COMPLAINTS OF INTELLECTUAL
SUPPRESSION ARE NOT
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.
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
Suppression of Dissent
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
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
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
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?