Social Science Owns Itself

At Inside Higher Education, one side of the issue was joined.

When Melinda Wenner Moyer, a science journalist for The New York Times, was attempting to report on an unexpected aspect of a vaccine’s efficacy or safety, she found that scientists often didn’t want to talk with her. And when she did get them on the phone, she says, a worrying theme emerged: “Scientists are so terrified of the public’s vaccine hesitancy that they are censoring themselves, playing down undesirable findings and perhaps even avoiding undertaking studies that could show unwanted effects. Those who break these unwritten rules are criticized.”

The fear described is that virulent anti-vaxxers have forced social scientists who support vaccines underground. They fear being attacked by the nutjobs for doing science. This rejection of the expertise in favor of populist dogma, Linda Stamato notes, has found its way into the courts as well.

Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed academic research as “sociological gobbledygook” in a recent case affecting redistricting in the states, Gill v. Whitford, and wound up saying a good deal about the role of social science in the court’s deliberations.

But is it war between the ignorant groundlings and the learned academes? Not for Noah Carl. Whoever did his RationalWiki page didn’t think well of him.

Noah Carl is a HBD pseudoscientist who attended the London Conference on Intelligence and controversially publishes Islamophobic and anti-immigration papers in the OpenPsych pseudojournals that are quoted by far-right, conservative websites and the conspiracy theorist InfoWars:

What makes this person so awful? An open letter from Cambridge, where Carl was given a fellowship, makes its case.

We write to express our dismay at the appointment of Noah Carl to the Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellowship at St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge. 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.

This paragraph is followed by more rhetoric and a long, long list of names. It’s not followed, however, by either explanations or examples of why Carl’s work is “ethically suspect and methodologically flawed.” All of this is generated by the nature of the work, whether there is a relationship “between ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’.” The outrage is that Carl’s field of study is ideologically unacceptable.

It’s more than fair to take the anti-intellectual, agenda-driven anti-vaxxers to task for stifling research that contradicts their beliefs. Is it any better when the same goals drive academics to do the same thing? Heterodox Academy challenges the Cambridge dons.

Intelligence is one of Dr. Carl’s primary research areas. Although he does not personally work on race and IQ, he has publicly defended the right of others to do this research in a just-published essay for the peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

In other words, whatever Carl may be, it’s not a pseudoscientist.

Heterodox Academy has no interest in playing referee with regards to the empirical, methodological or analytic rigor of Dr. Carl’s work. Nor do we wish to speculate about the value and implications of his contributions. We refuse to make assumptions about the motivations of either Dr. Carl or his critics.

What we can say with confidence is that the open letter condemning Dr. Carl makes very strong and damaging claims about his research and his character – yet provides virtually no evidence for those accusations.

On the one hand, the “open letter” attacked and sought to shame Carl, with the clout of a very long list of names with letters after them, but without the substance to back up any of its claims that he wasn’t a legitimate scientist. But Heterodox Academy didn’t need to make “assumptions” about the motivations of his critics. They spelled them out.

We are deeply concerned that racist pseudoscience is being legitimised through association with the University of Cambridge.

The problem, they state, is that Carl’s research is “racist.” Is it? Can research be racist?

Communal inquiry and debate are at the heart of the academy. As researchers, we put our ideas into the crucible of open inquiry and rely on debate and discussion to refine understanding and advance solutions to complex problems.

It may well be that Carl’s research is methodologically flawed, in which case he’s just a bad scientist who should be shunned from the Academy for being bad. But if so, then provide the basis for the claim, not merely the ad hominem characterization without any evidence to back it up.

When the crazy, no-nothing anti-vaxxers attack legitimate scientific research showing that vaccines are safe and efficacious, thus silencing scientists who fear the march on their ivy-covered towards by the townsfolk with their torches and pitchforks, the Academy calls for fortitude in the name of expertise.

But when the marchers are academics who fail to provide substantive challenge to the legitimacy of research, but instead denigrate it as racist because the topic is anathema to their ideology, they substitute an open letter for pitchforks, as if that makes it entirely different.

The practice of issuing open letters attacking scholars for their contributions undermines this important goal by evicting academics and their ideas from the arena — often on flimsy evidentiary grounds.

Maybe Dr. Carl’s research is complete crap, his hypotheses wrong and his research sloppy or worse, deceitful. Maybe his research can’t be replicated, or that efforts at replication produce the opposite result. Maybe researching the “relationship between ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’,” will prove that there is no relationship, that race plays no role in criminality, that there is no such thing as genetic intelligence, and put these question to bed.

Or maybe these hundreds of academics don’t want questions asked when they don’t want to know the answers, when the answer could possibly undermine their ideological belief system and make them feel bad. But they’re no better than the anti-vaxxers, who want to silence research that proves them wrong. Let the inquiry happen and the results, if sound, will speak for themselves.

10 thoughts on “Social Science Owns Itself

  1. Jim Cline

    I find myself wanting get a degree in pseudoscience. Do I have to go to Cambridge for that or can I get one online?

    1. SHG Post author

      Today is your lucky day. By the powers vested in me by the Great State of Ennui, I hereby confer upon you the Doctorate of Pseudoscience, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.

  2. wilbur

    If I knew Dr. Carl’s astrological sign, I could tell you for sure whether his research is worthwhile.

      1. Hunting Guy

        Did the truth hurt?

        I didn’t know CDLs had feelings.

        (Sorry. I didn’t want the librarians that haunt that site to be shocked by reality when they came here. I’m nice like that.)

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