[lbo-talk] Talk At Harvard by Sociobiologist Robert Trivers Canceled Because of Letter to Dershowitz

Jerry Monaco monacojerry at gmail.com
Wed May 30 09:51:32 PDT 2007

Scientist says Harvard canceled talk Letter he sent to Dershowitz cited as possible threat

By Marcella Bombardieri and Brian Ballou, Globe Staff | May 27, 2007

An evolutionary biologist from Rutgers University said he was told that a talk he was scheduled to give at Harvard University Friday was canceled because he compared Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz to a Nazi last week in a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal.

Robert Trivers said he had been invited to speak at Harvard to celebrate a prestigious international award he recently won. He planned to discuss his research on self-deception, including how self-deception factored in Israel's invasion of Lebanon last year.

His letter in the Journal quoted from a missive he had sent directly to Dershowitz: "Regarding your rationalization of Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians, let me just say that if there is a repeat of Israeli butchery toward Lebanon and if you decide once again to rationalize it publicly, look forward to a visit from me. Nazis -- and Nazi-like apologists such as yourself -- need to be confronted directly."

Dershowitz said in a telephone interview yesterday that he had sent Trivers's letter to Harvard police because he regarded it as a threat, but that he knew nothing about Trivers's talk being canceled.

But Trivers told the Globe on Friday that the letter was not a physical threat.

"Under no circumstances would I have threatened him physically," he said. "I would go see him in person."

The talk had been organized by Martin A. Nowak, professor of mathematics and biology at Harvard.

On Friday morning, only hours before the talk, Trivers said Nowak told him that his talk was canceled because he had called a Harvard professor a Nazi.

Nowak did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

"I regard it as a very humiliating, extremely obnoxious experience," Trivers said. "It is very disappointing, it is a stain on Harvard."

Dershowitz, meanwhile, said he did nothing to prevent Trivers's scheduled appearance and doesn't know who canceled it.

But Dershowitz said he was prepared to stage a protest against Trivers if the event had occurred.

"If there was going to be a party honoring him, I wouldn't have stopped it, but I would have stood outside to hand out copies of his letter. It is important if he was being honored, for the people attending to know about this threat."

Trivers was to be honored Friday for his pioneering work in evolutionary biology. Earlier this year, he won the prestigious Crafoord Prize in biosciences from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

His letter in the Journal waded into an ongoing war of words between Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein, a political science professor at DePaul University in Chicago.

Dershowitz, an adamant defender of Israel, has accused Finkelstein, a critic of Israel, of anti-Semitism and of shoddy research.

Dershowitz and Finkelstein have exchanged salvos through published books.

Dershowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Finkelstein had "encouraged radical goons to e-mail threatening messages." Trivers's letter to the Journal was meant in part to explain that his criticisms of Dershowitz had nothing to do with Finkelstein.

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