RE: Parody in Science

Gatherer, D. (
Thu, 29 Jul 1999 09:38:52 +0200

Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 09:38:52 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: Parody in Science
To: "''" <>

I thought you didn't want to debate any more Aaron, but since you

David Hull's 1988 book _Science as a Process_ points out that scientific
disagreements are often marked by surprising rates of parody. My own
impression of this is that much scientific parody is not deliberately
developed with the intention of parody in mind. Rather, parody often seems
to result from the usual human tendency to exaggerate the relative merits
of one's own work, often producing self-delusion about rival works.


1) I have not parodied your work.
2) I do not exaggerate the relative merits of my work.
3) I am not self-deluded in any way (I think), and certainly not deluded
about your work, which I believe I understand quite well.


Eagerness to distinguish one's work from competing works and theories also
seems to play a part.


I do not see myself as being in competition with you. I am an ex-academic,
now sold out to capitalism and removed to the bioinformatics industry. You
are a media pundit (perhaps I am being cruel here - if feel the phrase media
pundit is unjust then I'll retract it, but you must tell me what _you_ think
you are). Besides, I have no novel theory of my own. I do not claim to
have made any original contribution to memetics. If you want to know what I
see my contribution to memetics as being, then I'd say that it is just to
set it in the context of other theories/philosophies (Averroes, Feyerabend
in particular) and to set it on an even keel with respect to the mainstream
of evolutionary theory (hence my very strong reservations about the
possibility of a 'population memetics' etc)

In the selection process, it may be that those who absolutely avoid parody
typically fail to distinguish their work sufficiently to achieve wide
acclaim, leaving those who engage in some degree of parody advancing (on
average) to higher prominence and thus becoming more widely imitated.
Working against this, however, is the fact that the higher the level of
parody one exhibits, the more susceptible one becomes to charges of poor


1) I have never had anybody charge me with poor scholarship. I have a PhD
in evolutionary genetics from Imperial College (Britain's 3rd toughest
university, incidentally, they don't just give them out). I have 10 years
of post doctoral-experience including spells at Cambridge and Warwick
(Britain's 2nd and 5th toughest universities respectively). I have 25
publications (print, not cyber). Pardon me for this pompous trumpet blowing
exercise, but if I am a poor scholar, surely somebody in Cambridge, Warwick
or Imperial would have told me by now. Odd that the first person to accuse
me of poor scholarship should be you, isn't it? Maybe you think that anyone
who criticises you is automatically a poor scholar.

2) But I haven't parodied you anyway, so why should I be open to that


Going to the extreme of extensively or systematically
falsifying a colleague's work can damage one's credibility.


Right, Aaron, I'll do a deal with you. You get an independent witness -
somebody whose academic track record is superior or equal to mine, David
Hull would be a good one, he is far above me - to come on this list and say
that I have systematically falsified your work, and I shall sign off and
retire from the list forever. You'll have an open field to advertise your
paperback and peddle your ideas, and I promise I won't ever jump in to
criticise you ever again. You get Prof. Hull (or whoever) to do this, and
you'll never hear from me again. How about it? Fair?

Jake was saying that the list was a bit slow at the moment. I hope that
this will brighten it up for you, Jake!!



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