is only ‘misunderstanding his own role’?

13

Bloix 06.07.07 at 1:32 pm

I see that as I was writing we have a commentor who characterizes Statman as “squealing.” Presumably like a pig going to slaughter. The animal metaphor that Chris Bertram initiated is resonating, isn’t it?

14

Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 1:36 pm

Bloix: you are getting seriously overheated (is that an acceptable metaphor?). FWIW I think of _myself_ as a political animal, and always have done, though I do not publish in the daily press or work for a political party.

15

abb1 06.07.07 at 1:37 pm

I skimmed thru a couple of his latest papers (tragedy_solution.pdf and supreme_emergencies.pdf) and it seems that he moved from targeted assassination on to justifying collective punishment and indiscriminate killings of members of the other (evil) tribe:

The situation is different [from Al-Qaeda’s] when the terrorist group is part of a given collective and is conceived by the members of that collective as acting for the sake of their collective goals. In these circumstances, attacking members of the collective indiscriminately might stop the terror activity, and assuming that there is no other way to do so, supporters of SPs would have to allow such attacks.

16

engels 06.07.07 at 1:38 pm

Yeah, never mind, “political animal”, Bloix, according to your previous analysis Statman is a “thief”, who is “stealing” from the Israeli government. Now that’s outrageous!

17

zarzur 06.07.07 at 1:41 pm

SC, since the previous thread is closed, I’ll answer your question here:

“In this context, doesn`t this belief [in treating individuals on their own merits],which I generally agree with, prevent any kind of collective action against nations or organisations? […] So then how does one do anything to stop anything in this world?

I have no problem with targeting governments, or other institutions that actually perpetrate objectionable policies, even if individuals are collaterally affected. What I do have a problem with is sanctions that are aimed primarily (or even worse, exclusively) at people who don’t perpetrate the policies in question and subject them to punishment as scapegoats for their government.

It seems to me that the right of individuals to be judged as such, rather than as interchangeable parts of a collective, is a fundamental enough Enlightenment value that we’d better have a pretty compelling reason to throw it over. Once you start discriminating on the basis of anything other than behavior, then what principled objection do you have to anyone else’s discrimination? The next person to propose a boycott against non-perpetrators might not do so from the same political standpoint: for instance, he might call for a boycott of Muslim academics who don’t condemn suicide bombing loudly enough. What would you say to him if he made all the arguments that the Israel boycotters are making now?

18

zarzur 06.07.07 at 1:42 pm

BTW, if the quotes above are representative, it seems like Statman might be a legitimate boycott target in his own right, but not because of his nationality.

19

Hidari 06.07.07 at 1:46 pm

I don’t know: it’s certainly made me think about who I associate with and talk to. After all, it had never previously occured to me that at bus stops, bars, restaurants, book shops, night clubs and airports, I might be associating with people who disagree with me on some issues regardless of whether I talk to them or not.

So obviously I have decided to boycott all these locations and am currently building a sort of ‘nest’ or ‘burrow’ under my floorboards. I am stocking up on baked beans, bottled water and spam, and will come out only when I can be assured that everyone I see or hear will agree with me on all important issues.

20

SG 06.07.07 at 1:49 pm

well zarzur, perhaps you should answer your own point about people who don’t perpetrate the policies in question (e.g. academics) in light of Mr. Statman’s charming views on who we are allowed to slaughter. clearly some academics do, and if one subscribes to a certain view of academics’ role in society, one surely thinks they have a more than average responsibility for what society does. In this case maybe boycotting the mouthpiece of the ruling class is better than boycotting the lifeblood of its workers…?

anyway this thread is on a slightly different topic so we should leave our last one aside.

21

Bloix 06.07.07 at 1:58 pm

Chris- really, you think of yourself as a political animal? But when you wrote about Statman you used “political animal” as a sneer. Your literal meaning is that as a “political animal” he is someone whose statements should not be taken at face value – political in the sense of hypocritical and opportunistic. Your figurative meaning is that, as an animal, he is a creature whom we may safely fantasize about injuring. He is wounded, and that gives us righteous pleasure. Then we have barry taking up your invitation, as he luxuriates in the image of Statman “squealing” from the pain inflicted by the boycott.

And this of course is the intent of the boycott. It is intended to provoke hurt and anger. Its sponsors want Israeli academics to react this way, so that ordinary British academics, who may have been on the fence, will themselves take offense, just as you have now done. As the rhetoric ratchets up the goals of the boycott are accomplished.

22

Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 2:03 pm

_But when you wrote about Statman you used “political animal” as a sneer._

No I didn’t. I wanted to say that he clearly isn’t a _naif_ , that’s all. Stop digging.

23

engels 06.07.07 at 2:06 pm

Your figurative meaning is that, as an animal, he is a creature whom we may safely fantasize about injuring.

Bloix, don’t you think you might be reading a bit too much into one phrase?

24

Hogan 06.07.07 at 2:07 pm

And if Chris Bertram, who is a reasonable fellow and is against the boycott, responds this way, think how will hotter heads react.

Don’t bother thinking–I’m packing up my deer rifle and booking a flight to Haifa as we speak!

But I’m calling it a “targeted assassination.” So that’s all right.

(Isn’t “political animal” an Aristotle reference?)

25

Bloix 06.07.07 at 2:10 pm

Engels- if Statman believes that this conference is one that would benefit him as a philosopher then it is incumbent upon him to go. Obviously he is not the sponsor of the event; he would not present at the event; he is not selecting the speakers. Therefore he is not in the position of the not-so-hypothetical journal editor who refuses to publish the best scholarship available to her. And this event is not in his mind so important that he must attend it in order to do his job as well as he can. Note that he has skipped in it past years. Nonetheless he is diminishing himself as a philosopher by not attending and therefore he is in breach of his contract of employment and the obligation he has to do his philosophy as best as he can.

26

Joshua W. Burton 06.07.07 at 2:12 pm

I don’t feel like sitting down to dinner with people some of whom may have voted to boycott me and my colleagues.

… so it is very unlikely that Professor Statman would indeed face the prospect of dinner with anyone who voted to boycott him and his colleagues.

“Yes—to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. What news on the Rialto?”

The immediate source of the metonymy is surely Daniel Bernard’s memorable outburst of table diplomacy. But I think there is more going on here. Both Geras and our host have strongly fixated on dining together as a proxy for mutual benevolence and trust — or, in a negative sense, on dinner tables as the particular place where bad blood congeals.

Israel’s own “place at the table” is, of course, proverbially insecure; indeed, the UN regional groups exist for no obvious purpose other than keeping Israel off the seating chart. I suspect both sides of an instinctive image of the whole Zionist morality play that is mired in prandial history, and ultimately in Acts 10.

27

engels 06.07.07 at 2:13 pm

Nonetheless he is diminishing himself as a philosopher by not attending and therefore he is in breach of his contract of employment and the obligation he has to do his philosophy as best as he can.

So he is a thief, in your view, n’est pas?

28

engels 06.07.07 at 2:14 pm

n’est-ce pas

29

seth edenbaum 06.07.07 at 2:23 pm

Statman is a coward. His behavior is a sign of emotional and intellectual insecurity. It’s almost phobic.
Since discussions of psychology are anathema here I’ll leave it at that, but the implications are obvious enough.

30

zarzur 06.07.07 at 2:25 pm

SG, I think the problem with that would lie in generalizing Statman’s views to all Israeli academics (of which they aren’t representative) and then using those views to characterize the whole of academia as the “mouthpiece of the ruling class.” I’d have no problem with boycotting Statman, because his personal behavior appears to merit it. He is directly advocating the implementation of policies I regard as immoral, and he works in a field that has the potential to impact those policies. I do object to putting all the Israeli academics who work in civil rights NGOs or offer an alternative model of cooperation with the Palestinians, or even those who simply keep their heads down and love their country despite recognizing its flaws, in the same class as him.

BTW, there are ways to sanction governments without draining the lifeblood of the workers. Most of these ways are symbolic, but so are things like academic boycotts. I’ll leave it at that and let the discussion move on: the last word is yours.

31

Barry 06.07.07 at 2:32 pm

Troll: “But when you wrote about Statman you used “political animal” as a sneer.”

Chris: “No I didn’t. I wanted to say that he clearly isn’t a naif , that’s all. Stop digging.”

DNFTEC; trolls, as well.

32

zarzur 06.07.07 at 2:36 pm

On the topic of this thread, I expect that there will be a fair number of symbolic rejections of what is, after all, a symbolic rejection. I wouldn’t take it personally if I were a boycotter. I might, were I caught in the crossfire.

33

Hidari 06.07.07 at 2:37 pm

‘The whole point of the boycott is to shock and offend.’

Shock and awe, surely?

34

eweininger 06.07.07 at 2:39 pm

…but I thought that the entire purpose of conferences was to disagree….

Ah, the innocence of youth.

35

engels 06.07.07 at 2:45 pm

Zarzur – So you are against all boycotts and punitive political action against companies, states, etc?

36

Hidari 06.07.07 at 2:55 pm

Anyone who is interested in reading Professor Statman’s profound insights into moral philosophy should read his seminal essay Targeted Killing, incidentally. I have read it and all I can say is ‘wow’.
However, by reading it I have learnt many things I did not know before. For example the (sole?) purpose of the Palestinian Intifada was ‘to murder Jews across Israel, in buses, restaurants, nightclubs, universities, wherever possible.’

Likewise, Bush’s war on terror is likely to be a triumphant success because: ‘in the war against terror, just as in the war against the mafia,
what counts are the long-term results, not the immediate ones. In the short
run, acts of revenge might follow the killing of terrorists, but in the long
run, there is good reason to believe that such killings will weaken the
terror organizations, generate demoralization among their members, force
them to restrict their movements, and so on. The personal charisma and
professional skills of the leaders and key figures of certain organizations are
crucial to the success of their organizations, something that is especially true
with regard to terror organizations that operate underground with no clear
institutional structure. It is reasonable to assume that killing such individuals
will gradually make it more difficult for the terror machinery to function.’

Likewise, the war on Afghanistan was a failure, or something, becuase ‘to judge by the murderous actions of Al Qaeda that took place after that war, especially in Bali and Mombassa, Al Qaeda is still alive and kicking and still poses an enormous threat to the free world.’

From this, Professor Statman concludes tha the real threat is ‘the danger of over-delaying the use of force.’

Well that’s certainly not a danger Israel has been courting lately.

I hope everyone will mull over these deep and meaningful arguments and give them all the consideration and thought that they deserve.

37

zarzur 06.07.07 at 2:56 pm

Engels, see comment 17 above. Governments, companies and other institutions that actually perpetrate bad acts – Nike, are legitimate targets. The problem is with collective punishment directed toward people and institutions that aren’t involved in the acts at issue, and with treating such people as stand-ins for the perpetrators.

38

Bloix 06.07.07 at 2:56 pm

Engels- Unlike the journal editor, Statman is not intentionally diverting his employer’s resources to further his own personal ends. Therefore he is not a thief. However, he is allowing considerations of his own personal comfort (more likely his amour propre, as long as we are being French about it) to interfere with his performance of his responsibilities. Therefore he is in breach of his employment contract.

39

Doctor Slack 06.07.07 at 2:58 pm

I’ll confess, looking at the hay that a lone IKDF troll has attempted to make with the meager material of “political animal,” I don’t really understand the “people will attempt to play victim” objection to the boycott. Attempting to play the victim, at maximum volume even when there’s minimum cause, is already standard procedure, right down to attempting to categorize comparisons of Israel to apartheid South Africa as inherently anti-Semitic. It’s obvious that a campaign of isolation modelled on that which was used against apartheid South Africa will ratchet up the volume of these attempts, but that in itself doesn’t strike me as a good reason to refrain from it.

Of course, the model of the South African example does indicate that the academics were one of the least effective parts of that isolation campaign (it proved too easy to circumvent), and were mainly symbolic. If that view holds water I think that’s a good reason not to support an academic boycott. It’s a trade boycott and isolation campaign that would, presumably, have real teeth.

40

Bloix 06.07.07 at 3:31 pm

“Teeth,” eh?

41

engels 06.07.07 at 3:47 pm

Bloix – On the last thread you said

Did you tell your grantor that you will not do the best work of which you are capable because your political beliefs prevent you from taking advantage of the best research available? If you did not then you are stealing from your grantor.

That seems to imply that any academic who chooses not to do “the best work of which [he is] capable because [his] political beliefs prevent [him] from taking advantage of the best research available” is a thief. If you have now seen sense and wish to retract what you said before, that’s fine, of course…

Zarzur – You seem to have two issues. One is that individuals who have opposed these policies or “kept their head down” will be harmed by this boycott. As I pointed out, that kind of “injustice” is inherent in most boycotts against states, companies, etc.

The other issue is that this boycott is directed at Israeli universities when, according to you, it is only the Israeli government which bears responsibility for Israel’s policies. But the boycott is intended to punish the Israeli state, and the Israeli academy is part of that state. (NB. Your idea that a boycott should be aimed specifically at the government, rather than the state as a whole, also seems utopian to me and does not accord with past practice.) The reason the boycott targets universities rather than another part of the Israeli state is because it is organised by academics. Furthermore, according to the organisers of the boycott, some Israeli universities have been complicit in the policies in question and in some cases have been guilty of particular crimes of their own such as building on occupied land. So I think your claim that the universities are being treated as “stand-ins” and “scapegoats” for acts they are “not involved in” is at best far too simplistic, and ignores the arguments made by the boycott’s supporters.

