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The scandalous shaming of Noah Carl

7 December 2018

3:48 PM

7 December 2018

3:48 PM

Another day, another mobbing. On the front page of today’s Times there’s a story about an attempt by over 200 academics to ruin the reputation of a young scholar called Noah Carl. These researchers, many of them professors, have written an ‘open letter’ objecting to the fact that Dr Carl, who describes himself as a ‘conservative’, has just been awarded a prestigious research fellowship by St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

Entitled ‘No Place for Racist Pseudoscience at Cambridge’, the letter attacks Dr Carl for his ‘public stance on various issues, particularly on the claimed relationship between “race”, “criminality” and “genetic intelligence”’, and accuses him of producing work that is ‘ethically suspect’ and ‘methodologically flawed’:

As members of the academic community committed to defending the highest standards of ethical and methodological integrity in research and teaching, we are shocked that a body of work that includes vital errors in data analysis and interpretation appears to have been taken seriously for appointment to such a competitive research fellowship.

What’s odd about the letter is that it makes these career-ruining allegations without offering a scintilla of evidence to support them. No specific papers of Dr Carl’s are cited and there isn’t a single quote from anything he’s written. The words ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’ are quoted, but these are scare quotes not actual quotes taken from Dr Carl’s work. I’ve looked at his published academic research and cannot find a single instance of him using the phrase ‘genetic intelligence’, which isn’t surprising since no serious scholar writing about group or individual difference in IQ would use such a phrase.

He has written a paper entitled ‘Net opposition to immigrants of different nationalities correlates strongly with their arrest rates in the UK’ in which he references IQ – the only paper of Dr Carl’s quoted in the Times story – but he makes no mention of biology. The reason he brings up IQ in that article is because he discusses a YouGov poll in which respondents were asked to rank 14 characteristics in order of importance when considering whether or not an economic migrant should be allowed into the UK and IQ is one of those characteristics.

Dr Carl’s has published in, among other places, Intelligence, Personality & Individual Differences, The American Sociologist, Comparative Sociology, European Union Politics and The British Journal of Sociology, and has been cited by other scholars 235 times since 2013.

It was on the basis of this track record – impressive for someone who’s just 28 – that St Edmund’s College awarded him a research fellowship. If any of Dr Carl’s work is ‘ethically suspect’ or ‘methodologically flawed’, or if he is guilty of ‘racist pseudoscience’, it would be unusual, to put it mildly, for so many distinguished journals to have published his work. To date, nothing he’s published has been rescinded and he hasn’t been asked by the editors of those journals to make a single correction in response to a complaint, whether about his data, methodology or anything else. (Some challenges were made to his paper on immigration, but he robustly responded to those.) He has issued some minor corrigendums for a few papers, but that’s par for the course in academic research. And it hardly constitutes evidence of academic fraud.

Dr Carl’s crime is not publishing research that links race, genes and IQ, something he has not done, but writing an article in Evolutionary Psychological Science in which he defended the right of scholars to openly discuss those issues. In that paper, Dr Carl makes it clear that he is not claiming it has been conclusively proven that genes make a contribution to racial gaps in IQ. That isn’t the basis on which he is mounting his defence. Rather, he argues that it shouldn’t be taboo within the academy to publish research bearing on that question and that stifling debate will likely cause more harm than allowing it to take place.

Defenders of this taboo often claim that allowing this issue to be openly discussed, whether in the academy or more widely, will harm ethnic minorities. Indeed, that claim is made in the ‘open letter’ attacking Dr Carl:

‘In a context where the far-right is on the rise across the world, this kind of pseudoscientific racism runs the serious risk of being used to justify policies that directly harm vulnerable populations.’

To reiterate, he has not published any research linking race, genes and IQ, or claimed that racial gaps in IQ are genetically influenced, so if that’s what’s meant by ‘pseudoscientific racism’ then Dr Carl is innocent. What he is guilty of is defending intellectual freedom.

In the above paper, Dr Carl points out that there is no empirical evidence that allowing race, genes and IQ to be publicly discussed harms minorities. However, there are good reasons to think that suppressing such debates will cause harm. It creates the impression that equal rights are contingent on different groups being genetically identical when it comes to key psychological traits like IQ. That’s dangerous because if it turns out that the groups aren’t identical – and, remember, Dr Carl doesn’t make that claim – those seeking to deny equal rights to minorities will be able to point to this as ‘proof’ that their prejudice is based on science. If this isn’t a rational basis for their attitudes, they will argue, why are the Left so anxious to quash the ‘evidence’? In effect, those seeking to suppress unwelcome research findings for fear that they may be used by racists to advance their agenda are endorsing the twisted logic of their opponents who argue that minorities shouldn’t be granted equal rights because they’re genetically different. It would be better, surely, if defenders of equality were to point out that anyone making this link is committing the naturalistic fallacy – of inferring an ought from an is – and that people morally deserve to be treated as equals, regardless of how different they might be from you. As the Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker says:

‘Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.’

I have written before about the difficulty people on the Left have in grasping this point. They seem to labour under the illusion that the defence of equal rights is critically dependent on believing that we are all born as ‘blank slates’. This is the hypothesis that any differences between us when it comes to things like IQ – whether individual differences or group differences – are entirely the product of the environment and have nothing to do with our genes. You can understand why an egalitarian who believes in equality of outcome would want to believe that’s true, not least because it would mean once the socialist Shangri-la has been created the state won’t have to constantly intervene to correct the inequities of nature. But that ‘hard’ equality is very different from the ‘soft’ equality of treating people equally. Believing all people should enjoy the same rights, a principle which is embraced by the majority of conservatives as well as liberals, is emphatically not contingent on the ‘blank slate’ hypothesis. But because so many people on the Left mistakenly believe it is, they are quick to attack anyone who challenges it or who dares to defend those who challenge it. That is behind the ferocious attack on Dr Carl.

So who are the people who’ve signed the letter? They are, some of them, academics specialising in grievance studies – the kind who were recently targeted in a brilliant hoax by Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay. One of the signatories is Prof David Roediger, a professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas and the author of The Wages of Whiteness. It is described as follows by its left-wing academic publisher: ‘Combining classical Marxism, psychoanalysis, and the new labor history pioneered by E. P. Thompson and Herbert Gutman, David Roediger’s widely acclaimed book provides an original study of the formative years of working-class racism in the United States.’

The fact that a group of more than 200 academics have branded a young scholar a racist and accused him of academic malpractice, without offering any evidence to back up these allegations, is a scandal. It is typical of the underhand tactics used by the Left to discredit those who don’t subscribe to progressive orthodoxy – particularly the ‘blank slate’ orthodoxy – and helps explain why there are so few conservatives in the social sciences and the humanities. St Edmund’s College should treat this smear campaign with the contempt it deserves.

Quillette, an online magazine where I’m also an associate editor, is leading the fightback against the Maoist Left’s attempt to crush viewpoint diversity in the academy. Read its editorial on this latest assault on academic freedom, and then sign the counter-petition. We cannot allow these witch-hunts to go unchallenged.

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