The Queen is my dealer

By Julianne Dalcanton | July 18, 2007 7:42 pm

If you’ve spent time in a large university recently, you have undoubtedly run across the LaRouche Youth Movement. Invariably you’ll find a table hosted by earnest, good-looking college students, passing flyers to other less-interested-but-equally-good-looking college students. You’ll find odd posters on bulletin boards, asking if you know about Al Gore’s link to global warming. At first glance, it seems almost reasonable, but gets much weirder on close inspection.

Lyndon LaRouche, the head of the movement, was on my radar back in high school when his perennial presidential campaign was big. He was rather old even then, so I’d assumed he’d kicked the bucket quietly in the intervening years, while sitting in jail for mail fraud. He popped back into my consciousness, however, when our department lost a new grad student to him. The student showed up, started taking classes, and seemed to be integrating well into the department — at least until one day he dropped out to devote himself to the LaRouche movement full-time. I still see the former student occasionally, sitting at a table behind a stack of leaflets at the airport, or chatting up prospective new members on the main drag near campus. I’ve always wondered exactly how this apparently revived cult was operating, and thanks to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed Inside Higher Ed, I now know quite a bit more without having to ask an earnest young cult member directly. Former cult members are also speaking out for themselves.

Now the bit that makes this whole thing bloggable on CV is that it turns out the LaRouche has a interest in physics. Messages from his followers started appearing on public blackboards in the UW Physics building, advertising a special seminar about the 3-body problem, about which apparently LaRouche has some deeply held beliefs. These beliefs seem to revolve around Newton being a plagarist, a failure of the world to appreciate the Socratic method, some gobbly-gook about time-reversal, and a devotion to the “LaRouche-Riemann Method” (which he graciously concedes should perhaps be called the “Leibnitz-LaRouche-Riemann Method”. Frankly, it’s all a bit hard for me to follow, and I don’t think it’s because I never took courses in string theory. Futher reading (click here if you dare) uncovers other obsessions with coulomb forces in nuclear fusion and a notion that space-time curvature sets humans apart as a species.

The screeds are all very impressive if you happen to know absolutely nothing about the topic under discussion. They’re filled with classical references and advanced literary and scientific vocabulary (to wit: “Is this merely the present author’s conjecture? Not at all. It would appear to be merely conjecture, only if one commits the blunder of accepting Aristotle’s fraudulent notion of the detached observer. Once we recognize that scientific knowledge is obtained, not by contemplating the universe, but by studying how we may generate those thoughts which enable us to efficiently act to change the universe, then the principles of cognition underlying the discovery of lawful physical principles, are the epistemological basis for defining the underlying determination of validatable physical laws.”). However, they simply make no sense, and fall well outside of Sean’s guidelines for alternate science respectability.

Of course, I probably could have guessed that from back when he said the Queen was dealing.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics
  • Yvette

    These guys show up on our campus on occasion, but I’m pretty sure they’re not students actually from our campus. Come to think of it I haven’t seen ‘em in awhile, perhaps they were unsuccessful.

    While I’m on the topic though, I once almost ran down one of the LaRouche people with my bicycle. Not my fault if he refuses to get out of my way while waving his fliers, is it?

  • Myhatma Gander

    “It would appear to be merely conjecture, only if one commits the blunder of accepting Aristotle’s fraudulent notion of the detached observer.”

    I hate to break it to you, but your local departments of english literature/women’s studies etc etc etc are almost certainly propagating equally nonsensical propaganda to your students, and doing far more harm than these guys. Officially sanctioned crackpottery is far worse than this kind of random lunacy.

  • Ellipsis

    so what about those college students who aren’t good-looking, or are just plain ugly?

    Could they be the ones over at the Scientology table, or something?

  • Zeno

    LaRouche has amazing staying power. Who would have thought that college kids today would still be falling for his line of crap? I recall in the 70s that he was able to scrape together enough money to buy TV time to pitch his quixotic presidential candidacy. I failed to pick up any hint of charisma or credibility, but perhaps I’m just too obtuse. Back then he claimed to be a Socialist Labor candidate, as best as I can recall.

