On the Newest Schism

by Jason Stotts

I find it sad and disheartening for the Objectivist movement that schisms are so common that we must name then and specify which we are talking about.

I’ve been trying to stay out of the McCaskey v. Peikoff dispute as much as I can, and I am still reserving judgment until more evidence comes to light, but things are starting to get rather ridiculous.  The newest, and crudest, thing to come to light, and the final straw for me is Tore Boeckmann’s dishonest new Facebook note “A Tale of Two Warnings”

The full text of which is:

A Warning from The State Science Institute

“The State Science Institute,” he said quietly, when they were alone in her office, “has issued a statement warning people against the use of Rearden Metal.” . . .

“What did they say?”

“Dagny, they didn’t say it! . . . They haven’t really said it, yet it’s there—and it isn’t. That’s what’s monstrous about it.” . . .

“What did they say, Eddie?”

“They . . . You’d have to read it.” He pointed to the newspaper he had left on her desk. “They haven’t said that Rearden Metal is bad. They haven’t said that it’s unsafe. What they’ve done is . . .” His hands spread and dropped in a gesture of futility.

She saw at a glance what they had done. She saw the sentences: “It may be possible that after a period of heavy usage, a sudden fissure may appear, though the length of this period cannot be predicted . . . . The possibility of a molecular reaction, at present unknown, cannot be entirely discounted. . . . Although the tensile strength of the metal is obviously demonstrable, certain questions in regard to its behavior under unusual stress are not to be ruled out. . . . Although there is no evidence to support the contention that the use of the metal should be prohibited, a further study of its properties would be of value.”

(Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Part I, Chapter VII)

A Warning from Dr. John P. McCaskey

“Readers of the book [The Logical Leap] should be aware that the historical accounts presented here often differ from those given by academic researchers working on the history of science and often by the scientists themselves. . . .

“This [the author’s account] is not the story other scholars have found in Newton’s writings. They have concluded the following instead. . . .

“Most scholars find the process of scientific progress less linear than Harriman indicates and much more iterative and spiral.

“I cannot say that the conventional narratives (or my own) are all correct and Harriman’s all wrong–certainly they are not–nor do I want to say how any inaccuracies would affect the theory of induction presented in The Logical Leap. I merely want to alert readers unfamiliar with the field that Harriman’s narratives are often not the ones accepted by other scholars . . .

“The theory of induction proposed here is potentially seminal; a theory that grounds inductive inference in concept-formation is welcome indeed. But the theory is still inchoate. If it is to be widely adopted, it will need to be better reconciled with the historical record as the theory gets fleshed out and refined.”

(Three-star [of a possible five] Amazon review of David Harriman’s The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics)

I, of course, had to comment:

Look, I’m not trying to take sides here, but your little analogy here is dishonestly unfair. You omit all the substance from McCaskey’s review and then call it insubstantial. This is from that same review:

“This is not, however, the account that Galileo himself gives. Harriman writes, “Imagine that he attempted to drop the lead or oak balls through water instead of air . . . . The result would not have led to any important discovery.” But in the Discorsi Galileo presents the difference between dropping balls through air and dropping them through water as the very heart of his discovery. (Day One, 8:110-116). He begins by recounting a report of the tower experiment but does not consider it sufficient to establish the law. He instead explains that we must consider air as a medium and compare what happens in other mediums, such as water and mercury. He notes that heavier things (ones heavy enough not to float) do land at different times and the difference is bigger the higher the resistance of the medium. In water the difference is higher than in air; in mercury, the difference even higher. Galileo extrapolates and concludes that in a medium that offered no resistance, there would be no difference in speed of fall and all objects would hit at the same time. Galileo claimed that comparing the dropping of objects in air, in water, and in mercury is exactly what justifies his discovery, contra Harriman’s claim.” (Link)

Boeckmann dishonestly accuses McCaskey of failing to have any substance to his claim, after he ommitted all of the substance!  Of course, my comment was immediately removed and replaced with this:

When the truth becomes an insult, let me be insulting!  My highest allegiance will always be to the truth and damn the feelings that get hurt in the way!