42

seth edenbaum 06.07.07 at 3:49 pm

Of course, the model of the South African example does indicate that the academics were one of the least effective parts of that isolation campaign (it proved too easy to circumvent), and were mainly symbolic. If that view holds water I think that’s a good reason not to support an academic boycott. It’s a trade boycott and isolation campaign that would, presumably, have real teeth.

The pretense is that an academic boycott is somehow primary [academics take themselves too seriously]; but why see it in isolation?
And again, what was ignored in all the nitpicking in the last post is that Israel claims to be a representative of modern democratic values, and it’s claims are accepted by many, including many here, though logically they should not be. China makes no claim to be what we claim to be. Nor increasingly does Russia.

43

seth edenbaum 06.07.07 at 3:51 pm

“It’s a trade boycott and isolation campaign that would, presumably, have real teeth.”

Both of which I’m in favor of.

44

dsquared 06.07.07 at 3:59 pm

Good God. After reading the linked articles, I am genuinely surprised that he was invited in the first place. Presumably the British Society for Ethics wanted someone to make the case “against”?

45

zarzur 06.07.07 at 4:01 pm

Engels, if there’s a particular Israeli university that’s built on occupied land, then that should be treated case by case. Possibly, the fact that the college (not university) in question is among the main providers of tertiary education to the Palestinian-Israelis living in the Triangle should also be a factor in deciding whether to boycott it, but I wouldn’t object in principle to sanctions against that particular school.

I’m also not ignoring the boycott proponents’ more generalized allegations of academic “complicity.” I’m quite familiar with those arguments. To be frank, I don’t think much of them, because most such arguments boil down to the fact that professors participate in Israeli society. The idea that “the Israeli academy is part of the state,” and that simply participating in Israeli life is a criminal act worthy of boycott, is precisely what I find objectionable.

46

Bloix 06.07.07 at 4:06 pm

Engels – what I said, in response to Hidari, was –
“When you apply for a grant, Hidari, you are representing to the grant-giver that you will do your level best to carry out the task that you are set. You do not say, “I will do my job except when I choose to spend the money to advance a political goal of my own.” If If you take the money and then spend it in ways that are influenced by your personal political agenda, you are stealing. You are violating a public trust.” I stand by that.

If you take money to do your job and you don’t do certain things that would assist you in doing your job better because it makes you uncomfortable to do them, you are breaching your employment contract, but you are not stealing.

I wouldn’t think that this sort of distinction would be beyond the capacity of people who read a blog written by academics.

47

Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 4:23 pm

Daniel, I think that as a member, he was simply entitled to attend if he wished. Maybe he was worried that others might not be willing to dine with those whose views they considered “offensive and absurd”!

48

Hidari 06.07.07 at 4:30 pm

You see, this is where it all goes wrong: ‘If you take the money and then spend it in ways that are influenced by your personal political agenda, you are stealing’.

Yes if you take the money that, according to the grant application is to be spent on (say) travelling expenses or a laptop, and you donate it to the Labour (or Conservative, or whatever) party then, yes that’s stealing. But that wasn’t what we were talking about was it?

49

engels 06.07.07 at 4:41 pm

Bloix – (i) I don’t understand why, on the definition you are now advancing, you think that the organisers of the boycott are “thieves”.
(ii) It does seem that a definition of “theft” which says that someone who acts out of political principle is a “thief” whereas someone who acts out of a feeling of discomfort is not is somewhat ad hoc.

Zarzur – Your first paragraph just goes back to your general objections to “collective punishment” which, as I said, seem to rule out many forms of legitimate political action. The second paragraph is constructed around the straw man argument that “simply participating in Israeli life is a criminal act worthy of boycott”. Nobody said that. What had been argued is that it is necessary to punish Israel and that this may be achieved by harming the interests of Israeli universities and academics. In addition, some universities and individual academics are complicit in various ways, but the boycott is not intended to be an exercise in individual criminal punishment but an instrument for effecting policy change at the national level.

50

abb1 06.07.07 at 4:44 pm

I, for one, am very much curious about the psychological aspect of this thing. I mean, it’s not exactly a secret that murdering charismatic leaders sets back the movement and that collective punishment often works.

Obviously, if your are hellbent on winning and keeping the loot you want to employ methods that work. I can imagine myself in a situation where I would say “ah, fuck ya all, I’m gonna do what I need to do”; but I would certainly be aware that at that point I’m firmly in the nihilistic territory.

Why would you be so determined to feel righteous while acting as a nihilist, that’s what I don’t understand. Why analyze, why pretend; who needs the headache, the cognitive dissonance? That’ll ruin everything.

51

Doctor Slack 06.07.07 at 4:50 pm

“Teeth,” eh?

Okay, at least you have a sense of humour. I’ll give you that.

52

Bloix 06.07.07 at 4:58 pm

Hidari – well, yes, it is what we were talking about. If I am the editor of a journal of translation studies, it is my job to find and publish the best articles in translation studies that I can. It is not my job to publish the best articles except for those by authors who live in a country whose policies offend me. I was not hired and funded for the purpose of using the journal of translation studies as a tool to effectuate social change in a foreign country.

When the editor omits to publish the best available articles because of the nationality of the authors, she is making a conscious choice to publish a second-rate journal. An editor who consciously publishes second-rate work in order to advance a non-work-related goal is in my view stealing from her employer.

Perhaps we can agree to disagree as to whether the editor is stealing, while agreeing that she is behaving unethically. Whether she should be hauled away in hand-cuffs, or fired, or merely excoriated for her behavior is a point of discussion, but the fundamental dishonesty of her actions is surely not up for debate.

53

tveb 06.07.07 at 5:04 pm

I’m sorry, but the following needs to be said:
After reading his “scholarly” “papers”, I can say that,
(a)I’m embarrassed to belong to the same profession (and a similar discipline)as Prof.Statman.
(b) He makes logical and empirical errors that I would not let my undergrads get away with.
(c) Related to (b), my undergrads rarely make the kinds of errors (amazing leaps of logic, completely unsubstantiated empirical claims) referred to in (a)
(d) Jesus

54

tveb 06.07.07 at 5:09 pm

Slight typo,
I meant “referred to in (b)” in the post above

55

zdenek v 06.07.07 at 5:33 pm

I think Chris is a bit intellectually naughty to portray Statman’s position as in some way representative of the position that argues for boycotting the proposed boycott of Israeli academics.( the reply no doubt will be ‘that was not my intention’ but that wont do for obvious reasons ).

Why not look at what say Shalom Lapin has to say on the subject whose piece is also posted on Norm’s website ?

Reading Statman’s letter, an impression ( a misleading one ) is created that those who support boycotting the proposed boycott do so because they cannot tolerate dissenting opinion. This is misleading to say the least.

In other words what Chris does is special pleading and I am not entirely sure what the point of that is but as I said this is bad philosophical practice and is intellectually mischievous.

56

dsquared 06.07.07 at 5:37 pm

what utter balls, zdenek. And the fact that you had to resort to “an impression is created” rather than being able to quote anything Chris said, rather underlines who it is that’s being “intellectually mischievous” and engaging in “bad philosophical practice”.

57

zdenek v 06.07.07 at 5:42 pm

It is the choice of what is presented for consideration that involves the intellectual sin I am talking about and not so much what is said in the comment although the same applies to that too of course .

This is like choosing a flawed research project dealing with say evolution and using it to score points against the view that evolution is a well confirmed theory . This is a common practice by creationists.

58

Sam C 06.07.07 at 5:45 pm

Bloix’s position, if I’ve got it straight, is that what one ought to do is fulfil the demands of one’s role, and that anyone who allows extraneous considerations to affect her performance of her role is being unethical. This seems implausible, even if Bloix has correctly described the demands of the academic role (pursue scholarship, and nothing else). Surely jobs can’t be that strongly constitutive of what one ought to do?

59

zdenek v 06.07.07 at 5:54 pm

When we teach students how to read philosophy papers we make the point that they should be as charitable with the author’s argument and thesis as they can , The point of this is to avoid the straw man fallacy. Any fool can refute a weak and caricatured position.

Spirit of this way of doing philosophy is precisely what Chris is going against here by looking at the worst that can be said for the view we are looking at.

60

zarzur 06.07.07 at 5:58 pm

“Spirit of this way of doing philosophy is precisely what Chris is going against here by looking at the worst that can be said for the view we are looking at.”

Surely the reason Chris is highlighting this view is because it was the one Norman Geras chose to highlight?

With that said, I agree that Prof. Statman is representative of nothing other than right-wing lunatics.

61

zdenek v 06.07.07 at 6:04 pm

“Surely the reason Chris is highlighting this view is because it was the one Norman Geras chose to highlight?”

As I pointed out Norman Geras also posts Shalom Lapin’s piece. And it is Chris who made the choice to highlight the weak and not the strong.

I would not be fussing but Chris himself is a philosopher and in my opinion he is being unprofessional.

62

abb1 06.07.07 at 6:10 pm

With that said, I agree that Prof. Statman is representative of nothing other than right-wing lunatics.

Well, unfortunately Israel’s ideology in combination with the law of return virtually guarantee a very high concentration of right-wing lunatics.

63

Hidari 06.07.07 at 6:12 pm

‘Perhaps we can agree to disagree as to whether the editor is stealing, while agreeing that she is behaving unethically’.

Well now you are shifting the terms of the debate. The debate about whether the boycott is or is not unethical can and probably will go on forever. My point is about whether or not it is stealing and, as I think you have now admitted, it self evidently isn’t.

64

engels 06.07.07 at 6:18 pm

Zdenek – Do you think it’s philosophical best practice to close practically every argument you make with an more or less groundless allegation of professional malfeasance?

65

engels 06.07.07 at 6:21 pm

And, Zdenek, the principle of charity says that you should interpret what people say in the most favourable way you can. It does not say that you should politely ignore them whenever they come out with some manifest BS. That would not be conducive to intellectual progress.

66

Chris Bertram 06.07.07 at 6:22 pm

Actually Zdenek, the fact that Statman had decided not to attend a conference at my own institution that I’ll be attending myself was what made it stand out. Like I said, I try to refrain from commenting on the material at Normblog, tempted though I often am.

67

tveb 06.07.07 at 6:35 pm

“Actually Zdenek, the fact that Statman had decided not to attend a conference at my own institution that I’ll be attending myself.”

Judging by the quality of his work, it would not be a loss to the conference…

68

tveb 06.07.07 at 6:37 pm

Perhaps I should have said, “should not be a loss to the conference”…

69

Bloix 06.07.07 at 6:45 pm

Oh, no, hidari. There’s no debate about whether the boycott is ethical. Plainly it isn’t. In two very long threads not one commenter has made a reasoned argument that it is.

The debate is over whether a person attempting to implement the boycott is committing theft of services or merely breach of contract and violation of a public trust. But there’s no doubt about the person’s fundamental dishonesty.

70

zdenek v 06.07.07 at 6:53 pm

“And, Zdenek, the principle of charity says that you should interpret what people say in the most favourable way you can. It does not say that you should politely ignore them whenever they come out with some manifest BS. That would not be conducive to intellectual progress.”

I completely agree with that but you are missing my point a bit. I agree that we have been perfectly fair with Statman but not the issue of boycotting the boycott.

Consider my example of the creationist practice of choosing deliberately the weak and questionable work in evolution to cast doubt on the field as a whole. Instead of choosing the best and then seeing if it can stand up to scrutiny they a la Chris choose the dumbest and weakest to make rhetorical points of no real intellectual value.

In other words principle of charity guides ones inquiry here too or should ; do I need to really labour this point ?

71

engels 06.07.07 at 6:54 pm

Bloix, can you read? What do you think we have been talking about all day? The weather?

72

zdenek v 06.07.07 at 7:00 pm

“Actually Zdenek, the fact that Statman had decided not to attend a conference at my own institution that I’ll be attending myself was what made it stand out. Like I said, I try to refrain from commenting on the material at Normblog, tempted though I often am.”

Sorry I did not know that. Can I just add why dont you look at Lappin’s piece (Norm blog June 03 2007 ) and do a post on that ?

73

Bloix 06.07.07 at 7:36 pm

Engels- You know I can read. You also know I can write. Try to make an argument that has some force. Sputtering is not persuasive.

There has been a major theme of discussion on these threads, which is whether a boycott is a good or bad thing. This argument takes place in the air, so to speak. The topic is whether Israel is good or evil and whether a boycott is likely to be of use in making Israel less evil.

Then there has been a minor theme, initiated by me, as to whether academics may ethically participate in the boycott. This issue has nothing to do with Israel and is concerned entirely with the role of academics in society and the scope of academic freedom.

I was going to leave that minor theme behind but I did make a comment on this thread about the major theme, and sg surfaced to accuse me of hyprocrisy. So I rose to the bait and we’ve been off on the minor theme again.

When I said that no one has argued that the boycott is ethical, I was of course talking about my minor theme. Although you and hidari have argued that a boycott is not “stealing,” and although a few people (like sam C, #58), have expressed skepticism about my views, no one has put forward an argument that an academic may ethically utilize funds and time to further a goal unrelated to and in hindrance of his or her scholarship and teaching functions. This is why I say that there is no debate that boycott is unethical.

If someone wants argue the contrary position, I would be happy to respond, but otherwise I’ve said what I came to say and I will yield the floor to those who want to argue about Israel, a topic of inexhaustible interest to many.

74

Bernard Yomtov 06.07.07 at 8:15 pm

Come on.

It’s hardly unreasonable for an Israeli academic to feel uncomfortable about attending a conference in the UK in light of this resolution. Maybe Statman’s specific reasons can be debated by those familiar with the procedural intricacies, as Chris is, but the broader fact is that the vote is an anti-Israel measure, aimed specifically at academics. Whatever one thinks of Statman’s work, criticizing his decision to skip the conference is unfair.