    About half a dozen years later, when I was a government worker in Sacramento, LaRouche spent a ton of money sending one of his books to every state agency chief. My boss showed me the book and we had a good laugh. I recall that — in addition to exposing the Queen of England’s drug operations — LaRouche had some supposed application of conformal mapping to economic theory. Pretty pictures, wacky equations, and not a lick of sense.

    LaRouche has always been like a magpie, picking up bright objects while oblivious of their meaning, but dazzling his followers by heaping up the goodies in pretty piles. I guess it’s a seductive technique to use on the woefully ignorant. It makes the followers think they’re smart, because they’re smart enough to follow a genius. (He must be a genius, or how else could he understand the gobbledegook that he spews out in his literature? The logical fallacy escapes them.)

  • Sean

    I once poked fun at LaRouche-Riemann theory on a web page. It actually provoked a phone call from one of his supporters, trying to convince me to take Lyndon’s unique geometrical insights seriously.

    But they are nothing next to the menace of university English departments!

  • Julianne

    I once poked fun at LaRouche-Riemann theory on a web page. It actually provoked a phone call from one of his supporters

    Yeah, I definitely was conscious that I might be taking on more than expected.

    so what about those college students who aren’t good-looking, or are just plain ugly?

    As far as I can tell, they don’t seem to exist. At UW, at least, all the students are above average.

  • Dave

    Whatever happened to LaRouche’s efforts to save us from the conspiracy to suppress cold fusion? Something like 6 or 8 years ago I bumped into some LaRouche disciples trying to peddled literature on the cold fusion suppression conspiracy. I wanted to take some of their literature, but none of it was free.

    I’ll bet that vast cold fusion suppression conspiracy of multi-national corporations and governments must have managed buy off LaRouche!

  • Ellipsis

    At UW, at least, all the students are above average.

    must be that Seattle sunshine ;)

  • Julianne

    Whatever happened to LaRouche’s efforts to save us from the conspiracy to suppress cold fusion?

    If you wade through the screed, there is some scoffing at Coulomb repulsion at atomic/nuclear scales, so I believe the cause lives on.

  • Ben

    The Larouche crowd have always had a fascinating set of enthusiasms of unclear origin. Like, they were really into Friedrich Schiller, and their newspaper would go on about Schiller. Why Schiller in particular? Who the hell knows? I have to wonder how this movement will survive its Maximum Leader, although he seems to be hanging on just as tenaciously as Fidel.

    Regarding university English departments, there are a few bozos in any department. But the bulk of what they do is working out complex ideas according to certain types of methodologies. They aren’t your (our) methodology and that’s one reason it sounds like gibberish. It isn’t though. Poking fun at English departments because they are jargon filled and one doesn’t understand it on a quick overview is common, and has gotten some physicists PR. But it is not much more legitimate than sneering at string theory because it is jargon filled and one doesn’t understand it on a quick overview. Not that any physicist would do that for the PR. (FWIW, I thought about going to grad school in English, but did physics instead.)

    By the way, another thing about profs in English departments – they have significantly higher teaching loads.

  • michael pierce

    As a former UW physics grad I can say that they also talk to those of us that are not so good looking. sigh… Too much time in the basement labs means no “Seattle sunshine” to give us that healthy pale complexion.

    Anyhow, I always enjoyed a different tactic with the LaRouchers that would gather outside the library. My beloved game was to try and “out conspiracy theory” them. Among my personal favorites was moving the discussion to fluoridated water (thank you Dr. Strangelove) or jet-trails, before breaking down into a stream of utter non-sense technical terms.

    Sometimes they’d be interested (sigh), but other times they’d be offended. When they got to the point of asking me about my rude behavior I would then turn the question around. fun (though perhaps callous).

  • matt

    While I don’t know enough about differential geometry (though working on that) to comment on the Larouche/Reimann “stuff”, I can say that the Larouche Youth Movement (LYM) invocation of Kepler’s celestial solids is absolutely absurd. The conspiracy theories about world history, if you read them thoroughly enough would make any sensible person, even a college student, look at you askance.

    Julianne, what’s interesting is not that everyone in Seattle, including the LYM, is of above average attractiveness. Rather, how rather intelligent people can be sucked into a rather bizarre web of conspiratorial idiocy? I know it happens a lot, particularly with college students, but what are the factors that make a person latch onto LaRouche’s economic pontifications. Mind you the attractiveness of cults is a whole other bag of beans.

