Re: Phil Johnson's Approach

Peter Vibert (
Tue, 25 Feb 1997 14:13:52 -0500

Here he goes again...

from Books & Culture; A Christian Review; March/April 1997:
Phil Johnson's "The Emperor's New Theories"
- a review of The Social Misconstruction of Reality: Validity and
Verification in the Scholarly Community, by Richard F. Hamilton.
Says Phil, after a clever introduction about a student who can't see
anything through a telescope (although the rest of the class has) and
points out that the lens cover is still on: "... the way to advance in
academic life is to learn to see what you are supposed to see, whether it
is there or not."

Hamilton gives examples of "major examples of erroneous theses that gained
the status of fact in social science despite the absence of evidentiary
the major one to be skewered by Phil is Michel Foucault's thesis about the
genesis of the modern prison system...

"The factual basis of Foucault's thesis consisted mainly of offhand
assertions and grotesque errors, supported with references to obscure
sources that did not really support the text... Foucault's method was a
freewheeling interpretation of selected texts, and he made little attempt
to situate the texts in context or to distinguish eccentric proposals and
exceptional events from regular practice. These methodological blunders
escaped the notice of the eminent reviewers who praised Foucault's history
and helped make him fashionable in the academy. The reviewers also failed
to notice the transparently paranoid nature of Foucault's attribution of
imaginary evils to unspecified malevolent forces."

Phil cites Hamilton's conclusions on "how major scholarly errors get made
and perpetuated: theorists fall in love with their theories, the appearance
of scholarship can often pass for the reality, and clever charlatans (like
Foucault) can evade the scrutiny of specialists and appeal directly to
those who are all too willing to deceive themselves."

my comments; superfluous, perhaps:

I hardly knew whether to laugh or cry as I read this review. In light of
recent postings, esp. about Phil's unapproachability on matters of fact,
and his charismatic impact on listeners at the NTSE Conference (see Joel
Cannon's posting), "Phil's approach" now seems almost exactly to mirror
what he criticizes in others...

His latest review reads like a parody of Phil Johnson on Phil Johnson.

Peter Vibert

Peter J. Vibert
Pastor Guest Senior Scientist
Wading River Congregational Church Biology Department
PO Box 596, 2057 North Country Road Brookhaven National Laboratory
Wading River, New York 11792 Upton, Long Island, NY 11973

tel: (516) 929-8849 Dept. tel: (516) 344-3415
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