Equally unfair is accusing him and others of “we-are-the-victims grandstanding.” If group X is boycotted, is it inaccurate for them to characterize themselves as the victims of a boycott?

75

engels 06.07.07 at 8:24 pm

Bloix, you are talking out of your ass and you have been doing so more or less continuously since you showed up here. Under those circumstances “sputtering” is not an inappropriate response.

76

engels 06.07.07 at 8:43 pm

no one has put forward an argument that an academic may ethically utilize funds and time to further a goal unrelated to and in hindrance of his or her scholarship and teaching functions

No, they have pointed out that that is a completely inaccurate description of what has been proposed.

77

vadim 06.07.07 at 8:56 pm

Chris Bertram:

promote

“to require discussion of”

Oxford English Dictionary:

promote

• verb 1 further the progress of (a cause, venture, or aim); support. 2 publicize (a product or celebrity). 3 raise to a higher position or rank. 4 transfer (a sports team) to a higher division.

— ORIGIN Latin promovere ‘move forward’.

78

Phil 06.07.07 at 9:16 pm

Thanks, Vadim. However, it’s Statman’s misreading you’re correcting; the resolution was in fact to call for discussion, not specifically to ‘promote’. I think Chris was just being charitable.

79

novakant 06.07.07 at 9:32 pm

After 300 comments the boycott is still a stupid idea and if I was a member of the union in question, I would seriously ask myself if I wanted to be associated with the group that promotes it, since they don’t understand the concept of academic freedom and independence. The fact that Statman might be an @ss, doesn’t change anything of importance.

80

Nahshon Perez 06.07.07 at 10:28 pm

Just a quick remark about Statman. He has written an excellent piece about hurting religious feelings (available only in Hebrew), and edited a fine volume about moral luck (SUNY press, 1995, I think).
Regardless of the boycott issue, people here seem to think that he is a bad philosopher, following the religious feelings piece and that volume, this is nonsense.

81

vadim 06.07.07 at 11:23 pm

Phil,

The actual resolutions, http://www.pacbi.org/boycott_news_more.php?id=506_0_1_0_C , does not use the verb “promote”, but certainly does call for more that discussion.

For instance:


Congress resolves to campaign for:

3. A moratorium on research and cultural collaborations with Israel via EU and European Science Foundation funding until Israel abides by UN resolutions

Unless campaigning and discussion are synonyms…

82

SG 06.08.07 at 12:27 am

Bloix at 73: statman is ostensibly (and despite the evidence of his work, I suppose) a “philosopher”. He has published work supporting assassination, the killing of civilians and the forcible prevention of atheism. Do you not think it slightly, slightly, slightly possible that he has been using all the money he is given by the state to further his own philosophical and ethical (if I may use the term loosely) agenda?

He is now turning down the opportunity to go to a conference at which many people will give him the opportunity to improve his work by disagreeing with him. Unsurprisingly, these people who disagree with him have suggested boycotting a state which uses some of the tactics which he supports philosophically. Why should this surprise him? maybe the debate at the conference would help him to refine his policies and thereby support his state. In any case, by avoiding it he is explicitly refusing to do his job, which is (call me naive) to improve the tools of philosophical debate, presumably through … debate?

Which brings me to #74. This man publishes work which explicitly endorses the cruelty and violence of the Israeli state. He is a philosopher. Many people disagree with his ideas to the extent of (maybe) boycotting a state which adheres to his philosophy. He has consciously chosen not to debate them. How are we meant to appreciate this decision?

83

SG 06.08.07 at 12:43 am

For zarzur if you are still about. I do agree with the view that academics are mouthpieces of the state, in general (and with some obvious exceptions). I generally agree with the perspective that Chomsky takes on this, though it is probably dated. Obviously Statman is an odious example of this, but even many of the hosts of this blog are supportive of liberal interventionism (e.g. Kosovo), the US`s right to pressure China, critiques of Iranian government etc. I`m not saying these positions are right or wrong, but academics come from the ruling class and I think they generally speak for it. I think therefore in terms of targeted boycotts, academic product is a much better target than food trade, on which a regime`s victims also depend.

I`m happy to stand corrected if you (or anyone who cares about my bleatings) has evidence to the contrary, but until I see evidence of real radicalism and bravery on the part of academics particularly, they are just as ripe to be targetted as everyone else when their state is doing bad things.

Further, states create an environment in which their academics have to work, and sometimes that environment corrupts the research work going on in it. This happened in Nazi germany, would probably happen in Taliban Afghanistan if it had unis, happened in Soviet Russia, etc. It`s not a stretch to imagine that a state under siege, with a religious basis, a large right wing and religious movement which promotes racist dehumanising of a minority group, founded in violence, is going to create such an environment. Do you think scientific work on race from Australia in the era of genocide could be trusted? So it`s not a stretch to imagine that the same thing is going on in Israel now (and no, I`m not saying it`s the same as Nazi Germany). I think Statman is a standout example of the sort of filthy ideas which float to the top of academia when that culture is created. If the culture is pervasive, then a boycott may not harm the scientific good overmuch.

But that said, I don`t think a boycott of academics alone will work or is even fair; I think it should be part of a general boycott and isolation, as described by the always amusing Mr. Edenbaum.

84

Bernard Yomtov 06.08.07 at 12:53 am

Which brings me to #74. This man publishes work which explicitly endorses the cruelty and violence of the Israeli state. He is a philosopher. Many people disagree with his ideas to the extent of (maybe) boycotting a state which adheres to his philosophy. He has consciously chosen not to debate them. How are we meant to appreciate this decision?

My point has absolutely nothing to do with Statman’s work or ideas. It is simply that it does not strike me as unreasonable that any Israeli academic, philosopher, physicist, what-have-you, would be uncomfortable attending a conference in the UK.

In fact, don’t the pro-boycott forces seek precisely this outcome? Where’s the complaint?

85

SG 06.08.07 at 1:17 am

Yes, they will feel uncomfortable. I doubt that those who disagree with Statman in Israel will feel quite so uncomfortable as he does, however, or are as likely to boycott their boycotters. So I think your comment does have more bearing on the likes of Statman than those in Israel who might disagree with him. And it could do both him and the State of Israel some good to face some of these disagreements with a bit of honesty.

86

Bernard Yomtov 06.08.07 at 1:33 am

I doubt that those who disagree with Statman in Israel will feel quite so uncomfortable as he does,

Maybe, but it’s pretty much an either/or proposition, isn’t it? One either is too uncomfortable to come to the UK or one isn’t. Degrees of discomfort don’t matter much.

In any case, I doubt that many Israeli academics, or citizens for that matter, are unaware of various criticisms of Israeli policies. That it needs a bunch of British intellectuals to make them see the light is pretty silly.

87

SG 06.08.07 at 3:03 am

I think the point is not to make them see the light, but change their ways.

88

engels 06.08.07 at 3:21 am

Why not go further, Bernard? Everyone in the world is doubtless well aware of the various criticisms of whatever they are doing so trying to get anyone to do anything differently is both presumptious and futile.

89

seth edenbaum 06.08.07 at 3:22 am

“I think it should be part of a general boycott and isolation, as described by the always amusing Mr. Edenbaum.”

Credit Dr Slack with that one.

90

SG 06.08.07 at 4:18 am

what one … always amusing or general boycott and isolation?

91

Doctor Slack 06.08.07 at 5:35 am

I like to think I’m always amusing…

92

Doctor Slack 06.08.07 at 5:38 am

But it was Seth and not I who suggested an academic boycott could profitably be seen as part of a general strategy. I’m kind of agnostic on the question, leaning against.

93

Doctor Slack 06.08.07 at 5:43 am

…at least, that’s how I’m interpreting “why see it in isolation?” in Seth’s comment at 3:49…

94

zdenek v 06.08.07 at 6:32 am

“Do you think scientific work on race from Australia in the era of genocide could be trusted?”

Do you think Darwin’s work ( racist , colonialist age ) can be trusted ? Or Heisenberg’s or Aristotle’s ( all work in suspect political environments.)

The answer is it is stupid to see the issue the way you do. I.e instead of looking at the work itself and its scientific merit or demerit you think it is sufficient to settle the question of truth by looking at the culture or environment in which it is done. This involves a crude form of genetic fallacy and actually is what underwrites Nazi Science and Soviet Science.

Is it not funny then that *your own* approach to inquiry is handicapped by the very shortcoming you see in Statman’s work ?

95

zdenek v 06.08.07 at 6:58 am

sg writes :— “I think Statman is a standout example of the sort of filthy ideas which float to the top of academia when that culture is created.”

Filthy ideas from filthy culture ? Could you amplify this I think I did not hear properly.

96

abb1 06.08.07 at 7:13 am

To dismiss this Statman guy as an eccentric nut would be a mistake, because he is much more representative than you probably think. A supremacist cult there controls heavily armed state with nuclear weapons, their perceived defeat in the recent Lebanon war (because they failed to occupy Southern Lebanon?) makes them that much more dangerous; it’s really gone too far. It’s just too late to be “agnostic on the question” at this point, gotta try something, anything.

97

zdenek v 06.08.07 at 7:28 am

comments #83 and #96 ( the usual suspects of extremists hate speaking ) should be deleted .

98

SG 06.08.07 at 7:35 am

zdenek at 95, need I point out that I didn`t say “filthy culture”, I described a culture without an adjective attached and, as usual, you have inferred things about what I really believe based on what I didn`t say. Just because I think filthy ideas can come from a culture doesn`t mean I think the culture is filthy. If you don`t get that, ask me for my opinion of my own culture and its ideas sometime. Or alternatively, why don`t you make up that opinion for yourself? You seem good at it.

As for zdenek at 94, well, I don`t think this

“it`s not a stretch to imagine that the same thing is going on in Israel now … statman is an example of the kind of filthy ideas which float to the top in such a culture”

is necessarily the same as

“you think it is sufficient to settle the issue of truth by looking at the culture or environment in which the research is done”

I don`t think what you said, I didn`t say what you said, and that`s two times (plus one in the other thread, which got it closed) when you have inferred or exaggerated what I meant based on what you want me to have said.

But this is the thing here zdenek, I am trying to view these things from some sort of hopefully sane position, where I try within my limited faculties to question the link between academics and their culture without seeing it as deterministic; try to question the link between countries` leadership, the culture they set and their situation without being racist; and try to view problems from the perspective of a simple basic compassion, a desire to help and a wish to get along. And every step of the way, you jump up and down accusing me of bloody-minded dogmatism. Unfortunately it`s you who ends up being dogmatic, refusing for example to accept that there might be caveats on research from 19th century Australia because you refuse to judge research in any cultural context. You refuse to accept a nation in a state of war might corrupt it`s academic institutions, refuse to accept that a nation built on stolen land might corrupt its academic institutions (feel free to attach the wrong meaning to this statement, I shall leave it deliberately ambiguous for your frothing pleasure), and refuse to accept that a statement by a complete stranger can be anything except a caricature if it disagrees with you.

Cool your heels, man.

99

Hidari 06.08.07 at 8:27 am

‘Oh, no, hidari. There’s no debate about whether the boycott is ethical. Plainly it isn’t. In two very long threads not one commenter has made a reasoned argument that it is.’ (emphasis added).

So that’s what you think? That it’s obvious that the boycott is unethical and that everybody agrees with you (on this thread) about this? So, according to you, all the pro-boycotters believe that their actions are immoral but are going to carry on doing them anyway?

Wow.

100

zdenek v 06.08.07 at 8:34 am

What does this mean ?:

“might be caveats on research from 19th century Australianation”

Very briefly either you are saying that when we are in the context of justification personal views such as whether other cultures are inferior and so on, bias the mechanism of justification itself.

Or you are saying that such considerations are irrelevant. Clearly you are not saying the latter so you subscribing to the first view.

No problem but this is precisely to hold some form of cultural determinist view which actually rejects the distinction between context of justification and context of discovery.

So you see we are back at my criticism of you you are subscribing to the view that who you are and what your political outlook involves is relevant in persuit of truth and as I said this is a trade mark of an outlook underwriting Nazi Science can you see that now ?

101

zdenek v 06.08.07 at 8:49 am

Also note sg that you are starting to dance that shuffle that involves – when no one is looking– holding on to an implausible strong interpretation of some view but when people draw attention to the fact that such a strong interpretation does not work you change tack ( and qualify your pronouncements with ‘sometimes’, ‘might be’ and so on ) and shift to a weaker lot less interesting intellectually position.

This is what you are starting to do here : you are saying that there is good reason to think that Israeli intellectual work is bad but when I draw your attention to the fact that this is untenable you shift to saying that it only *might* be the case that it is so corrupted . Of course this is not interesting because any research anywhere might be corrupted.

I am sorry but this is intellectually dishonest and is again sign that you do not work with a concept of inquiry at all.

102

Hidari 06.08.07 at 11:03 am

If anyone gives a shit, before we all lose our minds, I think we should actually have a look at what the UCU have actually decided to do.

‘The motion passed at UCU congress on Wednesday 30 May calls for a process of providing information and engaging in dialogue. It does not call directly for an academic boycott of any Israeli institutions. The National Executive Committee will in the near future be considering what action it should take in relation to all the motions passed at congress.’

That’s it. There is no boycott. There is no call for a boycott.

End of story, and, hopefully, end of this debate.

