Reduction ad Totum

The Academic Fallacy

(May be redistributed for non-profit purposes, with copyright acknowledgement; orig. place of pub.

Michael D. Morrissey
Nov. 5, 2006

Morgan Reynolds* begins his most recent article on the planes/no-planes issue (Did planes actually hit the WTC or were all the videos faked?) by referring specifically to Eric Salter's article in the Journal of 9/11 Studies** and makes available the (second negative) review of his (Reynolds') article by the journal's editors.

This is a small step in the right direction, providing at least the beginning of a dialogue, which is what a real debate is, but unfortunately, instead of continuing in that direction Reynolds has simply posted his essay in reply to Salter's essay. This is the academic form of debate, which illustrates what I will call the ACADEMIC FALLACY. It has several aspects.

1. Academics cannot talk easily to non-academics because of mutual hatred, which has nothing to do with the issue under consideration. Exchanges with people like Gerard Holmgren (a "no-planer") make it obvious why they are hard to get along with, since they will insult you at the drop of a hat, so I won't belabor the point. It is less obvious why academics are hard to get along with, and since I have been around academics for many years in two countries (Germany, the USA), I think I am qualified to have an opinion. They are for the most part--I'll say this in German so maybe it will hurt less--aufgeblasene Arschlöcher. This means "puffed-up assholes," which is something above and beyond "arrogant assholes," because it means the arrogance is unjustified.

Academics are considered to be experts in their field and are more often than not--here's another German term--Fachidioten ("specialized idiots"). These means they may know a lot about one thing (although even this is not guaranteed), but they are often virtual idiots on other subjects. This is not surprising, because unless you are a real genius, in order to become an expert in one field, you simply do not have the time and energy (or desire) to keep up with other things. The fallacy appears when the prestige that an academic Fachidiot acquires in his field, which may be deserved, is transferred to other areas where his knowledge is no greater than that of Joe Six-Pack.

This false transference of prestige from a specialty to other subjects happens all the time. It surrounds us in society, and the "experts" themselves are the first ones to fall victim to it. Hence the "normal" development from earnest student, who normally knows what he does not know, into aufgeblasenes Arschloch, who does not. It doesn't take long. All you need is an advanced degree and a few publications, and if on top of that you have the imprimatur of high-level academic position, you are there. It will be very hard for anyone to convince you, and even harder for you to convince yourself, that apart from knowing a lot about a little, you are not only just as ignorant about most things as you always were, but even more so because you have been neglecting more of the world than most people by becoming an expert in some narrowly defined field.

Another false but ineluctable conclusion that an aufgeblasenes Arschloch comes to is that s/he is not only more learned and wiser about everything than other people, but also more intelligent. I can say with confidence from personal experience alone that this is simply not true. I am not at all sure that the average level of intelligence in academia is a whit higher than that amongst, say, electricians. It is not hard to get a Ph.D. What is required is not intelligence but doggedness, and more than that the willingness to accept the dictates of your mentors. The result of the process, though, is that with a Ph.D. behind your name you think you are smarter than ordinary people, and you also may have learned to disguise your ignorance and stupidity about most things better than the average Joe. That is what jargon and learning to write and speak "properly" are all about, and since you spend most of your time talking and writing about just a few things that you have devoted your life to, it's not hard to do it properly.

Let's take this one notch higher. Noam Chomsky has made the point many times that education is the best form of propaganda. Even though--beknownst or unbeknownst to him-- he himself is the best example of the phenomenon inasmuch as he remains stubbornly blind to all "conspiracy theories," nevertheless, what he says is true. I submitted some proof of this recently in a short article on the Zogby poll*** that was rejected by the Jof911Studies, whose reviewers said it was more suitable for a newspaper, i.e., not "academic" enough. I will let that fact and that comment speak for themselves.

2. The second aspect of the academic fallacy is what I will call, as one hardly immune to the temptations of aufgeblasene Arschlochery myself, reductio ad totum. Ahem, ahem.

