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Known as “Mad Max” for his unorthodox ideas and passion for adventure, Max Tegmark’s scientific interests range from precision cosmology to the ultimate nature of reality, all explored in his new popular book Our Mathematical Universe. Tegmark is a professor of physics who has published more than two hundred technical papers and been featured in dozens of science documentaries. His work with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey on galaxy clustering shared the first prize in Science magazine’s “Breakthrough of the Year: 2003.” For more information about his work, please visit his MIT website and the Future of Life Institute.
Dr. Nina L. Shapiro is the director of pediatric otolaryngology and a professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. A graduate of Harvard Medical School and Cornell University, Shapiro has been honored with several prestigious awards, including the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology Awards for Clinical and Basic Science Research, the UCLA Head and Neck Surgery Faculty Teaching Award, and the American Academy of Pediatrics Young Investigators Award, among others. In 2008 and 2012–2014, she was named a “Super Doctor” by Los Angeles Magazine; she is a Castle and Connolly 2014 “Top Doctor” and is listed in Who’s Who in America. She has given over 200 national and international scientific lectures, and written over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles, two medical books, and 16 academic book chapters. Dr. Shapiro is an editor of “50 Studies Every Pediatrician Should Know” (Oxford University Press, 2016), and she is working on a book about hype in popular health advice. Her work and expert commentary have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Time, BBC World, Salon, and on NPR.
In recent weeks, Israeli bombs have rained down on Gaza, and images of the resulting death and destruction have inflamed world opinion. Never mind that the government in Gaza is run by Hamas, an avowedly genocidal organization that uses its own civilians as human shields. Nor does it matter that some of this carnage seems to have been caused by Hamas’s own rockets gone astray. To bear witness to the suffering of the Palestinian people is all: the sight of a lifeless girl pulled from the rubble, her inconsolable parents, the spokesman for UNRWA breaking down in sobs during an interview—every image presents its own moral imperative and settles the case. Israel stands convicted of evil.
Version 2.4 (June 21, 2014)
A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions.
A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.
WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?
Imagine that a young, white man has been falsely convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to five years in a maximum-security penitentiary. He has no history of violence and is, understandably, terrified at the prospect of living among murderers and rapists. Hearing the prison gates shut behind him, a lifetime of diverse interests and aspirations collapses to a single point: He must avoid making enemies so that he can serve out his sentence in peace.
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