Of course, Boeckmann has already unfriended me, and perhaps more shall do so as a result of this post, but we need to remember what we are talking about.  We’re talking about the truth.  We are talking about issues of integrity and intellectual honesty.  Boechmann is clearly being intellectually dishonest in his comparison and purposefully ommitting crucial details in order to do so.

While I’m still reserving judgment in the original dispute until more evidence comes to light, it seems to me that McCaskey was only trying to help make The Logical Leap into a better book.  His review is amazingly reserved and the care with which he tried not to offend anyone is obvious.  It’s important to note that McCaskey’s only objections are to how Harriman presents the history of the science, not with his theory of induction.  Indeed, it seems that McCaskey was right to worry as he presents evidence that Harriman distorted the history in order to make it consistent with his thesis.  This makes him look intellectually dishonest and may disgrace what is a perfectly true and very good new theory of induction.  This is McCaskey’s worry and it seems to me that he was only trying to help.

17 Responses to “On the Newest Schism”


  1. person

    I actually agree with your point, but it’s extremely uncool to take screenshots of Facebook information available only to certain people and put them on a publicly available blog.

  2. JasonStotts

    I would agree that screenshots would be inappropriate if they contained personal information that was not publicly available. However, in this case I’ve cropped all such information out and left only the content of the note, to which anyone has access.

    ~Jason

  3. Sam Tenney

    I agree with this post and I appreciate your honesty.

  4. Katrina

    First, let me say I think it’s outrageous that your comment was deleted and that you were unfriended for posting it. Ew.

    However, McCaskey’s review smells funny to me. Yes, he provides a factual account of Galileo’s experiments, as you point out, and I think it’s great that he provided that. But he also says all of the things that Tore quotes. McCaskey doesn’t say “These are the facts that contradict information in this book,” he says things like “most experts disagree” and “the general consensus is X.” That doesn’t prove that he’s wrong, but it is icky wishy-washy language that, on first read, most definitely reminded me of Atlas villains. To me, it looks just as bad as Peikoff’s “do you know who I am?” type comments.

    Overall we have no idea what went on here. We don’t even know what Peikoff’s email was in response to or why someone from ARI sought his opinion about it. Unless someone has that information, it is inappropriate to hold one’s judgment anywhere but in reserve.

  5. Katrina

    I should also say that I don’t think it’s constructive to post something like this on facebook, at least not without a serious double-bold highlighted caveat regarding the significant lack of information about the dispute at this time. The Amazon review cannot even possibly have been a part of the dispute since it was written after Peikoff’s email. Sheesh.

  6. JasonStotts

    Katrina,

    I don’t know how familiar you are with academic philosophy, but the soft-pedalling you see in McCaskey’s review is him trying not to be offensive and adding lots of caveats to soften his point. Whether or not this academic style is conducive to clarity is it’s own issue (it’s not), but that is the function of much of his review: him trying to be diplomatic. In academic philosophy, one does not say “you are wrong,” one says “it could be the case that perhaps you have misconstrued some of the available information and this may have lead you astray, although perhaps I, myself, have made a similar mistake; although, the consensus seems to side with me.”

    I, too, would dearly like more information about the dispute so that a real judgment can be made. However, it seems to me that we have enough information to make preliminary judgments. If new information comes to light later, then we shall have to revise these judgments. This is, incidentally, Harriman’s own observations on how scientific truth is arrived at and it will serve us well here too.

    ~Jason

  7. Dan

    I don’t think it’s quite right that what you’re seeing in McCaskey’s review is just an academic style. If McCaskey were certain of some error in Harriman’s book, I doubt he would tiptoe around it. But it’s precisely because McCaskey isn’t certain of the implications of what he’s saying that he has to, justifiably, soften his point.

  8. JasonStotts

    Dan,

    You may be right. I was reading it as he didn’t want to cause any further uproar, but he still wanted to make a point.

    ~Jason

  9. Kendall J

    Jason, while I don’t condone Tore’s post, your last paragraph on your post is not well integrated, and points to what I find to be inconsistencies in McCaskey’s statement. The review appears to be somewhat toned down. One has to ask if it actually remains consistent as a result. He “says” he doesn’t know whether or not his criticisms have implications to the theory itself, but in the same review he says the theory is “incoate” without indicating additional criticisms other than the historical. It’s not that he says that he has no opinions on the impact of the historical voracity to the theory but he does not “want to say”.