What passes for "debate" in academia is well illustrated by Salter's article in Jof911S and Reynolds' article posted on his website. One extremely complex argument is presented in toto (are you impressed yet?) and "rebutted" by an equally complex argument in toto. Two totos make one big pile of do-do. The result is that very few people will have the patience to slog though either morass of detail, and if they do they will emerge with nothing but a bit more shit on both shoes and exactly the same opinion they started with. This is because neither party in the "debate" has the least intention of actually debating anything at all, or in establishing the truth. All either side wants is victory--to be declared the winning bullshit-flinger. He who hath packaged and shaped his ball of crap most cleverly and aerodynamically fit to fly relatively more easily through the already made-up but pretending-not-to-be mind of the reader will be declared the winner. "I have considered both arguments, and I find X the more persuasive." That is the third reductio ad totum--the one that emerges in the reader's mind after "considering" (which means reading) the two piles of crap s/he is pretending to be equally sympathetic to.

This is nothing but a game of elaborated self-delusion. It has nothing to do with trying to find out the truth about anything. It is the academic way. I write my paper and you write yours. I write my book and you write yours. I give my lecture and you give yours. And never, ever the twain shall meet. That (agreeing) is not even the point. The point is not to find the truth (which presumably all would agree on), but to be right, which means right in the eyes of the audience whose approval one is seeking.

How then, should we proceed, if not in the august tradition of shit-flinging contests? How indeed, in the age of the Internet, where time and place and even money and publishers put no restrictions whatever on the form of debate? Why, we just can't figure it out. How can we focus? How can we actually discuss the fine points of anything? Is it not better to use the Internet to exchange insults and flood everyone with "data" and millions of words than no one reads? Is it not better to count the number of websites saying X, and the number saying Y (and A-W, and being the punctilious technocrats we are, not forgetting Z, as well as A1, A2…) and then declare the truth?

Reynolds has at least acknowledged what should be the obvious right direction by publishing the interlinear response to his article. Still, he chose not to respond to that response but to repackage his totum, thus reverting to his academic roots and leaving the reader with no desire to wallow through the mire on either side of the fence. The grand conclusion, once again, is that either there were planes, or there were no planes. Halleluyah. Is it any wonder that the word "academic" has come to mean "useless"?

What is necessary will not be done. I myself have proposed it to both sides, and neither side has deigned to respond. I doubt that they even understand. Neither side is willing to debate in the way a complex issue like this must be debated--by putting every single point and every single assumption on the table, one at a time, and exhaustively presenting the arguments, until one of two conclusions is reached: either the parties agree, or they agree on what they disagree on. The Internet is ideally suited for this kind of dialogue, which is real debate, but it never happens. It would be reductio ad veritas, which is not what most academics want.


What the hell is your point?


What is your real question?

Is it "Who's side are you on?" Are you spoiling for a fight? Just paranoid? You are offensive.

Add Scrotum

Ah, the hubris of the know-it-all; the egregious self-confidence of the self-styled “thinker” whose unquestionable ability to adjudicate between complex positions and propositions, evaluate evidence, apportion truth and value – all the while impartially following the logical dictates of reason – are so firmly established in his own mind, as well as the minds of his peers, that, without irony, he can proclaim to the reader: “anyone who wants to call him/herself a "scholar" should” ... should what? Think for themselves?

I wholeheartedly concur with the previous poster's comment: "What the hell is your point?"

I got a great laugh out of

I got a great laugh out of the Ad Scrotum part. It made this rubbish worth the read. It's as if the writer was coming at it with the "political method" approach but decided to turn it into a rant.

"... In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual." (Galileo Galilei, 1564 - 1642)

My review of Reynolds work...

..... has led me to the conclusion that it is not worth debating. I find it entirely without merit.

Further, i find the company that Reynolds keeps - with researchers of equally dubious work - to be highly suspicious.