Editor's Response

Dear Dr. Accardo:

Thank you for submitting your “Reader Reaction” to articles by Danforth (2000) and Gelb (2000) published in the August 2000 issue of Mental Retardation. Before I made an editorial decision on your manuscript, I wanted to consult with two scholars who are knowledgeable about history and philosophy. Their evaluations were consistent with my own reaction, which is summarized herein. In addition, although my decision regarding your reader reaction is my own, I also asked Danforth and Gelb for their assessments of whether they could respond to your reaction should I accept it for publication. After consulting with them, I concluded that it would be difficult for them to reply to your reaction.

Your reader reaction creates a dilemma for me. On the one hand, I welcome responses to articles published in the Journal, and have accepted for publication commentaries representing different ideologies, disciplines, and philosophies. On the other hand, in my opinion, the tone and line of argument in your reader reaction are inconsistent with common standards for scholarly discussion and debate.

Your reader response adds little, if anything, to the exchange of opinions between Danforth and Gelb. Gelb (2000) provided a critique of the radical relativism of postmodernism and argued that Foucault's analysis is limiting and problematic. You repeat some of these same points.

What I find most troubling about your reader reaction is your rhetorical excess, with lapses into name-calling (“fascist academics,” “anti-Semitic collaborators,” “bloodsuckers”) and gratuitous associations of the contributors to the Journal with the Nazi movement, “discarded psychoanalysis,” and “discredited Marxism.” This kind of rhetoric has no place in research or scholarly journals.

Your own review of intellectual history is, at best, superficial and, at worst, muddled and selective. Many scholars and philosophers can rightly be criticized for their collaboration with the Nazis or for providing an ideological underpinning for the Nazi movement. Heidegger certainly falls into this category. Yet, as an historian who reviewed your response pointed out, Heidegger was more closely associated with existentialism than what has become known as postmodernism, and the existential strand of philosophy also produced vigorous resistance to Nazi ideology during World War II (e.g., Camus, Sartre). If we were to eliminate from journals in our field areas of inquiry that might have real or imagined parallels with ideas that were popular in Nazi Germany, we would be deprived of potentially important research and scholarship:

  1. There was intense interest in genetic research in America around the turn of the last century (Smith, 1985), and the Nazis cited American research in their rationalizations of the Holocaust (Pernick, 1996). Should we, therefore, brand as a Nazi any scientist today who attempts to use genetic research to benefit humanity? I think not.

  2. Medical doctors played a prominent role in the Holocaust (Nyiszli, 1993; Wertham, 1978) and were involved in horrific biomedical experiments conducted on human beings (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1978). Does this mean that we should condemn all biomedical research? I think not.

  3. Henry Goddard was linked to both the eugenics movement in America and the development of standardized intelligence tests (Gould, 1981). Goddard's research was cited by the Nazis to support their own eugenics programs. Should we ban the work of psychometricians from our journals? I think not.

  4. Conditions in America's institutions during the 1960s and 1970s have been compared to Nazi concentration camps (Blatt, 2000). Should we treat people who worked at institutions during this era as Nazi war criminals? I think not.

  5. Both the American eugenicists and the Nazis sought to limit or prevent sexual relations and reproduction among persons regarded as “defective” (Pernick, 1996). Should we cast aspersions on the motivations of anyone concerned about people with mental retardation becoming parents? I think not.

It is neither fair nor intellectually honest for you to associate Nazism, anti-Semitism, and fascism with the articles published in the Journal without referencing a single statement by either author that indicates the faintest support for these sentiments.

As I pointed out in my editorial introduction to the exchange between Danforth and Gelb (Taylor, 2000), postmodernism is hotly debated in the social sciences and humanities. The selective references in your reader reaction confirm this point. Your belief that postmodernism has been rejected or discarded in the social sciences and humanities is simply wrong. One need only skim articles, editorials, and announcements of new books and forthcoming events in The Chronicle of Higher Education to know that you are mistaken. Readers of the Journal do not need to be shielded from the serious discussions and debates occurring in other areas of scholarly inquiry.

I will continue to be open to publishing articles and commentaries based on any legitimate form of research and scholarship, as judged by accepted work in diverse academic disciplines and as reflected in contributions to The Chronicle of Higher Education. I stand by my decision to publish the exchange of opinions on postmodernism.

Although your reader reaction does not meet common standards for well-reasoned scholarly debate, in my opinion, I am accepting your reaction and cover letter for publication. I generally err on the side of being open to diverse perspectives, whether or not I agree with them or they suit my taste.

References

References
Blatt
,
B.
2000
.
The family papers: A return to purgatory.
In S. J. Taylor & S. D. Blatt (Eds.), In search of the promised land: The collected papers of Burton Blatt (pp. 23–27). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation
.
Danforth
,
S.
2000
.
What can the field of developmental disabilities learn from Michel Foucault?
Mental Retardation
38
:
364
369
.
Gelb
,
S. A.
2000
.
“Be cruel!” Dare we take Foucault seriously?
Mental Retardation
38
:
369
372
.
Gould
,
S. J.
1981
.
The mismeasure of man.
New York: Norton
.
National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research.
1978
.
The Belmont report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research.
Washington, DC: Author.
Nyiszli
,
M.
1993
.
Auschwitz: A doctor's eyewitness account.
New York: Arcade
.
Pernick
,
M. S.
1996
.
The black stork: Eugenics and the death of “defective” babies in American medicine and motion pictures since 1915.
New York: Oxford University Press
.
Smith
,
J. D.
1985
.
Minds made feeble: The myth and legacy of the Kallikaks.
Austin, TX: Pro-Ed
.
Taylor
,
S. J.
2000
.
Introduction to two perspectives on Foucault and postmodernism.
Mental Retardation
38
:
363
.
Wertham
,
F.
1978
.
The German euthanasia program: Excerpts from A sign for Cain: An explanation of human violence.
Cincinnati: Hayes
.