HxA reading list

February 18, 2023 • 1:00 pm

For your delectation, here’s a reading list from the Heterodox Academy (HxA).  If you’re a student, professor, or work in higher education, you really should join it; it’s free but you have to request membership. You can read all about it here, including the mission statement, the estimable people who founded it and run it, and some FAQs, including how to join.

Here’s the mission statement, very simple:

To improve the quality of research and education in universities by increasing open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement.

That’s it; pure and simple. It’s “heterodox” in the sense of not blindly going along with “conventional wisdom” or “progressive” tribalism.

This was sent to some of us members, and I don’t think it’s amiss to pass it on to others to not only give them a sense of what reading is recommended by members, but also what writing has been done by members. I’ve already highlighted the article by Musa al-Gharbi below. These pieces are all publicly available by clicking on the link; the readings come from a diversity of sources from both the left and right. If you’re looking for something to read of a Saturday afternoon, check below.

17 thoughts on “HxA reading list

    1. Wow, that’s a very “interesting” article. Talk about saying the quiet part loud:

      “Different ancestral populations—call them “races,” “ethnicities,” or whatever you want—are genetically distinguishable.[29] They have different distributions of traits, including measured IQ [30] and athletic abilities,[31] likely in part because they were subject to different selection pressures in recent history.”

      “As of yet, there is nothing that seriously casts doubt on the hereditarian explanation, and if it weren’t for the political implications this wouldn’t be controversial.”

    2. The why-heterodox-academy-failed piece you link to is one of the most tendentious diatribes I’ve encountered lately. Its author, one Nathan Cofnas, clearly has a personal axe to grind against scholars who take issue with his claims regarding the inherent, genetically based intellectual superiority of white folk. I’m at a loss to see how Cofnas’s arguments fit in with the Heterodox Academy pieces linked to by our host, given that Cofnas plainly views HxA members as stooges for the liberal academy.

      1. I want to know what other people (and especially Dr. Coyne) think about that article’s central point: that everything we’ve seen related to wokeness over the past few years has been based on the underlying assumption that racial and gender disparities can only be explained by racism and/or sexism, and the suppression of scholarship arguing against that assumption. And that as long as the Heterodox Academy and similar organizations or people are unwilling to defend that sort of scholarship, they’re going to be ineffective at changing what they’re ostensibly trying to change. I’ve seen this point made in a few other places, including in comments on this website, but as far as I’m aware Dr. Coyne hasn’t expressed an opinion about this particular thing, which is why I’m curious to know what he thinks about that article.

        1. I can’t attest to the objective truth or falsity of each and every one of Cofnas’s claims about race and achievement. They ought certainly to be raised and discussed in a scholarly manner without risk of being fired for doing so, or grants and papers addressing them being rejected out of hand, if that is the case. The great fear of The Liberal Establishment is that they might in fact be true. Another possibility is that the Establishment secretly knows (or strongly suspects) them to be true but can’t imagine how it would cope if the truth got out. It certainly expends a lot of effort cracking down on fringe racists spreading false claims.

          I sense a whiff of panic in the dismissal of his views as a diatribe from someone clinging to the intellectual flotsam of inherent genetic superiority of white folk.

        2. Thanks Tetrapteryx for posting the Cofnas article. I like Heterodox Academy and have read some of the articles they post. Cofnas thinks HA is too wishy washy, and that’s why it hasn’t made much progress. There may be some truth in that, but I agree with al-Gharbi’s view that the tide is turning. I suspect that if HA took the confrontational stance that Cofnas advocates they would be (even) less successful. They are trying to persuade from within the Left that the extreme Left has gone off the rails.

          But there is another point which is Cofnas’ wish to be able to do proper careful academic research on the taboo subject of the hereditary element of intelligence. I believe he is perfectly sincere in this and I don’t see any evidence that he is not good at it, despite the invective he is subject to. Critics accuse him of pseudo-science, but I think that’s just polemical. I don’t see any evidence for the criticism. Cofnas has written an academic paper arguing for the freedom to pursue this research
          and a popular article defending his approach

          My reading of PCC’s as well as Pinker’s views on group differences in IQ is that they believe they are probably explained by group social differences. They may be right or they may be wrong. Cofnas would like to find out (and I think he is genuine, and doesn’t start from a prejudiced position), but many people would like to stop him. So it boils down to whether research on the cause of group differences in IQ should be banned. Despite the controversial nature of the topic I would support the search for truth. I don’t know exactly whether Pinker would support Cofnas’ research, but he does spend half of the book The Blank Slate arguing that finding the truth is always good and you shouldn’t be scared of it.

