There has been ongoing flame war going on at the SHOE list, which is the discussion list for history of economics. The list generally serves as a means of obtaining information on conferences, jobs and new books and articles that might be of interest to scholars in the field. Though often there is a vigorous debate about this or that thinker or idea in the field. To be honest, these debates usually involve low opportunity cost "scholars" -- retired or non-academics -- but sometimes they are useful. Too often they degenerate into ideological corners. The abuse of history of thought is an equal opportunity affair as folks on the right and on the left go astray (I actually wrote a paper on this for HOPE years ago).
But Robert Leeson is a specialist at degenerating -- not sure I know what his ideology really is, but he seems to take great joy in being a degenerator. He particularly likes to attack Hayek and Mises, and of course Mont Pelerin Society. I do know that when he first introduced himself to me, he described himself as the editor of the Collected Works of Milton Friedman and a fellow at the Hoover Institution. I took him at face value and invited him to give a seminar at GMU; I also accepted an invitation by him to contribute to a volume he was writing on Hayek and Behavioral Economics. During the 24 hours he was on campus lets just say he exercised his expertise as a degenerator of conversation and leave it at that. It turns out he isn't doing the collected works of Friedman (ed: in the form we discussed) and he is fixated on digging up dirty (real or imagined) on Hayek and Mises.* Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Hayek and Mises are at various times in Leeson's claims -- Nazi sympathizers, Red-baiting cooperators with McCarthyism, all powerful academics that had the ability to potential squash careers of leading thinkers, etc., etc. How he establishes his claims is a unique blend of leaps of logical inference from questionable premises to wild conjectures that are stated as established claims. He also has a great tactic of asking totally inappropriate and off the wall questions in response to challenges, changing the subject, and by innuendo suggesting that the questioner has various reasons to cloud the truth of the matter. He engages in the "academic" version of "When did you stop beating your wife?" rhetoric. Oh, and when folks really call him on his BS, he cries censorship! In short, no learning is possible in such "discussions", no meeting of the minds is sought, no discovery of the truth is being pursued. It is all just pure gadflyish entertainment for Robert Leeson himself. We have the history of economics version of intellectual masturbation, but being done by an exhibitionist.
It truly is an disturbing thing to witness. But Robert Leeson by himself isn't an issue, it is the gullible folks on the list. Again, not necessarily high opportunity cost scholars so perhaps one shouldn't worry. Yes, I know that sounds elitist, but scholarship requires certain abilities and temperament, and is measured by very conventional standards of publication, citation measures, etc. and these are highly correlated with academic position. In addition, as the sociologists Peter Berger used to emphasize, you cannot expect those only capable of playing checkers to be able to play chess. Leeson's form of intellectual "history" appeals to those playing ideological checkers, not those capable of engaging in scholarly chess.
Attempts have been made by Hayek and Mises scholars such as Bruce Caldwell and Richard Ebeling to set the record straight on the baselessness of Leeson's claims, and by scholars in the history of modern economics such as E. Roy Weintraub about the fanciful "history" that Leeson is concocting about Hayek's ability to shape the direction of the economics profession post WWII. But these valient efforts have been largely wasted at least with respect to the observing eye on the list because the responses have been either Leeson's leaps of logic and innuendo, or ideological checkers by folks that appear incapable of playing chess.
It doesn't reflect well on the field of history of economics that this is going on at the main discussion list in the subfield. This is particularly sad because it is at a time when a re-evaluation of history of economics as a vital part of the education of economists is being urged by folks such as Robert Shiller and the initiatives at INET. Or, consider the May 2014 issue of Cambridge Journal of Economics devoted to reconsidering the whig interpretation of the evolution of economic ideas (Samuelson's ghosts) -- papers are free online access right now. This is decidely not the time to be wasting playing ideological checkers, when the skillful exercise of scholarly chess would have a lasting positive impact on the history of economics place in the future curriculum, and on the way we economists discourse with one another.
Calling out underpant gnomes on their leaps of logic and unsubstantiated claims, and their practice of evading rather than engaging challenges to their claims is NOT censorship, it is responsible action in the contestation of ideas that constitutes science and scholarship.
*As Larry White points out, it appears that I am wrong about the CW project, however, am leaving that sentence up because (a) I should be held accountable for false claims, and (b) the description of this collected works projects differs from the way he described the collected works project to us in the original introduction to each other. It appears to be a searchable database of archived works by Friedman and his wife Rose. This is a great resource no doubt, but it is not the same as the multi-volume critical scholarly editions such as Keynes's CW or Hayek's CW or Buchanan's CW -- which is what we were discussing at the time. But I am wrong in my claim that he isn't doing a CW project on Friedman --- clearly Leeson is compiling and making available in a searchable database the archived material. See the discussion by Mark Perry from earlier this spring.