RE: Parody in Science

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:02:35 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:02:35 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: Parody in Science
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B203492BF@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

At 09:38 AM 7/29/99 +0200, Gatherer, D. (Derek) wrote:
>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!!

You seem to have misinterpreted my post as being directed at your work,
Derek. Let me assure you that it wasn't. It certainly was not written as an

I do have disagreements with your interpretations of what I have written,
and we have already discussed those. It may be that you have parodied me on
this conversational list (e.g., "Wilbur and Orville"), but my post was not
intended to discuss such conversational messages.

Now, there is a work available that falsifies all 7 transmission modes in
my book, contains multiple damaging misquotations, attributes statements
quite opposite to the ones I make, etc. I will not name that work for you
here, first of all because my post was intended to encourage better work in
the future rather than criticize past works. (My reply to that piece will
soon be published eslewhere anyway.) I also will not name that piece
because I wish to continue avoiding a mutually futile, argument with you.
You have recently told me that you experience "mouthfoaming anger" at me,
so I do not expect to productively debate anything with you, at least not
in the next few years. It wouldn't exactly produce greater camaraderie,
iether. Contrary to your opening remark, I do not insist on debating with

Congratulations on those degrees and publications.

--Aaron Lynch

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