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← Why do French intellectuals "know nothing about science"?

Why do French intellectuals "know nothing about science"? - Comments

GolgothaTenement's Avatar Comment 1 by GolgothaTenement

Satisfying article to see... French intellectuals have been attacking science for at least fifty years, and the ridiculous postmodernist ideas they've spread into North American social sciences and humanities departments have yet to be stomped out, it may even take another generation to do this, and these are smart (if incredibly misguided) people we're talking about. Their views are much like metaphysics, sure it's possible to come up with complex and clever arguments but at the end of the day do these arguments have anything to do with evidence, data, or reality? French intellectuals almost singlehandedly caused a massive worldwide misstep/detour away from science and rationality for half a damn century.

Fri, 20 Apr 2012 21:52:53 UTC | #936122

gr8hands's Avatar Comment 2 by gr8hands

Quel dommage.

Fri, 20 Apr 2012 22:09:57 UTC | #936128

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 3 by Neodarwinian

@ GolgothaTenement

What I would have said, but not so well as you have said it.

This " scholarship " is as much to be feared by supporters of the scientific method as creationism is. Perhaps more as these people are in academia. Get a clue France and remember Marie Curie and not Michael Foucault!

Fri, 20 Apr 2012 22:37:45 UTC | #936131

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 4 by Cook@Tahiti

There is no prominent anti-Freud crusader in any country, like there is with homoeopathy or religion or spoon-bending or other woo.

For some reason, Freud gets a blind-eye from the skeptic movement.

You'll find the odd sentence or two dismissing Freudian interpretations in Pinker or Ramachandran , but there's no sustained polemic by any current public intellectual denouncing the entire psychoanalysis industry. The amount of academic time & energy that has been wasted on Freud throughout the 20th century is staggering.

Freud needs its 'strident' Dawkins.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 00:54:55 UTC | #936157

Dixiedog's Avatar Comment 5 by Dixiedog

Let's not forget that most of CERN is in France, and that most who post on here would holiday there at the drop of of beret!

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 01:40:51 UTC | #936163

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 6 by MilitantNonStampCollector

Comment 4 by Rtambree

The amount of academic time & energy that has been wasted on Freud throughout the 20th century is staggering.

Could you amplify on this? I would love to know.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 03:38:48 UTC | #936181

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 7 by Premiseless

Freud mixed in so many wild claims about how people think per se - to half reasoned evidence that to any naive readership, the extent of his confusion likely caused them extreme trauma about how others were thinking that essentially didn't truly resonate with themselves. In effect Freud created a religious style of analysis where what is seen in odd cases is then claimed universally true and applied as such. Extraordinarily non scientific. Evil as if reason!

However we do have an enormous problem with human psychology and so the subject will not go away. It's very sad that more scientific approaches to this area took so long to begin to establish themselves in ways that are half accessible to the populations about whom they claim to be "educating about themselves" rather than adding more, to the enormous raft of bullshit many are laden with, and claiming it a cure all.

I think this man Freud an imposter to reason due a cocktail he oft construed the poison of, simply to get himself a "larger life" in the here and then. A populist agenda gone viral! Darwin on the other hand much more quietly got it right - as one tends to have to do with science in society.

Humanity is angry with Freud and it often doesn't even know it.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 04:50:11 UTC | #936192

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 8 by Jos Gibbons

I found this article quite confusing.

Why do French intellectuals "know nothing about science"?

If they do, how do you even tell who the “intellectuals” are, or that they are there?

support within a population for science is inversely proportional to the strength of that country’s scientific research.

Note this research looked at 12 EU countries. I’m pretty sure the Middle East would be inferior to the EU in both respects, contrary to the negative correlation (which, incidentally, isn’t an inverse proportionality, contra this journalist’s paraphrasing of the research).

Since 1970, one scientific Nobel prize per 5 million people. It’s a heinously crude measure, obviously. But there’s something in it.

Wouldn’t that be a case of support for research correlating negatively with its success, rather than with public acceptance of scientific findings?

