Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Academic pile-ons

Whatever you think about the quality of Satoshi Kanazawa's academic work, the folks who signed the open letter to The Times' Higher Ed damning his work sure chose the wrong time to do it if they had other than malicious intent.

To recap, Kanazawa's academic work has been subject to critique for some time. I've found a lot of his work awfully fun, and I've enjoyed his pieces on IQ and beauty. I've not gone through them with a referee's fine-toothed comb. And Satoshi could have done himself a lot of favours by answering critics more directly than he has.

But the current furore started with a blog post, as noted here. The post could have been wrong; further analysis of an updated version of the data that Kanazawa used suggested the effects went away if the fourth wave's data were included. That kind of thing happens in blog post analyses. That's why bloggers put up speculative trial balloons as blog posts - it helps to sort out where we might be getting things wrong before we go in full bore.

Kanazawa's post launched a populist campaign for his firing from LSE. On principle, even folks who disagree with Kanazawa's published work really ought to circle the wagons against this kind of populist pressure. I disagree with a lot of published work, as loyal readers might have noticed. Suppose that one of the folks at Otago Public Health - the NZ folks with whose published work I most frequently disagree - got into trouble over a blog post that got folks riled up. Suppose that, against all odds, there were mass public outrage against one of the neoprohibitionists' calls for bans on alcohol and lots of folks wanted the guy fired from his academic position. I'd hope I'd not I'd pick that moment as being the right time to launch a big public campaign against the guy's academic work. It's just not on. I'd hope instead to be writing posts in defense of academic freedom. And once the furore died down, I'd go back to putting the boot in. You shouldn't lose your job for being wrong in a blog post, and you shouldn't ride public anger fueled by same.

And so I signed an opposing letter in The Times Higher Ed in defense of Kanazawa. If it makes some folks happy to call me a racist for having done so, I've got a thick enough skin for it. Anybody who knows me, whether personally or as loyal readers, knows better. It makes me a bit sad that folks are happy to read racism into my post defending sweatshops, as I reckon the biggest force behind the anti-sweatshop movement is protectionist buy-American unions whose pro-natalism is necessarily racist in practice. Honi soit qui mal y pense.


  1. Don't disagree with your main point. The problem with Kanazawa's "speculative trial balloons"—right or wrong—is the certainty of language that permeates them. He leaves the reader with the impression that there is no doubt and rarely offers alternative explanations.

  2. The best model I've found to explain this continual public witch-hunting of unorthodox voices is simply that of an official state ideology, which in centuries past was occupied by religion. There really is nothing else that explains it. Political Correctness is now the unofficially unofficial religion of the Western Democratic State. If you are denigrating Christianity or defaming Dead White Males, minor transgressions are forgiven easily. However, if you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit of the official victim classes, no matter how many facts you marshal, no matter how solid your reputation and professional integrity, you shall be publicly humiliated and shamed and banished.

  3. I'm not sure a letter of support signed by both Lynn and Rushton will help Kanazawa an awful lot in these matters.