Evidence-based and Evidence-free Generalisations: A Tale of Two Cultures

  • Michael Grant


In this selection, from The Arts and Sciences of Criticism, ed. David Fuller and Patricia Waugh (1999), Tallis contrasts the scholarly procedures of science, and in particular medicine, with those prevalent in those Humanities departments where Theory holds sway. He gives an extremely clear account of the way drugs are tested, eliminating bias and the undue influence of preconception. He then contrasts this degree of rigour with what passes for evidence amongst the masters of Theory, Lacan and Derrida. In his theory of the mirror stage, Lacan simply ignored empirical evidence that challenged his claims, while Derrida’s misrepresentations of figures as various as Plato, Saussure, Peirce, Husserl and E.R. Curtius have of recent years been carefully documented. The practices of these men, and their epigones, amount, in Tallis’s view, to nothing less than a scandal. So why is it that no one seems scandalised? In fact, of course, some writers are scandalised, but their responses to what is going on have been pushed to one side or simply ignored. There is in place what Tallis is not afraid to call ‘institutionalised fraud’. The hard work of exact scholarship and the close critical response to a given text cannot possibly compete with the lure of the ‘big ideas’ and the glamour associated with them. This tendency — always a temptation in literary study — has been reinforced by the need of universities, here and in the USA, to maximise income. Those who will expound ‘big ideas’ are those who get hired, on the expectation that they will prove a bigger draw than those who base their work on scholarship and exact criticism. The consequences of this for genuine thought can be seen in the Sokal Hoax, to which Tallis devotes the last part of the reading.


Literary Study Confirmatory Bias Mirror Stage International Stroke Trial Time High Education Supplement 
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Copyright information

© Raymond Tallis 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutherford CollegeThe University of KentCanterburyUK

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