Yada, Yada, Yada. Is It Him? Or Is It Her?
Part I of my effort to proselytize

Oaxaca, Friday 6 July 2007
Friends,
      Here we are on yet another thread in which you, Michael seem eager to correct the mistaken ideological bias of many members of the SftP listserv. Your repetitious arguments suggest to me that you are thus far unwilling to take seriously the reasons given why various subjects that interest you are not worthy of scientific consideration. I want to start this lengthy post with an emergency situation that hit me last night, one I believe is germane to understanding your thinking. I do this as a comrade who wants you in our ranks, without the slightest desire to belittle you or to scorn your position, but to help all of us understand what is driving you to pursue your efforts.
      Jonathan Campbell, who was, I now believe, one of the prime provocateurs in the recent flame war, wrote me a short note last night, to which I responded in part,
________________________________________________

Hi Jonathan,
      I've been thinking a lot about this because a good friend . . . wrote me a terrible note late last night saying he was ready to cash out on life and couldn't write me an adequate answer just then.  Extremely gifted, honest. He had severely dumped on Nancy Davies, my compañera . . . and I spent much of yesterday writing him explaining why I thought his attack on Nancy was due to bad politics. My longish letter concluded,

      . . . I happened to see a posting to the usually moribund Science for the People discussion group website in which my friend Carmelo Ruiz Marrero went apeshit over Cockburn's arrogance in stating his position on human contributions to global warming. That led me back into paying a little attention to the Science for the People listserv, which I'd pretty much given up even looking at, in spite of being a co-owner since I started it in 1998 with another old veteran of the original SftP organization. There were, I immediately discovered, a lot of really vicious personal attacks overwhelming the site, and I precipitated a crisis by acting in an arbitrary authoritarian manner, doing the up-to-then unheard of thing of removing someone from the subscriber list. Practically all the liberals (it's largely academics) were aghast that a 'trusted comrade' would act like URO [Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, the illegitimate governor of Oaxaca -- this for you Jonathan, Xxxx knows all about Oaxaca politics] or any other tyrant. Anyway, to make a short story long, I inadvertently shook the group up, and the result was that the group was greatly energized (the liberals haven't changed that much yet, of course), the personal slanderous attacks have disappeared (under the threat of further suspensions by the tyrant), I've reinstated the guy I removed to his membership, and the group is now all in a tizzy of cooperative planning to organize both its presence in the upcomig annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this next January in Boston, and planning a delegation to Cuba (I had suggested also Haiti along with Cuba, but they haven't grabbed that idea as strongly).
      OK, what does this have to do with you? First, I realized that Cockburn was viciously personally attacking his theoretical adversaries. Second, I learned that similar shit was going down in the Science for the People Group. Third, your letter attacking Nancy I see as the same kind of destructive behavior among radical leftists. I think all three are examples of bad behavior that results from poor politics in the sense that the idea that ‘the personal is political’ is not taken seriously. How we treat each other is deeply political. Cockburn I think is beyond even listening to me. I’m nothing to him. The Science for the People discussion group I can attempt to influence. You I hope to have some influence on. I think you ought to consider your own behavior instead of imagining your comrades are attacking you, and trying to place all the blame . . . anywhere but on your own shoulders. And I think you, like Cockburn, ought to be able to own up to a mistake. "Winning" a fucking argument, no matter what the cost, is an impediment to winning the world. And Cockburn, and you, and my friends in Science for the People all ought to be actively on the same side instead of taking out our frustrations and feelings of inadequacy by attacking each other.
      As Marcos [Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas] or Comandante David might say, That is my word.
Sincerely, and with best wishes,
George
P.S. I wish James [Herod] had some of your self-assurance, and you had some of his humbleness. You're both wonderful people, key people in my own life and awareness.

Jonathan, Xxxx sent back the following desperate note:

Look, George,
Your email deserves a longer response than I can possibly give it at present. I'm tired and burnt out, not well of health, demoralized and trying my damndest to figure out how to . . . before I check out of this world for good. I really don't
have it in me to keep this up (the pains of the . . . project, and your errant view that we've screwed it up, are only a small part of the hassles and tragedies I've had to deal with of late, all in a row and on top of each other) . . . I really do not want to live any longer than it takes me to get my affairs in order. Which I am racing to do at this point.

