Welcome to our articles section. The articles below either have been written specifically for ButterfliesandWheels or are appearing here having been published elsewhere previously.

If you’re interested in writing an article for ButterfliesandWheels, please click here for our information for contributors page.

‘Arrogance’ and Knowledge

Jul 15th, 2004 | By Brian Leiter

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative religious organization, delivers what could be the signature line for our backwards times in America:

There’s an arrogance in the scientific community that they know better than the average American.

In fact, of course, scientists do know quite a bit better than the “average American” about the matters for which their scientific expertise equips them. Those with knowledge, surprisingly, know more than those who are ignorant. Is that arrogance?

As Chris Mooney remarked, “science is not a democracy,” and in a democratic culture, that inevitably becomes a cause of resentment, as Ms. Lafferty’s comment attests. This resentment of competence was first made vivid to me when I appeared … Read the rest

Lesson Plans

Jul 8th, 2004 | By Daniel Green

Although Elaine Showalter’s Teaching Literature is clearly intended to be read primarily by graduate students or instructors just beginning their teaching careers, one can also read the book, against the grain of the author’s own rhetorical goals, perhaps, as a guide for the academic outlander to the curious practices of that disciplinary subculture responsible for what still passes as literary study. Those who retain an image of the English professor as a high-minded if pedantic guardian of the treasures of Literature will find provided here what amounts to the finishing touches on the recast image the profession has been working on for at least twenty years. Just as high-minded but in a more earnest, socially-conscious way, even more firmly attached … Read the rest

Machiavellian Monkeys

Jul 5th, 2004 | By Carl Zimmer

Our brains are huge, particularly if you take into consideration the relative size of our bodies. Generally, the proportion of brain to body is pretty tight among mammals. But the human brain is seven times bigger than what you’d predict from the size of our body. Six million years ago, hominid brains were about a third the size they are today, comparable to a chimp’s. So what accounts for the big boom? It would be flattering ourselves to say that the cause was something we are proud of–our ability to talk, or our gifts with tools. Certainly, our brains show signs of being adapted for these sorts of things (consider the language gene FOXP2). But those adaptations probably were … Read the rest

The Respect Coalition – Reactionaries in Progressive Clothing?

Jun 26th, 2004 | By Phil Doré

The European and local elections of June 2004 saw the emergence of a new political party in the United Kingdom; called Respect, it presented itself as a new force in British politics, driving a progressive agenda. However, there are contradictions within this agenda, and in its practices, which threaten to turn it into a reactionary party rather than a progressive one.

Respect, or to give it its full title, Respect – The Unity Coalition, was formed on the 1st February 2004. It was set up both to replace the Socialist Alliance (although it was stated that Respect’s position was not explicitly socialist), and also to transform the Stop the War Coalition into a political party – thus taking protest against … Read the rest

Presentism Defended: Part 2

Jun 24th, 2004 | By Christopher Orlet

John Milton, who in his Paradise Lost selflessly gave the world the image of hell as a lake of fire, was also the 17th century’s greatest proponent of freedom of speech: as long as you were a Puritan (like Milton) or an Anglican (like the king) you should be able to say anything you like–as long as you did not attack Puritanism or the Anglican Church. Catholics, on the other hand, were but the puppets of a Satanic pope, disloyal British subjects who therefore should be allowed no such rights. John Locke, another Puritan and one who greatly influenced the founders of the American republic, held similar views.

This is all mildly interesting from an historical point of view, but … Read the rest

The Stop the War Coalition: A Monumentally Successful Failure

May 25th, 2004 | By Phil Doré

Around the time of the huge demonstrations of February 15 th 2003, the Stop the War Coalition had emerged as one of the biggest protest movements in British history, yet it failed to achieve its goal of preventing war in Iraq. Moreover, within weeks of the February protests, the STWC had gone into decline with startling rapidity. Its core activists were unable to capitalise on the huge groundswell of support they had received prior to the war in Iraq , and it was to become dogged by poor leadership and vulnerable to hijack by political and religious extremists.

The Stop the War Coalition had been formed on September 21 st 2001 in London , in the wake of the September … Read the rest

Calling India’s Freethinkers

May 24th, 2004 | By Meera Nanda

[Note: Murli Manohar Joshi was the minister of Human Resource Development and Science and Technology under the BJP government. He led the campaign to Hinduize education in public schools and universities. He was the architect of the Vedic astrology programs introduced in Indian colleges and universities in 2001.]

Murli Manohar Joshi has learned the hard way that astrology does not work after all. The will of the Indian voters has overturned the alignment of auspicious stars in the astrological charts of the BJP, just as it has defied the numerology of the pollsters.

