Hate speech is not knowledge

One of my special interests is knowledge production: how do we create knowledge and how is that knowledge then perceived and received? Bear with me, this is not empty waffle, I assure you. Think about it for a moment, how do we know what we know? We can only know what we know when others validate that knowledge in some way. It is in the application of knowledge and in our actions knowledge will reveal itself. Of course I am biased, I have an epistemological standpoint that can roughly be explained thusly: knowledge has to be meaningful in order to make sense. Without sense, there is no genuine knowledge.

Upon reading through Professor Shorter’s work[1,2] it becomes obvious to me that he is a privileged man who speaks from a privileged position of power. The bias shines through via the titles on his publication list and one only needs to read his blog to realise Toronto University apparently has no qualms about harbouring a misogynist to name but one of the problems with colleague Shorter’s work. They are in good company, the list of universities nurturing and enabling male ‘thinkers’ is impressively long, occasionally articles appear in which this fact is critically examined and deplored[3]. In his work I can only detect overly assertive polemics but no genuine questions being asked, especially no questions that would suggest a will to engage in serious, rigorous research. Instead, Professor Shorter ”knows” things, and he is not afraid to share his pearls of wisdom.

Tony Becher and Paul Trowler (2001)[4] describe in detail the intricacies of scientific disciplines and power structures in higher education. In Chapter 8, The Wider Context, it becomes clear that some academics have adjusted fully to ”demands” by the so-called market. They pride themselves on collaborating, for the greater good, with the society they are part of as academics. However, there is a difference between contributing to the greater good in order to arrive at more sustainable knowledge-based solutions and cleverly rendering yourself into the product itself that is sought after and snatched up by some with vested interests (most of the time they can easily be summed up as accumulation of more privilege and power), never mind how flawed or biased the work to the detriment of others. Of course one could argue that in some way, this is the ultimate collaboration in market-driven universities and societies as a whole: being cynical and selling yourself, live the good life and never be too concerned about ethics or rigorous research.

I am opinionated, too. In my opinion, what I have just described does not count as knowledge as it is meaningless and makes no sense to anyone but the likes of Professor Shorter and those who equally benefit from his work, say, certain members of the medical profession who see fit to harass and ridicule ill people or journalists who all too often jump on the bandwagon of scapegoating the sick and disabled. There are weightier aspects to such practices, too, for instance authorities picking up on the ridicule and incorporating it in their routines, gradually firmly institutionalising that ridicule at the expense of people who cannot work due to not being able to ‘snap out’ of the state of hysteria or other malaises of whose existence Professor Shorter et al are so certain. I suggest the creation of a perpetual state of misinformation and misrepresentation of reality is, in other words, deliberate. It is important to note in this context that universities have a long, dark history of aiding and abetting oppression, be that by barring women from entering higher education altogether until rather recently (historically speaking) or be that by bestowing privileges to certain professions, the medical one in particular, for hundreds of years and endorsing sinister scientific experiments (cf Husu, Lisa,)[5]

What is knowledge for, I have asked initially. Knowledge ought to be created and used to make sense of the complexities and perplexities we are confronted with, and to be able to ask better questions. Hate speech, regardless of it being wrapped nicely in academic terms and witticisms, is not knowledge. Academics ought to be held to a high ethical standard and they should be made to critically examine their positions of privilege and power instead of accumulating privilege by abusing the positions of power they have reached. Many academics do exactly that but they are not the ones journalists tend to turn to for input. As for television they are not the self-aggrandising personalities who have audiences in stitches. They don’t make for good entertainment as they so disappointingly refuse to deliver stirring soundbites. They may be a tad dreary in their well considered answers. To be knowledgeable, however, is to be ‘vague’ on occasion, it is to doubt and to listen to others because they, too, might have something of value to contribute.

To contribute, on the other hand, to a societal climate in which soundbites are (willingly) confused with knowledge is shameless and unworthy of a rigorous, responsible academic and the institution he represents. The role of Psychology Today in propagating hate speech should not be ignored or underestimated*.

*Professor Shorter appears to have breached several of Psychology Today’s rules regarding terms of use on their website. From their Rules of Conduct: 2 (a) Posting Rules, i) ‘Materials you post to the Site may not contain: (5) anything that is sexually explicit, obscene, libelous, defamatory, threatening, harassing, abusive, or hateful; or (6) anything that is embarrassing or offensive to another person, group or entity’, ii) ‘You may not use your Materials to: (2) post false, inaccurate or misleading information’. Having arguably broken all of those rules we can only hope that Shorter’s recent diatribes will be his last.

1) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-everyone-became-depressed/201502/chronic-fatigue-syndrome-is-back

2) http://www.freezepage.com/1424484834CZFJDNHSFV (accessed 26/02/2015)

3) http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/unfortunately-academic-sexism-is-alive-and-well-8667136.html (accessed 26/02/2015)

4) Becher, T., Trowler, P (2001) Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines. Open University Press.

5) Husu, L (2001). Sexism, Support and Survival in Academia: Academic women and hidden discrimination in Finland. Department of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.

26 thoughts on “Hate speech is not knowledge

  1. Catherine Hale (@octoberpoppy)

    A great post that echoed some of the thoughts I had reading Shorter’s article in Psychology Today. Shorter stands in a long line of armchair theorists who construct knowledge about the Other. Previously it was Women and Negroes who were said, by white bourgeois men, to be passionate and irrational. Now it’s ME patients. The time will come when social science students dissect the likes of Shorter as classic examples of colonialist oppression

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Pingback: Hate speech is not knowledge | Carole...

  3. Karl

    This is fantastic.Thank you for such a brilliant article.

    When I read Mr Shorter’s article I instantly recognised it as hate speech against the many disabled, sick and vulnerable people suffering with this terrible disease. I knew that his article would be taken down and It was, within just a few hours. After receiving many comments from sufferers and medical proffesonals of which all were in shock and disbelief.

    His second article was similiar in its ridiculousness and lack of any substance.It completely ignored any real scientific studies or evidence but the name calling and shameless mocking of sufferers and vitriol was toned down. What is amusing is how he can completely contradict himself on his main core argument.

    This a quote from him in his first article:

    ” There have been no convincing new studies, no breakthrough findings of organicity, nothing. And there never will be.”

    And here is a quote from the second that he wrote the next day after having the first one removed:

    “It is, of course, possible that some unknown disease will be discovered to explain the symptoms of ME/CFS..”

    I really think this man needs to lose his job. He shouldn’t be educating and warping minds and I really think the Institute of medicine should take action towards him for libel and slander for claiming that they were somehow pressured into coming up with there findings by “militant woebegone victims” rather than the vast number of studies and research that they looked at.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Thank you so much, Karl. A very good point regarding the IOM. It would be good if they could respond as Professor Shorter’s comment on that particular issue was outrageous in its stupidity. I do not understand Psychology Today and other media outlets that keep on enabling the likes of Professor Shorter.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. admindxrw

    I have written elsewhere that this was a nasty and grossly unprofessional attack on a patient group. I understand that Prof Stephen Holgate has been advised and that complaints have been lodged with Prof Shorter’s university. I should also like to see the IOM panel chair issue a public statement in response to this (since pulled) opinion piece.

    Over 700 blogs are hosted on the Psychology Today platform. These blogs sit outside the Psychology Today magazine’s print edition and online edition.

    The blogs are marketed to therapists and psychology and allied professionals as a means of generating clients and referrals for their practices, for promoting their books, CDs, videos, therapy packages and training materials etc, to provide an extension to their websites, increase their SEO, or provide those without websites an internet platform. Bloggers are self-publishing – they are responsible for uploading their own content and managing their admin pages.

    Psychology Today does not have editorial control over blogger content and includes disclaimers within its Term of Use, including:

    “c) You are solely responsible for the content of any posting you make to the Site and any consequences arising from such posting. We assume no responsibility for materials posted by our users or any other actions, conduct or omissions of our users. We act as a service provider for users to distribute and publish their materials. We do not undertake responsibility for screening or monitoring our users’ materials.”

    But I imagine that PT’s bloggers (as well as members of the public who comment on blogs or articles) are also subject to Psychology Today’s Rules of Conduct 2 (a) Posting Rules and 2 (b) Conduct Rules:


    It appears that Prof Shorter likes to lob grenades, then duck. The first commentary garnered around 80 comments before it was taken down, but Prof Shorter chose not to respond to his critics. Nor has he responded via his Twitter account. The comment facility for the second post, (which he calls “Part II”), appears to have been closed after 37 comments.

    Suzy Chapman, Dx Revision Watch

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Hi Suzy,

      Thank you for your comment and all the information you provided, which is very interesting. It would be good if professor Shorter did suffer some consequences from his employers for such an unpleasant pair of articles but I suppose that’s unlikely as no doubt his university will appreciate the publicity, however bad. I’m surprised that Psychology Today allows itself to be used in such a way, though having read their terms of use he’s clearly broken several of their Rules of Conduct 2 (a) Posting Rules, i) ‘Materials you post to the Site may not contain: (5) anything that is sexually explicit, obscene, libelous, defamatory, threatening, harassing, abusive, or hateful; or (6) anything that is embarrassing or offensive to another person, group or entity’, ii) ‘You may not use your Materials to: (2) post false, inaccurate or misleading information’. His failure to respond to any of the comments is cowardly but I’d expect nothing else from someone who could write such malicious articles about a group of severely ill people.