103

zdenek v 06.08.07 at 11:32 am

Although UCU webside describes the proposal thusly :
“Today’s motion on boycott means all branches now have a responsibility to consult all of their members on the issue and I believe that every member should have the opportunity to have their say. The earlier motion means that any future calls for a boycott must pass key tests before a boycott can [be] implemented”

The resolution 30, adopted by a vote of 158 for, 99 opposed, with 17 abstentions, saus among other things :

Congress instructs the NEC to:

i circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;

ii encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;

iii organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;

iv issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.

Moreover resolution 31A introduced by the University of Birmingham branch and carried, calls for:

A moratorium on research and cultural collaborations with Israel via EU and European Science Foundation funding until Israel abides by UN resolutions.

Read this together with what UCU says on its site please and what do you get ?

104

Hidari 06.08.07 at 12:02 pm

zdenek v

before any of this can actually happen it has to go to the NEC. They meet today. So it’s not clear that ANY of the above will actually happen. I know some people get hysterical and lose the ability to concentrate when the word ‘Israel’ is used, but you should really calm down and just pay attention to what is actually happening (not much) and what is proposed (not much more than not much).

105

Thom Brooks 06.08.07 at 12:15 pm

Two points are worth adding:

(1) At least we’ve heard of Statman (who I respect highly as a philosopher, even if I disagree with certain conclusions). Who is Tom Hickey or, indeed, anyone else who is in favour of the boycott? I know (and have read) the work of plenty of academics against the boycott, but nothing by those who oppose it. Does this tell us something?

(2) Why is an academic union representing UK staff wading into this issue in the first place? The UCU has much to do concerning working conditions in UK universities. They should try to finally make progress there —rather than let academic pay slip a few more decades behind— instead of taking stands on domestic policy.

106

Sam Dodsworth 06.08.07 at 12:23 pm

…and just to back up hidari’s point, here’s the UCU report of what’s going on:

http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2595

In particular:

Responding to the votes this afternoon, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘As I have made clear in the past, and as I reiterated on the floor of congress this morning, I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it is a priority for the union.

‘Today’s motion on boycott means all branches now have a responsibility to consult all of their members on the issue and I believe that every member should have the opportunity to have their say. The earlier motion means that any future calls for a boycott must pass key tests before a boycott can implemented.’

Which makes this sound more like a defensive move against the UCU Left: put the issue directly to the members, with the aim of getting it off the agenda for a while.

107

Sam Dodsworth 06.08.07 at 12:27 pm

Er… both those quoted paragraphs should be italics, obviously. Sorry.

Also? Having read the UCU report, I’m not very impressed by how much fuss this giant non-issue has generated.

108

Hidari 06.08.07 at 12:27 pm

‘Why is an academic union representing UK staff wading into this issue in the first place?’

Because unions believe in the concept of union solidarity. It’s the same reason that unions protest against infringements of union rights all over the world. And believe me if the UCU were protesting against the situation in Zimbabwe or Burma or China we wouldn’t be hearing this ‘why are the UCU interested in things in other countries?’ stuff.

Despite the hysteria that has (of course) been engendered by the mention of the word ‘Israel’, one rather important thing has been omitted. Like it or not, Palestinian activitists and trade unionists think a boycott might do their case some good, and have approached the UCU with a view to making this view known. No, you may agree with this, or disagree with it, or whatever. But it remains a fact.

Now, I, personally, would rather like to know why they think this, and why they think it might have an effect. And I would like a real debate about why they think this. That’s what this proposal is all about. In opposing the proposal AS IT STANDS the ‘antis’ are attempting to shut down debate and implicitly censor the views of academics (Palestinians) who do not agree with Israel’s foreign policy.

This is a completely separate issue from the one about whether or not we should boycott Israel, and a much more important one.

109

engels 06.08.07 at 12:38 pm

Who is… anyone else who is in favour of the boycott?

Steven Rose? Ilan Pappe?

110

abb1 06.08.07 at 12:52 pm

I know (and have read) the work of plenty of academics against the boycott, but nothing by those who oppose [sic] it. Does this tell us something?

Thom, as a person who reads philosophy, why would you insist on arguing by the silliest form of ‘appeal to authority’?

111

Bernard Yomtov 06.08.07 at 3:13 pm

Everyone in the world is doubtless well aware of the various criticisms of whatever they are doing so trying to get anyone to do anything differently is both presumptious and futile.

Not so.

The Israelis have the distinct “advantage” of receiving constant barrages of criticism from their self-proclaimed moral superiors to a degree that others do not. These are in addition to other, more tangible, barrages that don’t seem to concern the UCU.

112

Hidari 06.08.07 at 3:50 pm

‘The Israelis have the distinct “advantage” of receiving constant barrages of criticism from their self-proclaimed moral superiors to a degree that others do not.’

Hmmm…some of us were of the impression that it was the Palestinians who had the advantage of receiving constant barrages of criticism from their self-proclaimed moral superiors, most of whom, coincidentally, happen to reside in Israel.

113

Thom Brooks 06.08.07 at 4:24 pm

No, no: I am not appealing to authority. We hear philosophers, such as Tom Hickey, tell us that we should be “using our scholarly judgment”—I’ve never seen anything by Hickey and I was curious which scholars actually supported the boycott. I’ve had my hunch that people with too much time on their hands were involved. I am pleased to see there are two names though.

Again, what is appalling is that the UCU thinks that *this* is an issue we should debate and not working conditions. I’d join the Socialist Workers’ rent-a-mob if I wanted to protest Israel. The boycott is ridiculous. I’m seriously re-considering my UCU membership as a result. I knew our UCU leaders weren’t doing a decent job, but this…

114

Jonathan Edelstein 06.08.07 at 7:08 pm

SG # 83, 98:

Quite a bit to think about in those two posts. I apologize in advance if I fail to respond to any of your salient points.

I’ll readily accept that culture can affect academic work. Cultures affect the way people think, and hence the way they study and write. Sometimes they can do so in very subtle ways that even become embedded in the language (to take one example with which I’ve become familiar, the word “colonial” in nearly every settler state is viewed as romantic rather than brutal) and hence difficult for insiders to recognize. So, without endorsing any particular conception of Israel’s cultural traits, I’ll acknowledge that such traits exist, that some of them are flawed, and that they may consciously or unconsciously affect Israeli scholars’ work product.

The question is what to do about it. If we discount research that comes from any culture with questionable traits, then what’s left? Every culture of which I’m aware has characteristics that can potentially give rise to, in your words, “filthy ideas.” I’d be skeptical of any present-day Danish or Swiss article about the social effects of immigration unless I knew the author’s politics. But as you acknowledge, culture isn’t deterministic. The work of any given academic may or may not reflect the dominant views of his culture, and for that matter, cultural factors may impact some areas of study much more than others. I don’t think it would be moral or wise to atomize ourselves and cut ourselves off from so much of human experience. Surely, instead, the best course would be to read every scholarly article critically, learn about the author’s background, identify the potential biases that might affect his work, and then separate the wheat from the chaff in the same way that we judge any other issue of individual credibility.

This is especially so where the traits that might affect scholarly work are beyond change. You mention, for example, theft of land. I’ll agree that this can affect cultural attitudes – as I mentioned above, the North American settler colony of which I am a citizen is culturally conditioned to view settlement as a romantic and heroic enterprise even while paying lip service to the fact that it was accomplished through theft. But that’s an original sin rather than an ongoing sin, and I’m very reluctant to conclude that it will forever corrupt the methods or results of non-participant scholars. Rare is the country that wasn’t born in sin, and a scholar’s response should not be to damn such countries to the tenth generation but to examine how scholars have come to terms with that origin in fields where it has impact. In the Israeli case, I might suggest a reading of the “new historians” who began working in the 1990s.

You do mention one possible exception, i.e., a situation where “culture is pervasive” and can therefore be presumed to exist throughout a country’s academic life. I haven’t seen any persuasive proof, however, that this is so with respect to Israeli academia. If Israeli higher education were full of Statmans, or if any Israeli universities endorsed Statman-like views at the institutional level, I have no doubt that this would be a key part of the boycotters’ evidence. The fact that they haven’t produced such evidence, and have instead based their allegations of “complicity” on routine behaviors such as doing national service or accepting a university paycheck, seems to me like a concession of the point. Certainly, my own limited experience with it has been that the Statmans are the exception and that academia as an institution is one of the key liberalizing and equalizing forces in Israeli society. Others’ mileage may vary, but I’d argue that those who believe that Israeli academic culture is so inherently corrupt and pervasive as to render its work product valueless have the burden of proof.

Also – and this is a tangent, but I think an important one – if cultural influence is a valid factor in evaluating foreign research, then shouldn’t it also be a factor to account for in people’s reaction to foreign research? For instance, if you or I were to read an Israeli study and conclude that its methods were morally flawed, would that necessarily be an indictment of Israeli academic culture, or might it be our own cultural attitudes rising up to bite? Or if a group of British or Palestinian professors wanted to, say, boycott Israeli universities because of a perceived moral deficiency in Israeli academia, then isn’t the floor open to whether their attitudes might be influenced by some unconscious cultural bias?

One of the things that sometimes burns me about the boycott debate is that many of the people who make culturally determinist or even culturally essentialist arguments against Israeli academics (I don’t accuse you of being part of this group) are the ones who complain most loudly when their own cultural heritage is brought into the discussion. For instance, I doubt many of them would sit still quietly if I argued that Europe has a long-standing tradition of “racist dehumanizing of a minority group,” to wit Jews, and that Jewish stereotypes may have become so culturally embedded as to unconsciously inform their choice to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a morality play rather than a war between two flawed parties. Nor would they react well if I were to wonder out loud whether the underlying Palestinian boycott call might be a result of built-in cultural nihilism.

(And before anyone gets hot under the collar, I DON’T ENDORSE THIS INTERPRETATION. Capital letters, ‘kay? Nobody’s getting called an anti-semite or a nihilist here. I’m not even arguing that all culturally influenced attitudes are bad ones – for instance, another consideration that might inform certain boycotters’ attitudes is their culturally-determined conception of human rights. All I’m saying is that, if it’s legitimate to cite the cultural flaws of the State of Israel as reasons for an academic boycott, then it’s also legitimate to point to cultural issues on the other side, which may in itself be a reason not to go there.)

Anyway, I was going to say something about whether academics are mouthpieces of the state, but now I’ve forgotten what it was. Instead, I’ll just conclude the above ramblings by restating my belief that we should be very wary of rejecting academic work on cultural grounds, both because this violates the principal of individuality and because it can be very easily turned around on us. We have other methods of dealing with cultural bias that are based on listening and learning rather than shutting our ears.

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engels 06.08.07 at 7:50 pm

Jonathan – There are a lot of interesting ideas in your post but please bear in mind that you are responding to an argument which I do not think is widely held. For most people, I would imagine, a boycott (economic, academic, sporting, etc) is simply an instrument to pressure a state to change its policies, or, in slightly more moralistic terms, to punish that state for its current policies. (It’s obviously also one which carries with it a certain amount of unfairness to individuals, although this is not supposed to be grave.) It does not presuppose anything about any alleged moral corruption of the actual individuals or institutions who are being boycotted. Or at least, that is my understanding of it.

Questions about the moral corruption of academic research which results from the moral condition of society as a whole could just as well be raised for European countries or the United States, in my opinion.

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engels 06.08.07 at 7:59 pm

(I should have probably have said “Britain or the United States”, to be clear.)

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abb1 06.08.07 at 8:12 pm

If Israeli higher education were full of Statmans, or if any Israeli universities endorsed Statman-like views at the institutional level, I have no doubt that this would be a key part of the boycotters’ evidence. The fact that they haven’t produced such evidence, and have instead based their allegations of “complicity” on routine behaviors such as doing national service or accepting a university paycheck, seems to me like a concession of the point.

Grasping at straws. Why don’t you read the direct testimony by Ilan Pappe, one of those new historians you mentioned, linked by engels upthread. He writes:

Calling for a boycott of your own state and academia is not an easy decision for a member of that academia. But I learned how the concerned academic communities, worldwide, could mobilise at the right moment when I was threatened with expulsion by my own university, the University of Haifa , in May 2002. A very precise and focused policy of pressure on the university allowed me, albeit under restriction and systematic harassment, to purse [sic] my classes and research, which are aimed at exposing the victimisation of the Palestinians throughout the years. This is a particular important avenue, as I am the only one who does it in my own university, and one of the few who does it in the country as a whole…

Not only they endorse Statman-like views, they actively persecute the dissidents.

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Jonathan Edelstein 06.08.07 at 8:25 pm

Engels # 115:

There are two threads of argument commonly made by proponents of the boycott. One is that Israel is doing bad things, and that an academic boycott is a way of putting leverage on the state. The other is that Israeli academia is itself guilty and deserving of a boycott on its own merits, hence the boycott party’s frequent accusations of institutional complicity. As a subsidiary to this second argument, it’s sometimes contended that Israeli scholarship is so morally tainted as to be of little loss to humanity, thus affecting the cost-benefit analysis of the proposed boycott’s impact to science and academic freedom.

What SG and I, in my inadvertently blown cover as Zarzur, have primarily been discussing is the second argument. It’s a conversation that actually began on the previous thread, in the context of boycotts’ impact on medical knowledge. The first argument,which justifies a boycott based on the policies of the state without any reference to the institutional guilt of academia, of course implicates a different set of ethical issues and counter-arguments. But I don’t think we can ignore the second thread as long as it’s invoked in boycott calls.

