Nasty Patrolling Policing Weeders
Per-Anders Forstorp has recently published a long paper in the science studies journal VEST. It's more of an opinion piece than a study: Forstorp comments upon an organisation and a number of books edited and published by its members. He doesn't like them at all.
Science studies are the sociological study of scientists and scientific organisations. Dr Forstorp, somewhat surprisingly, works at the computer science department of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, an engineering college. He teaches courses in communication and sociological aspects of technology. His research interests are mainly about "the conditions for public discourse [...], moral and political discourse, and critical media studies".
Forstorp is a post-modernist critical scholar along the same lines as David Holmes of "microfascism" fame. This shows in the title of the VEST paper, "The construction of pseudo-science. Science patrolling and knowledge policing by academic prefects and weeders". In Forstorp's opinion, pseudoscience does not have recognisable traits of its own: instead the category is "constructed" by skeptics pointing out certain works and beliefs as pseudoscience. Holmes et al.'s paper aims at "Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences" and is all about the power over belief.
The power over belief is also Forstorp's problem. The organisation that his paper criticises is the Swedish Skeptics' Society, Föreningen Vetenskap och Folkbildning (VoF), and the author he affords the most critical attention is philosopher Sven Ove Hansson (who also happens to work at the Royal Institute of Technology).
I'm a board member of VoF and I rather like the books Forstorp finds so objectionable. So I was of course curious about what the man had to say.
There is very little concrete criticism in the paper. Forstorp's main problem with VoF seems to be about free speech: he does not see outspoken skepticism as an exercise in free speech, but as a repressive force that attempts to silence it in others. Forstorp finds VoF intolerant, positivistic and patriarchal, three words that are among the most derogatory terms in the entire post-modernist vocabulary. He feels that men and women have different "ways of knowing" and that the male-dominated skeptic movement is repressing female thought about alternative medicine, New Age spirituality etc.
Another problem with VoF in the eyes of Forstorp is his belief that the organisation does not allow social sciences and humanities into its definition of science. He bases this idea on a skewed reading of one of Sven Ove Hansson's books. I'm a humanities PhD, and although there are precious few of us in the organisation, I must say that I've been treated very well. But then, I'm a rationalistic humanist who feels that much of what my colleagues in the humanities do really isn't science at all, but aesthetics and literary criticism.
I am not at all familiar with Forstorp's other work. But as I said at the beginning of this entry, the VEST paper isn't a scientific study to my mind. It's basically critical journalism based on the post-modernist axiom that Thou Shalt Not Tell Anyone That They Are Wrong. But as always in the good old science wars, the post-mod Forstorp can't abide by this rule: his paper in fact tells the world that the skeptic movement is wrong. But he doesn't present any arguments for this opinion, and so is unlikely to convince anyone who doesn't already buy the paper's premise.
Forstorp, P-A. 2006 (antedated to 2005). The construction of pseudo-science. Science patrolling and knowledge policing by academic prefects and weeders. VEST. Journal for science and technology studies 18:3-4. Gothenburg / Oslo.
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