    And to my regular annoyance, they have those stupid flier waving idiots out here in Boston as well.

  • Theo

    Your “here” link is broken, missing a colon in http:// — :) Thanks for the article! fascinating stuff.

  • Ryan V

    I ran into a few of these nutjobs in Montreal last August, it seems they hopped across the border to try to convert a few Canadians.

    Now, I must admit that we were on our way to breakfast and were feeling quite hung over, given that this was Montreal. But they had some sort of table set up in Old Montreal and were handing out booklets. They sort of stopped us, shoved one of these booklets into my hand, and then started ranting about Rumsfeld.

    Since I was not in the mood to get into any political discussions with these crackpots I sort of muttered something and shuffled on, not realising I still had this booklet. Over breakfast I actually read some of it, and aside from blaming Harry Truman for all the ills of the world, it espoused the virtues of Kepler (IIRC it claimed he invented universal gravitation), while calling Galileo a greedy plagiarist

  • scherzo

    More than 20 years ago I attended a lecture-recital on a college campus. The subject was the J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. When the performer took questions, a LaRouche disciple gave a 5-minute speech about music and conspiracies. The gist of it was that J. S. Bach developed “scientific” method of music composition that was passed on to Mozart. Mozart was then poisoned by Salieri at the behest of evil financial interests, whose descendents then went on to create a “rock-drugs” culture.

    I wonder what will become of this movement after LaRouche is gone. Will it fizzle, or will it be the next Scientology?

  • sesenta y cuatro

    Hi you all.

    I have just got a really big discussion on a spanish weblog on a matter of science.

    It all began when the author blamed “creationists” for using a boy as their tool. The boy was shown in a youtube video (spanish, of course) attacking scientists for not trusting “creationism”.

    My point is that it all had nothing to do with Creationism. On the contrary, it was a classical fight between science and religion.

    My trouble started almost immediately. I said that both creationism and evolution are alright, no one is “better” than the other. But when it comes to the analysis we see that evolution scores more points than creationism. Thus, we like evolution better. But as scientist, we don’t really think one is any better than the other. They have the same value for us. What we have to do is pick the one we like best.

    I put the example of Huygens and Newton. For many long years everyone trusted Huygen’s theory on light’s nature. But when Einstein wrote his paper in 1905 it came up that Newton’s ideas were not so awesome!!!

    They have almost eaten me for saying that it is perfect to teach creationism, as long as we provide with the tools to analyse it, am i that mistaken? What do you think?

    Should we teach only theories that we think are valid? Is it senseless to teach theories that we deem as less acurate?

    What are your views on this matter?

  • Allyson

    Myhatma Gander: Oh noes! Not the feminists! Not the English Department! Do they eat babies, too? I mean, after reading Lolita to them and second trimester aborting them.

  • joseph duemer

    Scientists rightly insist that those who wish to contribute to scientific discussions familiarize themselves with the relevant experimental evidence, mathematics, theory, etc. To fail to do so is a sign of crankery. But many scientists feel free to pop off about the Humanities, i.e., “English Departments,” without having familiarized themselves with the relevant texts, preferring insults and sneers to knowledge.

  • Mark

    Which scientists?

  • joseph duemer

    Don’t be disingenuous. I was responding to two comments in the thread above, one from Sean, which may have been tongue in cheek, the other from Myhatma Gander, but anyone who has hung around science blogs or sat on university committees with scientists is familiar with the generic attacks on straw-man caricatures of post-modernism.

  • Mark

    Sean’s comment is most certainly humorous. As for the other one, I don’t have any idea if that commenter is a scientist.

    You are right that one occasionally hears scientists come out with this stuff. But tarring us with this brush so broadly is at least as bad as the occasional scientist doing the same to those in the humanities. Particularly when the one intentionally provocative comment above may not have come from a scientist at all.

    Then again, maybe I’m just defending my own equally valid ways of knowing :)

  • Neil B.

    I think the most dangerous element of the LaRouche movement is their their disdain for the dangers of population growth, and being against population control (for that secular reason.) Their major mistake, just like others of like ilk, is to use the crusty old Malthusian point as a red herring, about food production growing linearly while population grows exponentially. That is a straw man (fallacy of singularizing the opposition into a single straw man exhibit to trot out every time) since that particular time-evolution argument is not the best or only point against population growth. The best argument against continued population growth is the increase in overall stress on the various support systems, over and above how any particular relations work out in time. (Not only that, but we have more per capita land with lower population. That should be considered ‘wealth” and part of standard of living like any other form of wealth!)

