James Flynn’s book on free speech was banned after it was accepted

September 25, 2019 • 2:00 pm

James Flynn is a well known researcher on human intelligence at University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and the man after whom the “Flynn Effect” is named. If you don’t remember that term, it refers to the continuing increase in intelligence, as measured by IQ, throughout the world. We don’t fully understand the trend, but it seems to be a real phenomenon.

At any rate, in this new article in Quillette(click on screenshot), Flynn recounts how a book he just wrote defending free speech (called, of course, In Defense of Free Speech) was rejected by Emerald Publishing, but not on very substantial grounds. It’s questionable whether the word “banning” really applies here, but one could say that it was banned from publication after it had been accepted. (A simple rejection wouldn’t count as “banning”.)

In fact, the book appears to be largely about colleges and universities and their attempts to deplatform speakers or otherwise enforce ideological purity through speech codes, trigger warnings, and the kind of “party line” that pervades much of the humanities. Why did the publisher pull out? Fear, pure and simple, as recounted in the publisher’s letter of rejection to Flynn:

There are two main causes of concern for Emerald. Firstly, the work could be seen to incite racial hatred and stir up religious hatred under United Kingdom law. Clearly you have no intention of promoting racism but intent can be irrelevant. For example, one test is merely whether it is “likely” that racial hatred could be stirred up as a result of the work. This is a particular difficulty given modern means of digital media expression. The potential for circulation of the more controversial passages of the manuscript online, without the wider intellectual context of the work as a whole and to a very broad audience—in a manner beyond our control—represents a material legal risk for Emerald.

Secondly, there are many instances in the manuscript where the actions, conversations and behavior of identifiable individuals at specific named colleges are discussed in detail and at length in relation to controversial events. Given the sensitivity of the issues involved, there is both the potential for serious harm to Emerald’s reputation and the significant possibility of legal action. Substantial changes to the content and nature of the manuscript would need to be made, or Emerald would need to accept a high level of risk both reputational and legal. The practical costs and difficulty of managing any reputational or legal problems that did arise are of further concern to Emerald.

For the reasons outlined above, it is with regret that Emerald has taken the decision not to publish your manuscript.

The first reason is bogus, for even in the UK I strongly doubt they’d prosecute Flynn for making statements that, while not themselves fostering bigotry, could be construed as hate speech by some people in some places at some times. Second, the “legal action” issue seems bogus as well, for Flynn says that “every reference to a person is documented by citations of published material or material in the public domain.” No, the real reason is the “reputational” one: Emerald could be demonized for publishing such a book.

Note that the book had been accepted and scheduled for publication, but the “risk” seen by the in-house flacks and cowards meant that it was ultimately rejected, and Flynn hasn’t yet found a publisher. I hope and trust he will. as I, for one, want to read the book.

Then Flynn shows us why speech that’s potentially offensive should be free—and published. Here he explains, by quoting from the book, why he’s personally benefited from reading “hate writers”:

I then use the case of Charles Murray being denied a platform at Middlebury College to show what students and staff miss out on when they refuse to hear or read those who offend them:

[My] dividends from reading Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, and Charles Murray: a plausible case that genetic differences between the major races are unlikely to confer an advantage or a handicap for desirable personal traits; a far better understanding of black America; a method that sheds light on personal development and leaves room for personal autonomy; an understanding of how differently males and females respond to formal education; a case that genetic differences between the genders seem cognitively trivial; a somewhat better understanding of the Chinese both at home and in America; a case for affirmative action that does not depend on racial bias; and most of all, a better understanding of the dynamics of a truly humane and egalitarian society.

This is a reflection of the patronizing view, which leads to such censorship, that if you hear “hateful words”, you’ll perforce adopt them as your own. Such an attitude gives people no credit for being able to evaluate ideas for themselves. And that’s why nobody should take it upon themselves to be censors. Remember, the book had already been accepted for publication.

In the last paragraph Flynn reiterates this idea:

Discussing why free speech should extend to questions of race and gender necessarily involves presenting views (such as those of Jensen, Murray, and Lynn), if only for purposes of rebuttal, which upset those who believe that racial and sexual equality is self-evident. If upsetting students or staff or the public is a reason for banning speech, all such discussion is at an end. I end the book by quoting from George Orwell’s original preface to Animal Farm, which was itself rejected by Faber and Faber for being too critical of Stalin: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Shame on Emerald Publishing, but I hope to read this book if another publisher has the moxie to put it out.