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Jonathan Edelstein 06.08.07 at 8:43 pm

Pappe’s accusations of academic persecution have been fairly thoroughly rebutted, and if the boycott movement’s oppo research hasn’t been able to come up with specific evidence showing institutional endorsement of Statmanesque views, I’ll take that over his vague accusations. For whatever else it’s worth, there’s a long list of Israeli professors whose views aren’t far off from Pappe’s – Neve Gordon, for instance – and whose academic freedom has been vigorously defended by their universities.

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abb1 06.08.07 at 8:55 pm

Ah, rebutted, of course. Silly me, I should’ve known.

I was naive and The Enemies of The People are slick and crafty. Thanks, Jonathan.

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engels 06.08.07 at 8:57 pm

No, no, I don’t think you should ignore it. I do think you might possibly be misunderstanding what at least some proponents of these kinds of actions think. For me, at least, the purpose of a boycott is to punish a state for bad policies and encourage it to change direction. I disagree with what you appear to believe, that it is unfair to direct such a campaign at any section of the state other than the administration and, for me, arguments of the “complicity” of the academy in the policies of the government are secondary and meant to weaken objections such as the ones you voiced that the academy is being punished as a “stand-in” for the government. I do think that academics can not disavow responsibility for the policies pursued by the government, that the academy is part of the state and academics are members of the ruling class with a good deal of influence on policy.

However, all this seems to me to be quite distinct from the claim that Israeli research is morally tainted as a result of the condition of Israeli society, perhaps in such a way that would make it morally obligatory to boycott it. I do think there are historical situations to which that would be the correct response, but I don’t think present day Israel is one of them, and I think it would be hypocritical for British academics to suggest that it is.

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engels 06.08.07 at 9:03 pm

And in case the use of the word “proponents” above is misleading I should make it clear that I don’t support this boycott.

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Jonathan Edelstein 06.08.07 at 10:12 pm

Abb1, it’s entirely up to you whether to believe Pappe or his critics. Rather than belabor the issue myself, I’ll point interested readers to this article by Stephen Howe who, while sympathetic to Pappe, finds somewhat less to the affair than meets Pappe’s eye.

My main point, though, is that if Israeli academia is really full of Statmans, it should be trivially easy to prove. Professors and universities leave even more of a paper trail than lawyers, Israelis publish regularly in English-language journals, and Israeli academic institutions often post their papers and conference proceedings online. I’d expect them to give prominent billing to such evidence if they in fact had it. So if all they have to go on is Pappe’s subjective view of his academic travails, that isn’t much.

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Jonathan Edelstein 06.08.07 at 11:23 pm

Engels, I agree that the policies of the Israeli state are the primary concern for most of the boycott proponents, in that those policies are what the boycott seeks to change. I don’t believe, though, that this makes the arguments as to Israeli academia’s institutional culture “secondary.” The issue of whether pressure needs to be put on the state is only the first threshold, and leads immediately to the questions of whether the target and method are appropriate. At that point, issues like academic freedom and the unimpeded pursuit of knowledge become primary considerations.

There are, no doubt, some proponents for whom these factors weigh little in comparison to the overall goal. There are many others, however, who find these issues compelling. The arguments about Israeli academia’s institutional guilt are designed to persuade this group and to overcome, rather than simply weaken, objections that might otherwise prevent them from supporting a boycott at all. As such, these arguments may be essential to expanding support outside the core constituency and obtaining a majority.

We’re talking about epiphenomena now, though, so I’ll leave it at that.

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abb1 06.09.07 at 8:28 am

My main point, though, is that if Israeli academia is really full of Statmans, it should be trivially easy to prove.

It may be trivially easy to prove, but why would anyone what to get involved – to be thoroughly rebutted and see his or her Holocaust-denying remarks aired?

Just a little logic is a trivial proof. If you care to watch brains-eating zombies like Statman and Dershowitz for ten minutes or more, you’ll now that their batshit insanity leaves them no choice but to viciously attack any rational human being careless enough to attract their attention. Over there you have a big chunk of the population and most of the government made of such zombies, incuding secret police, judiciary, army, etc. How can it be anything but totalitarian?

Hey, I saw Avraham Burg in the news again recently, see what he has to say.

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zdenek v 06.09.07 at 8:51 am

jonathan edelstein writes ( #114) : “I’ll readily accept that culture can affect academic work. Cultures affect the way people think, and hence the way they study and write. Sometimes they can do so in very subtle ways …”

I think that, as a reply to sg’s point about culture’s impact on whether academic work can be trusted, this is slightly off the topic and endorses eg’s muddle on this topic.

The point about trust is a point about justification of a view or a theory : when we say that the theory cannot be trusted we are making a point about its epistemic credentials. So sg’s point was about epistemic credentials of a theory or a view.

Now what is wrong with jonathan edelstein’s concesion ? Well roughly to concede that culture has pervasive influence on scientific work is only a concession to the effect that it influences the process of discovery but not the process of justification.

Kepler to take just one example may have become interested in planetary motion as a result of his religious and occult preoccupations and for all we know he may have even been interested to obtain certain specific outcomes . But so long as his eventual claim that the planets move in elliptical orbits could be *justified by the evidence he presented for it*, it does not matter how he came to be interested in the question , nor what prior investment he may have had.

Culture in other words is irrelevent here because what is doing the justifying is the evidence presented. That is an item of information justifies a given belief by raising the likelyhood that it is true and this is something independent of what specific political beliefs and so on one has.

Ok so it is simply to confuse the context of discovery ( where culture may be key ) with context of justification to argue that because a theory is formulated in a questionable political environment id becomes itself suspect.

Sg is guilty here and jonathan edelstein merely perpetuates the confusion.

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seth edenbaum 06.09.07 at 2:30 pm

I find it extremely annoying that people are arguing as if somehow “intellectual freedom” of one sort or another should take moral precedence. I’m sure there have been plenty of examples of valuable apolitical intellectual work done under all sorts of oppressive regimes, or more to the point regimes that have been liberal regarding the people they represent and oppressive to others.

The fact is that the majority of Israeli’s defend Israeli policies, not only regarding the West Bank, but land policies et al. in general. And the others whine about the Palestinians’ behavior. The condescension itself is enough to make me want to push for a full embargo, though it’ll never happen. There’s enough documentation to show that all but a tiny minority in that absurd country “just don’t get it,” and if the majority can claim to live in country that claims to represent what we claim to represent, the defense of only being interested in Shakespeare or microbiology doesn’t cut it. Call it collective punishment if you want.
It’s not about Ilan Pappe or the Israelis it’s about the Palestinians, and they have not come up once in this discussion.
It might as well have been whites talking about negroes of Germans talking about the jewish problem or men asking “what do women want?”

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seth edenbaum 06.09.07 at 2:33 pm

Try “academic freedom” for teachers of automoble maintenance.
As a teacher at Automotive High School in Brooklyn, don’t I have a right as a mechanic to commumiocate with Israeli mechanics?

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abb1 06.09.07 at 3:44 pm

It’s not about Ilan Pappe or the Israelis it’s about the Palestinians, and they have not come up once in this discussion.

Of course it’s about the Israelis.

About the Palestinians, sure. But a few months ago it was about the Lebanese and in a few months it will be about the Iranians.

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Hidari 06.09.07 at 4:18 pm

Incidentally may I just ask why people are talking about this ‘boycott’? The simple fact is, there is no boycott, none has been proposed and even if one was proposed it is highly unlikely it would get passed by the UCU membership as a whole (let alone the NEC). It’s a non-debate about nothing, and to carry on the debate is to imply that there is something to it (an attitude that greatly strengthens the hand of extremist Israeli nationalists, who are desperate to persuade their fellow Israelis that everyone that the whole world is out to get Israel and ‘drive the Jews into the sea’, as this greatly strengthens their political agenda).

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zdenek v 06.09.07 at 5:00 pm

Listen hidari, you know that explanation normally tracks justification, right ?

So, since there is no justification for your claim that no boycott is contemplated , your believing that it is true that no boycott is proposed, does not explain why you believe it ( you agree with the logic here right ? ).

So , what is the explanation of your going on like you are, in other words what is your *real* reason for making these pronouncements ? ( as opposed to your stated / official reasons I mean ).

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seth edenbaum 06.09.07 at 5:26 pm

“So… what is your real reason [sic!] for making these pronouncements? (as opposed to your stated/official reasons I mean).”

Z, he’s afraid the Jews are after his women; and you and I know he’s right don’t we? Shiksa’s want it.

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Hidari 06.10.07 at 9:02 am

Zdenek
I know it is incredibly important from the point of view of extremist Israeli nationalists to believe that there is a boycott already in existence by the UCU. (Or to put it more clearly, it is in their interests to have everybody else believe this). This is because it supports their ‘everyone is against us, everyone is out to get us’ paranoid mentality. It also gives them an opportunity to wheel out the ‘anyone who objects to a brutal 40 year occupation is an anti-semite’ meme, which greatly strengthens certain political elements (the extreme right wing) in Israel.

In fact when I pointed out that there is no boycott on Harry’s Place it got pointed out to me that to deny the boycott is more or less the same as to deny the Holocaust (!!!!).

Note: these are not people who are stating that there might be a boycott at some point in the future. These are people who have really and genuinely persuaded themselves that there is a boycott and that everyone who denies this is an anti-semite.

And I take it this is your view as well (with the dark hints of ‘why are you saying something that’s true? We know that people don’t really just say true things for the sake of it….it must be because you’re an anti-semite. Eh? Eh? Eh?’).

None the less, facts remain (and these are facts, not opinions). There is, currently, no official UCU boycott of anything Israeli. There is, at the time of writing, no official, proposed UCU boycott of anything Israeli. And there is, in fact, unlikely to be any boycott, as such a move is unlikely to get majority support, or the backing of the UCU. [Note: it’s true that some individuals , in a private capacity, probably think a boycott is a good idea, and they may, at some point in the future, bring such a proposal to the UCU, where it will be debated. But there is no official UCU boycott at the moment.]

If you believe otherwise (and you are wrong) produce evidence (let me help you in your task, there isn’t any).

[Another extremist Israeli meme its worth nipping in the bud is that there is now a ‘trend’ for British unions to boycott Israel. In fact only the NUJ have done so and their boycott is likely to be overturned. The UCU haven’t, and UNISON may or may not pass some watered down resolution later on in the year.]

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DMS 06.10.07 at 9:12 am

My take on this post itself is that Bertram wants it both ways:

1. wants to be seen as a sensible man opposed to a silly boycott;
2. still wants to make points against supporters of a nation he detests i.e Israel.

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SG 06.10.07 at 9:59 am

Jonathan aka zarzur if you are still reading this thread, which has been flogged to death I think, thanks for responding so patiently, and sorry I didn’t respond – I have been away and it doesn’t seem worthwhile now. I’ll read the things you and Abb1 put up, thank you both.

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Tracy W 06.10.07 at 11:34 am

I find it extremely annoying that people are arguing as if somehow “intellectual freedom” of one sort or another should take moral precedence. I’m sure there have been plenty of examples of valuable apolitical intellectual work done under all sorts of oppressive regimes, or more to the point regimes that have been liberal regarding the people they represent and oppressive to others.

Yes, and it’d be daft to ignore that work. For example, England during the time of Newton only gave the vote to a small minority of the population (and only to men), yet Newton’s work on physics is fundamental to modern physics. Leibniz and Newton made fundamental contributions to maths by the invention of calculus (apparently independently), but I don’t think 17th century Germany was any more liberal than 17th century England. Yet modern engineering deeply depends on calculus.

Skipping over a few centuries, Charles Darwin’s England gave the vote to a few more people than Newton’s England, but it was still very far from liberal. For example no women had the vote. Yet Darwin’s theory of evolution is essential to modern biology.

If academics ignored Newton or Darwin or Leibniz’s work because it was done under oppressive regimes, they would put back the study of the relevant sciences ridiculously. Collective punishment is one thing, but choosing to punish a collective in a way that not only harms yourself but everyone else in your society is nuts. An academic’s work should be tested against the best arguments that can be made against it, even if they do come from people who live under oppressive regimes. That’s why “intellectual freedom” should take moral precedence. There’s no reason to believe that the truth only resides with people who are morally impeccable.

This of course only applies to academic fields whose work has implications for the rest of society. Academics whose work is completely irrelevant to society have a far stronger case for boycotting anyone they don’t like.

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abb1 06.10.07 at 12:05 pm

even if they do come from people who live under oppressive regimes

These are people who help maintain a criminal, oppressive and very dangerous regime, that has been causing all kinds of troubles to the rest of society: terrorism, extremism, millions of refugees – and you, Tracy W, are paying your money to feed and shelter these millions of refugees. Let me try your argument: were this money spend on cancer research, we would’ve had the cure by now. Right?

Your whole line of argumentation is completely bogus, I must say. You could as well argue against incarceration of common criminals, especially if they are scientists – hey, what if they discover something? What if a murderer or murderer’s accomplice is destined to invent the time machine? Or his children that he will never have if sent to jail? The society can’t take this chance, can it?

Come on, Tracy.

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Chris Bertram 06.10.07 at 12:30 pm

dms (134): I would not say that I “detest” Israel. I would say that I think some of its policies are very seriously unjust to the Palestinians. And, yes I think the boycott is a silly proposal that is likely to ineffective in defeating that injustice. Is that “having it both ways”? Or just refusing to go along with the extremist idiots with their “if you’re not for us you’re against us” attitude?

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Keely 06.10.07 at 2:55 pm

These are people who help maintain a criminal, oppressive and very dangerous regime, that has been causing all kinds of troubles to the rest of society: terrorism, extremism, millions of refugees

Just noticed that this thread was still alive and popped in to see where it had wandered, when the above comment caught my attention. I don’t have any horse in this race, but this rather perverse view of Israel is, I suspect, what animates a lot of boycott supporters and what would make me wary of supporting any such campaign. This is, essentially, a one-state solution to the I/P problem and no one needs to guess which state is expected to disappear.

