A humanities loyalist grieved by their current state, I am a student of both literature and medicine and write in a spirit of respect–for persons, for the past, for evidence itself.

In the spirit of constructive skepticism, many of my recent papers concern the evaluation of evidence. What was the state of the evidence when mass screening for prostate cancer was introduced?  What are we to make of Montaigne’s prescient understanding of placebo and nocebo effects?  How to construe James Lind’s confessions of failure even after he successfully conducted the first clinical trial?  What about Freud’s cultivated resemblance to the fantasy hero, Sherlock Holmes?  How do the psychiatric theories advanced in Capote’s In Cold Blood square with the evidence of the text itself?  What are we to think of a drug that passes some trials but not others? 

As a skeptic I shun the practice of looking down on the past from a position of superior knowledge (or pretended knowledge) and oppose crusaders, ideologues and other fundamentalists for whom all things reduce to one. I try to think non-reductively, as in The Springs of Liberty—a book I wrote as in a dream.  If the fox knows many things and the hedgehog knows one big thing, I hold with the foxes; hence the variety of writings listed and posted here.



B.A., Columbia University


Ph.D., Columbia University, English Literature



B.A., summa cum laude

1972 – 1973

Columbia University Merit Fellowship   

1973 – 1974

President’s Fellow


High distinction on orals

1979 – 1980

Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities


PEN Award for the Art of the Essay


Ray and Pat Browne Award for a Single Author Study (given by the Popular Culture Association for the best book of 2005)


University of Montana Distinguished Scholar Award


1973 – 1975

Columbia College, Teaching Assistant

1975 – 1976

University of Montana, Instructor

1976- 1980

University of Montana, Assistant Professor

1980 – 1986

University of Montana, Associate Professor

1986 – 2016

University of Montana, Professor

2007 – 2016

Director, Liberal Studies Program