Indian voters have thrown out the obscurantist-in-chief and the party he represented. Even though most of the 370-million-strong voters did not consciously set out to punish the … Read the rest

Proof of Astrology?

May 22nd, 2004 | By Ivan W. Kelly

The British astronomer Percy Seymour has recently published a new book entitled The Scientific Proof of Astrology (2004). Two reviews of the book were published in the mainline press—Ian Sample’s “Written in the Stars” (The Guardian, May 18, 2004), and Johnathan Leake’s “Top Scientist Gives Backing to Astrology” (Sunday Times, May 16, 2004). Both articles are misleading in some ways in which they present the information.
For a start, Seymour’s recent ideas aren’t overly different from those he published in Astrology: The Evidence of Science (1988), revised edition (1990), and The Scientific Basis of Astrology (1997). Seymour is not interested in star -sign horoscopes so popular with much of the astrological community. You will also look … Read the rest

Myths, Damned Myths, and Psychoanalytic Case Histories

May 5th, 2004 | By Allen Esterson

Allen Esterson comments on Melvyn Bragg’s radio programme on hysteria, “In Our Time”, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 22 April 2004.

Melvyn Bragg, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s long-running weekly series “In Our Time”, has an impressive record of encouraging practising scientists to make even abstruse scientific topics accessible to the radio-listening public. But when it comes to Freud and psychoanalysis it’s a different story. Whereas scientists are questioned closely about the origins of the ideas in their field, Bragg’s chosen experts on Freud (ne’er a dissenter among them) are given a free run to propagate their faith to the listeners, and manifest errors and dubious assertions are rarely challenged.

On 22 April 2004 the chosen topic was “hysteria”, and … Read the rest

Freud Returns?

May 3rd, 2004 | By Allen Esterson

The May 2004 issue of Scientific American carries an article on Freud and some recent research in neuroscience with the title “Freud Returns”. Below are some comments on the article by Allen Esterson.

I never cease to be astonished at the confidence with which erroneous assertions about Freud are made in articles such as “Freud Returns” in the May 2004 issue of Scientific American, written by Mark Solms, psychoanalyst and neuroscientist. For instance, Solms writes: “When Freud introduced the central notion that most mental processes that determine our everyday thoughts, feelings and volitions occur unconsciously, his contemporaries rejected it as impossible.” This piece of psychoanalytic mythology has been shown to be false by historians of psychology since the 1960s and … Read the rest

Saving the Seed or Saving Romantic Assumptions

Apr 19th, 2004 | By Thomas R. DeGregori

Modern agriculture is increasingly being used as an all encompassing category of evil by critics of globalization and transgenic (genetically modified) food crops, and by street protestors and their mentors and organizers. Implicit in the protest rhetoric is a dichotomy between modern agronomy (assumed to be large corporate enterprises either farming or selling to farmers) and small self-sufficient farmers, who replant their own seeds from year-to-year and have little or no reliance on the market for inputs.

The difference between the two presumed types of agriculture could not be more stark in the minds of the believers. The enemy is the monopolistic seed corporations and industrial farms that are mechanized, use purchased inputs including synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, and … Read the rest

The State of the State of Feminism

Mar 24th, 2004 | By Cassandra L. Pinnick

Martha C. Nussbaum’s new book, “Sex and Social Justice,” makes a case for liberal feminism.

More than a generation ago, women’s rights established a foothold in U.S. politics. Women’s rights included primarily, though not exclusively, a concern for equal treatment under the law; this in turn focused down to two areas of central concern: equality in access to educational opportunity and equality in compensational structure and career opportunities.

Persons, male as well as female, who supported and campaigned for women’s rights were, and are, feminists. There are few persons today who would openly oppose the general principles of equality that drive feminism.

Feminist political theory has since developed apace. Feminists who believe in the power of legislative and case law … Read the rest

Bonfire of the Bourgeois Vanities

Mar 2nd, 2004 | By David Stanway

In China, people of a certain generation will tell you stories about an era that might as well be a millenium ago. There are thousands of children, amassed in Shanghai’s train station, waiting for the beginning of what feels to them to be a big and important adventure. Their parents are weeping, watching their children bound towards the carriages on their way to the countryside, where – as part of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution – they will spend their formative years learning from the peasants.

