EDITORIAL: The latest examples of academic censorship
There are many valid reasons to for an academic journal to reject a scientific paper. Worrying that its factual correct finding may help Republicans shouldn’t be one of them.
September 15, 2018 - 9:00 pm
There are many valid reasons for an academic journal to reject a scientific paper, but concerns over the political implications of its findings aren’t among them.
Yet that’s what happened to Theodore Hill, a professor emeritus of mathematics at Georgia Tech. He chronicled his saga at Quillette.com earlier this month. It started last year with a paper on the “greater male variability hypothesis,” which contends that men are more likely to be both geniuses and dolts. This isn’t a new idea. Charles Darwin studied this back in the 19th century, finding a greater variability among males, compared to females, in many animal species.
Hill was interested in why this was and worked on “a simple intuitive mathematical argument based on biological and evolutionary principles.” Mathematical Intelligencer, a research journal, decided to publish a paper by Hill detailing his work. That’s when the backlash started.
The colleagues of Sergei Tabachnikov, Hill’s collaborator and a mathematics professor at Pennsylvania State University, attacked him. They said the paper would hurt the prospects of “impressionable young women” seeking to enter elite academic circles. Ironically, it’s incredibly belittling to women to believe that they’re so mentally fragile that an academic elite must shield them from scientific findings.
Marjorie Senechal, the editor of Mathematical Intelligencer, then rescinded its acceptance of their paper. She couldn’t point out an academic flaw. Instead, “several colleagues” worried about the “very real possibility that the right-wing media may pick this up and hype it internationally.” Hill was “flabbergasted” that progressives were terrified that conservatives would read a science paper.
Threats to his career forced Tabachnikov to withdraw his name from the paper. Hill, who is retired, continued undeterred. The New York Journal of Mathematics then agreed to run the paper, which it did last November. But three days later, t he study disappeared from the online journal. Ghosting a paper after publication is virtually unprecedented.
Hill asked Mark Steinberger, the editor-in-chief, what happened. Steinberger told Hill that half of his board said that unless he deleted the article, they would resign and “harass the journal … until it died.”
Hill isn’t alone either. Last month, Lisa Littman, a professor at Brown University, did a study suggesting that environmental factors contribute to transgenderism in some individuals. Brown University issued a news release on the study but pulled it down almost immediately. Why? People complained not that the study’s findings were invalid, but that they “could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.” The journal that published the study also announced that it’s giving the piece “further expert assessment.”
That’s chilling stuff, especially since the left often relies on the supposed scientific consensus to shut down debate on a host of issues ranging from global warming to intelligent design.
Conservatives have long decried scientists prioritizing politics over science. Liberals, especially in the academic world, need to join them.