    Natural scientists can appreciate all this better than economists (like the late hack pro-population growth guru Julian Simon), who seem to live in a dream world detached from physical realities.

    PS – I can’t wait until you bring back the listing of recent comments, if you do.

  • joseph duemer

    Mark, well, yes, it is painting with a broad brush that I was objecting too, as an English professor with my own claims regarding the validity of my ways of knowing. Actually, I have a long & relatively well-informed interest in science, as do many members of my tribe, which is why it can be so vexing to hear the lot of us dismissed a vulgar relativists so often.

  • creeky belly

    I showed up for work in the physics department at UW one day, and saw a couple of people trying to figure out what the rather large, peanut-shaped object was in our courtyard (everyone’s favorite p-orbital). As I was walking in, they stopped me and asked if I knew what it was, and I like a fool, I told them. Immediately they began prompting me about whether or not I knew Newton was a fraud. I thought, “here we go.” Now, Newton was into some bizarre stuff (his diaries from his later life showed that he was WAY into alchemy), but I politely explained that the majority of his scientific contributions were still in use today, and indeed Newtonian mechanics were enough to get men on the moon. Apparently, the Larouche people believe that all of Newton’s work was done by a ghost-writing faculty committee at Cambridge, to which they have no evidence, but this is their trump card. Then, they began claiming that Newton was found chewing on Gauss’s bones and some other nonsense, and that Gauss and Kepler were the real geniuses. So I told them about his accomplishments in optics (mirrors instead of lenses and all your telescope problems go away), calculus (they wanted to give ALL of the credit to Leibnitz), universal gravitation, etc. This was not good enough, and since Newton was crazy, all of his theories were crazy, too. I told them about Tesla’s accomplishments despite the fact that he was also quite mad as well (I love his theory of the resonance machine that could destroy the planet!), and that theories have to stand up to the weight of evidence: Newtonian mechanics was able to predict the motion of the heavenly and terrestrial bodies. Again, they wanted to argue about some theoretical meeting between Gauss, Kepler, and Newton (who aren’t even contemporaries), in which they tried to predict orbits. Gauss, of course, got the answer exactly right. Kepler was close, but Newton was RIGHT OUT! I gave up at this point, since it was obvious that all they knew were ad hominem attacks that weren’t even true. I thanked them for a stimulating conversation and went to leave. It was at this point that they asked me for my phone number and wanted to come up and see my lab. I respectfully declined, and went upstairs.

  • star fish

    My favorite interaction with the Larouche people here (there have been several) went something like this:

    Innocent-looking “student”: (various pleasantries, then …) “Say, do you use Newton’s gravity much?”

    Me: umm, what do you mean? I do use newtonian mechanics from time to time. Why?

    IL”S”: Well, I just think it’s interesting the way that everyone thought Newton’s gravity was right, and then later we found out it was all wrong.

    Me: errr. [naively continuing:] Are you talking about General Relativity? Because while it’s true that Newton’s laws were in some sense superseded by GR, they’re still an excellent approximation in many, many different cases. For most of my research, Newton’s laws work just fine.

    IL”S”, changing tack: You know Newton stole all that stuff from Kepler, right?

    Me: [...]

    IL”S”: Yeah, I mean, Kepler had it all figured out. Newton just got all the fame.

    Me: well, okay. Kepler’s laws are great, but the beautiful thing about Newton’s laws is that they apply really generally to tons and tons of things. Not just planetary motion. What I mean is, the same equations that tell us, basically, how the Earth orbits the Sun also tell us what will happen when I throw this ball up in the air.

    IL”S”: Ah … you mean statistics.

    Whaaa????? I don’t remember how it went after that. But ever since, whenever someone says something I don’t understand, I have gotten a sick glee out of nodding sagely and murmuring, “ah… statistics.” I suggest you all try it.

  • sofla

    I’ve had my talks with the LaRouchies over the years. They are occasionally right about a few things, imo, but in a random sort of way that is not reliable.