 

15 thoughts on “James Flynn’s book on free speech was banned after it was accepted

  1. “The first reason is bogus, for even in the UK I strongly doubt they’d prosecute Flynn for making statements that, while not themselves fostering bigotry, could be construed as hate speech by some people in some places at some times.”
    I wouldn’t be so sure about that, as I have seen reports of, not prosecutions, but threats by police that certain actions or speech would be actionable under the law and that prosecutions might follow. UK law seems to follow Middlebury “free speech” rather than the First Amendment: UK standards are very definitely not the equivalent of US standards.

    “Second, the ‘legal action’ issue seems bogus as well, for Flynn says that ‘every reference to a person is documented by citations of published material or material in the public domain.’”
    But, and it’s a huge but, while truth is a defense to libel in both countries, in the US it is up to the person claiming libel to show that the assertedly libelous statement is untrue (burden of proof is on the plaintiff), in the UK it is up to the person making the assertedly libelous statement to show that it is true (burden of proof is on the defendant). This makes it much easier to win a libel case in the UK than in the US, and much more expensive for the defendant – who risks being liable for the plaintiff’s costs as well if he loses. See Deborah Lipstadt and the David Irving libel case on Holocaust denial – the movie about it, “Denial”, is fascinating watching).

    So I think that Emerald might have real reasons for pulling their proposed publication of Flynn’s book in the UK.
    But it’s kind of late in the day for them to back out; so I think the third point, reputational risk (and the consequent economic risk – loss of authors for books and journal articles, loss of buyers for the books and subscribers for the journals, most of which I expect go to universities) is the real reason.

  2. I don’t know if there is a connection, but since the University of Chicago has excellent free speech guidelines, I wonder if the University of Chicago Press would take up the cause. It looks like they publish books on a range of topics.

  3. Shameful.

    There’s also a chorus of left authoritarians on Twitter saying:

    1. This isn’t suppression of free speech

    2. This isn’t an example of cancel culture.

  4. This is a disgrace. As so many of us often say, far-left extremists are as bad as far-right extremists when it comes to wanting to control the behaviour of others.

    The problem is often too that the extremists dominate social media and make it seem like their view is the majority view. Most people are actually more centrist is their views, though of course many veer left or right.

  5. It’s unfortunate to say the least but I understand how a small publishing company might be unwilling to take the risk, especially since the academic world are perhaps the bulk of their customers, judging by their most heavily promoted books on their website. When they say their reputation is at risk, it is not only libel lawsuits but boycotts they must fear. It is my understanding that libel is a much easier case to win in the UK compared to the US and most other places.

    1. I was going to comment but Mr Topping made all my points! I learned from the Singh v Chiropractic affair about the lax libel laws in the UK. It was a scary time for Singh. That said – I eagerly await Flynn’s book. He is THE voice of depth and reason in this area.

  6. “This is a reflection of the patronizing view, which leads to such censorship, that if you hear ‘hateful words’, you’ll perforce adopt them as your own.”

    I’m not sure that “reflection” is quite the right word here; Flynn’s view seems to be antithetical to the censorious point of view.

    I too hope Flynn’s book finds a publisher.

  7. Then Flynn shows us why speech that’s potentially offensive should be free—and published. Here he explains, by quoting from the book, why he’s personally benefited from reading “hate writers”:

    That is anecdote though; I wan’t statistics to know what is better (assuming we are talking about hate speech when we say “hate writers”).

    Some questions here would be:
    – What is the US problem with the UNDHR?
    – Why should US law extend to UK?

    1. Well US law certainly shouldn’t extend to the UK, which has its own perfectly good laws thank you.

      There are two main differences –
      a. Libel lawsuits are much easier to prove in the UK. This is undoubtedly a Bad Thing. It means that plaintiffs who are ‘venue shopping’ will often choose the UK as their favoured jurisdiction.

      b. Most countries other than the US have a ‘loser pays’ default rule on costs. This makes losing a lawsuit substantially more expensive but undoubtedly discourages speculative ‘ambulance-chasing’ no-win-no-pay damages suits in the hope a sympathetic jury will toss the plaintiff a token few million, with salutary savings on insurance premiums for everyone from property owners to manufacturers to medical professionals. Suing (or being sued) is regarded by citizens of such countries as a last resort, not an everyday occurrence. I would argue this is overwhelmingly a Good Thing.

      cr

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