      Kind regards,

      Claudia and Geoff

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Shirley

    Thank you for this, well done Utting Wolf! Any hate filled misogynist such as Mr. Shorter has no business teaching young people in any school or department. What is he going to teach them? How to have no compasssion for ill patients, only hate and ridicule? Writing books that customers can buy or not, but University of Toronto should not allow this predator to influence young psychiatrists to be, or anybody for that matter. I can’t imagine the damage he can do for patients like us with ME, year after year teaching students how to ridicule and demean others. I know I’m repeating myself but he does need to be stopped.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Findlow

      I assume Coyne’s use of “honoured” and “friend” is ironic, given his opposition to PACE and attempts to get the data released.

      I hadn’t heard of Edward Shorter, and my life has been the better for it! In my humble opinion the man sounds like a bully and an idiot, dressing up his bullying and idiocy in clever words. Crazy that people like this get paid for their nonsense.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nixie

    Coyne’s act of handing a prominent platform to such a virulent long term ME-Denier as Edward Shorter does not register as an act of friendliness to ME patients. Coyne’s Blog has something of a high profile; to give the stage to Shorter is positively playing with fire, a fire of disinformation about ME, and denigration of the patients.

    WHY would Coyne wish to draw attention to Shorter, and his views on psychosomatosis at such a critical time for ME sufferers?
    Shorter has a very long history of denigration of ME patients. He is regularly quoted by academics who wish to keep ME research in the Stone Age.

    There are a great many candidates who Coyne COULD have invited to thoughtfully critique and refute Suzanne O’Sullivan’s Literary construction of psychosomatosis. Why did he choose invite a candidates who actually does fervently believe in psychosomatosis, AND fervently believes that ME is psychosomatic, or a cultural hysteria, or mass hysteria etc etc.

    An ironic act on the part of Coyne? I don’t think so.

    O’Sullivan’s book ‘All in your head is still getting inordinate UK press coverage to the point of media gushing, publicity which will continue through the summer via Literature Festivals, and is so massively damaging to ME patients, putting back public awareness of the disease by decades.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Nixie

    James Coyne is NOT essential to the legal and other challenges to the PACE Trial. The FOI (on which which the QMUL Appeal has just been heard) was placed by Alem Mathees, nothing to do with Coyne at all. Likewise, Coyne is not involved with, is not a Signatory to, the High profile Letter to the Lancet and QMUL signed by 42 scientists and doctors, which insists on a reassessment of PACE. .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Thank you, Nixie. For those who have not read about the latest appeal, we have reblogged Valerie Eliot Smith’s (a barrister). She gives a detailed account of the QMUL Appeal in her meticulously researched blog posts. We have said for months that Coyne appears to be a liability rather than an asset. When your ‘ally’ invites proponents of the wandering womb, there is is nothing ironic about it. It is a signal to beat a hasty retreat.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Tiny dragon

    “In his work I can only detect overly assertive polemics but no genuine questions being asked, especially no questions that would suggest a will to engage in serious, rigorous research.” This is my strong impression of his approach as well, and I’m confused as to why he is not receiving more critique from fellow academics. There is a good takedown of some of his writing, which clearly shows his sexism and poor understanding of some basic history, here: http://beverlyakerman.blogspot.com/2012/03/rebutting-sorry-edward-shorters-piece.html. The comments from a couple of former students and colleagues bending over backwards to defend him are bizarre.

    Also was wondering if you’d seen this piece? https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-everyone-became-depressed/201502/depression-role-women. It is flat-out misogynistic:
    “What so many young women have is a diffuse kind of non-melancholia in which they are characteristically anxious, tired much of the time, report all kinds of bodily symptoms, and tend to obsess about it. It was once called “hysteria.” Also “nerves.” How telling that it includes reporting ‘bodily symptoms’ – I think this really gives some background to his approach to our disease. And note that he doesn’t in any way say there was once a conception of hysteria, now debunked, but just that this condition women still have was once known as that. Horrible stuff.


    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Thank you. It is the piece you are referencing to which I had responded in the first place. It is a total disgrace that Shorter is allowed to carry on and, to add insult to injury, invited to speak at the NIH as regards ME. I am beyond disgusted.


      1. Tiny Dragon

        Agree, the NIH invitation and their excuse for it are disgraceful.

        I was aware of the outrage over his ME/CFS article in Psychology Today, but wasn’t sure if the ME/CFS community had seen his piece on depression in women in the same publication. I thought it was worth a look as it unquestionably shows his misogyny, as well his disinterest in medical facts in favour of his own strange, deeply biased theories.

        (Also should mention I left out a ” after “nerves” above, which is where his quote ends. My comment begins again at “How telling…”).

        Liked by 1 person

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