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abb1 06.10.07 at 3:25 pm

How is it ‘perverse’?

Do you want a link to a list of the outstanding UN resolutions against Israel so that we could discuss the statement in question, or you prefer to declare neutrality, call someone ‘perverse’ and disappear, hit-and-run style? Clearly you can dish it out; but let me know if you can take it too. Though I suspect you might be just a sockpuppet for someone we already heard from in this thread.

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seth edenbaum 06.10.07 at 3:27 pm

“This is, essentially, a one-state solution to the I/P problem and no one needs to guess which state is expected to disappear.”

“O’REILLY: OK, I think it’s a small part, but I think it’s there. On the other side, you have people who hate America, and they hate it because it’s run primarily by white, Christian men. Let me repeat that. America is run primarily by white, Christian men, and there is a segment of our population who hates that, despises that power structure. So they, under the guise of being compassionate, want to flood the country with foreign nationals, unlimited, unlimited, to change the complexion — pardon the pun — of America. Now, that’s hatred, too. It’s a different kind of hatred, but it’s hatred and best exemplified by The New York Times, which today says in its editorial, quote: “Those who want [the immigration] bill to be better are horribly conflicted by it. Their emotions still seem vastly overmatched by the ferocity of the opposition from the restrictionist right, with talk radio lighting up over ‘amnesty,’ callers spitting out the words with all the hate they can pour into it,” unquote.”

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seth edenbaum 06.10.07 at 3:28 pm

oh yeah, sorry

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Keely 06.10.07 at 8:42 pm

Seth, I am white but I don’t live in the U.S., my politics are probably the opposite of O’Reilly’s and I haven’t regarded myself as a Christian since early teenage, so I’m not sure what is implied by your citation… and would likely be better off not even asking!

Abb1, I think I’m aware of your general position on Israel and its inhabitants, as well as the number of anti-Israel resolutions passed by various UN committees. For whatever either are worth. I was trying to keep to the topic of the boycott, and your sort of raging animosity towards Israel and Israelis seemed to me to underly much of what fuels these boycott efforts. In short, they would appear to have little to do with changing Israel’s policies and a lot to do with eliminating the country entirely. (And, btw, this is my first comment on this thread, so I am a bit puzzled by your comment.)

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seth edenbaum 06.10.07 at 9:51 pm

“Seth, I am white but I don’t live in the U.S., my politics are probably the opposite of O’Reilly’s”

Sorry kiddo, you, O’Reilly, followers of Le Pen, Haider et al. are all defenders of racial definitions of statehood in the 21st century; with the difference that the Jews are the immigrants in Israel and the Turks, Algerians and others are the newcomers to Europe.

As I said previously these discussions [when held among the knowledgeable] begin and end with someone claiming that “the jews are different.” Jewish exceptionalism is the basis for moral as opposed to nationalist/reactionary or realist claims for or about Zionism.
Wake me up when someone makes that sad claim outright; until then this is a discussion between Zionists and those who want to find a way to feel good about themselves.

An afterthought: this post began as a defense of academic exceptionalism. There seems to be some confusion between the practical policy misnamed “academic freedom” and the principle of exceptionalism: I defend one, not the other.

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abb1 06.10.07 at 10:05 pm

Well, Keely, you quoted something I wrote. The statement you quoted is precisely about the policies and their consequences and there’s nothing there that would imply any animosity towards Israel and Israelis (‘inhabitants’, you call them?) in general, nor there’s a suggestion there to eliminate the entire country. So I’m calling your bullshit.

You should’ve found a different quote to make your case, but even if you could, it would’ve been quite a silly comment anyway. What you’re saying here is that because some abb1 guy feels strongly that the boycott is necessary (or even, for the sake of argument, has a raging animosity towards the ‘inhabitants’), the boycott shouldn’t be enacted. This is an obvious logical fallacy.

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Keely 06.10.07 at 10:10 pm

Le Pen, Haider? I was born in (Newport) Wales. Hmm. Don’t bother answering…

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Tracy W 06.10.07 at 10:17 pm

These are people who help maintain a criminal, oppressive and very dangerous regime, that has been causing all kinds of troubles to the rest of society: terrorism, extremism, millions of refugees

Ah, I see you had an Irish history teacher too. :)

I agree that the English government in the 17th and 19th centuries was a criminal, oppressive, and very dangerous regime, that caused all sorts of troubles to the rest of society such as terrorism, extremism, and millions of refugees (well, maybe the 17th century English governments didn’t literally create millions of refugees, but I think that was due to limited population in Ireland and Britain, which limited the number of refugees it could create in the first place). I still don’t think that’s reason to boycott Newton or Darwin’s work.

– and you, Tracy W, are paying your money to feed and shelter these millions of refugees.

Indeed. I am also paying my taxes to the NZ education system, the NZ health care system, the NZ ministry of the environment, the NZ ministry of research, science and technology, etc. I want the best from my tax money, which means that I want the work, say on global warming, to be tested by the best minds the world can find. If that means using the work of Newton and Darwin, even though they supported a criminal and oppressive regime, so be it.

And incidentally, my Irish history teacher never mentioned any objection to us studying Newtonian physics in our physics classes.

Let me try your argument: were this money spend on cancer research, we would’ve had the cure by now. Right?

Actually I don’t know. Scientific discoveries can’t be predicted ahead of time by definition (just think about it – try to say what scientific discoveries will be made in the next ten years). Furthermore, I am not a medical scientist, those who I know who are say that it’s extremely unlikely that we will ever discover “the cure for cancer” any more than we have discovered a “cure for fever” as there are probably multiple causes of cancer (my apologies if I am mangling this entirely, any mistakes are my fault and not those of those good-hearted people who try to explain science to someone from a completely different field). I do think however that it is likely that Darwin’s work may help in finding a cure for cancer, which is why I don’t think we should ignore work that comes from criminal, oppressive and dangerous regimes.

Your whole line of argumentation is completely bogus, I must say. You could as well argue against incarceration of common criminals, especially if they are scientists – hey, what if they discover something?

If they discover something in jail then by all means that discovery should be included in the relevant discipline. I don’t think that scientific work should be evaluated by the moral stature of the scientist. There have been intelligent murderers.

The question of what the children one might have had may have discovered is impossible to balance morally. For example, because Mum got pregnant with me that meant she couldn’t then get pregnant again in the next nine months, so my existance cancels out the possibility of nine other people existing, but then if one of them existed, I wouldn’t. It gets incalculable. If you put the murderer in jail and prevent him having children it changes the set of children born – after all, people don’t have babies single-handly, so the woman he otherwise would have got pregnant may meet someone else and get pregnant to that person instead and how do we know what the counter-factual children would be like? I can’t decide if it changes things for better or for worse.

So obviously I can never put my finger on exactly what the benefits are of taking evidence and arguments from Israeli academics. However, we know that critical evidence and insights may only happen to one person. Wegener was the person who came up with continental drift, Alexander Flemming was the informed mind that could accidentally discover antibiotics, Ignac Semmelweis discovered the importance of hand-washing in reducing childbirth deaths. If you boycott Israeli academics, you may be missing the next important discovery.

The Irish, lovely people as they are, are hardly the only morally relevant people on the planet. One of my relatives, an Australian if that matters, died of cervical cancer – a miserable way to go. Millions of other people around the world suffer from cancer, most of whom are no more responsible for the state of the Irish in the 17th and 19th centuries than the Irish themselves were. And, to shift from medical science, global warming appears to threaten the lives of everyone around the world, so research into the science of that, and the science of how to reduce emissions and the political science of international treaties is vitally important. Millions of people are living in poverty in places thousands of miles from England and Ireland – research into how to improve their lives and how to improve their governments is vitally important for them. And if Darwin or Newton’s work can help with improving that, I say let’s use it.

I know I’m changing the topic on you, that I’m talking about past centuries’ English scientists rather than existing Israeli work. But this is done with the intention of making a point – that we don’t know if Israel may produce someone whose scientific work is on the level of Darwin’s or Newton’s, or the level of a million other scientists. People living under criminal, oppressive and very dangerous regimes have made great discoveries with long-lasting benefits to the rest of the world. A boycott of Israeli academics risks hurting far more people than merely morally culpable Israelis.

Plus there is no reason to believe that any boycott would stop at Israel. Your logic applies equally to boycotting Chinese and Russian academics, and many would argue it applies to boycotting US academics, and UK academics, and Iranian academics, and etc. There’s nothing particularly special about Israel. So the risk of missing the next great scientific discovery rises and rises.

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Keely 06.10.07 at 10:33 pm

Abb1, I was a sometime supporter of the South African boycott (in fact, I desisted after meeting a couple of S.A. academics), but I prefer to try to influence Israeli politics by supporting cultural & scientific exchange, not limiting it. My strongest impression of this boycott is that its instigators are simply engaging in a longterm campaign to undermine the country itself. I am adamantly against that. If I am mistaken about your goals, I apologise and withdraw my insinuation. But I still find your characterization of Israel and Israelis to be perverse.

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SG 06.11.07 at 2:41 am

Tracy, zarzur and Zdenek (amongst others), why is it that whenever this argument about judging an academic work based on its culture is raised, you cite very clear and profoundly useful scientific works, rather than all the dubious and useless history or social science works from the time. Do you think that the Aryan model of history sprang up in a vacuum? I find your claim that assessments of academic work`s relationship to it`s cultural background are bogus is extremely limited, and I don`t believe that you really apply it. For example, I bet all three of you would support a claim that Nazi eugenic work from the 30s, and Soviet genetic research from the same time, can be pretty much thrown out of court; or at least need to be assessed very carefully.

So let me give you a concrete example of the sorts of influence culture has on academic work, and then you can tell me if you think it should be accepted as “fact” straightaway. An english language journal, circa 1933, receives a paper in English from a German historian, documenting the history of the Jews 100 years earlier in a German merchant town. His paper is based on sources from the local town library, chamber of commerce and council chambers, all entirely in German. He has given translations in the paper. The town is a known hotbed of anti-semitism in both Victorian england and modern (i.e. 1933) Germany. Strangely enough, the article documents a lot of thieving, fraud, and corruption on the part of Jewish merchants of the time, and implicates them in holding back several major developments in the town.

Do you believe this document? Would you publish it? Would you want it checked? In the absence of an ability to check it, what would you suggest be done? Or would you take zdenek`s view that it is simply impossible to judge this kind of work based on its cultural context?

This is the whole source of debate about the Stolen Children generation in Australia, about the “whitewashing” of Australian history – Windshuttle, for example, has a different take on what sources can and can`t be trusted than those who he accuses of postmodernism. He blames it on their leftist culture, and in return we can rightly argue that his estimation of the veracity of his sources is based on far too romantic a view of the colonisation of Australia. His view of Aborigines has been described as overly negative, and his historical research “pitiless”. This debate can`t be resolved, as in science, by reference to equations and observations of the movement of planets. In the absence of proof of fraud it is resolved by further culturally-biassed debate.

For this reason culture has to be considered. If you don`t think so, then show me your library of Nazi eugenic, demographic and historical works. Don`t have one? Thought so.

But once again, my logic was simply this: IF you believe that this kind of cultural bias on research can happen AND you believe it is happening in Israel AND you support the boycott for other reasons THEN you proably don`t think your boycott is having that much of an effect on the progress of intellectual life. I took Statman as evidence in support of the claim that it is happening in Israel, though I don`t claim it is conclusive proof and I don`t (contrary to zdenek`s claim) claim to know one way or another what is going on there. But for the record I do believe that cultural bias on research can make a nation`s (or a part of academia`s) contribution to academic discourse at least suspect, and we can judge that as rational adults.

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SG 06.11.07 at 2:51 am

Also Tracey can I point out that while Newton got many things right, he insisted on indigo and violet as part of the spectrum because of his beliefs about perfection and religion. That`s a small error due to culture; but it`s only small because the rest of his work could be subjected to objective verification. History, social science, psychology and philosophy can`t.

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Doctor Slack 06.11.07 at 4:32 am

My strongest impression of this boycott is that its instigators are simply engaging in a longterm campaign to undermine the country itself

How nice for you, but it would be great to have some idea why this “impression” should be taken seriously. At this point, it’s not as though it’s unusual to see people in this sort of debate flail wildly about with accusations of veiled anti-Semitism or “eliminationism” and turn out to have no bloody idea what they’re talking about.

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Tracy W 06.11.07 at 5:37 am

Sg – I don’t think anything should be accepted as “fact” right away. As you pointed out, some of Newton’s work was wrong in itself. Some of Einstein’s work was wrong too. The “bad air” theory of malaria was wrong, etc. Nothing should be accepted as fact straightaway.

And I may point out that there’s a hell of a lot of dubuious or useless work done in the hard sciences too. Look at the theory of pholigston or ether, or N-rays, or for that matter the eager design of perpetual motion machines or the attempt to square the circle.

Before I say anything else, I had better say that I am of mixed-race, and thus have ample personal reasons to oppose any Nazi-style regime.

For your hypothetical case of the Nazi study of Jewry, my initial thoughts are, assuming that the work is well-documented, relevant to your field, etc:
– check the original sources, and other sources (England in 1933 definitely could find a German translater). Omitting deeply important facts is almost as dishonest as making them up, sometimes as dishonest.
– if it checks out to be good quality in the technical sense, publish it and let people attack it.