        3. It’s certainly not up for debate that “wokeness” is very concerned with a view of structural racism (and sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc). But there are different ways to respond to this. One way would be to say that such structural problems exist, but some proposed solutions (e.g. extreme language policing) are not helpful and even counter-productive. It’s worth noting that one strand of this reflexively uses a fictional black conservative Martin Luther King as a rhetorical weapon against fighting structural racism, but the real MLK was very clear he advocated race-conscious remedies.

          However, another path is to say that structural problems don’t really exist at all. And one strand of this is to say, with varying levels of bluntness vs weasel-wording, that racism is “scientifically” true. And that article is an unusually frank example of the type. It may not go completely there, but it’s close enough in practice.

          Correct in pure logical terms: IF racism is true, THEN wokeness is bad.
          Not correct in logical terms: IF wokeness is bad, THEN racism is true.

          Because “wokeness is bad” is not the same as “racism is false” per above.
          Conflating these two propositions is a big issue of many (not all) anti-woke advocates. People who believe in structural inequality are constantly called upon by “centrists” to apologize for and denounce every nut and kook and troll on the “woke” side. But I don’t see a similar “centrist” intensity of calls for public revulsion for the constant stream of “scientific” racism advocacy which can be found on the “anti-woke” side.

          1. I’m unclear about your point, Seth. Why would anyone “believe in” a worldview like structural inequality? That’s like believing in Marxism or Christian Science—all are each just one interpretation of a set of facts that don’t refute or disprove alternative interpretations, merely state what they believe axiomatically as “beyond debate.” The purveyors of “scientific racism”, one of the potential alternative interpretations, haven’t exactly been getting a free ride. Since Rushton and The Bell Curve, which cites his work, the notion that achievement differences between phenotypic races could be due to anything other than white racism has been suppressed ruthlessly, through woke cancel culture and capture of institutions.

            The kooks and trolls on the woke side try to suppress inquiry as they work to enforce the dogma that scientific racism is unfounded pseudoscience, like phrenology. Yet the scientific racists don’t try to censor CRT adherents or get them fired*. They just want to be heard. It’s the censorious nature of the woke Left that stimulates revulsion, not their social theories per se, wrongheaded though they likely are.

            My own view is that wokism is not some bizarre aberration and perversion of the benevolent Left in its quest along the moral arc, which can be repaired with a bit of pruning. Rather, the Left is necessarily totalitarian as its agenda cannot be implemented using democratic means and so it has to cheat. Wokism, DEI particularly, is the way it cheats.
            * Didn’t use to. But when the Right eventually takes power it will, remembering that the Left broke the Free Speech Deal. Already happening in Florida.

            1. Because there is a massive, enormous, humongous, amount of racism out in the world. It’s just not that long ago when there were literal riots about having black children attend schools with white children. And this not merely matter of personal bigotry, but has deep connections to ongoing economic disadvantage. Yet whenever one tries to talk about this, there’s a giant wall of denial, often trotting out the plaster saint MLK to supposedly tell us to never ever to think about racism again. The phrase “white fragility” is very inflammatory, but it gestures at something real – granting anything is seen as a dangerous opening, hence the other extreme of admitting nothing. It’s a long topic, and I don’t want to spend all day on it. Just take this as a very brief reply. To be clear, this is not an endorsement of any “woke” tactic.

              The free speech issue here is the difference between “Even Nazis, evil odious and abhorrent as they are, have the right to parade because that protects all of us, even the very worst”. And something like “The Liberal Establishment is try to suppress the Nazi truth, because their degenerate Communism is threatened by the righteous Reich. They claim they are the better system, but trying to stop a parade shows them as cowards.”

              These two perspectives give the same result for a parade. But don’t assume the latter is true because of opposition to parade of Nazis.
              (note, this an analogy using the famous Skokie case, not calling anyone a Nazi)

              1. What evidence is there not only that racism still exists (which it clearly does), but that it is producing disparities in areas like income, SAT scores, etc. on a par with what currently exist? Most discourse about this topic from the left simply takes it for granted that racial disparities must be the result of racism, without making much of an attempt to identify specific causal mechanisms. I find it difficult to believe that in the present, universities and employers could be engaging in discrimination against African Americans that’s severe enough to have effects of this magnitude. Nowadays most universities and employers have affirmative action programs, and go out of their ways to recruit people from under-represented groups.