    You also say that you think McCaskey was only trying to help, and limiting his comments to one aspect of the book, and yet this comment potentially implies intellectual dishonestly on Harriman’s part. This is odd. He is supposedly being quite cordial and attempting not to offend, and yet even you can see the direct implications of his statements. One may tiptoe around the issue to appear not to offend and when someone tries to integrate his full comments, one realizes that he can still be quite offensive. If impuning the reputation of the author is his version of “helping” then I can only think that he exercised poor judgment in writing the review.

    Just because he says he’s only limiting his comments to one aspect doesn’t mean that there aren’t implications here, and yet he “doesn’t want to say” what those are. (note he doesn’t say that he doesn’t know what those are or can’t comment on them, but that he “doesn’t want to”) This is not cordiality in my book. It’s tiptoeing around an issue; one which you clearly deduced by reading the review. Half-saying something is not cordiality. It is implying something that you don’t have the courage to say fully.

    Something in this line of reasoning and in McCaskey’s statements don’t hold together well.

  10. Dan Edge

    Thanks for posting this, Jason. I agree with you, Boeckmann is out of line here. And, like Peikoff did in his letter, he invokes Rand’s name for dramatic effect. This particular issue with McCasky is not that important to me other than the fact that it’s evidence of a bad trend, one that I hope will whither away as the Yaron’s and Lewis’s of the world continue to take over leadership the movement.

  11. oilboy

    Hi Jason,
    this is what just came to my mind:

    quoting the excerpt from Atlas Shrugged, Boeckmann is basically claiming that McCaskey hasn’t made definite factual statements about Harriman’s book
    (‘they haven’t really said it, yet it’s there—and it isn’t’), but rather that McCaskey’s critique amounts to an unsubstantiated ‘smear’.

    If Boeckmann is right (which needs to be discussed), how then come that Peikoff claims in his letter (where he gives his ultimatum):
    ‘from the emails I [Peikoff] have seen, [McCaskey’s] disagreements are not limited to details, but often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue’.

    Peikoff is saying the opposite of what Boeckmann claims ! If Peikoff is right, and the disagreements got to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue, then McCaskey must have made substantiated statements, and not as Boeckmann claims undefined smear statements of the kind that are quoted from Atlas Shrugged. It is either or, not both.

  12. JasonStotts

    Oilboy,

    That is a very good point.

    ~Jason

  13. Tod

    Jason,

    The comment on your comment was unjust. Thanks for posting it; I would never have known otherwise.

    This whole drawing of lines thing is absurd, considering what this debate is really about. I see no reason why your comment was so intolerable.

  14. Katrina

    Hi Jason,

    I think you may be right about it just being academic style in McCaskey’s review. At least it’s definitely a reasonable possibility. Also in light of Harriman’s public statement posted on Noodlefood, there is no question in my mind as to who is the slimier. I never thought I’d see a top figure at ARI try to blanketly discredit someone for having something nice to say about a philosopher who had something nice to say about Kant on occasion. That makes my skin crawl.

    K

  15. Erosophia

    […] and I want to reiterate my support of McCaskey through this.  I maintain, as I did in “On The Newest Schism” […]

  16. Anon

    The only thing that’s just here are Tore’s comments. If anything, McCaskey writes like the State Science Institute and that alone should make you question his method of thinking and writing. Why don’t you go back to writing about how to make whoopie and leave the real thinkers be.

  17. JasonStotts

    Anon,

    It is easy to hide behind the mask of anonymity and make arbitrary assertions. I think that you do not understand how academics write and argue with other intellectuals as if you did, you would recognize McCaskey’s style of writing as polite academic doubt. McCaskey, of course, is a Standford PhD and that style of writing is very much the norm there and in academia.

    Further, I don’t appreciate your ad hominem against me, asserting that I am not a real thinker because I write about “whoopie.” If you do not understand the importance of love and sex in happiness and a good human life, then I pity you, as you shall live a sad existence.

    ~Jason

    P.S. Why are you even worried about this dead issue? It’s over, the damage is done, the schism has happened.