Due to weight considerations, my library is small and frequently culled, but I have read some of Mein Kempf and Das Kapital (giving up on both due to the quality of the writing more than the topic matter), and the Communist Manifesto, and while we’re at it, an American collection of essays defending slavery. I don’t see any reason to protect myself from such ideas – although I’ve never been able to read Walter Scott again after the anti-semitism of Ivanhoe which I suppose is a bit contradictory. My technical library has a shortage of such documents, but that’s because sciece has advanced somewhat in the last sixty years, so it would be foolish for me to refer to papers published in the 1930s. My grandpa probably had some though – that was when he went to university and of course much of chemistry was written in German then.

I am surprised to be told that psychology, social sciences, and history can’t be subject to objective verification. Do you really believe that, for example, the hypothesis that there is a stable trade-off between inflation and unemployment has not been decisively disproved? Or that there may not have been a WWII?

And do you believe that any country is free from cultural bias? The original topic was Israel, but you have now used examples of Australia, and 1930s Germany. I may as well state that NZ and Australian historians tend to have opposing views on the value of Rev Samuel Marsden – driven by cultural considerations. The European disinterest in the Asian theatre of WWII struck me when I visited Europe – American, NZ and Australian museums and writings pay far more attention to it. If you’re going to eliminate work because of cultural bias you’re going to stop research in the humanities and social sciences entirely.

Work in the social sciences may be culturally-biased, but that’s not the same as saying it is pointless. If you find something that’s culturally biased, say how it is and attack it on that basis. Point out the things that are being ommitted, or the lies that are being told. Be prepared to change your own mind if necessary. That’s a better way of getting at the truth than trying to ignore everything that may be culturally-biased.

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SG 06.11.07 at 6:16 am

Ah, but Tracy, now you`re accusing me of supporting censorship. My example might support that impression, but recall I am simply defending here a chain of reasoning about the damage to academic inquiry of boycotting Israel for other reasons (or the benefits to academic inquiry of boycotting an academic culture because of it`s corruption). I certainly am not arguing that we should not study these things.

But returning to my example, as a journal editor you can`t send someone to this German town to check out the sources in their basement, just to decide if you can publish 1 article. It is a small article on a small part of history, to be published unchecked in a history journal in English. Whatever will you do? Certainly if you publish the article, might it not be wise for your readers to take the contents with more than a little salt?

Of course I don`t believe any country is free from cultural bias. But that`s not what I`m arguing. I`m suggesting that in some cases boycotting such a culture may not make much of a difference, or the trade off might be worth it. As, for example, if we suppose for a moment that boycotting Nazi academics would have stopped world war 2. In exchange for the loss to the world of rocket science and eugenics, we gain 30 million Russians, 6 million Jews, and all the other numbers I can`t recall off the top of my head. Seems like a double benefit to me. If only academic boycotts could achieve miracles!

(On the downside, cryptography would have been set back a few years, but it`s mind numbingly boring in any case)

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abb1 06.11.07 at 6:21 am

…English government in the 17th and 19th centuries was a criminal, oppressive…

The problem with your argument now is that we don’t live in the 19th century. What was considered quite normal in the 19th century has become unacceptable in modern times, post WWII, with the UN charter etc.

If you go farther back in time, you’ll find slavery which was normal back then, but if the todays English voted for a government with the platform to reinstitute slavery, English academics would suffer. Most of them would’ve emigrated, I’m sure.

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abb1 06.11.07 at 6:30 am

My strongest impression of this boycott is that its instigators are simply engaging in a longterm campaign to undermine the country itself.

Well, to be a little more specific: to undermine that country government’s criminality, oppression, militarism, expansionism, bigotry.

If this campaign seems perverse to you – I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. You may want to try LGF for some soulmates.

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zdenek v 06.11.07 at 7:12 am

sg you are confusing context of justification and context of discovery and while it is perfectly reasonable ( and no one disputes that ) to say that culture influences the latter, it makes no sense to argue that social values play a role in context of justification.*

So your German example is a case where we must suspend judgement ( and in all similar cases )until the putative facts are checked to see if his evidence supports his claims. To argue as you seem to that such research should be dismissed out of hand involves the confusion I mention.

As I pointed out above as long as the eventual claim that so and so is the case is justified by the evidence presented for it , it does not matter how he came to be ineterested in the question. He might be the biggest anti-semite in Germany . The view /claim/hypothesis is now there , with a claim on our attention and only way to reject it, is to refute the evidence adduced in its favour.

Notice that the reason we defer to science is that it delivers the sort of knowledge that * everyone* has reaon to believe , regardless of their political /ideological commitments. But this is challenged by your approach.

* the view you are defending here is broadly influenced by so called social constructivism ( postmodernist trend )which claims that social values do enter into the context of justification : they hold that it is not the factual evidence that does the justifying but precisely the background social values. Most philosophers of science that I know of do not take this very seriously because the stuff very quickly becomes incoherent.

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Hidari 06.11.07 at 7:51 am

I think “certain people’s” newfound commitment to epistemological objectivism and ‘old fashioned’ realism (i.e. as opposed to social constructivism) would be a lot more convincing if they had not also appeared in this very comments thread, claiming that there was a ‘boycott’ of Israel by the UCU (there isn’t one, nor is one (officially) proposed).

I have noticed a strange phenomenon recently. Amongst certain subgroups there is an inverse relationship between the vehemence of belief in ‘realism’ and ‘objectivism’ in theory and their strange dislike and rejection of ‘reality’ in the particular case (i.e. in an empirical context).

i.e. there is a group of people (who tend to term themselves ‘libertarians’ or ‘radical Republicans’ ) who will argue, aggressively, that facts are facts, that there is NO influence of social factors on ‘our’ knowledge, that postmodernism is all nonsense (etc.) and who will then, seconds later, go onto argue that Saddam Hussein ‘threw out’ weapons inspectors, that the vast majority of Iraqi insurgents’ attacks are on women and children (or, at least, civilians), that Hugo Chavez ‘shut down’ the TV station RCTV, that Saddam Hussein was attempting to procure uranium from Niger, and so forth. *

*These examples are not picked at random: they are picked because they are very easily ‘falsified’ in Popper’s sense: i.e. empirical evidence that simply and easily proves they are not true is freely available. In other, more complex cases (i.e. anything relating to Israel) I would argue that their view of reality is even weirder, but I fully accept that value judgements play their part here.

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SG 06.11.07 at 8:08 am

So zdenek, the argument Windshuttle is having with other academics over Australian colonial history is completely objective, is it, and free from cultural influence on the justification? Not only is it a pure accident that Windshuttle believes his sources are better than, say, Manning Clark`s, but the issue of which sources are better can be clarified by some form of pure logical endeavour? Even though the people who wrote the sources are dead and we will never know for sure what they omitted, why they wrote what they wrote or what information they did or didn`t have? And the arguments given by those who stole children all those years ago were prima facie what they believed, uninfluenced by either the racism of the individuals or the institutions in which their careers flourished or failed? The idea of a dying race had no effect on the ways in which they studied and argued, or on the light in which they presented the terror and horror of their program, or the consequences for the children? I`m sure no psychologist ever blamed the bed-wetting on the inferiority of the Aboriginal race and its impulse control, and always assumed it was due to abduction from the family.

And on a broader institutional level, the pressure to publish certain sorts of work in places like Nazi Germany had no effect whatsoever on the process of reasoning, the choice about which evidence to support and which to reject, or anything else? No-one was tempted to accept an unusual result because it supported the prevailing philosophy, even though they knew deep down it might be wrong? And in philosophy? Nowhere in the world is there a philosopher who actually would have concluded something quite different to Statman, but decided to change the logic just a bit in order to get access to more funds in the future, and so ended up defending something objectionable?

I don`t really believe that you believe any of this anyway. You have been engaging in the delicate dance and shuffle of always questioning the underlying motives and cultural background of those presenting the boycott, those defending it, and those who even suggest that presenting the boycott for discussion is okay. For example, you have consistently linked the boycott call by the UCU to an original request by a Palestinian body as if this influenced the interpretation of the UCU boycott. Surely by your own estimation, it doesn`t matter what the Palestinians think or want, only what the stated purpose and logic of the UCU is? Similarly, it doesn`t matter if my concern for dead Palestinians is motivated by the material Abb1 put up in the last thread, by my imagination or by my purported anti-semitism (which is somehow relevant to this debate in your eyes, though the Israeli state`s state of war is not). All that matters is the logic of my defense or otherwise of the boycott? But in the last thread you told me my view about singling out Israel was not motivated by humanitarianism, refused to even discuss any analogies I put forward, and went straight for the jugular with the accusation of anti-semitism.

I will assume here then that you do care about the rights of Palestinians; therefore it shouldn`t matter to you what my motivation is for talking about Israel, and what the motivation of the UCU is for putting forward a boycott. All that should matter to you is that it works to improve the situation of Palestinians. In fact if anyone were to accuse me of anti-semitism, surely you should say to that person “SG`s anger may seem insincere to you, but his motivations are not the issue, since they cannot cloud the logic of his inquiry. All that matters is whether or not he is right or wrong about the best way to protect the rights of Palestinians.” And in this situation any accusation of inconsistency would again be irrelevant, since this is simply their cultural background affecting the discovery of the problem; inquiry should be treated with the respect it deserves. You have consistently failed to do anything except attack the motives for discovery.

Furthermore, people who don`t like anti-semitism generally don`t defend Nazi Germany from claims that its genetic science, moral philosophy and social science could be dismissed out of hand due to the climate of their production. You have painted yourself into a strange corner with some odd co-defendants in order to defend Israel against a claim (academic corruption) which hasn`t even been satisfactorily established.

What`s that about?

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zdenek v 06.11.07 at 8:53 am

Let me make the point about justification by looking at Statman. Asssume aegumendo that he is working for the Israeli government , has killed when in the army number of innocent Palestinians and is a unrepentent racist and a supremacist. Hates women and gays and the communists.

None of this information is relevant in the slightest when we look at his paper say on targeted killing and want to know whether what he holds here is justified , has merit because *that* only has to do with how good the supporting argumentation is i.e we want to know whether premises of his argument are true and the form of the argument is valid . ( he should also I suppose be saying something new for it to be philosophically interesting ).

And of course whether his argument has the proper form of modus tolens say, and premises are true has nothing what so ever to do or is effected by his ideological commitments.

He might have written the paper of course because of he wants to advance Israel’s agenda but this has nothing to do with the issue of justification and you cannot dismiss his paper by drawing attention to this agenda.

Confuse the issue of discovery and justification like you are doing and we are back at my original criticism of your position : political criteria are taken to be epistemically relevent and this is a trade mark of Soviet/Nazi science .

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zdenek v 06.11.07 at 9:08 am

This is a good way to make the point. Suppose new evidence in the form of letters emerges about Charles Darwin. He reveals that he thinks that evolution by natural selection is a stupid idea and that he wrote it up only to impress his future wife and went on the Beagle voyage just to have some fun.

Does this discredit the theory of evolution ? Not in the slightest and why do you think that is so ?

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SG 06.11.07 at 9:27 am

political criteria are taken to be epistemically relevent and this is a trade mark of Soviet/Nazi science .

but Zdenek, there is nothing wrong with Soviet/Nazi science. You said so yourself.

You just insulted the use of political criteria to judge epistemological relevance by comparing the method to a type of science whose main failing was its use of political criteria to judge epistemological relevance.

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SG 06.11.07 at 9:51 am

Zdenek, perhaps I am not making myself entirely clear here. There are three arguments going on at once, some of which are being supported with examples that cloud matters.

1) when judging an individual piece of work, can we judge its accuracy from political criteria?
2) is it valid to judge a body of work from a particular institution, culture or group (as opposed to individual examples within the group) based on political criteria
3) when we don’t have infinite resources to judge intellectual work, can we reject individuals’ work on the basis that it comes from a group which is supect, if this is easier than judging the work directly on its merits?

My example of the German history article in 1933, and studies on North Korean prisoners as a whole, fits into 3). You obviously agree that we can do 2), since you dismiss the process of doing 2) by using the method of 2). Neither of us would probably agree with 1), since it’s generally more effective to judge the individuals’ work directly. If there were reason to suspect fraud, and we couldn’t check – or if the group the individual came from has been found consistently to commit fraud, as in the case of dubious consent forms from North Korea – then we would probably shift from doing 1) to doing 3). Keith Windshuttle does a form of 1) when he argues that some primary sources are more reliable than others due to their political circumstances; but we don’t have to do 1) to him, since we can judge his work directly (and then conclude that he came up with biassed stuff due to his cultural and political background).

Obviously in a world where we have access to all the information the researcher has, and are willing to check every bit of evidence presented in detail, and know exactly what was going on in the original experiment and had clear and pure information about all the reagents/sources/computer programs, etc., we would never do 2) or 3). Obviously every piece of work is objectively correct or not correct, but we as judges of that work cannot necessarily know this in every case, due primarily to the problem of limited resources. Sometimes we aren’t cutting our losses much by doing 3), which is exactly the deal with papers on North Korean prisoners, since we can’t trust science done on non-consenting individuals.

Let me give you a simple, non-controversial real example of this. You can’t trust per capita GDP figures from Australia before 1967. Why? They didn’t count Aborigines in the population. So we can judge the entire body of demographic and economic empirical in pre-1967 Australia by this small fact, and we know we are correct. At the time, probably many people in the world didn’t realise this. But someone who had said “I don’t trust Australian population research because they hate Aborigines over there, and are in the last stages of a program of genocide” would have been right. Whereas all the “realists” would have been assessing the work on its “merits”…

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zdenek v 06.11.07 at 9:58 am

Sorry a misunderstanding ( should have been clearer ). ‘Soviet science’ doesn’t mean ‘science done in Soviet union’.

