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COMPLAINTS OF INTELLECTUAL
SUPPRESSION ARE NOT
"CONSPIRACY THEORIES."

2004 W. Beaty

First, does intellectual suppression exist in science? Of course it does, since research journals publish only a small portion of the submitted articles. Suppression is normal and expected. The beneficial purpose of suppression is the "triage" of unacceptable science articles. Since there are plenty of other journals besides the big names, (such as "Nature" and "Science,") suppression is constantly used to maintain minimum standards of quality, or to prevent obvious troublemakers from wasting our time. For example, if I submit rambling drunken poetry and nude photographs to a science journal, they'll be discarded. That's "intellectual suppression." And when moderators try to filter their email lists so spammers can't fill them with advertising, that's suppression too. Nothing wrong with it. And it's very, very common. Appropriate intellectual suppression is the job of any journal editor or forum moderator.

Inappropriate suppression exists as well. One common example is the well known backroom politics, where governmental/industrial leaders try to prevent whistleblower-scientists from publicizing embarrassing mistakes and criminal acts. In other words, "intellectual suppression" often means the same as "management coverup." Dr. Brian Martin maintains an entire website on the problems of political intellectual suppression in the sciences, see

Suppression of Dissent
http://www.bmartin.cc/dissent/documents/
Intellectual suppression also has a long history involving eccentric but revolutionary science. Throughout the history of science, famous researchers who eventually created entire new fields of science initially found it nearly impossible to publish their research. Some didn't succeed for years, even decades. The scientific community ignored them, but eventually they were heard; eventually they conquered the suppression, but only after a major fight. The journal editors rejected their papers because the new research results was in conflict with common knowledge; it was too eccentric. Yet the "eccentric" ideas were correct, and common knowledge was not. Wegner proposed drifting continents, while any geologist of the time knew that no such thing could happen. Semmilweis proposed that doctors' filthy hands were killing mothers after childbirth, an idea that would draw sneers from physicians of the time. Journal editors didn't realize that sometimes "eccentric" equals "breakthrough." Note well that nobody CONSPIRED to silence these revolutionary researchers. Editors and fellow scientists simply assumed that the eccentric papers were misguided, or were outright crackpotism. Here's a small list of examples of cutting-edge research which was unwittingly suppressed by a disbelieving scientific community:
Ridiculed, vindicated discoverers
http://amasci.com/weird/vindac.html
There's no question that inappropriate intellectual suppression is a real problem in the sciences. But there's no question that appropriate suppression is both a common and essential part of science. Isn't this a fairly simple concept?

Yet in recent years I've noticed a strange group-think phenomenon among skeptical scientists. It appears commonly in USENET forums whenever crackpots start discussing topics such as antigravity, perpetual motion, etc., and the crackpots complain that no science journal will publish their research. Their scientist opponents then sneer, insisting that these crackpot complaints of suppression are nothing but a conspiracy theory.

Um. What?

Let's get this straight. First an amateur wants a major physics journal to publish their maverick physics paper where they prove Einstein was wrong... then the papers are rejected everywhere... and finally, if the crackpot complains that everyone is against them, it means that the crackpot is a deluded CONSPIRACY THEORIST? But... but... all the physics journals REALLY DO reject those papers! Scientists everywhere really are against them. The crackpot really is being suppressed; their publications are being blocked from all legitimate journals (usually with good reason, but occasionally not.)

At first I suspected that the skeptics might be joking, but in questioning them I find that they're not. They really insist that anyone who complains about intellectual suppression is a delusional conspiracy theorist who should be ignored. They really believe that intellectual suppression doesn't exist.

Over the years I've found that this strange reasoning seems to be very widespread among the online scientific community. I find it somewhat embarrassing for me to be pointing out this flaw to those who accuse crackpots of paranoia. (And I feel very confused when my complaints are then ignored, and the skeptics making these flawed arguments continue to do the same thing time and again.)

Just to make things perfectly clear once more: intellectual suppression is very real, and is a valid part of the science culture. Therefore when an author complains of universal suppression, he/she is complaining about something genuine. Journal editors need not "conspire" together before rejecting my (heh!) risque science photographs, or before rejecting papers about Bigfoot or Cold Fusion or Continental Drift or the need for sterile hands during surgery. It's not a conspiracy if those editors individually are disbelievers. That's why they universally reject the "eccentric" articles out of hand.

Here's something from my personal life that may shed light on the proceedings. In marriage counseling I encountered a very common human foible: "Invalidation." If someone doesn't wish to deal with their spouse's complaints, they can choose to "not hear" those complaints via the process of Invalidation; by declaring the complaints to be disingenuous (by assuming that the complaints aren't what they seem, but instead are ploys motivated by vengeance, jealousy, etc.) Rather than taking the complaints seriously, their ears are blocked, and the complainer is essentially silenced.

When skeptics declare a crackpot's complaints to be "conspiracy theories", ...this looks to me like a clear example of Invalidation: it's a psychological move where the purpose is to erase any need to take the crackpot's complaints seriously (or even to hear them at all.) In order to block our ears against crackpots, we can declare their complaints to be delusional. Since we rarely take conspiracy theorists seriously, or even listen to their claims, our declaring a noisy crackpot to be a conspiracy theorist is a good way to excuse ourselves from having to listen.

But it's dishonest. When someone complains of suppression, their complaint is almost always genuine. And note well: in most cases they never complained about any conspiracy. It was the skeptic, the person supposedly in support of reason and rational argument, who used the straw-man fallacy and put those words in the crackpot's mouth.

OK, since this debating tactic is so common, perhaps it needs its own name. "Suppression-complaints are conspiracy theories" is a bit wordy. "Conspiracy accusation?" "Labeled as paranoid?" Under which class of logical fallacy does this fall?


 





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