    However, as for the Queen of England’s participation in the world’s drug trafficking, England fought several wars with China, known as the Opium Wars, precisely for the purpose of ensuring the steady flow of profits to the Crown and its allied chartered corporations and merchant banks from the sale of opium to the Chinese, over the strenuous objections of the Chinese government. Many of the great merchant banks in England trace their fortunes to such operations. Similarly, as the US became a world-bestriding empire itself, our own military/intel types put various regional allies into the drug business, starting with the Kuomintang of the nationalist Chinese forces of Chiang Kai Shek (sp?), the Montagnards of Laos, the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, etc. America’s role in the heroin trafficking in particular has been well covered in Professor McCoy’s ‘The Politics of Heroin,’ now in a 4th or 5th edition, iirc. That the dominant world polities do in fact engage in such trafficking, provably so, is an insight from LaRouche that should be admitted as true, rather than used to scoff at his other, untrue positions.

    Note, what any particular head of state of England does personally is not the whole of what the institution of ‘the Crown’ is involved with.

  • Myhatma Gander

    “….as an English professor with my own claims regarding the validity of my ways of knowing.”

    Guffaw! Case closed.

  • Mark

    Myhatma Gander – no trolling please.

  • Anonymous

    I have a question about one of the commenters:

    Whoever you are, what or who exactly does ‘myhatma gander’ refer to?

    The reason I ask is this: I have heard these two words as a derogatory reference to Mahatma Gandhi, the person Indians refer to as the Father of the Nation. If this is so, could the concerned commenter/person please not ever write those two words again. I don’t see how anyone can get across a point with such…cheapness.

  • The Celestial Toymaker

    “…it turns out Larouche has an interest in physics”

    Larouche generally seems to have an interest in anything that that can be used to promote his movement’s alternative reality. So don’t expect any scientific breakthroughs on the arrow of time, or even how to boil an egg.
    Do expect a fog of mystifying conspiracy theories though.

    I haven’t read any Larouchie pronouncements on science, but given their thinly disguised rightist agenda, I’d predict that they’ll harp on about some elite group of scientists or other, who are controlling the scientific discourse and stealing tax payer’s money.

    Whoops, that may have trodden on a few innocent bystander’s toes.

  • B

    I find that really scary. It reminds me of the Maharishi stuff, and other weird pseudo-scientific approaches like the 6 extra dimensions of string theory is where the consciousness lives, or our inner self is powered from the surrounding enormous vacuum energy and things like that. The purpose of these things is in all cases I know of to make money by selling an ‘explanation’ of some reality (in most cases it doesn’t seem to be the reality I live in). I keep thinking what one would really need is a religion that is compatible with today’s scientific standard, it wouldn’t take all that much. I have the hope that sooner or later that will be the case. Not sure if it would attract the best looking students though ;-)

    - B.

  • B

    PS: I have known some people who got really interested in the Maharishi ‘unified field’ stuff at some point. For someone who doesn’t have an education in that direction, it is apparently sometimes hard to tell whether things like this make sense or not. Even though I like your post above (and previous ones by Sean in the same spirit) I would appreciate if you’d occasionally have a simple sentence saying ‘this is nonsense’ possibly with a brief ‘because …’ (e.g. because repelling gravitational force lines through meditation is clearly in disagreement with General Relativity which is an incredibly well confirmed description of nature). There are just too little scientific websites that show up prominently in a Google search which clearly tell the reader this is bullshit. (One doesn’t even have to go into details – since the scientific credibility of CV is pretty high, your opinion is probably sufficient.)

  • Arun

    The Maharishi stuff is pretty harmless provided you keep your pocketbook safe :)

  • Pau

    Must be that I graduated long, long ago.(1958 UC Berkeley). Must be that I only visited my old campus once since that year, and that, on a Holyday. It must be that I do not live in the U.S..
    But up to now, I had been happily living without even having heard the name LaRouche.
    Thanks to you Julianne, my fortune is over. You dared me to click on the link to this idiot’s page and, brave that I am, did it.
    It must be that I do not live in the U.S. of A., but I hardly recognized this person’s grammar as English Grammar. Even less did I recognize his ramblings as thinking. It is more like the vomit caused by an undigested over accumulation of facts.

  • andy.s

    Pau: bravo! I’ve never heard a better description of LaRouchieana!

