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Dr. Gasman's Introduction to the Controversy

This article was written in response to Professor Robert J. Richards' [University of Chicago] essay: 'Haeckel's Alleged Anti-Semitism and Contributions to Nazi Biology,' published recently in the journal Biological Theory. [Robert J. Richards, Ernst Haeckel's Alleged Anti-Semitism and Contributions to Nazi Biology, Biological Theory 2 (1) 2007, 97-103.]  

Since Richards' article was wholly intended as a criticism of my writings about the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel and his links to Nazism, one would, under ordinary circumstances, have expected the editor of the Journal, Werner Callebaut to welcome a response on my part. Instead what transpired was a rather lengthy and often acrimonious exchange of letters. Reviewers of my response paid no attention at all to the issues that I had raised about the accuracy of Richards' material and its implication for the history of German anti-Semitism and Nazism, but rather launched lengthy attacks on my work - comments that had not the slightest bearing on the questions that I had raised in regard to Richards' work. It was made clear - in writing - by the editorial board of Biological Theory that they would not publish anything that criticized Professor Richards! Rather, they declared how proud they were of his article and the errors that I had pointed out did not seem to matter to them. Apparently the untenable revisionist claims in Richards' article were too appealing for the editorial board to repudiate even if the material was actually fallacious. The ideal of engaging in an open and free discussion about differences of opinion seems not yet to have entered into the consciousness of the staff of the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Austria, the publisher of the Journal. Given Konrad Lorenz's problematic links to Nazi science during the period of the Third Reich, it would have seemed rather compelling that the Institute would have been anxious to dispel any hint of censorship, not knowingly publish fallacious material nor propagate ideas that seek to undermine or confuse the history of the Holocaust, or sanction writing that distorts the content and meaning of Nazism - but this turned out not to be the case.

Throughout these discussions, and always in the back of my mind, was the reassurance I felt that the ultimate sponsor of the Journal was MIT Press. Surely, I believed, if the editorial board of MIT was apprised of the fact that one of their journals had possibly used false and misleading material, the article would be disavowed, as would be the case for any scientific paper or experiment that was based on tainted or suspect evidence. To my surprise, the managing director of MIT journals, Rebecca McLeod, informed me that history articles could not he held to the same level of accuracy as scientific projects, and that, in any event, she had no voice in what was being published, and declined to get involved in the dispute. As she wrote: 'I am not sure I agree that a dispute over historical data and interpretation could or should be treated in the same way as scientific misconduct.'

With the posting of this article I invite a response from Professors Robert Richards and Werner Callebaut the editor of Biological Theory. I also invite Rebecca McLeod to clarify her position that articles in history do not have to be held to the same standards of accuracy that are ordinarily applied to articles in science. Would she care, perhaps, to reassure the historical community about the reliability of the historical material in MIT journals, especially in the light of her inability to vouch for the accuracy of the claims made in the Richards article.

-Daniel Gasman, October 19, 2007

Daniel E. Gasman, Historian of Science (Nov. 18, 1933 - Dec. 19, 2012)

High Jinx on the Academic Circuit
March 21, 2012

Gasman's Response to Sarton Medal
March 9, 2012

Gasman-Hopwood ISIS Correspondence
Dec. 2010

Gasman's Reply to Hopwood
March 7, 2011

Dr. Gasman's reply to Peter Bowler's reflections on Darwinian Studies
Sept. 27, 2010

Dr. Gasman's Rejoinder to Professor Richards - continued

Daniel Gasman - Second Rejoinder to Professor Robert J. Richards
Oct. 26, 2007    

Daniel Gasman - Third Rejoinder - The Bahr Interview  
Nov. 5, 2007

Daniel Gasman - Review of Richards' New Book on Haeckel
Feb. 24, 2009

Daniel Gasman - Second Review of Richards' New Book on Haeckel
May 14, 2009

Daniel Gasman - From Haeckel to Hitler: The Anatomy of a Controversy
June 10, 2009

Daniel Gasman Bibliography

Daniel Gasman CV

Footnotes

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