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 07:04:06 UTC | #936205

Nairb's Avatar Comment 9 by Nairb

There may be some intellectuals who know little about science. But there are others such as Michel Onfray - Over 50 books on popularizing philosophy - hard atheist and knows science André comte Sponvile - many books on philosophy - soft atheist and seems to know science

There are many others who are lesser known.

However too much respect has been given to psycho analaysis and it does seem true that france is a little behind in treating autism or other disabilitiues.

However intellectuals are listened to and respected and they do contribute to shaping debate, which I think is generally a good thing - eg Libya, Burqa, secularism, anti fanatism and fighting multiculturalism, Gay rights, thinking about the society we want rateher then what we get after capitalism has played out etc

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 08:19:58 UTC | #936213

memeweaver's Avatar Comment 10 by memeweaver

Every French pharmacy window is awash with homeopathy products. It's staggering to see a wall of interior space devoted to sugar pills. That's the actual pharmacies. There are also huge parapharmacies which often sit adjacent to supermarkets (being owned by them), which have nothing more medicinal than toothpaste.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 08:59:38 UTC | #936219

Kramokian's Avatar Comment 11 by Kramokian

I think this is pretty unfair to portray "the french" as science ignoramus just because Freudism still has a stronghole in the intellectual sphere. Please read :" Freud, le crepuscule d'une idole" by Michel Onfray who a french intellectual. I am french and love science. Sure, like many people in the western world, some french people are prone to believe in all sorts of crazy, "a thousands time debunked" weird stuff but please lets not start spreading a silly idea that all the french are irrationnal... Also, this pasychoanalytical approach to autism isn't just taught in France but in many countries. Lets just debunk it and stop stigmatizing a whole country for that...

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 11:02:20 UTC | #936235

Mrkimbo's Avatar Comment 12 by Mrkimbo

Hooray for good old English evidence-based empiricism and nuts to French intellectual idealism.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 11:16:34 UTC | #936238

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 13 by Zeuglodon

France, the chosen site where one of the nuclear fusion reactors is proposed to be built. I don't think it's fair to write off the French as scientific illiterates or scientific doublethinkers just because there are several examples of specific and bad intellectuals who are French. That's not fair on French scientists.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 11:32:34 UTC | #936241

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 14 by Premiseless

Science seems to have done well out of observing controlled variables and then forming extraordinary leaps forward.

The world is awash with variables conflicting with each others positions.

Is there a way/s to amalgamate the two?

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 12:07:35 UTC | #936249

Kramokian's Avatar Comment 15 by Kramokian

Talking about autism : can someone remind me from which country the whole vaccine causes autism scaremongering came from ? !

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 12:39:26 UTC | #936251

Kramokian's Avatar Comment 16 by Kramokian

Comment Removed by Author

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 12:45:25 UTC | #936252

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 17 by mordacious1

Comment 15 by Kramokian

...and was pummeled by same said country? Wild claims are made everywhere, it's what the official response is that counts.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 13:45:37 UTC | #936267

GolgothaTenement's Avatar Comment 18 by GolgothaTenement

There totally does need to be an anti-Freud crusade. One book I'd recommend, though it's probably too detailed for people who are already aware of how fundamentally dumb relativism is as opposed to universal human rights, is "The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism," by Richard Wolin. It takes issue with many intellectuals still celebrated today; my favourite quotation was; "There are more polite ways of putting it, but Jung was a fraud." Psychoanalysis itself is quite a bit like a religion.

Of course, for an unprecedented stomping-on of all the intellectual antiscience that accumulated over the twentieth century and especially during the past fifty years, there is nothing like the doorstopper "Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent," with contributions from 50 scholars from a range of disciplines, including a hilarious essay by Noam Chomsky on how every antiscience charge he's heard can be thrown at the discipline from which it comes, and of course several essays on the Sokal Hoax. What really bothers me is that France is where the Enlightenment came from, but since the 1960's instead of exporting ideals like objectivity, science, progress, democracy and free speech to the world, it exported the blatherings of Derrida, Lacan, etc.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 16:00:26 UTC | #936291

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 19 by Mr DArcy

As Ben Goldacre points out in his book Bad Science, there plenty of media hacks in Britain well able to misrepresent science. Why should the French have the monopoly? Well they don't!

