Academic politeness turns to the vicious  This is more on the theme of academic and postmodern roots of sectarianism-quackery’s advance on medicine. I illustrate through the personal experience of a noted combatant – Mary Lefkowitz – in the front lines of the war with intellectual and academic buffoonery passing as scholarship. The joke is not in the buffoonery, though. The joke is turning on us.

Some of you are familiar with Prof.Lefkowitz’s academic dispute from publicity last spring. Prof. Lefkowitz is on the list of academic opponents to relativism and postmodernism. Lefkowitz’s travail began in 1993 when another Wellesley faculty member who led a department or course of Africana Studies claimed in lectures that ancient Greek and Roman intellectual advances were lifted from libraries and other sources of ancient Egypt, and that furthermore, those Egyptians were black Africans.

You recognize this as Afrocentrism, one of relativism and postmodernism’s multi-pronged attack on intellectualism and Western civilization. I attended a session on the problem in 1992 (or so) at the AAAS in San Francisco, and did not appreciate or understand what was going on, or why the raised rhetoric and voices. I do now, especially having read excerpts from Lefkowitz’s book, History Lesson, published earlier this year.

Pertinent accountings of History Lesson’s contents can be read in a number of reviews last spring and summer, from the Times of London to NYT and WSJ. Much of this post comes from those reviews, as I did not locate a copy of the book in time. (I’m ordering it.)

Back to Prof. Lefkowitz. As an authority and a scholar of Greek and Roman civilizations, she had opposed this Afrocentric historical claim in essays and books. (one titled Not Out of Africa.) She also attempted to have the title of Martin’s course changed. Several exhanges through writings and university committees ensued. Martin eventually sued Lefkowitz for defamation because she recounted publicly a witness‘s account of a confrontation between Martin and a female student. Martin felt Lefkowitz defamed him.

The details sketched: At a meeting in a residence hall, Martin stood to go to a bathroom, and the student, who was responsible for implementing the hall’s policy that someone accompany persons in the dorm asked Martin who would accompany him through the hall. Martin took it as a racial slur and berated the student. Here is where accounts differ, as Lefkowitz described a witness’s account that Martin threatened the student, who fell to the floor, whereupon Martin bent over her, continuing to harangue. Martin denied doing that. So he sued his adversary for defamation.

After four years of motions to dismiss, denials, appeals of denials and so forth, a judge panel threw out the case. But not before the Wellesley administration distinguished itself by not taking sides., and by refusing even to consider the teaching of falsified history and false information. I do not know about the present status of teaching such claims, but many of us remain amazed that under academic freedom, such pap can be taught to naïve, malleable undergraduates, who do not have the maturity or knowledge to evaluate what is being taught.

In looking for causes of the present institutionalization of quackery, its renaming, and recent acceptance in medical schools, we have the perfect storm of a predecessor. Academic correctness and the failure to define, recognize and distinguish fakery and implausibility.

Posted by Wallace Sampson

Retired hematologist/oncologist, presumptive analyzer of ideological and fraudulent medical claims, claimant to being founding editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, and to detecting quackery by smell.