The kids who participated in this vast exodus are now in their forties and fifties, and most complain of the gap in their education and the wasted decade lasting from 1966 to the death … Read the rest

A Defense of Whig History

Feb 28th, 2004 | By Christopher Orlet

Not long ago the television show Biography aired a documentary on the life of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. Midway through the film came the obligatory two minutes concerning Ford’s anti-Semitic rantings, his Nazi medal, and his anti-Jewish newspaper The Dearborn Independent. When it came time to put Ford’s anti-Semitism into perspective, the film-makers explained that Ford’s views were part and parcel of growing up on a Reconstruction-era farm in southeast Michigan, and as such the great man was no different than anyone else of his time and place. The film-makers didn’t go into the reasons why the good folks of southeast Michigan should be naturally anti-Semitic. There were after all no Jews to speak of in … Read the rest

Green Myth vs. the Green Revolution

Feb 5th, 2004 | By Thomas R. DeGregori

The Underlying Belief System

Gail Omvedt speaks of a “a distorted image of farmers held by a section of the urban elite” in India as well as in developed countries. This mythic image:

depicts them romantically but demeaningly as backward, tradition-loving, innocent and helpless creatures carrying on their occupation for love of the land and the soil, and as practitioners of a “way of life” rather than a toilsome income-earning occupation. These imagined farmers have to be protected from market forces and the attacks of multinationals, from the seductions of commercialization and the enslavement of technologies (Omvedt 1998).

Modern agriculture and the food supply it provides, along with modern medicine and the pharmaceuticals and technological devices it uses and the … Read the rest

Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India

Feb 2nd, 2004 | By Robert Nola

Meera Nanda’s book Prophets Facing Backward is an extraordinary and compelling book. Few in the West are aware of the alarming confluence of ideas arising out of the contemporary nationalistic politics of India with its endorsement of ‘Vedic science’ and the dominant postmodernist, social constructivist and sociological trends in science studies in the West. Nanda’s book is an intellectual bombshell dropped on this potent combination. No one interested in the ways in which science and culture can interact should ignore this book and the challenging case it makes against the prevailing orthodoxies of much that passes for Western science ‘studies’. It should serve for years to come as a reference point for what can go wrong in science studies when … Read the rest

Saffron Infusion: Hindutva, History, and Education

Feb 1st, 2004 | By Latha Menon


On 5 January, 2004, the renowned Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune was vandalized by some 150 thugs. Priceless manuscripts and artefacts were destroyed. Those responsible declared themselves to be members of the ‘Sambhaji Brigade’, linked to the Maratha Seva Sangh, a regional organization with anti-Brahmin sentiments. They apparently chose this method to protest against allegedly insulting remarks made against their hero, Shivaji, in a recently published book by the American historian James W. Laine.

The link with the Institute was somewhat indirect: Laine had acknowledged the help of several academics at Bhandarkar with the translation of certain manuscripts. The book concerned, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, has been withdrawn by Oxford University Press, and the author has … Read the rest

Fundamental Epistemology

Jan 22nd, 2004 | By Cassandra L. Pinnick

"A more fundamental project now confronts us. We must root out sexist distortions and perversions in epistemology, metaphysics, methodology and the philosophy of science-in the “hard core” of abstract reasoning thought most immune to infiltration by social values."
Discovering Reality, Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka (1983)

Until roughly the mid-twentieth century, liberal feminist politics had little apparent impact on American universities. But thereafter the transformation was swift. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, student demographics shifted, women’s studies flourished, and remarkable reforms to the liberal arts curriculum became entrenched. There was no surprise when feminist theory moved into the humanities or the “soft” sciences. And, these days, the radical edge is worn off the idea of … Read the rest

Postmodernism, Hindu nationalism and `Vedic Science’

Jan 12th, 2004 | By Meera Nanda

Postcolonialism and the myth of Hindu “renaissance”

The roots of “Vedic science” can be traced to the so-called Bengal Renaissance, which in turn was deeply influenced by the Orientalist constructions of Vedic antiquity as the “Golden Age” of Hinduism. Heavily influenced by German idealism and British romanticism, important Orientalists including H.T. Colebrooke, Max Mueller and Paul Deussen tended to locate the central core of Hindu thought in the Vedas, the Upanishads and, above all, in the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Shankara. Despite the deeply anti-rational and idealistic (that is, anti-naturalistic) elements of Advaita Vedanta, key Hindu nationalist reformers – from Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee to Swami Vivekananda – began to find in it all the elements … Read the rest

Postmodernism, Hindu Nationalism and ‘Vedic Science’

Jan 4th, 2004 | By Meera Nanda

The Vedas as books of science

In 1996, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) of the United Kingdom (U.K.) produced a slick looking book, with many well-produced pictures of colourfully dressed men and women performing Hindu ceremonies, accompanied with warm, fuzzy and completely sanitised description of the faith. The book, Explaining Hindu Dharma: A Guide for Teachers, offers “teaching suggestions for introducing Hindu ideas and topics in the classroom” at the middle to high school level in the British schools system. The authors and editors are all card-carrying members of the VHP. The book is now in its second edition and, going by the glowing reviews on the back-cover, it seems to have established itself as a much-used educational resource in … Read the rest