                Another reason to be doubtful systemic racism is the cause is that if that were the case, one would expect white Americans to be the most economically successful group in the United States. In fact, for every recent year that records are available, Asian Americans (particularly people of Indian descent) have had the highest average income. This Tweet presents some of the data in this area, from the U.S. Census Bureau: https://twitter.com/wil_da_beast630/status/1355945332362911746

                This is somewhat of a personal issue for me, because my ancestry is a mixture of Ashkenazi Jewish (on my mother’s side) and Irish (on my father’s side), and my ancestors on both side of my family experienced horrific discrimination and poverty a few generations ago, but eventually worked their way up to be middle class. If you read how the woke explain this, such as the book How the Irish Became White or the doctrine of “Jewish Privilege” (Google it), their explanation basically denies that these groups were responsible for their own success. Because if Jewish Americans, Irish Americans and Asian Americans became successful through some combination of hard work, innate ability, and/or cultural attitudes that viewed the United States as a land of opportunity, that would imply less successful groups must be lacking in one or more of those qualities, and we can’t have that.

              2. You’re referring to the bussing riots in South Boston. 1974 is rather a long time ago. It’s more nuanced than simply “literal riots about having black children attend schools with white children.” It was as much rage about blue-collar white kids being bussed across town from one failing public school to another, pawns in a zero-sum numbers game of racial balance. The important thing about it is that it was divisive and didn’t work. It aggravated white flight.


                Your putting it the way you did reinforces my view that much of the time the race-obsessed Left lies and hopes people don’t notice.

              3. Tetrapteryx – Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic here, are you really unfamiliar with the general arguments about how being oppressed for centuries, and then when combined with ongoing lesser discrimination, can produce severe disparities? I’m not asking if you can give a course on it. But is the overall examination and rebuttals to common objections something you have never heard? About “most discourse from the left”, one could even more easily say most discourse from the Right keeps focusing on talking about supposed racial genetic inferiority.

                I want to try not to go around the exact same stuff these arguments always do, though that might be a fool’s errand. But do you really think you have a killer argument that there’s some affirmative action in some places? That nobody could come up with a plausible explanation why it doesn’t work for any reason, and so racial genetic inferiority must be true? (same thing with “model minority” argument). This is where since I’m not a “woke”, I just don’t know what to say.

                Leslie MacMillan – I was actually thinking of New Orleans in 1960, since Ruby Bridges, one the kids who was rioted against, has recently been promoting a book about her experience. Which proves it wasn’t all that long ago at all in terms of society. This is the fantasy world the Right creates, where racism may have been a problem in some few spots long ago and far away from now. Plus then adds on that it was mostly liberal’s fault anyway, and moreover worse certainly liberal’s fault now for not agreeing with the Right. I keep saying I don’t like “woke” tactics – but I understand the frustration which drives them.

              4. Seth: Please don’t more the goalposts. The argument that we’ve been discussing, that’s typically used to justify decolonization and DEI programs, is that racial disparities are primarily due to racial discrimination that’s going on in the present. If you want to argue that these disparities are the long-term downstream economic effect of slavery, that’s a somewhat more reasonable position. But if that were the cause of the disparities, the type of solution that could address it would be one that could incrementally improve the economic development of black communities, such as programs to make it easier for black children to attend charter schools. Critical Race Theory explicitly rejects these approaches of incremental change, because it proposes that racial disparities are not a legacy of America’s past misdeeds, but rather the result of our present-day institutions being rotten.

                If you want to make an argument for why you think the disparities are caused by the present-day corruption of American society, go ahead. I’ve read a fair amount of Critical Race Theory papers and books, and I haven’t seen an argument for that basic premise that I find convincing. But as I said, please don’t move the goalposts: that particular argument is the one that we’re discussing here, not the history-based one.

                To address your other argument, I’m aware that Critical Race Theory and genetic explanations aren’t the only two possible explanations, and some of explanations based on cultural and historical factors aren’t really unreasonable. Here’s the problem: if you actually read what Critical Race Theorists have written about this topic, they’ve found ways to shoot down virtually all of the latter type of explanation. For example, this article points out that the economic inequality between black and white Americans was the same size in 2015 that it had been in 1963, before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/21/we-used-to-count-black-americans-as-35-of-a-person-instead-of-reparations-give-them-53-of-a-vote/ This article argues that because this disparity hadn’t improved over the course of fifty years, racism therefore must be so deeply ingrained in American society that the only solution is to value Americans’ votes differently depending on their race.

