Skip to Content

Coffee House

Will Noah Carl get a fair hearing?

14 December 2018

5:04 PM

14 December 2018

5:04 PM

A letter appeared in the Times this morning defending Dr Noah Carl, the young Cambridge scholar who was branded a ‘racist pseudoscientist’ and accused of making ‘errors’ in an ‘open letter’ signed by over 200 academics in fields like ‘critical race studies’ and ‘media and communications’. The letter in the Times today is signed by three postgraduate students from Nuffield College, Oxford, where Dr Carl, who describes himself as a ‘conservative’, did his PhD. They argue that ‘popularity should not be allowed to take the place of intellectual debate’ and urge the Cambridge authorities not to be swayed by ‘popular opinion’.

I blogged about this episode in The Spectator last week, pointing out that the authors of the open letter had failed to cite any of Dr Carl’s research papers or quote from his work to back up their allegations. In addition, Quillette, where I’m an associate editor, published an editorial defending Dr Carl, and launched a counter-petition which has now attracted almost 1,000 signatures. Among those academics who’ve criticised this attempt to destroy Dr Carl’s reputation are Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University, Jeffrey S. Flier, a professor at Harvard, Cass R. Sunstein, another professor at Harvard and Jeff McMahan, a professor at Oxford. The Heterodox Academy, an organisation created to defend viewpoint diversity in the academy, has also criticised the attack on Dr Carl.

In a news story in the Times pegged to this morning’s letter, it says a group of Cambridge students have been lobbying for Dr Carl’s fellowship at St Edmund’s College to be reviewed. ‘St Edmund’s is the only Catholic college in Cambridge and was founded in dire times for Catholics in this country,’ one of them told Varsity magazine. ‘It is depressing to think that this college, with this history, is now enabling hate-speech against and oppression of minorities.’

As with the ‘open letter’, this student provides no evidence that Dr Carl’s research is ‘enabling hate-speech’ or the ‘oppression of minorities’, but this appears to be a reference to a paper he published in 2016 entitled ‘Net opposition to immigrants of different nationalities correlates strongly with their arrest rates in the UK’. In that paper, Dr Carl found that the public’s beliefs about the respective characteristics of different immigrant groups are not, as is commonly believed, wholly erroneous. He looked at a YouGov survey that asked people whether immigrants from 23 different countries should be allowed to come and live in the UK. He then looked at the arrest rates for members of those 23 different immigrant groups, particularly arrests for violent crime, and found that those groups the public was least sympathetic to – Turkish, Romanian and Nigerian immigrants – tended to have higher arrest rates among the 23, while those they were most sympathetic to – Canadians and Australians – tended to have lower arrest rates. Dr Carl concluded that the public’s attitude to whether members of different immigrant groups should be allowed to come and live in the UK was ‘rational’.

Is this kind of research ‘racist’? Evidently, some people on the Left believe it is and that allowing it to take place – and then to be discussed openly – will endanger the welfare of minorities. But, surely, the onus is on those students and academics who want to suppress this kind of research to prove that it actually does harm minorities? Universities should not curtail free speech on the basis of unevidenced assertions and, to date, no one involved in the attack on Dr Carl has provided any data to back up their claims. Last Saturday, I was booked on to Radio 4’s Today programme to debate one of the authors of the ‘open letter’, and I hoped that, at last, some evidence might be presented. But in the end he declined to appear.

A similar objection was made to a recent debate about immigration in London’s Conway Hall featuring Trevor Phillips, Claire Fox, David Aaronovitch, Matthew Goodwin and Eric Kaufmann. In the run up to the event, various left-wing academics lodged their objections, claiming that merely allowing it to take place would ‘advance a white nationalist agenda’ and accusing the participants of being ‘complicit in violence’. With grim predictability, an ‘open letter’ was published claiming the debate would ‘legitimise hate’. It was signed by more than 200 left-wing academics, some of whom would also later sign the ‘open letter’ objecting to Dr Carl’s research.

In a follow-up article in Quillette, Matthew Goodwin and Eric Kaufmann challenged the assertion that debating immigration ‘legitimised’ or ‘normalised’ hostility towards immigrants. They pointed out that allowing Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time in 2009 did not result in increased support for the British National Party. On the contrary, it collapsed the following year. Similarly, allowing Steve Bannon to take part in an immigration debate in Toronto had no discernible effect on the attitudes of those attending the debate, let alone the wider public. They write:

‘While there are plenty of studies that show priming or framing effects (i.e. people who read a negative passage about immigration become more concerned about it), the idea that exposing a controversial speaker to critical questioning, or using a controversial phrase to frame discussion on a ‘mainstream’ platform somehow increases support for extremism, has no basis in social science. The ‘normalization’ charge is an article of faith rather than a conclusion based on an empirically-verified theory. The fact that it is so often invoked to no-platform speakers on university campuses, or silence enquiry, means that it must be held to empirical account.’

The Master of St Edmund’s College, Matthew Bullock, has announced that two investigations have been launched, one by senior fellows of the college dealing with the complaints about Dr Carl’s research, and another, to be conducted by a ‘grievance committee’ consisting of senior academics from other colleges, addressing the objections that have been made to his appointment as a junior research fellow. It seems Dr Carl will have to put his research on hold for the next few months. Rather ominously, the Master sent an email to the enraged students acknowledging ‘the impact of controversial views’ on students’ ‘well-being’, particularly those from ‘diverse backgrounds’. ‘The College takes your complaint and concerns very seriously and…will work with you to ensure that everyone who belongs to the College can feel safe, valued, and supported,’ he said.

If the internal investigation is going to take ‘very seriously’ the claims by left-wing students that Dr Carl’s links with the college affects their ‘well-being’ and makes them feel ‘unsafe’, it looks as though his goose is cooked. I daresay it was naïve to expect Matthew Bullock to point out to these students that being exposed to heterodox opinions and engaging in robust intellectual debate is one of the best reasons for attending university and that, in the long run, being cocooned in a progressive monoculture is likely to do more harm to their ‘well-being’ than occasionally bumping into a conservative on campus. That argument cuts little ice in universities these days, where conservatives make up only 12 per cent of academics. Incidentally, we have Dr Carl to thank for that statistic, another reason he is being targeted by a left-wing mob.

For Dr Carl’s sake, I hope Chris Skidmore, the new universities minister, is keeping close tabs on this affair. He has vowed to stand up for intellectual freedom and free speech and this looks to be his first major test.

See also

Show comments