Jewish World Review April 19, 2005 / 10 Nisan 5765

Paul Greenberg

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April fool | The award for this year's best April Fool's spoof goes to . . . the Scientific American!

Here is a publication that is not only impressive in every scientific way but also seems to have a finely honed sense of humor. It outdid itself this April 1 by running a faux apology ("We are so ashamed") for its irredeemably evolutionist views.

Among the highlights of its abject confession:

"For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon?

"Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence. . . ."

As fate (or evolution) would have it, another delicious piece of satire popped up only a few days later — in the Wall Street Journal's Letters column.

The letter to the editor was signed Luis Suarez-Villa. He comes across like a modern version of the stuffy Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-73), the author who today is best known for his infamous opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night . . . ."

In this era, a Bad Writing contest is named for Bulwer-Lytton, and Suarez-Villa really ought to enter his letter in it. It's a perfect takeoff on modern, multi-culti academic prose.

Although short, it is anything but concise. It manages to pack the most pretentious prose in the shortest space of any letter to the editor I've seen lately, and I see a lot. The letter's topic was the latest Ivy League brouhaha, which began when Harvard's president — Larry Summers — shocked some of the university's more shockable feminists when he dared mention the possibility that males and females might have different aptitudes for the arts and sciences.

The very thought! It outrages the essence of today's compulsory take on what James Thurber once called The War Between Men and Women. Today not only must male and female be equal, but they must be the same.

Mr. Suarez-Villa explained Larry Summers' problem succinctly: He's an economist. To quote Suarez-Villa's oh-so-serious diagnosis:

"Musings that are considered 'normal' among economists tend to be regarded as insensitive or even prejudiced in many other disciplines. At the root of his remarks is the fact that Mr. Summers' thinking is grounded in a discipline that has little sense of fairness and moral obligation, where discriminatory situations are often accepted as the result of Darwinian mechanisms that should be left untouched.

"Mr. Summers could have blamed his training in economics for his insensitive remarks, based on the discipline's inability to understand fairness and shed its pseudo-scientific ways."

Perfect. Especially the unkind reference to Darwinism, which should put the Scientific American in its hoity-toity place.

Not until economists come to realize that their theories about supply-and-demand and point-of-diminishing-returns need to be adjusted by race, age, gender, class and tenure will their dismal science enter the modern, politically correct age.

The crowning touch was the letter writer's identifying himself as a professor of, get this, Social Ecology. What better summation of dubious postmodern "disciplines" than something called Social Ecology?

Social Ecology belongs up (or down) there with oxymorons like Deconstructionist Poetry or Socialist Realism.

Say, you don't think this Luis Suarez-Villa is Alan Sokal's latest pen name, do you? Professor Sokal, a professor of physics at NYU, pulled the academic hoax of hoaxes in 1996 when he had an oh-so-serious paper written in the best, deconstructed language ("Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity") published in a solemn little academic journal of the New Leftish persuasion. Some of us are still laughing. And sighing at what academe has come to.

This year, it was Luis Suarez-Villa who gave Scientific American some real competition in the satire department. He might even have walked off with top honors if the Wall Street Journal hadn't waited till April 6 to run his April Fool's joke.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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