I don't know anything about Derrida, and I don't think I want to find out, life being so short. There's certainly one science/art the French excel at, and that is cooking! Everyone has to eat, - you might as well enjoy the experience!

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 18:59:41 UTC | #936324

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 20 by Jonathan Dore

Interesting, but it would have been nice to have some more analysis that actually tried to explain how this situation had come about.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 21:43:59 UTC | #936359

Xor's Avatar Comment 21 by Xor

I'm French. There is a powerful lobby for Freud indeed. I don't think it's about science; it's about the media coverage on psychoanalysis which is non-existent, allowing psychonalists to maintain a monopoly on several subjects. We don't have a lot of creationists, climate-change deniers, nobody thinks that vaccines are dangerous, and religion has little power. On the other hand, researchers are largely underpaid and flee to other countries; their communication to the public is almost non-existant and the population is in most cases frightened by science. Our education system (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classe_pr%C3%A9paratoire_aux_grandes_%C3%A9coles) doesn't promote scientific research and our budget in research is ludicrous.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 02:45:03 UTC | #936400

Bormotun's Avatar Comment 22 by Bormotun

Comment 4 by Rtambree :

There is no prominent anti-Freud crusader in any country, like there is with homoeopathy or religion or spoon-bending or other woo.

Oh, but there is one! His name is Professor Frederick Crews, he was nicknamed "Freud basher"! Look his books up, he is eloquent and well-researched on the subject!

I think there has been otherwise a good amount of people, too, who wrote skeptically of Freud, both specialists (beginning with Popper, in fact!) and non-specialists (like Nabokov). So I wouldn't agree that the skeptics have been turning a blind eye to Freud. What is surprising, however, is that Freud and his psychoanalysis seem to have withstood any amounts of rational criticism and are being followed quite irrationally. It's more like a faith, really, so what would you expect!

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 06:43:12 UTC | #936418

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 23 by Alan4discussion

Comment 18 by GolgothaTenement

The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism," by Richard Wolin.

I would dispute that such subjects and their supporters could claim to be intellectual. They are pseudo-intellectual in the same way that IDers/YECs are pseudo-scientists.

It takes issue with many intellectuals still celebrated today; my favourite quotation was; "There are more polite ways of putting it, but Jung was a fraud.

Band-wagon self congratulating groups of elitist fashionable thinking cults are well known.

" Psychoanalysis itself is quite a bit like a religion.

Certainly some schools of it have been very much so : - like homoeopathy etc. in their nature.

Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism, nihilism and postmodernism. His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much commentary and interpretation, mostly in the continental tradition. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche

I would suggest that anyone who cannot work out the value of objectivity and truth in a reasonably short time, is not an intellectual, but is simply an obsurantist fraud!

@OP - Why do French intellectuals "know nothing about science"?

Probably because there are a lot verbose ignoramuses posturing as intellectuals.

Postmodernism can now be studied without employing pseudo-intellectuals. - http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/ - Read the section at the bottom of the page for the analysis.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 10:35:08 UTC | #936435

BurgundyMiss's Avatar Comment 24 by BurgundyMiss

Unfortunately much of the media available in English, open university sites or e.g. the Dawkins - Tyson discussion at Howard U., is unavailable in subtitled versions. There are Internet sites here in France such as Canal U. that propose Collège de France and other lectures by theme , but most of them are largely out of date. Fortunately, the NOVA series are little by little becoming available (The Elegant Universe is now dubbed.) Of course making knowledge available doesn't mean that the message "evolution or extinction" will automatically become grassrooted however hard responsable researchers attempt to 'translate' their concerns into popular terms?

