by Judith Curry
So Prof. Enoch is basically seeking to harm Prof. Bell’s reputation, without providing literally ANY documentation that Prof. Bell is wrong, much less so egregiously wrong that his work should be considered “pseudo-scholarship” and his reputation should suffer.
If you google ‘academic bullying’, you come up with a number of articles that are really about bullying in the workplace, which happens to be universities. What I am interested in is academic bullying that occurs in the context of public debates. Not the cyber bullying where anonymous individuals send hate emails to academics. I’m interested in academics bullying other academics publicly, in the context of public debates.
A stark example comes to us today from the legal academic community, via an article by David Bernstein in the Washington Post Academic Bullying. Excerpts:
Let’s say you’re a law professor in Israel. You write mainly about philosophical issues along the lines of “How Noncognitivists Can Avoid Wishful Thinking,” consistent with your Ph.D. in philosophy, though you do occasionally venture into legal and philosophical issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Another law professor, Avi Bell, who teaches in the U.S. and Israel and has written widely about international law and the Arab-Israeli conflict, writes something that you think is outrageous; in particular, Bell writes that Israel, having withdrawn from Gaza nine years ago, is no longer under any legal obligation to provide electricity and water to the Gazan population.
So do you
- (a) co-author a memorandum with a colleague who specializes in international humanitarian law explaining why Bell is wrong;
- (b) given that it’s so obvious Bell’s wrong, just write that memo yourself, even if it’s a bit outside your areas of expetise; or
- (c) write a note to Brian Leiter for publication on his blog, denouncing Prof. Bell, without providing any explanation as to why Bell’s legal analysis is wrong, or any link to a rebuttal of Bell’s work, but simply claiming that “Israeli academics working in international humanitarian law are working, of course, on detailed documents refuting the legal technical claims made in Bell’s opinion.”
Professor David Enoch of Hebrew University chose c, and concluded as follows: “I think that the legal academic community should do what it can to make it clear that there are consequences of such abuse of legal pseudo-scholarship and status in the service of gross immoralities – if nothing else, in terms of reputation.”
So Prof. Enoch is basically seeking to harm Prof. Bell’s reputation, without providing literally ANY documentation that Prof. Bell is wrong, much less so egregiously wrong that his work should be considered “pseudo-scholarship” and his reputation should suffer. We should instead just take Prof. Enoch’s word for it because, … well it’s not really clear why we should according to Enoch, except that Prof. Bell’s work suits Israel’s “right-wing,” and therefore apparently must be legally incorrect.
I’m sure Leiter himself could tell us which logical fallacy this best represents, but I can’t recall ever seeing a law professor attack another law professor in such a bullying manner, and without providing ANY indication that the attack is deserved beyond “trust me.”
As an aside, as a colleague points out, bullying of a somewhat less egregious sort seems relatively common among international law scholars, where those who are outside the predominant leftist consensus are considered beyond the pale. Keep that in mind next time you see a reference to “consensus” in international law scholarship, and consider whether it means anything beyond, “dissenters are afraid to voice their opinions.”
From the comments:
If want you really want to say is that “I’m politically and morally opposed to Israel doing this, and Prof. Bell, whatever his legal views, should keep his mouth shut because he’s giving aid and comfort to the other side, and that makes him a bad person,” than please just say that explicitly, rather than pretending this is an issue of “pseudo-scholarship,” as Enoch put it.
He would not recommend doing it. No, I suppose he would not. But would he recommend against it? It’s multiply equivocal, and so tells us nothing with certainty. Francis Urquhart would be proud.
Academic analysis as to the legality of policies that you strongly oppose must not be allowed, lest those who would enact policies may be encouraged. All methods are permitted and justified to stop research that supports countervailing ideology, including personal attacks and unsupported arguments.
It appears that Bell has sufficient legal and academic qualification to reasonably opine on the legality of cutting-off water and power from Israel to Gaza. I do not care whether Bell, or you, actually supports such a policy. If you or Enoch believe that such a policy is legally untenable, then I expect to see a detailed and cited refutation, not a “trust me” or “shut up.” If you oppose the policy simply on social or political grounds, simply admit that you care little about whether it’s permissible under international or Israeli law, and argue that the policy of providing water and power to Gaza is right regardless of the relevant law. Ironically, the failure to present substantive opposing legal arguments might lead one to reasonably believe that the law is not on your side.
As every trial lawyer knows, “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”
Bullying in climate science
Well, the legal example seems pretty tame stuff relative to what goes on climate science. But I like this example since it provides some clarity of thinking on the issue, that can be applied to the bullying problem in climate science.
First, the issue of expertise. How many people who call themselves ‘climate scientists’ but have no expertise in climate change detection/attribution call out academics that are skeptical of the consensus as ‘deniers’, ‘anti-science’, etc? Peter Gleick comes immediately to mind.
Second, the issue of less egregious bullying where people outside the predominant leftist consensus are considered beyond the pale. This one is rampant in climate science. The ostracism of non-consensus scientists (most recently Lennaert Bengtsson, see also the recent article on John Christy), both publicly and privately is bullying.
Third, the issue of (undefended) personal attacks by climate scientists against other scientists (personal case in point is described on thread (Micro) aggressions on social media, subsection Hockey Sticks and Stones). Twitter has the unfortunate effect of legitimizing the one-liner insults, see #deniers, #antiscience; Michael Mann is a master of this one. Bernstein says it’s not really clear why we should take the attacker’s word for it. In climate science, its easy: argument from consensus; anyone attacking/disagreeing with the consensus is fair game for attack, when the consensus supports political decision making.
Fourth, the comments clarify disagreement that is political/moral versus scholarly. This is the root of most of the bullying in climate science. Even speaking about uncertainty is interpreted as a political rather than a scientific statement by those trying to bully other academics to ‘conform’.
Michael Mann has an op-ed If you see something, say something. I would like to add the corollary: If you say something, defend it (and appealing to consensus does not constitute a defense.) Disagree with the argument, not the person. Attempting to make someone’s scholarly reputation suffer over political disagreements is the worst sort of academic bullying.