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Science & Tech

Academic Journal Editor’s Fear: ‘The Right-Wing Media May Pick This Up’

For an insider’s account of how politicized academia has become, I strongly recommend Professor Ted Hill’s new essay in Quillette. The problems started for him when he coauthored a paper on greater male variability in physical and mental traits. As he put it, “There are significantly more men than women . . . among Nobel laureates, music composers, and chess champions — and also among homeless people, suicide victims, and federal prison inmates.” Hill’s paper, written with Penn State mathematics professor Sergei Tabachnikov, offered an evolutionary model under which males would develop more variability because females are more selective.

Now, as far as group differences go, greater male variability is the wine cooler of evolutionary research. It should not be hard to swallow even for the uninitiated. The theory does not even posit a difference in mean ability between men and women — just a difference in spread. If that’s a taboo topic, then we better close down genetics labs before they come up with something really troubling.

Nevertheless, as soon as Hill and Tabachnikov’s paper was accepted for publication, Penn State professors — some with the word diversity in their job titles — began a campaign against it. “Potentially sexist.” “Bad and harmful.” “Detrimental to the advancement of women in science.” They even pressured the National Science Foundation into requesting that its support for Tabochnikov not be acknowledged in the paper. Professor Hill continues the narrative:

At least, we thought, the paper was still on track to be published.

But, that same day, the Mathematical Intelligencer’s editor-in-chief Marjorie Senechal notified us that, with “deep regret,” she was rescinding her previous acceptance of our paper. “Several colleagues,” she wrote, had warned her that publication would provoke “extremely strong reactions” and there existed a “very real possibility that the right-wing media may pick this up and hype it internationally.” For the second time in a single day I was left flabbergasted. Working mathematicians are usually thrilled if even five people in the world read our latest article. Now some progressive faction was worried that a fairly straightforward logical argument about male variability might encourage the conservative press to actually read and cite a science paper?

In my 40 years of publishing research papers I had never heard of the rejection of an already-accepted paper. And so I emailed Professor Senechal. She replied that she had received no criticisms on scientific grounds and that her decision to rescind was entirely about the reaction she feared our paper would elicit. [emphasis added]

Read the whole thing, as they say, because there is much more than I can summarize in a blog post. And the next time the media report that The Science™ falls squarely on the Left’s side of some controversial issue, remember Professor Hill’s story.

Jason Richwine — Jason Richwine is a public-policy analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.

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