It is now 10:15 pm and tomorrow I have to get up at dawn to drive 11 hours during daylight. I had hoped to take a few days off and rest, but the opposite has occured. In any case, I will send you a frank response after I have landed and recovered from tomorrow's travels.
Sincerely,
Xxxx

      . . . I wrote him back immediately,
Xxxx,
      Let me know what I can do to help. Don't bother about an answer to my long letter. I'd call you now, but it's damn late if you have to get up at dawn. I'll do whatever I can to help you get past this terrible time. Call me any time.
George

      I know this sounds overly dramatic, but I'm afraid Xxxx has gone over the top and is on the verge of taking his own life (as Abbie Hoffman and Gary Webb and Hunter Thompson did).
      Of course I may be mistaken about what's driving Michael Balter. If I'm right then what he most needs is for us to assure him that we value him for what he is. We know the hell that trying to get a PhD can impose on graduate students, at least I know it, and I would guess plenty of others on the list do too. But even the brightest on the SftP list can easily recognize how the competitive atmosphere of graduate school impacted the psyches of the students. We're all in the giant rat race. Thanks very much for your openness and help. I'm afraid that many folks on the listserv (even my long-time friend Herb Fox) still believe I'm out to 'get' Balter. Naturally, they're thinking in terms of 'winning' arguments, which is so much shit. Anyway, it's worth trying to struggle, even with liberals. It wasn't that long ago that I was a liberal, maybe thirty or so years.
Take care Jonathan. All best wishes,
George
________________________________________________

1) Now to set the record straight, at least from my perspective. Michael, you joined the SftP listserv on 23 December 2006, followed shortly with your initial posting:

005795  2006-12-23  08:09  61 [lines]  Bruce Lahn, race and intelligence
Date: Sat, 23 Dec 2006 08:09:45 +0100

Hello everyone, I am a Paris-based Contributing Correspondent (and former Paris bureau chief) for Science. I have joined this list at the suggestion of Herb Fox. I was a member of Science for the People as a graduate student at UCLA during the 1970s, when it was an activist organization with a magazine, but have wondered what had become of it. I gather that some former leaders and members can be found here.

At any rate, Herb suggested that I draw your attention to my profile of Bruce Lahn at the University of Chicago which appears in this week's issue of Science (22 December issue date), along with a sidebar which explores the claims for recent evolution of the brain-related genes ASPM and microcephalin which were published in Science last year. The two articles provide a personal profile of Lahn as well as coverage of the controversies surrounding his work. These are available as pdf files, and I do not know if you have a file upload function here. If so, perhaps someone could let me know how to use it; otherwise I would hope that you have online access to Science or know somebody who does. In extremis, I could send a pdf after individual requests.

I look forward to the discussions here. Seasons greetings to all,
Michael Balter
www.michaelbalter.com
--
www.michaelbalter.com

******************************************
Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
[log in to unmask]
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2a) The first time I became aware of you Michael was when you responded to a criticism I made of Chuck Munson. I had met Chuck some years earlier at Alex Dajkovic's house in Kansas City at a small meeting of political left radicals, at which time I got an unfavorable impression of him as an aggressive person. I later heard that both James Herod (mentioned previously above) and I were bad-mouthed among some anarchist circles, and I imagined, without any proof whatsoever, that it might have been from Chuck's remarks following that meeting. As a result, I was not delighted when I saw that he subscribed, on 12 September 2005, fearing his style would be aggressive and abrasive. However, my impression is that lately he has become more moderate. My fears, I hope, were ill-founded. He wrote me recently that I was wrong to think of him as being macho and relishing 'pissing contests'. He said rather that he did 'shoot from the hip'. I'm not sure I understand the subtle distinction, but I don't have to understand everything.

