Norm Levitt has just passed away. He was coauthor with Paul Gross of the 1994 book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (the book which first called BS on the more ridiculous assertions of the postmodernist/social constructivist critique of science). Higher Superstition so annoyed the mandarins of science studies that they assembled a special issue of the journal Social Text to rebut it. Unfortunately for them, that issue contained Sokal’s famous parody article – Sokal had been inspired by Levitt & Gross – and the revelation of the hoax effectively deflated the community of academics who advocated strongly relativist views of science.
Back in 1996, Steve Fuller – that’s Steve “affirmative action for intelligent design” Fuller, for those of you who followed the Kitzmiller case – wrote one of the “serious” articles in Social Text, and, I learned today, apparently also read Sokal’s article when it was submitted, somehow without catching the obvious signs of parody.
Others in the science-studies movement took the critiques with some sense of humor and humility and made some adjustments – notably, Bruno Latour has admitted that the tools of science-critique were very easily turned against progressive causes like environmentalism, and that science studies had to admit that science had some actual solidity in comparison to your run-of-the mill social phenomenon (see his “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?”, 2004)
But not Fuller. Apparently, Fuller has hated Levitt ever since the beginning of the “Science Wars.” And now that Levitt is safely dead, Fuller is calling Levitt a fascist. And comparing postmodernists to the Jews, and their critics to anti-Semites…presumably fascist anti-Semites (gee, I wonder who they could be). It’s really a piece of work.
Never mind that Levitt was not just a liberal, but a straight-up socialist. We all know how popular that position is in the U.S. these days. Oh, and his memorial service on Nov. 1 will be at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel in New York.
For those who think that Levitt’s passing should be treated with a bit more class, I note this in the announcement:
It is with much sadness that we report the death of Norman Jay Levitt on Saturday, October 24, 2009, due to heart failure. His wife of 38 years, Renee Greene Levitt, reported the news to friends and colleagues of Norman, and announced that a memorial service will be held on Sunday, November 1 at 1:30 PM at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Avenue at 91 St. She also asked that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be sent to the National Center for Science Education, 420 40th Street, Suite 2, Oakland, CA 94609.