                This type of argument is widespread in the CRT literature. Going with another example, there is an entire body of CRT literature devoted to debunking Thomas Sowell’s ideas in this area. The basic argument is that despite the vast progress that’s been made to eliminate overt forms of discrimination, and to eliminate inequalities in quality of education between black and white students, most disparities between black and white Americans haven’t changed since the 1950s or 1960s, or have only barely changed. And it’s argued that therefore, the disparities can’t be attributed to inequalities in areas like housing or education that have improved over the past 60 years, that the disparities must be caused by insidious forms of racism that exist everywhere, and the only possible solution is much more extreme forms of reverse discrimination. The reason I don’t find these arguments convincing is that even though they do seem to rule out most of the history-based explanations, there also is ONE other explanation that CRT proponents never talk about, or if they do, it’s only to express their outrage against it.

                Unfortunately, in light of this well-known CRT scholarship, I don’t think it will be possible for us to go back to the sort of society that existed 20+ years ago, in which historical explanations for the disparities were dominant. At this point, explanations that invoke a genetic contribution seem to be the only other alternative that CRT proponents haven’t knocked down in this way.

            2. It is not at all clear, Leslie, that the Right ever completely bought into what you term “the Free Speech Deal.” And to the extent it did, it was slow, slow, slow to get there, and quick, quick, quick to find an excuse to abandon that bargain (as is happening most prominently right now in Florida).

              After all it was liberals — and here I have in mind the liberal lawyers of the American Civil Liberties Union for the better part of the first century of its existence and iconic liberal Justices such as Louis Brandeis, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, and William J. Brennan — who gave the US the landmark free-speech decisions of the Warren Court-era. (And the conservative justices who joined them in these decisions — honest-to-Edmund Burke principled conservatives such as the second John Marshall Harlan and Potter Stewart, in contradistinction to the reactionary right-wingers of today’s Republican Party — were known as “free-speech liberals” for crossing the ideological divide to do so.)

              Moreover, there remain many of us to the left of center (and here I include our host, as well as many of the commenters on this website who regularly speak out on First Amendment issues) who consider the right to free speech to be the primus inter pares of civil liberties.

              1. The Deal is just a stable outcome in game theory, Ken. I’m not arguing that there is any multipartisan obeisance to the Enlightenment ideal of free speech for everyone and I’m not particularly interested whether the Right or the Left has been “better” over the decades. (I will agree that historically since the Right has had power more often the the Left, the Left will advocate more often and more strongly for free speech in order, it hopes, to get power from the Right. The Right, therefore, has a vested interest in censorship.)

                No one, not even Voltaire, will really defend to their death my right to say things they strongly disagree with. I have to hope the mob doesn’t call that bluff. In reality, if I have any influence at all, my death will solve a problem for them. They wouldn’t lift a finger if armed agents of the state were coming for me. Almost everyone, other than a few on this website including the host, thinks there is some speech that should be prohibited if it would help get Trump locked up, or prevent climate Armageddon, or improve racial harmony and reconciliation, for example.

                Most of us would like to censor the other side and prevent the other side from censoring us. But since power shifts back and forth, we can’t both have that as our first choice except as we take turns being censored….sort of like political patronage in the civil service. So we all settle for our second choice, which is to exert and submit to no censorship. This is stable to changes in government as long as The Deal holds.

                But the Left today doesn’t really like the deal as unwritten. It wants to censor things that “surely can’t be considered legitimate freedom of speech” — hate speech, climate denialism, scientific racism, Covid “disinformation”, “Islamophobia” (whatever that is). So it sneaks in those exceptions: freedom of speech except what I find appalling. The American Left can’t do much about the robust, vigorous protection of their First Amendment, which acts as policeman for the deal, but the Left in other countries can.

                Eventually the penny drops with the Right that there isn’t really a Deal anymore because the Left has abrogated it, and we snap back to censorship of thee but not of me that was the first choice for both of us. (Or, in America, it might be an interpretation of 1A that applies only to the federal legislative Congress.) So when it is the Right’s turn to power, down comes the sledgehammer on the Left’s tenure agreements and control of the curriculum.

                A partisan Democrat like yourself will naturally see the Right as more morally blameworthy in their grudging acceptance of free speech for Leftists. But in game theory there is no blame. There is only calibration of interests and the need to recognize that a deal lasts only as long as it lasts.

                I’ve previously cited philosopher Paul Viminitz about this and I do so again.

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