It refers to specific period in which Lysenkoism was popular and the early Stalinist attitude towards Quantum Mechanics which was considered incompatible with Marxism so it was dissed.

Lysonko’s work was promoted because it embraced Lamarkism thought to be compatible with Marxim . See what happened to Soviet Genetics as a result of this politicization of science which imo is exactly what you promote.

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SG 06.11.07 at 11:14 am

… and exactly what you’re doing. Rejecting science from a whole nation because of the academic culture in that nation. Can’t you see that you’re doing what you decry?

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zdenek v 06.11.07 at 11:54 am

No the idea is not that Lysonko’s theories were flawed because he was a communist or embraced some funny version of communism but because his views relied on Lamark’s theory which is false. That is the criticism of his views and here no politics play role .

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SG 06.11.07 at 12:33 pm

That is not what you just said: “… as a result of this politicization of science …” Sorry but post 163 is a blatant attempt to redefine exactly what I am doing as not doing what I am doing, in order to evade the trap of being accused of doing what I am doing, which is what you are doing. A delicate dance indeed! (Or do you argue that in fact lots of genetic science in the Soviet Union at the time did not fall into the Lamarkian trap?)

Also you are still insisting on portraying my whole argument as being about analysing individuals work from the view of their politics, even though I have tried to clear that up with my 1, 2 and 3 post above.

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zdenek v 06.11.07 at 1:30 pm

Look I am able to say that so called Soviet science is open to criticism unlike you because of the distinction between proper inquiry and improper inquiry. And that involves the distinction between context of justification / context of discovery.

You on the other hand cannot coherently tell the diference between good and bad because on your view politics are crucially involved in CJ. So for you Soviet science is as good as any other science.( I am not saying you said this only that you are committed imo to a view like that ).

But if that is the case your criticism of Australia , Israel or any other country is without any force because it is just a disguised political criticism.( because you do not have a meaningful account between good a scientific practice and a bad one ).

Mine on the other hand is not so emptied of content because I take the distinction between CJ and CD seriously.

I hope that helps.

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zdenek v 06.11.07 at 1:45 pm

sg I did not say anything about your 2 and 3 because I do not believe it is a useful distinction in this debate.
When you are looking at an output by an institution or a whole culture the fundamental question and the only one to ask when it comes to truth is whether the individual work i.e. individual theories stand up. The rest falls into place because since political criteria are epistemically irrelevant at the theory level they are just a distraction an irrelevance at an institutional level.

I am starting to think that you do not grasp the dif. between CJ and CD.

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SG 06.11.07 at 2:49 pm

zdenek, my whole point was about 2 and 3. perhaps you missed it? When I said “if there is an academic culture of BLAH then it’s no great loss to boycott it” I wasn’t talking about rejecting so-and-so’s work because he is a communist. I’m not sure how many times I have to say this. I have restated it, I think Jonathan Edelstein tried to reclarify it.

Similarly I haven’t dismissed Statman’s paper on the basis of his ideology; I have argued that it is straight out crap on its own lack of merits, and that this is the sort of thing a sick academic culture might enable to float to the top. You are correct to point out that in and of itself the paper is right or wrong on its own merits, but when I decide to boycott a whole institutional culture (for whatever reason) my judgement of the cost to myself or society is going to be based on what I think that culture is going to produce in general, not whether Dr. A’s essay on slaughtering Palestinian children is logically meretricious. And that is exactly what you have clearly done with Nazi/Soviet science, whether or not you think it is because the science was effected at the stage of Justification or Discovery.

And yeah, I probably am confusing CJ and CD: I am no philosopher, as evidenced by my unwillingness to support targeted assassinations and the legal removal of the right to be an atheist. But I still think you’re naive if you don’t believe that people’s logical decisions and interpretations of evidence and sources aren’t influenced by the prevailing academic and political culture; and if this really is Discovery and not Justification, then the difference seems effectively irrelevant.

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Tracy W 06.11.07 at 10:48 pm

But returning to my example, as a journal editor you can`t send someone to this German town to check out the sources in their basement, just to decide if you can publish 1 article. It is a small article on a small part of history, to be published unchecked in a history journal in English. Whatever will you do? Certainly if you publish the article, might it not be wise for your readers to take the contents with more than a little salt?

Given the history of fraud in history, a journal should be checking at least some of the sources of every article it publishes if it wants to be making a good quality contribution to human knowledge. If you don’t have the resources to do this, then why are you publishing a journal at all? This is why scientific journals use peer review.

And of course readers should take it with a grain of salt. I have no objection to the “I’m gonna fact-check your ass” emotion, and it’s far easier to do something thoroughly when you really want to do it.

I am not certain what you are arguing now overall. Are you arguing in favour of boycotting academics or in the favour of analysing every article based on its cultural biases? In the case of Nazi Germany, there were far cheaper ways of stopping it than an academic boycott, for example if France had sent troops to oppose the reoccupation of the Rhine. Of course if an academic boycott was known to be the only way to stop WWII and it was known that it would work, and it was known that the boycott would not then expand to cover numerous other bad governments, then I would have supported it in that case. But in reality we can never know that a boycott is the only way, nor that it will have the desired effect, nor that the intended boycotters will stop there and not go on to boycott other countries they wish to change, leading to a collapse of academic science in favour of a futile pursuit of moral purity. Speculating about what should be done if you knew that something would work isn’t of help in political decisions since politicians can’t see into the future. Better to stick to a moral principle that academic research should aim to be best it can be and not subordinate it to other aims of dubious practicality.

Abb1 – …English government in the 17th and 19th centuries was a criminal, oppressive…

The problem with your argument now is that we don’t live in the 19th century. What was considered quite normal in the 19th century has become unacceptable in modern times, post WWII, with the UN charter etc.

Why do you think that people in the 19th and 17th centuries regarded the English government as acceptable? The 17th century in England was the time of a civil war in England and a rebellion in Ireland, so people actually killed in attempts to change the English government. I don’t know how one can regard a situation as more unacceptable than killing people to try to change it.

And in the 19th century the Irish managed a few more violent rebellions against the English government. Meanwhile many of the English people were agitating for expanding suffrage to more of the male population and to women. This didn’t break out into another civil war, but I think that has more to do with the 19th century governments being less pig-headed than Charles I than people regarding the then government system as acceptable.

People in 17th and 19th century England may have regarded their government as normal, but they didn’t find it acceptable.

Abb1 – do you have some moral objection to checking any of your statements?

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Tracy W 06.11.07 at 10:57 pm

Sg
So zdenek, the argument Windshuttle is having with other academics over Australian colonial history is completely objective, is it, and free from cultural influence on the justification? Not only is it a pure accident that Windshuttle believes his sources are better than, say, Manning Clark`s, but the issue of which sources are better can be clarified by some form of pure logical endeavour? Even though the people who wrote the sources are dead and we will never know for sure what they omitted, why they wrote what they wrote or what information they did or didn`t have? And the arguments given by those who stole children all those years ago were prima facie what they believed, uninfluenced by either the racism of the individuals or the institutions in which their careers flourished or failed? The idea of a dying race had no effect on the ways in which they studied and argued, or on the light in which they presented the terror and horror of their program, or the consequences for the children?

Are you not here using logic to identify the sources of cultural bias and to criticise Windshuttle’s work, thus clarifying which sources are better?

You are of course not using any pure logical process, you are instead referring to facts such as the “idea of the dying race” (when I say “fact” here of course I mean that there was such an idea, not that such an idea was right), you also mention the institutions the individuals are working in, which could be explored more thoroughly. So it strikes me that you are starting a process of attacking cultural bias based on a combination of logic and historical evidence that will hopefully improve the state of knowledge about the history of Australia.

Of course all results in science are tentative and it’s useful to keep in mind that they may be overturned in the future. But it strikes me that cultural bias can be dealt with in ways other than ignoring the work, and that you are doing so.

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abb1 06.12.07 at 7:36 am

Tracy,
yes, I think people in the 19th and 17th centuries typically regarded the English government as normal and acceptable.

For that matter, 10 thousand years ago people probably regarded frying and eating their parents as normal and acceptable. Times change, you know.

Abb1 – do you have some moral objection to checking any of your statements?

What do you mean? I’m not sure.
No I don’t have any objection, moral, immoral or amoral, to checking any of my statements. Please do. Let me know what you find.

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SG 06.12.07 at 8:13 am

Tracy, if you think every journal checks all the sources of every paper it is sent, you are living on a different planet. Remember, these sources are in a basement in Germany, in 1933 when travel was expensive.

The confusion here has arisen because people seem to think i’m arguing that the truth of a position can be judged by the politics of its author. I’m not. I am simply arguing that the relative worth of different academic cultures can be assessed on the basis of what we know of their scholarly activities. By constructing the epiphet “soviet science”, zdenek implies that he has done this with Soviet genetic science. We all know he hasn’t read every paper ever published in Soviet genetic science and assessed it on its relative merits; he has assessed that they mostly depend on Lamarckian genetics (probably by reading articles about the history and philosophy of Soviet Science), which is bad theory, and therefore he concludes that most soviet genetic science is bad, and that the worth of this scientific culture is so limited that he can turn it into an epiphet. I would wager in fact that he has never read an article from a Soviet geneticist.

We all use this process all the time. I was simply pointing out that it may be possible to apply the process when determining who to boycott. you obviously agree with me that it would be worth doing to Nazi germany if it would actually have worked (in whatever pure sense one choses to mean this).

So I think my case rests on this. Rest assured zdenek that if you submit a paper on the philosophy of science to me, I won’t be assessing its relative worth on the basis that you disagreed with me. If, however, I see your paper in a collection published by the “Creationist University of Fascist Philosophy”, you can be fairly confident I will assume, without reading it, that it’s crap. As you, I, Tracy and Abb1 would all do if we saw a history of Israel published in the “David Duke Journal of neo-Fascist history studies”.

I really don’t get the controversy about all this…

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Phomesy 06.12.07 at 11:45 am

I try to avoid commenting on the material posted on Norman Geras’s site.

Well what an interesting start.

Let’s just look up Norman geras on your little search engine thingy…

http://crookedtimber.org/index.php?s=Norman+Geras

Well… aren’t we just looking a little foolish now?

Chris – you must get over your consuming intellectual envy of Norm Geras. FOr your sake rather than anyone elses…

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Chris Bertram 06.12.07 at 11:48 am

No, not really Patrick. Just look at the last time I (as opposed to other CT contributors) commented on Normblog and the interval between that time and now.

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Tracy W 06.13.07 at 2:39 am

yes, I think people in the 19th and 17th centuries typically regarded the English government as normal and acceptable.

Abb1 – the Roundheads put the English and Scottish head of state on trial, found him guilty and then executed him. The Irish were willing to kill and to die to try to get rid of the English government. It doesn’t matter what you think about their attitudes, what matters is the evidence.

Tracy, if you think every journal checks all the sources of every paper it is sent, you are living on a different planet. Remember, these sources are in a basement in Germany, in 1933 when travel was expensive.

I don’t think that every journal does that. I think that every journal should do that, given the levels of academic fraud (carried out by far more varied people than Nazi Germans). Mine is a normative, not a descriptive, statement.

Plus I do understand that every reputable scientific journal does send every article it is considering accepting to reviewers for a peer review. An expert on German-Jewish history should have gone over the paper.

If it’s uneconomic for a journal to check the paper in any way then it shouldn’t publish it. After all, it may be a hoax like Sorkal’s paper.

I am simply arguing that the relative worth of different academic cultures can be assessed on the basis of what we know of their scholarly activities.

Sg, you have shifted the debate from the cultural biases of the academics to assessing work based on what we know of their scholarly activities. Of course if we know that an academic’s work is based on ignoring any evidence that doesn’t fit their hypothesis, or making figures up, or that they’re relying on data in good faith but the data itself was not reliable for its used purposes (like say pre-1967 Australian GDP data), then we should ignore their work (or point out how it was wrong). But you seemed to earlier be arguing that we could reject academic work not based on flaws in their processes but on the culture it came from without needing to find any evidence of bias in the actual work.

In the case of Soviet Union genetics during the time of Lysenko, the flaws are pretty darn obvious – anyone who produced evidence contradicting Lysenko would have most likely been shot or sent to the gulag so the research can’t have taken account of any contradictory evidence. But no one has produced any evidence that Israeli academic research is flawed in any equivalent way.

I don’t agree with you that an academic boycott would have been worth doing to overthrow Nazi Germany because I don’t know if it would have worked. And, even if it had have worked, I would have been opposed to a boycott if it would lead to boycotting other countries as it seems a process without end.

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peter kaye 06.13.07 at 2:56 am

Err – isn’t it reasonable to assume that delegates represent their constituency? Lets hope that British academics are sufficiently ashamed of the Union that advocates for them to organize that the resolution be overturned. Until then, I assume that this racist ‘almost-a-boycott’ reflects the prevailing sentiment in British academia.

There are many conferences and many opportunities for collaboration. I wouldn’t say I’m boycotting UK academic or their institutions – just that given the choice, I’d rather not invest my time and energy collaborating with bigots.

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abb1 06.13.07 at 6:22 am

Tracy, I forgot what your point was with the (allegedly) unusually cruel 17th century British government. I know it had something to do with Newton, but I can’t make a point out of it. Was it: why the 17th century French scientists didn’t boycott Newton because of his government being brutal to the Irish? Is that it? Just checking.

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