Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reportedly Margaret Somerville is at it again in the Globe and Mail, celebrating her scholarship

Ha, an odd weekend this has been. Instead of completing a book chapter that's due next weekend I spent most of the time emptying the basement to prepare it for a major remodelling job. Hard labour probably feels a bit like that.

In any case, over the weekend a whole bunch of people have written to me about Margaret Somerville who seemingly had yet another Somerville-on-soapbox-with-megaphone piece in the Globe and Mail newspaper. An opinion piece in which she reportedly whinges about being judged by others based on her religious convictions and not her ideas.

It is so so tempting, of course, to contact the paper and ask for the opportunity to reply to this utter nonsense. Alas, I have sworn to myself not to read its Opinion pages (I don't access them on the internet either) while it keeps in its employ a columnist who is a known plagiarist. The lack of editorial integrity that goes with such misguided policies should have some consequences, one being my 'don't read, don't contribute' policy.

I'm note saying that the Globe and Mail isn't worth reading. It has many fine journalists and writers working for it, but for better or worse it is seriously tainted by its editorial decision to keep said plagiarist writing for it. You can't take a broadsheet quite seriously that operates like that.

So, I've got to be clear here, I am responding to what has been reported to me about said article (that I won't link to either). Ms Somerville seems essentially to be complaining about people judging her by her religious beliefs and not by her ideas.

Ms Somerville's views are not seriously discussed in bioethics, despite her hard work at selling herself as a bona fide bioethicist in her newspaper and other appearances. She doesn't publish in serious, mainstream bioethics outlets or serious mainstream international academic publishing houses. On her website there is zero evidence that she has any academic qualifications in biomedical ethics. For years she has been marketing herself as the founding director of some bioethics outfit at McGill University. Really Ms Somerville? Bragging about having founded something many years ago as evidence of current-day academic competence?

Despite Ms Somerville's reported protestations (in said article) to the contrary,  this empress is really naked. The reason why virtually nobody seriously engaged academically with her is that there is little academic professional output to engage with. She pontificates mostly in newspapers, and it's always predictably Catholic output. To give you just three examples: Catholic Church: Assisted Dying = bad. Ms Somerville: Assisted Dying = bad. Catholic Church: marriage equality = bad. Ms Somerville: marriage equality = bad. Catholic Church: abortion = bad. Ms Somerville: abortion = bad.

Ms Somerville - to give credit where probably it isn't actually due - has tried hard over the years to cover her Catholic agitprop in bioethics language. Among her favourite covers is 'human dignity'. As far as she is concerned, assisted dying violates human dignity. Human dignity here simply stands for a Catholic understanding of what it is to be human and what it is to live a dignified human life. There's nothing else Ms Somerville has actually to offer. There are no ideas to engage with.

I do encourage you to check out Ms Somerville's Wikipedia entry. It seems to be a hard-fought-over entry. There are ongoing debates about her being turned down as an expert witness by US Courts. The entry tries hard - at the time of writing - to persuade us that Ms Somerville is a serious academic by showing off two article in the first volume of an unknown journal propagating Christian family values. It is all a bit of a joke, to put it mildly. An anti-gay campaign outlet masquerading as an academic journal, not affiliated with any serious international publisher. The Table of Contents downloads as MS Word documents. Hilarity all around here.

Perhaps, Ms Somerville, you would be better off stopping crying in public that nobody takes you quite seriously in the academy. It is you, after all, who has given professionals working in the field that you unjustifiably claim as your own so very little reason to engage you as an intellectual. If I wanted to engage thoughtful Catholic bioethicists, there are plenty of them. We do argue with each other. The key phrase here is that we 'argue'. Ms Somerville doesn't argue, she pontificates.

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