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Dear All,

I think this is turning into an interesting debate/discussion. My two 
cents are that while I have no beef with satire (and really value 
Sokal's use of it to destroy the credibility of PoMo with a nonsense 
article) and don't think it devalues good research (which is after 
all based on evidence not opinion), I am wary of mere flippancy, 
following Malcolm Edwards. (See excellent Lewis quotes below.) What 
we don't want is a situation where (as I sometimes worry is 
happening), people are lazily snide about bad research in the 
abstract but not concretely critical (or even cathartically rude) in 
print about the surprisingly poor quality, pointless or parochial 
research that gets published despite peer review. (See Goethe quotes 
below.) Working in simulation, publishing is a lottery for me in 
social science because journals often get reviewers who plainly don't 
know what they are talking about. Conversely, profoundly dreadful 
simulations get published because equally uninformed reviewers happen 
to take a shine to them. Peer review only works with proper peers. It 
is also harder than it should be to get rebuttals and other such 
things published fast in the relevant journals so that rubbish is not 
propagated. The difficulty is a mixing of levels between commenting 
on content/quality at the "coal face" and commenting on the 
quality/content of the research _process_ (which includes effective 
reviewing and the creation of "research areas" which may prove to be 
genuinely pointless: content free "social theory" which just comments 
on itself for example.)

Actually, that turned into a dollar's worth!

Edmund

Goethe (1893) The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by 
Bailey Saunders (London: Macmillan and Company).

"We must remember that there are many men who, without being 
productive, are anxious to say something important, and the results 
are most curious." (p. 154)

"Productions are now possible which, without being bad, have no 
value. They have no value, because they contain nothing; and they are 
not bad, because a general form of good-workmanship is present to the 
author's mind." (p. 155)

Lewis, C. S. (1942) The Screwtape Letters (London: Geoffrey Bles/The 
Centenary Press).

"The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, 
and it is especially promising among the English who take their 
"sense of humour" so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is 
almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for 
them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of 
life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man 
simply lets others pay for him, he is "mean"; if he boasts of it in a 
jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he 
is no longer "mean" but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; 
cowardice boasted of with humourous exaggerations and grotesque 
gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful - unless the 
cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or 
even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much 
as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not 
only without disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if 
only it can get itself treated as a Joke. And this temptation can be 
almost entirely hidden from your patient by that English seriousness 
about Humour. Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can 
be represented to him as "Puritanical" or as betraying a "lack of 
humour"." (pp. 59-60)

"But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very 
economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or 
indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if 
virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed 
to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious 
subject is discussed in a manner which implies they have already 
found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy 
builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy 
that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the 
other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it 
deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no 
affection between those who practice it, ..." (p. 60)
-- 
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Edmund Chattoe: Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, Manor Road
Oxford, OX1 3UQ tel: 01865-286174 fax: 01865-286171 Review Editor Journal
of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS) "So act as to 
treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as 
an end, and
never as only a means." (Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles)  Nuffield
Foundation New Career  Development Fellow and  Research Fellow,  Nuffield
College. More data here http://www.sociology.ox.ac.uk/people/chattoe.html
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