Caveat Emptor, or Watch Your Blood Pressure!

M. Kendig
published in General Semantics Bulletin #10, 1953

Copyright © 1953 Institute of General Semantics. The author hereby grants permission to use this article in electronic form only, in part or in whole, to any person or institution for educational purposes, provided no charge is made for such use.

Debunking is still pretty intriguing stuff and sooner or later anyone who talks General Semantics or Korzybski is likely to be confronted with Chapter 23 of In the Name of Science (New York: Putnam, 1952, $4.00). The author, Martin Gardner, is a 'free-lancing fiction writer [see Esquire] who also writes articles of a philosophic nature' (see Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, etc.). He thinks of himself, and here I quote no less an authority than Mr. Gardner, 'primarily as a journalist and not a professional scholar in any sense.' This modesty does not interfere with his speaking in the name of science and with greater certainty than any modern scientist I know of. Mr. Gardner is a product of the University of Chicago, where he majored in Philosophy and later had one course with Carnap; he does not hesitate to 'ex cathedralize' on any philosophical and logical problem.

The publishers describe Mr. Gardner's book as 'an entertaining survey of the high priests and cultists of science, past and present.' Because several Members asked about it, I have read Chapter 23 several times. Mr. Gardner appears to be a gifted writer. He reports with gusto opinions about opinions about opinions and gossips about gossip (some have called them 'malicious distortions'). His biases and sources are easily spotted if one 'knows the field.' Correcting errors of fact is a simple business. Disentangling this potpourri of fact, fable and fallacy would take some weeks. Analysis would fill a volume. And to what purpose? We are up against 'the perpetuation of error' in print. When, if ever, has the tortoise of facts overtaken the hare? I, for one, doubt that we need to defend Korzybski at this late date.

I content myself with the statement that Gardner's interpretations and most of his data about Korzybski are as far from accurate as his obvious error in citing page 800 of Science and Sanity for a quote which is not within 500 pages thereof. [Ed. Note: the quote mentioned by Gardner is on page 200 of Science and Sanity, in fact.]

In the University of Chicago Magazine for February 1953 one may study Mr. Gardner's photograph and the article about him by Don Morris entitled 'The Shoebox Scholar.' This may or may not reduce one's blood pressure.