The Corner

Education

Hundreds of Academics Attack a Young Researcher

There’s an open letter decrying the appointment of the researcher Noah Carl to a fellowship at Cambridge. It’s heavy on signers, but rather light on details about its allegations:

A careful consideration of Carl’s published work and public stance on various issues, particularly on the claimed relationship between ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’, leads us to conclude that his work is ethically suspect and methodologically flawed.

These publications, drawing on the discredited ‘race sciences’, seem nothing more than an expression of opinion on various social matters. 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.

We are deeply concerned that racist pseudoscience is being legitimised through association with the University of Cambridge. This fellowship was awarded to Carl despite his attendance at, and public defence of, the discredited ‘London Conference on Intelligence’, where racist and pseudoscientific work has been regularly presented. Carl’s work has already been used by extremist and far-right media outlets with the aim of stoking xenophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric. 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.

I see a lot of words like “discredited,” “flawed,” and “pseudoscientific” in there, along with some guilt by association . . . but not a whole lot of evidence. What exactly has this guy said or published that’s so terrible?

The lingering question opens up space for a counterattack, and the webzine Quillette has launched one: They have an editorial defending Carl, accompanied by statements from prominent academics including Tyler Cowen, Cass Sunstein, Jonathan Haidt, and Peter Singer. The key bit:

Drawing on disparate fields of research in psychology, psychometrics and sociology, Dr Carl’s papers have been peer reviewed and published in journals such as Intelligence, Personality & Individual Differences, The American Sociologist, Comparative Sociology, European Union Politics, and The British Journal of Sociology. His papers have been cited 235 times since 2013.

Much of Dr Carl’s research focuses on how intelligence and other psychological characteristics affect beliefs and attitudes. Papers include: Leave and Remain voters’ knowledge of the EU after the referendum of 2016Cognitive Ability and Political Beliefs in the United Statesand his most cited paper, published in Intelligence in 2014, Verbal Intelligence is correlated with socially and economically liberal beliefs.

. . .

So why all the fuss? Dr Carl’s crime is that he has defended intelligence researchers who’ve written about the taboo topics of race, genes and IQ and argued that stifling debate in these areas is likely to cause more harm than allowing them to be freely discussed by academics. It appears to be this, and the fact that he spoke at the London Conference of Intelligence in 2017 alongside some of these researchers (although he did not himself speak about race, genes or IQ at that conference), that is the basis for the accusation, made in the letter, that he is guilty of “pseudoscientific racism.”

The piece adds that Carl has “stated that a genetic contribution to racial gaps in IQ has not been conclusively demonstrated.”

I’m second to no one in my love of Quillette, but I fear they’re being a little bit coy here. After a quick Web search it’s really not a mystery why Carl is controversial: He’s written papers arguing that U.K. natives’ attitudes toward immigrants of various nationalities are correlated with those groups’ own arrest rates — joining those skunks at the garden party who’ve been talking about “stereotype accuracy” — and that places with bigger Muslim populations have more Islamist terrorism.

But Quillette is still right. Academics must be free to study topics like these, and uncomfortable scientific results can be important. (If some immigrants are more likely than others to spark a nativist backlash, for instance, what would we possibly gain by refusing to learn that fact?) If Carl’s critics have objections to his work that rise above the level of name-calling and squeamishness, let’s see them.

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