Losing an argument about a book review on the internet? Make insanely strong jurisprudential commitments.

Brian reveals this bizarre situation with some J.D./Ph.D. in philosophy law professor who managed to publish a book about the ethics of gene patents that, apparently, relies on a bunch of bogus legal claims for the proposition that gene patents have all these horrible consequences. To which I say “whev.” I learned my wrongness-of-genetic-patenting from James Boyle’s Shamans, Software, and Spleens, and that’s what kids today ought to learn it from too. Them young whippersnappers with their new gene patent books. Seriously, though, I thought the condemnation in the review seemed a little overwrought (to get away with that level of reviewer rage, you really have to be super-comprehensive about the book as a whole, or it just looks like you’re cherry-picking errors… but I haven’t read the book, so maybe the rest is worse). But the guy who wrote the book has now responded… imprudently… over the internet.

What’s interesting about the response is the sheer desperation of some of the arguments the author uses. Desperation in two sense. First, there’s the non sequitur. Here’s an example of this: the author responds to a different review, by a libertarian, by denying that the review reflects libertarian ideology. The libertarian replies with citations to Cato and Rand in support of his position. At which point the author changes the subject and scolds the libertarian for relying on Cato and Rand rather than coming up with his own ideas.

But my very favorite is in response to the scathing academic review. It starts with a casual accusation of conflict of interest. And then, when the reviewer comments to explain that he isn’t in the pay of the biotech industry, out comes this:

Great to hear from you. Glad you have no known conflicts, but you still mischaracterize the nature of legal disputes when you claim that I am wrong about the law. Lots of lawyers have written their legal arguments opposing yours, and I agree with their interpretations. We shall see how the courts decide. I’ll be curious to see how the Prometheus/Mayo case comes down, won’t you?

I didn’t intend to write another boring legal brief like yours, nor to make the claim that you are wrong about the law either. I can write that brief, though, and point out in lengthy detail why my interpretation of the law is better, more true to the spirit of the Patent Act, etc., Would that be better? My point is, in doing so, I’d simply point out further that yours is not a book review, but a legal argument, which still misses the essential point of my book. I suppose you really just don’t get my ethical and ontological arguments, though, which is a shame since they break new ground in this debate.

I left the practice of law partly because of sharp practice by lawyers (a term denoting lawyers who like to play dirty) even though I was quite successful as an appellate lawyer (I was batting well over .750)

Anyway, I think you were out of your league in reviewing a work on philosophy, just as you no doubt want others to think I was out of my league in discussing (though not relying on) the law in my book.

Look at that first paragraph again. “you still mischaracterize the nature of legal disputes when you claim that I am wrong about the law.” Is he really going super-crit on us and claiming that it’s impossible to be wrong in a legal dispute? That’s even more striking than the horrifying dismissal of a reviewer as “out of your league.”

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2 Responses to “Losing an argument about a book review on the internet? Make insanely strong jurisprudential commitments.”

  1. Matt Says:

    I learned my wrongness-of-genetic-patenting from James Boyle’s Shamans, Software, and Spleens,

    Is that book any good? In Alvin Goldman’s great _Knowledge in a Social World_ he strongly implied that it was deeply confused nonsense, and the only things I’ve read from Boyle is some quite deeply confused and poorly done legal “philosophy”. I suppose there might be some value in it, but it would surprise me. What’s good about it?

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Matt, it’s been a good decade since I read it — I remember liking it at the time, but I was much more clueless a decade ago than I am now, so can’t vouch for what 2009-Paul would say about it.

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