At the time I posted, I wrote this:
The good news is there are a lot of people whom I want to meet, many of them of the “heterodox” stripe. Some of these people I find sympatico, others I don’t care for at all, but I like the idea of the meeting and want to hear some of these folks. Be aware that some speakers have been extensively canceled or demonized, but I refused to be tarred by going to the same meeting with them, so please refrain from that.
You probably know, if you keep up with academic stuff, which speakers have been deemed beyond the pale. Indeed, some of these I disagree with or have found some of their actions offensive. (I’m not going to name names, as that’s irrelevant.) Because of their presence, I’ve been asked by several readers to remove myself from the conference on two grounds:
1.) My reputation will be tarred because I’m speaking at a conference where these other people are speaking.
2.) My very presence will lend credibility to the “miscreants” speaking at the meeting. (This is like saying—if you’re a liberal—that Ross Douthat’s columns in the NYT devalue all the other columnists.)
These two sentiments were expressed again by one reader who wrote me this morning, urging get to withdraw from the meeting:
I saw your name appear in an article about the upcoming Stanford conference on Academic Freedom, and I hope you will reconsider your participation. You have a solid reputation as someone who speaks his mind and is honest in his arguments. That is, even people who disagree with you see you as a good faith actor. On the other hand, the same is not true for some of the people who are also on the conference invitation list, and I am concerned that your name good name will lend credibility to people who do not deserve it and that your reputation will suffer from the association with them.
. . . Letting your name be associated with these folks can do you no good, nor can it help efforts to actually advance the cause of free expression in the academy. I realize that there are several appealing features of the conference; some of the other invitees are impressive, and Stanford is often fun to visit. I hope, however, that you will reconsider.
I am pretty sure that these sentiments will be pretty common. I predict that the mainstream media and many on social media will deem the entire conference a conclave of bigots, racists, and transphobes because a few people on the schedule have been called those names. Indeed, Steve Pinker himself has been the object of criticism, and has been called a racist; and I (deemed “someone with a solid reputation who speaks his mind and is honest in his arguments”) have also been called a transphobe and a racist. Hardly anybody is immune!
The fact is that any conference on academic freedom worth attending will have people in it who could be used to smear the reputations of the “honest brokers”. There are entirely too many accusations of “guilt by association” these days, as some people look for any reason to tear down those with whom they disagree.
I did not decide on (or see) the schedule of speakers before I agreed to participate. Were I to hold such a conference, there are a few people I wouldn’t have invited. But they have been invited, and if you find them offensive as a person, don’t listen to them. (That might be your loss.) I for one will be listening to everyone and making up my own mind about what they say at the meeting, independently of how I regard their past speech and actions but also noting whether what they say comports with what I know about what they’ve said in the past.
So let me state this clearly: I am going to the meeting and I will speak on academic freedom in science on a panel on November 4. My topic will be how ideology is distorting biology, something I’ve written about on this site many times before.
And let me be clear about this, too: My views are my own, and my presence at the conference does not imply endorsement of any of the other speakers. If you deem me as somehow “tainted” because I’m on the bill with some people regarded as unsavory, that is your own decision, but it’s a viewpoint that’s both unfair and incurious.
Make no mistake about it: you will hear a lot of dissing of this meeting by people who object to the speakers, and you’ll see people criticized for being on the schedule with others judged “unacceptable.” To all of you, I say this: “judge each speaker’s presentation by what they say at this meeting. If you want to criticize somebody in advance for what they’ve done or said in the past, that’s fine. But please don’t heap the sins of a few upon everyone else.”
I am going because I have something worth saying (I think) about the corruption of biology by ideology, and why it’s so common. I also want to see several of the participants whom I haven’t had the pleasure to meet.
It seems to me almost unnecessary to say these things, but the modern tendency to deprecate others because of they’re somehow associated with the Demonized (even just being in their presence or speaking at the same meeting) is not only widespread, but deeply unhealthy. Judge each of our talks by its content, not by whether you’re offended by other people speaking over the same two-day period.