    Also note Sufi proverb: A donkey loaded down with books is still a donkey.

    It would be highly instructive to put a bunch of LaRouchies in the same room with a bunch of LitCrit theorists. Would they annihilate each other like electron and positron, or would they be like identical fermions and simply refuse to occupy the same place?

    Star Fish: Try this: “Big deal. Everybody knows that Kepler stole all his data from Tycho Brahe”.

    Michael Pierce: Standard reply to all conspiracy theorists: “Well, of course, that’s what they want you to think”.

  • joseph duemer

    On first reading this post, with its quotation from LaRouche, my reaction was “what tortured syntax and puffed-up rhetoric!” To then find a comment in which LaRouche’s tortured logic, misuse of evidence, and general intellectual dishonesty were equated with the discipline of literary studies was a disappointment. That disappointment prompted my first comment. I was gratified, though, by my exchange with Mark, above, which recognized, with a touch of humor, the distances to be traversed between the humanities and the sciences. And I was gratified, too, to see “Mahatma Gander” called out as a troll. I can assure you that every English professor of my acquaintance would find the LaRouche cult as weird and out of touch with reality as any scientist, though some might find LaRuouche’s texts interesting objects of study — the texts of the mad are often fascinating and sometimes reveal a good deal about the cultural background from which they emerge. Science rightly rejects the cult’s crank theories and moves on. Some disciplines in the humanities, though, might take the cult’s ideas as an object of study and actually teach us something about why the young grad student mentioned at the beginning of Julianne’s post was seduced by such nonsense. Why some supporters of science see such an undertaking as stupid mystifies me.

  • CMB

    As an undergrad at Stanford, I remember a couple of years ago there were some Larouche pamphlets distributed on the seats in one of my physics classes, one pamphlet per seat. Since it was a while ago and I didn’t pay much attention to the pamphlet at the time, I don’t remember exactly what it was about. I do remember, though, that it didn’t make much sense, and that I had a generally negative impression of it. Also, the trash cans were looking pretty full when I was leaving class.

  • anonymous

    I remember one time reading this thing about a free summer study program run by Larouchies. The curriculum? A page by page group study of Gauss’ “Disquisitiones Arithmeticae”. The author of the article checked on their progress. The group leader said Gauss was more difficult than expected… you don’t say?

  • Moody834

    Hand out fliers to the LaRouche people:

    “Proverbs for Paranoids:
    1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
    2. The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
    3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.
    4. You hide, they seek.
    5. Paranoids are not paranoid because they’re paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.
    – Collected from Gravity’s Rainbow, V237, 241, 251, 262, & 292″

    Wish them a nice day.

  • caveman

    joseph duemer said

    Don’t be disingenuous … but anyone who has hung around science blogs or sat on university committees with scientists is familiar with the generic attacks on straw-man caricatures of post-modernism.

    Don’t be disingenuous. You know perfectly well that a straw-man caricature of post-modernism is exactly the same thing as post-modernism.

  • Pau

    Joseph D. wrote:

    “though some might find LaRuouche’s texts interesting objects of study — the texts of the mad are often fascinating and sometimes reveal a good deal about the cultural background from which they emerge.”
    Indeed an interesting phenomena. What makes a man work so hard in order to gain knowledge and next spew out those facts in a completely muddled and irrational manner? .
    Julianne mentions “his perennial presidential campaign”, which seems to reveal a great need to stand out, an emotional imbalance that results in an irrepressible need to “epaté les bourgeois” in order to gain notoriety. The logics, form or credibility of the statements so made, become secondary to that need.
    For a moment I was worried about the harm that such mentalities can inflict on a naif mind, but thinking about it a little more, I believe that only those who are predisposed to accept and adhere to such nonsense, fall in the trap.
    Logical thinking requires a great mental effort and dedication. For some it is difficult, some times impossible, to distinguish the “I wish (or need) it were so” from the logical and sensical conclusions.

  • joseph duemer

    On what evidence do you base this piece of wit, Caveman? Your statement bears the same marks of certainty as any crank’s description of his new perpetual motion device or of any fundamentalist’s assertion about his god. Which post-modernists (broadly speaking) have you read? Latour? Rorty? Foucault? At least LaRouche appears to have read (in a manner of speaking) the scientists he attacks. Your assertion is pure, uncritical, fundamentalist scientism & in the Church of Scientism, you already know who is elect & who is damned, without having to go to the trouble of thinking.