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 11:23:56 UTC | #936442

rookieatheist's Avatar Comment 25 by rookieatheist

Seeing as several people from France have already posted some good replies, I don't really have much more to add. I also live in France and although I recognise some truths in the New Statesman article, there are also several bad conclusions made by the author. Though, to be honest, it's not a subject that I'm very well versed in. I do think that the author is very silly to suggest that France, one of the world's most scientific nations, has more difficulty than other countries in accepting evidence based science. One would need to show more than simple correlations between Noble prizes and population size to even begin to prove such an assertion.

I will add this: there is an anti-pseudoscience association in France known as the "Association française pour l’information scientifique" (AFIS), or in English the "French association for science information". Their website can be found here: http://www.pseudo-sciences.org/. They also have a recent article on the issue of autism and psychoanalysis which you can try to read by using the Google translate tool.

Edit: I've just noticed that the AFIS published in December 2010 a special magazine issue on psychoanalysis. Quickly skimming over the issue summary, it tries to tackle the reasons for why psychoanalysis is still prevalent in France, but that it's decline is underway. Just to be clear, I am not a member of the association, nor do I have a subscription to their magazine (though I'm thinking about subscribing).

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 13:48:15 UTC | #936457

GolgothaTenement's Avatar Comment 26 by GolgothaTenement

lol! yes, the postmodernism generator, I remember this, lots of fun.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 21:36:05 UTC | #936525

S. Gudmundsson's Avatar Comment 27 by S. Gudmundsson

Pasteur, Fourier, Curie, Lamarck... Let's not be too hard on the French simply because they've been saddled with continental fauxlosophers for a while. At least their intellectual pretenders are able to sound intelligent. Over here in the "Western West", we've got Jerry Falwell and Ann Coulter.

Mon, 23 Apr 2012 01:29:02 UTC | #936576

NakedCelt's Avatar Comment 28 by NakedCelt

Comment 3 by Neodarwinian :

This " scholarship " is as much to be feared by supporters of the scientific method as creationism is. Perhaps more as these people are in academia. Get a clue France and remember Marie Curie and not Michael Foucault!

Not really fair to pick on Foucault. Yes, he writes a lot like a postmodernist, but if you get hold of a transcript of him talking -- an interview or a lecture -- he is, at least, able to express himself coherently, and some of the ideas are even worth hanging on to. Derrida, Lacan, or Baudrillard would have been better targets.

Mon, 23 Apr 2012 04:47:25 UTC | #936598

RobertJames's Avatar Comment 29 by RobertJames

French intellectualism is a club.

When I was at uni most of my friends were devout readers of Baudrillard, Derrida, Sartre etc. Partly because they were on the reading list but mostly because it armed you to win drunken arguments in pubs and pick up girls. For some reason one Summer I decided to read The Selfish Gene and A Brief History of Time (not on the Fine Arts reading list) and found myself the butt of jokes and substantially less attractive.

The desire for knowledge of scientific reality in the French dominated Philosophy and Fine Art departments was basically regarded as heresy and the word science was only ever spoken with negativity and mistrust. When I read QED I kept it to myself.

The crux of it is simple, French intellectualism is dominated by the Humanities with empirical, evidence based approaches shoved neatly to one side in a box labeled Pomme de terre, and if you've ever studied their pretty language it is easy to understand why.

Obviously the French are not stupid but they are linguistically locked into seeing everything through emotional/Human tinted glasses. How can you ever truly understand anything if you are forever trapped into seeing the universe as a meal, a girlfriend or your mother.

Mon, 23 Apr 2012 07:08:34 UTC | #936615

Xor's Avatar Comment 30 by Xor

if you've ever studied their pretty language it is easy to understand why.

Obviously the French are not stupid but they are linguistically locked into seeing everything through emotional/Human tinted glasses. How can you ever truly understand anything if you are forever trapped into seeing the universe as a meal, a girlfriend or your mother.

I don't get it.

Mon, 23 Apr 2012 07:34:45 UTC | #936617