005940  2007-01-23  13:39  80 [lines]  Re: Ya basta!
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2007 13:39:49 +0000

I joined this list because it was supposed to be the remnants of Science for the People, an organization I proudly belonged to as a grad student during the 70s. So far I have seen little here that is science, and as for the people--well, the sectarian left lost touch with them long ago. I hope this is not one of their last refuges, but perhaps it is.
sadly, Michael Balter
www.michaelbalter.com

On 1/23/07, George Salzman < [log in to unmask]> wrote: Oaxaca, Tuesday 23 January 2007
Friends,
      Chuck Munson made me think of Einstein, who once remarked, "Man riecht seine eigene Scheisse nicht". From 1:35 pm Thursday until 5:15 pm Monday (Central Standard time) Chuck 'dumped his load' of 26 posts. As even the impossibly patient indigenous Zapatistas would finally exclaim, Ya basta! (Enough already!)
George

2b)
Michael, your other post to this thread was also not a direct response to me, but a statement of your disappointment at the seeming lack of commitment to scientific truth in the discussion group, in contrast to the old SftP.

005944  2007-01-23  17:09  66 [lines] Re: Ya basta!
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2007 17:09:45 +0000

Chandler, the great strength of Science for the People: The Organization was that while it was overtly leftwing politically, it harnassed scientific truth to make its points and had a high respect for evidence. I can think of no better example than the demolition job that colleagues like Jon Beckwith and Steve Gould did on the race-IQ connection, which has left a lasting legacy. Frankly, the debates I have seen here over 9/11 conspiracies and the Kennedy assassination put the conclusions first and the "evidence" afterwards. (btw I think there probably was a conspiracy around JFK, but the later Watergate burglars on the grassy knoll and Nixon in Dallas just befoer? Give me a break.)
Michael

On 1/23/07, Chandler Davis <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Michael Balter, I like you was active in the original SftP and
want to find ways to contribute today in the same spirit.  This
discussion list brings occasional valued contacts I don't get
any other way.  I wish I were able to be more active on it, as
George Salzman still is.  Hope we can keep it afloat.
                                Chandler Davis
                                Editor-in-Chief
                                The Mathematical Intelligencer

3) The dispute over what is ideology and what is science.
      The second post on this thread, by Balter, says in part, "Must the fight for equality between men and women be based solely on the conclusion that there are no differences between the sexes nor their brains? If so, our ideology might be resting on very fragile ground. In other words, special pleading is something that both left and right can be guilty of.
      "Disclaimer, which seems to be necessary given past misunderstandings: I have no opinion myself as to whether there are differences in male and female brains, one way or the other, because I have not studied the question in any depth. But I concede that there might be."
      In the third post, Jon Beckwith argues, I think quite reasonably, that there are no scientific reasons for pursuing the discussion, and asks Balter, "Do you know of any better arguments than these blatantly (if subconsciously-driven) ideological arguments?
      In the fourth post, Ivan Handler says in part, "I would add that this is not an ideological stand.  I have no more use for ideology myself. It is a stand based on the history of this subject and its (as  far as I or others understand) inability to make any actual contributions to further our knowledge. Science is not about being liberal about bad ideas. Ideas that are accepted are to withstand serious criticism, when they haven't they are not scientific. This is a field that appears to be based on inherently unscientific methodologies. So far the main response to the criticisms has been to call its skeptics ideologues rather than deal with the
substantial issues that have been raised."
      In the seventh post, Michael argues in part, "Can we be honest and admit that because of our politics [I think Michael would permit me to replace 'our politics with 'our ideology' here] we have a tendency to take this conclusion more seriously than if the paper had come to the opposite conclusion, in which case many of us would have criticized it mercilessly?" The conclusion was that the idea that the female brain evolved to be talkative and the male brain evolved to be reticent had been put to rest by the work of University of Arizona psychologists.  
 
Ideology vs. science or Ideology in science?
      
       Clearly each side in this exchange considers its position to be the scientific one (the good one) and the opposing position to be an ideologically-driven one, and thus unscientific (the bad one).

(To be continued. I had hoped to finish this today, but can't.