  • Mark

    joseph. I actually don’t agree with the comments people have been making that seem to get you so riled up. But your responses, and insistence on having a go at scientists, “scientism” and the “Church of Scientism” when you have yet, as far as you know, to have a single negative comment from a scientist, are a little odd.
    You seem to be looking to create confrontations with scientists.

  • caveman

    caveman said

    You know perfectly well that a straw-man caricature of post-modernism is exactly the same thing as post-modernism.

    joseph duemer said

    On what evidence do you base this piece of wit, Caveman? Your statement bears the same marks of certainty as any crank’s description of his new perpetual motion device or of any fundamentalist’s assertion about his god. Which post-modernists (broadly speaking) have you read? Latour? Rorty? Foucault? At least LaRouche appears to have read (in a manner of speaking) the scientists he attacks. Your assertion is pure, uncritical, fundamentalist scientism & in the Church of Scientism, you already know who is elect & who is damned, without having to go to the trouble of thinking.

    I solved the equation

    X = straw-man caricature of X

    and found the solution

    X = post-modernism

  • ObsessiveMathsFreak

    Is this the same LaRouche et al who created the Riemann for Anti-Dummies pages? Best off familiarizing yourself with those through this much more measured page.

    There’s a nugget or two in the anti-dummies pages, but overall there a low signal to noise ratio mathematics wise. Some of it can be a nice trip through mathematical history, albeit in a slated way, but there is a lot of waffle. You can pick out the choicest portions, and a lot of other unrelated mathematical goodies from Lyle Burkhead’s critique page.

    Regardless, the groups essay on Gauss’ determination of Ceres’ orbit is definitely worth reading.

  • joseph duemer

    Mark, no I don’t want to create confrontations with scientists. I don’t go looking around the internet for fights with anybody. And please notice above that I have not engaged rhetorical gestures of dismissal of others’ comments. I’m deeply interested in science & teach a literature course at Clarkson called Imagining Science in which we look at how poets, fiction writers, and scientists have represented what science does. Some scientists. Many of my colleagues in the sciences have been supportive of the course, while a few have failed to understand why anyone would want to teach, or take, such a course. For these few, literary knowledge is not knowledge. So it is against this background that, online, I read Pharingula, Butterflies & Wheels, Cosmic Variance, etc. Many of the actual scientists writing at these places — albeit not formally, within the canons of their discipline, but informally, as bloggers — take an epistemologically naive, positivist approach to explanation and description of the physical world. Such a view is perhaps understandable, given the daily lives of working scientists. As I’m sure you are aware, humanist critiques of science are generally not appreciated in such quarters. Now, I will be the first to admit that some of those critiques are hare-brained & ignorant of science: they ought to be dismissed by scientists & humanists alike. But all too often, any attempt to treat scientific discourse as discourse, to study science as a set of interlocking social & textual practices, brings out a strong fundamentalist streak in some scientists and in many less knowledgeable supports of “science,” most of whom are as unfamiliar with the basc texts as many Christians are unfamiliar with the bible in which they claim so fervently to believe. That’s what I call scientism. So, no, I don’t want confrontation with scientists; in my ideal world, scientists & humanists would work together against the ignorance of all forms of simple-minded, thoughtless adherence to doctrine.

    Humanists — philosophers, historians, literary scholars — are specialists at doing things with texts. Humans, including scientists, are text-producing animals. Postmodernism, so-called, simply claims that no texts are sacred, even scientific ones. If you re-read Julianne’s post & the subsequent comments, it actually turns out to describe an argument about the authority of texts. LaRouche is making a (ridiculous) claim about, say, Newton. LaRouche’s texts can be dismissed on both scientific and textual grounds: his use of rhetoric masks a devious distortion of preceding texts. As I said earlier, it is not the business of science to worry too much about why & how LaRouche distorts sources & language, but it is the business of the humanities. And there is actual knowledge to be gained by looking at those texts through a humanistic lens. I suspect we might agree on this. Where we might disagree is when the humanist turns to the rhetoric, history, and cultural presuppositions of scientific texts. Just as science can be done well or badly, so the analysis of texts can be done well or badly. Any intellectually honest discussion would seek to decide what defines “well” & “badly” in this context, rather than dismissing with a wave of the rhetorical hand a whole class of inquiry, often with only the most superficial understanding of what is being dismissed.

    So, again, I’m not looking for confrontation, but neither do I feel the need to stifle my irritation when commenters above (not you & not the majority), imply that my academic discipline is equivalent to the cult-writings of Lyndon LaRouche.

  • Blake Stacey


    At UW, at least, all the students are above average.

    Does “UW” stand for “University of Wobegon“?


  • Neil B.


    There’s lots of silliness in the post-modern movement, but of course don’t fall for the fallacy of the apocalypse of deficiency: that there aren’t any good points, or that good ones couldn’t be made through adjustment of excesses etc., in the critique offered by a given flawed movement.

  • Ellipsis

    Does “UW” stand for “University of Wobegon“?

    Note that linked from that Wikipedia page, there are some extremely amusing articles:

    (You just have to love the photo caption on the first link above.)

    But note that all the people I know who were or are at UW — except for one — are indeed above the average of those people I know who were or are at UW!

  • satisfier

    At UW, at least, all the students are above average.

    are you really that needy ?

  • M@

    Interesting. While taking a graduate degree in journalism a few years ago, I wrote a paper about Lyndon LaRouche, having accepted some literature from supporters at a traffic signal in Washington, D.C.

    He’s definately got a cult following.

  • joseph duemer

    I guess I’m above average, having graduated from the UW with a degree in English in 1978. Don’t know where my last post went, in which I tried to respond to Mark. Seems to have been eaten by the machine.

  • Richard

    LaRoche is still around? He must be ancient by now. I remember his half hour television programs during presidential campaigns, probably 30 years ago, in which he would pontificate about his twisted ideas. He was weird and creepy back then too. It’s a good thing that LaRoche and Cheney are both males and can’t reproduce together — I shudder to think of the spawn of hell they could make between them.

  • Ben

    When someone criticizes “scientism” they usually aren’t criticizing the practice of science, as such. “Scientism” gets used in a couple of different ways ( but usually means something like (1) trying to inappropriately gussy up an outside-the-sciences study with the language of science, or (2) asserting that the knowledge and/or methodology of the hard sciences are superior to or have dominion over the rest of the squishy liberal arts.

    Most of the hard feelings about this (small subclass of) scientists vs post-modernism probably date back to some late 90s culture-wars clashes fomented by people like Paul Gross, Norman Levitt, and Alan Sokal. In my opinion, [some] people on both sides behaved like jerks, and ultimately from a intellectual point of view it was a sideshow. A few years later, everything goes on more or less as before for both scientists and literary critics, as it should, and the only trace left is the hard feelings.

  • Pau

    Actually, almost 50 % of people are below average. Of the rest, 50% are below average in each trait you care to consider.

  • Pingback: Pomo = LaRouchian wingnuttery? « Foucault blog

  • Pingback: Perfect Day : Sharp Sand

  • Dave/Bellingham

    While I was getting my AA at Seattle Central they really freaked me out. In almost every class there was one person who would try and derail everything in order to talk about LaRouche. That was mostly in Political Science and History courses, though reading this made me glad I didn’t take physics there. There was a few times when I’d be walking by their table on the way to class and one of them would grab my arm and not let go until I was able to twist myself free.

    Thankfully they seem to be more rare up here at Western. They’ve got a regular table outside the co-op and hand out leaflets at the farmers market, but none of the more aggressive tactics. I really don’t like them.

  • Neil B.

    Scientism is indeed an overreach (it’s the neoconservatism of science….) OK, here’s one for the idea that the scientific method is best for finding out anything: Let’s say you and I had a conversation yesterday, about whatever, and it wasn’t recorded, and no one even took notes. Now, we are trying to figure out exactly what we said. Well? There really isn’t any scientific way to get a handle on what happened, because there’s no way to investigate such specific events of the past (some can be, but that depends on this and that.) We have to just rely on our memories, and that’s our tough luck. That’s not the only case, and more interesting than extreme metaphysical challenges like, “What is the operational definition of the statement, ‘things continue to exist even while not being observed’?”


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

See More

Collapse bottom bar

Login to your Account

E-mail address:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »