Jodi Shaw packs it in at Smith

February 20, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I’ve written several times about the plight of Jodi Shaw (here, here, here, and here), the Smith College employee who was demonized and then investigated by her employer because she would not participate in a racial “struggle session” that involved sharing personal details and feelings that she wasn’t comfortable in divulging. As I wrote earlier on:

Shaw had a beef with the College for forcing her to undergo mandatory training in what seems like critical race theory, and in which she was humiliated by the facilitator for her “white fragility”. Kathleen McCartney, the President of Smith, then responded to Shaw’s first video with a cold-hearted letter to the entire College saying, in effect, something like, “Well, we can’t fire Shaw because of the law, but we’ll ensure that all students of color are protected from harm.”

The expected pile-on began after Shaw, single mother of two, an alumna of Smith, and a liberal, began making a series of calm yet determined videos about what she experienced at Smith. The racial divisiveness of the College apparently went far beyond that one “struggle session.” According to Shaw, that atmosphere permeates Smith, is toxic, and was originally set off by a complaint of racism that proved to be bogus. (Isn’t it ironic that policies designed to foster diversity and inclusion often wind up being non-inclusive and creating greater division?)

Shaw was then investigated by Smith, which put her on leave for making her colleagues feel “harmed”, presumably by making the videos that constitute free expression (see Shaw’s explanation here). Shaw filed a long complaint with Smith, to which she received no reply.

I predicted that Shaw wouldn’t last long at Smith, and, sure enough, as Bari Weiss recounts in a post at her own Substack site, Shaw has parted ways with Smith, rejecting a settlement.

Bari reproduces Shaw’s letter of resignation to Smith’s President, and I’ll reproduce it here, too:

Dear President McCartney:

I am writing to notify you that effective today, I am resigning from my position as Student Support Coordinator in the Department of Residence Life at Smith College. This has not been an easy decision, as I now face a deeply uncertain future. As a divorced mother of two, the economic uncertainty brought about by this resignation will impact my children as well. But I have no choice. The racially hostile environment that the college has subjected me to for the past two and a half years has left me physically and mentally debilitated. I can no longer work in this environment, nor can I remain silent about a matter so central to basic human dignity and freedom.

I graduated from Smith College in 1993. Those four years were among the best in my life. Naturally, I was over the moon when, years later, I had the opportunity to join Smith as a staff member. I loved my job and I loved being back at Smith.

But the climate — and my place at the college — changed dramatically when, in July 2018, the culture war arrived at our campus when a student accused a white staff member of calling campus security on her because of racial bias. The student, who is black, shared her account of this incident widely on social media, drawing a lot of attention to the college.

Before even investigating the facts of the incident, the college immediately issued a public apology to the student, placed the employee on leave, and announced its intention to create new initiatives, committees, workshops, trainings, and policies aimed at combating “systemic racism” on campus.

In spite of an independent investigation into the incident that found no evidence of racial bias [JAC: Smith’s own investigation showed no bias, either], the college ramped up its initiatives aimed at dismantling the supposed racism that pervades the campus. This only served to support the now prevailing narrative that the incident had been racially motivated and that Smith staff are racist.

Allowing this narrative to dominate has had a profound impact on the Smith community and on me personally. For example, in August 2018, just days before I was to present a library orientation program into which I had poured a tremendous amount of time and effort, and which had previously been approved by my supervisors, I was told that I could not proceed with the planned program. Because it was going to be done in rap form and “because you are white,” as my supervisor told me, that could be viewed as “cultural appropriation.” My supervisor made clear he did not object to a rap in general, nor to the idea of using music to convey orientation information to students. The problem was my skin color.

I was up for a full-time position in the library at that time, and I was essentially informed that my candidacy for that position was dependent upon my ability, in a matter of days, to reinvent a program to which I had devoted months of time.

Humiliated, and knowing my candidacy for the full-time position was now dead in the water, I moved into my current, lower-paying position as Student Support Coordinator in the Department of Residence Life.

As it turned out, my experience in the library was just the beginning. In my new position, I was told on multiple occasions that discussing my personal thoughts and feelings about my skin color is a requirement of my job. I endured racially hostile comments, and was expected to participate in racially prejudicial behavior as a continued condition of my employment. I endured meetings in which another staff member violently banged his fist on the table, chanting “Rich, white women! Rich, white women!” in reference to Smith alumnae. I listened to my supervisor openly name preferred racial quotas for job openings in our department. I was given supplemental literature in which the world’s population was reduced to two categories — “dominant group members” and “subordinated group members” — based solely on characteristics like race.

Every day, I watch my colleagues manage student conflict through the lens of race, projecting rigid assumptions and stereotypes on students, thereby reducing them to the color of their skin. I am asked to do the same, as well as to support a curriculum for students that teaches them to project those same stereotypes and assumptions onto themselves and others. I believe such a curriculum is dehumanizing, prevents authentic connection, and undermines the moral agency of young people who are just beginning to find their way in the world.

Although I have spoken to many staff and faculty at the college who are deeply troubled by all of this, they are too terrified to speak out about it. This illustrates the deeply hostile and fearful culture that pervades Smith College.

The last straw came in January 2020, when I attended a mandatory Residence Life staff retreat focused on racial issues. The hired facilitators asked each member of the department to respond to various personal questions about race and racial identity. When it was my turn to respond, I said “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that.” I was the only person in the room to abstain.

Later, the facilitators told everyone present that a white person’s discomfort at discussing their race is a symptom of “white fragility.” They said that the white person may seem like they are in distress, but that it is actually a “power play.” In other words, because I am white, my genuine discomfort was framed as an act of aggression. I was shamed and humiliated in front of all of my colleagues.

I filed an internal complaint about the hostile environment, but throughout that process, over the course of almost six months, I felt like my complaint was taken less seriously because of my race. I was told that the civil rights law protections were not created to help people like me. And after I filed my complaint, I started to experience retaliatory behavior, like having important aspects of my job taken away without explanation.

Under the guise of racial progress, Smith College has created a racially hostile environment in which individual acts of discrimination and hostility flourish. In this environment, people’s worth as human beings, and the degree to which they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, is determined by the color of their skin. It is an environment in which dissenting from the new critical race orthodoxy — or even failing to swear fealty to it like some kind of McCarthy-era loyalty oath — is grounds for public humiliation and professional retaliation.

I can no longer continue to work in an environment where I am constantly subjected to additional scrutiny because of my skin color. I can no longer work in an environment where I am told, publicly, that my personal feelings of discomfort under such scrutiny are not legitimate but instead are a manifestation of white supremacy. Perhaps most importantly, I can no longer work in an environment where I am expected to apply similar race-based stereotypes and assumptions to others, and where I am told — when I complain about having to engage in what I believe to be discriminatory practices — that there are “legitimate reasons for asking employees to consider race” in order to achieve the college’s “social justice objectives.”

What passes for “progressive” today at Smith and at so many other institutions is regressive. It taps into humanity’s worst instincts to break down into warring factions, and I fear this is rapidly leading us to a very twisted place. It terrifies me that others don’t seem to see that racial segregation and demonization are wrong and dangerous no matter what its victims look like. Being told that any disagreement or feelings of discomfort somehow upholds “white supremacy” is not just morally wrong. It is psychologically abusive.

Equally troubling are the many others who understand and know full well how damaging this is, but do not speak out due to fear of professional retaliation, social censure, and loss of their livelihood and reputation. I fear that by the time people see it, or those who see it manage to screw up the moral courage to speak out, it will be too late.

I wanted to change things at Smith. I hoped that by bringing an internal complaint, I could somehow get the administration to see that their capitulation to critical race orthodoxy was causing real, measurable harm. When that failed, I hoped that drawing public attention to these problems at Smith would finally awaken the administration to this reality. I have come to conclude, however, that the college is so deeply committed to this toxic ideology that the only way for me to escape the racially hostile climate is to resign. It is completely unacceptable that we are now living in a culture in which one must choose between remaining in a racially hostile, psychologically abusive environment or giving up their income.

As a proud Smith alum, I know what a critical role this institution has played in shaping my life and the lives of so many women for one hundred and fifty years. I want to see this institution be the force for good I know it can be. I will not give up fighting against the dangerous pall of orthodoxy that has descended over Smith and so many of our educational institutions.

This was an extremely difficult decision for me and comes at a deep personal cost. I make $45,000 a year; less than a year’s tuition for a Smith student. I was offered a settlement in exchange for my silence, but I turned it down. My need to tell the truth — and to be the kind of woman Smith taught me to be — makes it impossible for me to accept financial security at the expense of remaining silent about something I know is wrong. My children’s future, and indeed, our collective future as a free nation, depends on people having the courage to stand up to this dangerous and divisive ideology, no matter the cost.


Jodi Shaw

Weiss ends the piece with her own take (below), which is the same as mine, and links to Shaw’s video asking that the anti-white racism she perceived at Smith be stopped.

What is happening is wrong. Any ideology that asks people to judge others based on their skin color is wrong. Any ideology that asks us to reduce ourselves and others to racial stereotypes is wrong. Any ideology that treats dissent as evidence of bigotry is wrong. Any ideology that denies our common humanity is wrong. You should say so. Just like Jodi Shaw has.

If you would like to help support Jodi with her legal fees during this time — and I hope you do — here is her GoFundMe.

“Diversity and Inclusion” initiatives—”D&I”, as they’re called—may be good at the “D”, but they’re lousy at the “I”. Not only was Shaw was not included, but she was in effect booted out, “excluded.” As far as I can see, Smith was not only never supportive of Shaw, but from the outset sought to push her out of the college. They’ve succeeded. But they have not succeeded at muzzling Shaw, and it’s telling that they offered her money if she would shut up about the College when she left. Now why would they do that?  Bad publicity, of course?

Shaw rejected the offer. I wish her luck.

A kerfuffle about diversity and inclusion at the University of Chicago

November 29, 2020 • 12:00 pm

Actually, the word “kerfuffle” may not be appropriate here, as this is a pretty serious conflict between, on the one hand, a professor who takes issue with his department’s policies about diversity and inclusion, and, on the other, students and alumni, who, outraged by the professor’s opinion, have taken steps, in a letter/petition, to get the professor severely punished for expressing his views on YouTube.

The whole issue is concisely summarized by my law-school colleague Brian Leiter on his website Leiter Reports (click on the screenshot):

The (associate) professor is Dr. Dorian Abbot in our Department of Geophysical Sciences, who posted four YouTube videos, with slides, taking issue with some initiatives about diversity and inclusion. His talks emphasized the need for a meritocracy rather than “quotas” of minority applicants, and as well as asserting that it’s not the business of universities to promote social justice. Unfortunately, although I watched the videos earlier, Abbot has taken them down, though his slides are still online (see the first sentence of Leiter’s excerpt below). Here’s one slide that was guaranteed to cause problems for him:

Here’s another of Abbot’s slides. (The “Holdomor” refers to the Soviet genocide by famine of the kulaks (rich peasants) in 1932-1933 in Ukraine.

This stuff is guaranteed to anger those who see social-justice work, at present, as one of the most pressings things a university can do in its official capacity. Further, criticizing identity politics, when they’re the predominant kinds of politics on campus, is just not on. The backlash against Abbot was strong and severe (and probably predictable), and is summarized by Leiter below.

Have a look especially at the letter to Abbot’s department from 162 people affiliated with the University of Chicago and Geophysical Sciences (their names are unfortunately blacked out, though I think signers should make their names public). The letter demands all kinds of accounting and punishments for what Abbot did.  These including giving Abbot’s graduate and undergraduate students a way to opt out of his mentorship and teaching, making a departmental statement that Abbot’s videos were “unsubstantiated, inappropriate, and harmful to department members and climate” (the exact “harm” that occurred isn’t specified), and measures like this:

[The department should] Implement accountability measures to address patterns of bigoted behaviour in both the department’s hiring/promotion/tenure process and teaching opportunities. For example, faculty who persistently engage in bigoted behaviour should be prevented from taking on teaching roles, new graduate students/post-docs/staff, and committee responsibilities.

Below is part of Leiter’s post about the issue, and I have to say that I agree with much of it. I don’t agree with everything Abbot said on his videos or in his slides (as I’ve repeatedly said, I favor some form of affirmative action in hiring professors or accepting graduate students), but neither do I agree that Abbot, for exercising his free speech as a professor, and raising issues that do deserve some discussion, should be demonized and punished in this way.

My preferred response, were I a student or faculty member who took issue with Abbot’s claims, would be counterspeech: rebutting them. The anger evinced in the letter to his department seems to me a huge overreaction, but in line with many responses to “anti-woke” stuff on college campuses. But of course the letter-writers have every right to say what they want about Abbot and demand that he be punished. I don’t think he should suffer demonization in this way, as it represents a chilling of speech: if you oppose the au courant ideology, you will be attacked big time, and who wants to undergo that?

I recommend you look at the links. From Leiter, and  note that there’s a petition supporting Abbot’s freedom of speech that you can sign:

You can see the slides that formed the basis for his presentations to his colleagues here,  herehere, and here; his own account of events is here.  I agree with some of what he has to say, and disagree with other parts.  But his views are not “hateful,” “harmful” or out of place in a university that values free discussion on important issues.

For dissenting from “diversity” orthodoxy, Professor Abbot has now been subjected to a disgraceful public denunciation by postdocs and graduate students in Geology (and other UChicago science departments (complete with fictitious claims about “aggression” and “safety”).  The public version of the letter omits the names of the benighted grad students and postdocs.  But some faculty and postdocs have gone public with their delusional responses:  for example, Assistant Professor Graham Slater’s Twitter thread is here  (do review the actual slides to see how unhinged this take is), and the reaction of a geology postdoc at Chicago, Michael Henson (also here).

There is now a petition in support of Professor Abbott here which I encourage readers to sign.

Leiter adds this:

There’s very little extramural speech that ought to have any bearing on hiring or promotion decisions in universities, but open contempt like that above for academic freedom and lawful expression–which are foundational to the academic enterprise–probably should count against someone.  (We’ve touched on this issue before.)  If people like Slater and Hanson carry on like this now, what kind of damage will they do to their departments and disciplines once they have tenure?

I don’t like anyone being punished or demonized for exercising freedom of speech, but the people who will suffer from this are not those who came out against Abbot, but Abbot himself. Perhaps he didn’t realize what a beehive he was entering with his YouTube videos, for much of the country is simply unaware of social-justice conflicts. But freedom of speech is paramount, and if people don’t like what Abbot said, they can avoid him, leave his mentorship (but not his classes, I think!), or criticize him. And that’s as far as it should go. We needn’t call for his head on a platter.

A tiny 10-cm dinosaur that ate bugs

July 29, 2020 • 9:00 am

Note: The classification of “dinosaur” above isn’t totally accurate, for the creature discussed below is an archosaur, a member of the group that gave rise to dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and crocodilians. But we might as well call it a dinosaur, as few people know what an “archosaur” is.

The ancestors of the dinosaurs could not have been big, for they evolved from amphibians, and amphibians, for a number of reasons, are limited in size.  But this new paper in PNAS shows that some of the earliest ancestors of dinos were very small—not just small, but tiny. The new species described below, which falls into a group that later diverged into pterosaurs (flying reptiles) and the dinosaurs, was only 10 cm tall, the distance between my index fingers in the photo below:

Click on screenshot to read the paper; the pdf is here, and reference at bottom of post.

The partial skeleton of this tiny creature, whose dentition suggests it ate insects, was discovered in 1998 in Southwestern Madagascar. Although the age of the specimen is a bit uncertain, a good estimate is about 237 million years.

Here are some drawings of the parts of the skeleton they recovered, including leg bones, a forearm bone, and the jaws (interpreted as coming from single individual), and a figure showing where they fit into the body (figure F). The size, estimated from the bones, which clearly put the species in the ancestral group Ornithodira (also known as Avemetatarsalia), show that the creature was only about 10 cm tall. It must have been really cute: a pet-sized reptile. Note that the length of the scale bar on the left, showing the femurs, is one centimeter (about 4/10 of an inch), while on the right the scale bar for the jaws is only about 40 mm (1.6 inches):

(from paper): Anatomy of the femur and maxilla of Kongonaphon kely gen. et sp. nov. (UA 10618). (A) Right femur in anterolateral, (B) posteromedial, and (C) proximal views. (D) Right maxilla in right lateral and (E) palatal views. (F) Preserved elements in the holotype, UA 10618, presented in a silhouette of Kongonaphon. aof, antorbital fenestra; at, anterior trochanter; fht, tip of femoral head; fp mx, facial process of maxilla; ft, fourth trochanter; mx f, maxillary foramen; pf, palatine fossa; pmt, posterior medial tubercle; t, maxillary tooth. Illustrations credit: American Museum of Natural History/Frank Ippolito.

The authors named the fossil Kongonaphon kely, meaning “tiny bug slayer”. They explain the etymology:

. . . derived from kongona (Malagasy, “bug”) and φον (variant of ancient Greek φονεύς, “slayer”), referring to the probable diet of this animal; kely (Malagasy, “small”), referring to the diminutive size of this specimen.

The teeth, as you can see in the drawing above, were simple ones: conical and without serrations. That suggests that the creature lived on insects (I used “bug” in the title as a generic word for insects, though technically, bugs are in the order Hemiptera). The estimated size of 10 cm comes from the size of the preserved femur, which is only about 1.6 inches long. The specimen wasn’t a juvenile, as the authors saw signs of arrested growth in the fossil bones. The bones also indicate strongly that K. kely was bipedal, like T. rex and the theropods.

To place this individual in the phylogeny of dinosaurs and their ancestors, the authors did a computer analysis of 422 characters derived from these bones, and K. kely fell out in group B of the phylogeny below, which includes the dinosaurs and the pterosaurs (the relative size of this tiny species is shown to the right). I’ve put a box around K. kely.

B is the base of the Ornithodira, the group that gave rise to all dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and you see that K. kely is an early (“basal”) member of this group

(from paper): Body size of early avemetatarsalian (bird line) archosaurs mapped onto a consensus supertree, based on the current phylogenetic analysis (SI Appendix) and recent analyses (22). Silhouettes are scaled to estimated femoral lengths for the labeled nodes (SI Appendix, Table S1): A, base of Avemetatarsalia (represented by Teleocrater); B, base of Ornithodira (represented by Ixalerpeton); C, base of Dracohors (Silesauridae + Dinosauria) (represented by Silesaurus); and D, base of Saurischia (represented by Herrerasaurus). Silhouettes credit: Phylopic/Scott Hartman/Mathew Wedel, which is licensed under CC BY 3.0. Silhouette of Kongonaphon to the right of the taxon label is to scale.

Here’s a reconstruction of K. kely, eyeing a beetle, from Science Alert;  (artist’s impression by Alex Boersma):

Now the diminutive size of this creature doesn’t mean that the common ancestor of all dinos and peterosaurs was this small. But it does imply that the ancestor of those groups, which falls out in a “reconstruct-the-size” analysis, was smaller than we thought. K. kely itself could have been the result of a “miniaturization event” in which a somewhat larger ancestor produced some tiny descendants. The estimated size of ancestral Ornithodiran  is estimated fo be about 13.3 cm, or about 5.3 inches tall, and the ancestral species of the Dinosauromorphs, which includes dinos and birds but not pterosaurs, is even smaller, about 6.5 cm (2.5 inches)!

What are the implications of this beyond showing that the ancestral dino and ancestral dino/pterosaur were likely a lot smaller than we thought? Well, first of all, we have no idea why these early creatures were so small. My own guess is that since insects had already evolved, there was an “open niche” to specialize in eating them, and if you want to make a living as a terrestrial reptile eating insects, you can’t be the size of a T. rex.

The authors note that the small size of this species (and probably its close relatives) accounts for the absence of ornithodirans in Early and Middle Triassic faunas, for small creatures have tiny, fragile bones that aren’t easily preserved. In fact, our best knowledge of early Ornithodirans previously came from sediments in Argentina whose nature allowed for the preservation of small animals.

Finally, the authors speculate that these small species would have a problem with heat retention, since they were ectothermic (“cold blooded”). Small creatures have a higher surface area/volume ratio than larger ones, which means more heat lost by radiation. Thus, suggest the authors, the filaments covering the bodies of some dinos and pterosaurs—which might have been homologous to feathers that eventually covered the theropods—would have been useful as insulation. This sounds good, but of course there are plenty of extant small insect-eating reptiles, like geckos and anoles, that make a fine living without feathers. But it would still be useful to look at these early, small species to see if there is any evidence for filamentous body cover.


Kammerer, C. F., S. J. Nesbitt, J. J. Flynn, L. Ranivoharimanana, and A. R. Wyss. 2020. A tiny ornithodiran archosaur from the Triassic of Madagascar and the role of miniaturization in dinosaur and pterosaur ancestry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117:17932-17936.


University of Wisconsin-Parkside professor and dean suggests, on Hezbollah t.v., that U.S. made and released coronavirus to conquer other countries, and that Hitler wasn’t so unusual in his behavior

April 2, 2020 • 9:30 am

Well, here we see a snake employed as an American professor (of sociology) as well as a dean in a respectable university. Meet an unhinged, muddled, lying, and hate-spreading academic: Seif Da’na, a Palestinian-American Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (UWP).  He’s not only a tenured professor there, but also an associate dean and a departmental chair. And he teaches these classes listed on his website:


One wonders if he passes on his palpably crazy views to his students, or instills them with hatred on completely bogus grounds.  A short video and transcript of what he said in a recent t.v. interview can be seen by clicking on the screenshot below. (I note that Da’na appears to be an anti-Zionist as well, claiming that the entire country of Israel is a “pure settlement.”)

The 1.75-minute excerpt is posted on the MEMRI site, and comes from Da’na’s interview with Manar TV, a Hezbollah operation from Lebanon. Here he says a bunch of insane things about Hitler, about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and, most of all, about the U.S. possibly making and “leaking” Covid-19 as a way to subjugate and kill people in other countries. (Too bad the scientists who might have “leaked” the virus didn’t anticipate that it would come back to the U.S.!)

Click on the screenshot below to go to the MEMRI site:

And you can see the video clip by clicking on the video at the same site.

Da’na is not far away from me: UWP happens to be where Greg teaches, but he notes that he was unaware of Da’na’s views until I brought them to his attention this morning, and adds that he doesn’t agree with the views expressed in this clip.

Here’s MEMRI’s transcript of what Da’na says, where he suggests that this might be a conspiracy, but slightly hedges his words so he doesn’t claim it outright. But you get the gist of what he’s saying:

Seif Da’na: “[Regarding the coronavirus] – more people die every year not just from diseases that you can get vaccinated for, like malaria – from which half a million people [die] in Africa – but also from the West’s economic policies – at least in the 20th century and the two decades of the 21st century. More people die every year from the consequences of these economic issues than from what is happening now.

“This is exactly like what happened with Hitler. Hitler did not do anything out of the ordinary. He did not do anything that had not been done by the Europeans before. In the colonial days, in the countries of the [global] south, they would kill hundreds of thousands and even millions of people. Hitler came to be viewed as Satan just because he did what he did in Europe.

“The question about how this virus appeared has not been settled yet. As of now, there is no ‘patient zero’ in China, and therefore, we do not talk here about a conspiracy as much as we talk about the leaking of the viruses from a laboratory at Fort Detrick in the United States.

“Perhaps this leaking was not deliberate. We are not talking here about a conspiracy, even though the U.S. annihilated two whole cities in Japan during WWII, despite this being unnecessary. They were already winning the war, but they still used the nuclear bombs.”

First, Da’na is dead wrong about there being a malaria vaccine—there isn’t one! As Greg notes, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that there’s no malaria vaccine, that people are working on one, and that perhaps we’ll have one by 2030. One hopes!

Note that Da’na says that the Covid-19 pandemic might not be a conspiracy but adds that the viruses might have “leaked” from Fort Detrick, once the U.S. center for biological weapons but now, according to Wikipedia, it hosts “most elements of the United States biological defense program.” This casual, unevidenced mention of Fort Detrick, with the assurance that Da’na isn’t not conspiracy mongering, is, of course, classical conspiracy mongering: a virus at Fort Detrick “leaked” “non-deliberately”—to a city in central China? This, along with the false assertion that there’s a malaria vaccine, is the kind of stuff that gives sociology a bad name.

Finally, Da’na compares the “leaking” of the virus to the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, furthering the idea that the “release” of the virus was intended to destroy American enemies, just like the nuclear weapons.  Re the atomic bomb, Greg wrote me this, which I quote with his permission:

While there is debate about the necessity of the atomic bombings of Japan, I strongly believe there can only be legitimate questioning of the second (Nagasaki). The quite effective changes in defensive tactics adopted by the Japanese Army in response to prior Allied victories, which the Japanese Army used skillfully in the horrific battles on Iwo Jima and Okinawa (horrific for everyone, and even more so for the Japanese), meant that the invasion of the main islands would have been unthinkable. Japan could have been eventually blockaded, starved, and conventionally bombed into submission, but it would have been many months more, and almost certainly with more deaths and suffering.

Now I don’t think Da’na should be fired or penalized for expressing these views. It’s his First Amendment right, and falls under academic freedom as well. But what he doesn’t have the right to do is to assert them as facts (or, perhaps, even as unevidenced suggestions) to his classes. (I have no idea what he tells his students.) That would be the equivalent of a creationist teaching Biblical creationism (or any creationism) in biology class—in my view a disciplining or firing offense. You can say whatever crazy things you want when you’re off the clock, but academics don’t have the right to teach lies to their classes, and it’s a dereliction of duty to propagandize your class.

But I wonder if Da’na’s colleagues and administrators know that he even holds these crazy views. At least they could—as Lehigh University’s biology department does with Michael Behe—disavow them, especially since Da’na is a dean.

University craziness of the week: George Washington University goes Disney

February 11, 2020 • 10:30 am

This article, appearing two weeks ago at Academe Blog, an organ of the respectable American Association of University Professors, could only have been written by a professor with tenure. And so it was, by Dane Kennedy, identified as “the Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University.”

Tenure is required to write such a piece is because it is a sharp (and well deserved) critique of what a very good university, George Washington University (GWU) is doing to its faculty, staff, and overall campus climate. The good bad officials at that school have decided to let Walt Disney corporate values run GWU. Click on the screenshot to read the short and horrifying article:

An excerpt:

The George Washington University faculty and staff ain’t got no culture. Or worse, we’ve got a negative culture. This was the verdict of the Disney Institute, which the president of our university commissioned last year to assess the culture on our campus. Fortunately, the institute, which is the “professional development and external training arm of The Walt Disney Company,” has a remediation plan. It has designed workshops to teach us the cultural “values” and “service priorities” we evidently require.

. . . Our president is rumored to have forked over three to four million dollars to the Disney Institute to improve our culture (he refuses to reveal the cost). A select group of faculty and staff, those identified as opinion leaders, are being offered all-expenses paid trips to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando “to gain first-hand insight into Disney’s approach to culture.” For everyone else, the university is conducting culture training workshops that run up to two hours. All staff and managers are required to attend. Faculty are strongly “encouraged” to participate, and some contract faculty, who have little job security, evidently have been compelled to do so.

I attended one of these workshops. It was a surreal experience. About a hundred mostly sullen university employees—maintenance workers, administrative staff, faculty members, and more—filled a ballroom. Two workshop leaders strained to gin up the crowd’s enthusiasm with various exhortations and exercises, supplemented by several slickly produced videos. The result was a cross between a pep rally and an indoctrination camp.

We were introduced at the beginning of the workshop to the university’s brand new slogan: “Only at GW, we change the world, one life at a time.” Hold on. We change the world only at GW? And we achieve this absurd ambition how? The answer, it turns out, is pretty vacuous—by being nice. “Care,” we were told, is one of our three “Service Priorities.” We were given “Service Priorities” table-tent cards, conveniently sized for our pocketbooks and billfolds so we can whip them out whenever we needed to remind ourselves how we change the world. These cards offer a series of declarative statements—pabulum, some might say—about our “care” priorities. Here’s a sample: “I support a caring environment by greeting, welcoming, and thanking others.” To help us care for others, the university has established a “positive vibes submission” website, where we “can send a positive vibe to someone.” It was hard to detect many positive vibes in the workshop itself.

In response to the slogan, “Only at GW, we change the world, one life at a time” (a mantra cribbed from an old Jewish saying), my only response is “WTF??” Did they have Play-Doh, puppies, and balloons at this workshop?  It goes on, but you can read the rest for yourself. The peroration, which is good:

Lastly, we were introduced to “Our GW Values”—“ours” only in the sense that they were being imposed on us. One might think that our president would be interested in promoting and honoring the values that are specific to our mission as a university, such as innovative research, teaching excellence, critical inquiry, and new ideas. Think again. As crafted by the Disney Institute and its administrative acolytes, “Our GW Values” are “integrity,” “collaboration,” “courage,” “respect,” “excellence,” “diversity,” and “openness.” All worthy values, to be sure, but is it possible to offer a more generic and innocuous set of standards?

The GW culture initiative can be summed up in two words: Mickey Mouse.

This is not just the infantilization of students, but the infantilization of an entire university—lock, stock and barrel. It’s reprehensible, risible, and should be mocked. Which I’ve just done. But hey, if you’re one of the lucky ones invited to an all-expenses-paid gig at Disney World, how can you resist?

And if you want verification, here’s a 2019 article about this nonsense in the student newspaper, the GW Hatchet (click on screenshot):

h/t: Reese

Marxist prof demands an end to grading, a meritocratic ranking that props up a rotten capitalism

August 8, 2019 • 12:00 pm

At hand we have a passionate editorial in Truthout, a left-wing site, written by Richard D. Wolff, described by Wikipedia as ” an American Marxian economist, known for his work on economic methodology and class analysis. He is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York. Wolff has also taught economics at Yale University, City University of New York, University of Utah, University of Paris I (Sorbonne), and The Brecht Forum in New York City.”

Click on the screenshot to read his lucubrations.

Now four days ago I wrote about Bret Stephens’s thesis that a lot of the student unrest on American campuses comes as a revolt against the meritocracy, which, claims Stephens, is inimical to a “radical egalitarianism” that to many is the basis for social justice. In his piece, Wolff argues that grading is not only an unwanted part of a capitalistic meritocracy, and is inimical to education itself, but is also used to buttress capitalism, keeping people ordered and in their place.

I will let you read his argument for yourself. My own take on grading is that it’s imperfect, slotting students into one of five to a dozen categories, but it’s not useless. (In my grad courses, where I wasn’t required to give grades, everyone got a “pass”—a “P”—unless they required a grade, in which case I gave them a written assignment (my grad courses were all discussion and reading courses).  As I recall, some colleges (Reed College may be one of them) don’t give grades, but provide written evaluations for each student. That would be ideal, though it seems hard for grad schools or employers to use such evaluations since there’s nothing to compare.  And that brings up the issue of what grades are for.

Wolff sees grades as of no benefit to students, but only to employers or graduate schools. He’s largely right, I think, though grades are also a way of self-evaluation, letting you know that you’re not performing up to snuff. A lot of students in elite colleges haven’t ever had to compete with a huge number of equally talented students, and a low grade may be a sign that you’re not working hard enough.

Yes, grades are imperfect evaluations, but I see no alternative to some form of evaluation. But I reject the idea that they’re deliberately used to prop up capitalism, a system that, says Wolff, is rotten to the core, and almost would collapse without grades and the attendant meritocracy they foster. For example:

The capitalist economic system has major failures. It generates extreme, socially divisive inequalities of wealth and income. It consistently fails to achieve full employment. Many of its jobs are boring, dangerous and/or mind-numbing. Every four to seven years, it suffers a mysterious downdraft in which millions of people lose jobs and incomes, businesses collapse, falling tax revenues undermine public services, and so on. If these failures were widely perceived as the inherent failures of the capitalist system, the desirability and thus sustainability of capitalism itself might vanish.

How, then, has capitalism survived? Its persistence can best be explained in terms of ideology. The system produces and disseminates interpretations of its failures that blame these problems not on capitalism itself, but on other altogether different “causes.” Institutions have developed mechanisms to anchor such interpretations widely and deeply in the popular consciousness.

One key example is the concept of “meritocracy.” Schools are a key institution that teaches and practices meritocracy via the mechanism of grading.

Presumably Wolff wants a purely socialistic state, but those have always failed, largely because there’s a lack of incentive. Mixed systems, such as those in Scandinavia and, in fact, in much of Europe, are more successful. Even the U.S., with its Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits, is a bit socialistic. But Wolff doesn’t seem to favor that system.

Wolff also raises other problems with grades besides their use as a prop of a failing capitalism. They take excessive time for professors (but not as much time as written evaluations!); a low grade could be the fault of a poor teacher rather than a poor student; grading could measure memorization rather than learning; and students could have not a wrong understanding, but a different understanding. In fact, Wolff shades a bit into postmodernism when he says stuff like this:

Did the student understand the material differently from me in ways not reducible to matters of right and wrong? After all, every piece of verbal or written material is subject to perfectly reasonable multiple interpretations. Education is not well served by insisting on one answer as right and alternatives as wrong. Such insistence is more like indoctrination than education; it undermines creative, critical thinking.

Let a hundred truths blossom! Sometimes, at least in science, one answer is right, and so you can use multiple-choice questions. (I almost never used them; even in large classes I tried to give mostly short essay questions involving “thought.”

What bothers me most about Wolff’s article is that he seems completely opposed to even the idea of a meritocracy. He suggests that any ranking of people is inimical to the socialist society he wants. Yet how can you hire anybody, or achieve excellence, unless you have a way of ranking people? Granted, you can modify a pure meritocracy by adopting other goals (“diversity and inclusion” is the main one in universities), but no college will accept students without some way to rank them. What kind of society can we have if we can’t evaluate people’s skills relative to each other? Yet it seems that’s what Wolff wants:

Within the framework of meritocratic ideology, employers seek to hire the “best” employee and are willing to pay such individual workers more than they pay workers with “less” merit (ranked lower on some scale of productivity). In meritocratic logic, those offered no jobs can only blame themselves: They must assume they have too little merit. Workers learn in school to seek to accumulate merit and achieve higher rankings along the scales that count for employers. Coalitions of educators and employers have inserted the educational system into this merit system as an important place to acquire and accumulate merit that employers will recognize and reward. Better jobs and rising pay reward rising merit acquired through more education as well as “on-the-job” training.

. . . Meritocracy and the educational system’s key place within it are important because capitalism’s survival depends on them. The merit system organizes how individual employees interpret the unemployment they suffer, the job they hate, the wage or salary they find so insufficient, the creativity their job stifles, and so on. It starts as schools train individuals to accept the grades assigned to them as measures of individual academic merit. That prepares them to accept their jobs and incomes as, likewise, measures of their individual productive merit. Under this framework, unequal grades, jobs and income can all be seen as appropriate and fair: Rewards are supposedly proportional to one’s individual merit.

. . . Meritocracy redirects the blame for capitalism’s failures onto its victims. Schools teach meritocracy, and grading is the method.

But I ask the sweating professor: “What is the alternative?” Do we not rank people at all? And if you want that, what are the implications for society?

Here’s the man himself:

Richard D. Wolff

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying on sex, lies, and ideology

February 10, 2019 • 11:15 am

Here we have Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, a couple who were both biology professors at The Evergreen State College (TESC) but were driven out of that place by Authoritarian Leftists whose actions, among the students, bordered on thuggery. Since then they’ve been academic nomads, but have made several videos and podcasts about their experiences and about biology.

Here both Bret and Heather discuss a number of topics, most prominent the touchy issue of sex and gender. The discussion is good and well worth 26 minutes of your time, as it shows how you can be a progressive without having to distort biology or truckle to Blank Slateist ideologues.

The YouTube notes:

In this conversation with Rebel Wisdom’s David Fuller they explain how their experience at Evergreen has influenced their discussions of sex and gender. Heather and Bret will be appearing at the first ‘Rebel Wisdom Summit’ on May 12 in London. For more information, visit

The video:


I agree with most of what Bret and Heather say, though am a bit wary of viewing much of these kerfuffles through the lens of evolutionary game theory, which Bret tends to do. That said, he and Heather are using their knowledge of biology to address issues of gender and sex in ways that are honest, but may inflame members of the Authoritarian Left.

Bret notes that, in his experience with trans people at TESC, these people wanted to be treated with decency and respect but didn’t have much desire to rewrite laws that, say, would allow anybody to claim that they’re the sex that corresponds to their gender identity, allow trans females to compete against other females in athletics, and so on. Bret’s take is that those political actions are being “driven by other people who have an agenda, and trans is the excuse for bullying those of us who would say, ‘Actually biology trumps these other considerations. You cannot overwrite the biology. You can make allowances for identifying this way or that way but the biology will remain what it is.'”

Both he and Heather agree that sex is biologically based and almost completely binary, based on difference in gamete size, secondary sexual characteristics, and so on. Heather adds that for some traits, like brain size or structure, there are average differences between males and females (contra Cordelia Fine), but that these distributions overlap; the differences here are in group averages, and are fuzzier than differences in gamete size. The fuzziness, she says, holds true for “gender” as well, which she defines as sex roles. That is, some fish have “gender” in that they act like females, sometimes to fool males and get a sneaky copulation. So too with humans, as different people behave differently with respect to their roles as members of one sex or another.

Heather notes that some Leftists claim that there are 70 or 80 genders based on how different cultures divide up these things, but she doesn’t find this distinction useful. She adds, and Bret agrees, that there are gender roles in humans, and some of these behavioral differences are based on evolution, but also that some of these roles are now harmful and outdated, and should be eliminated.

Bret asserts that “patriarchy is a myth”, at least as construed as a “conspiracy of males against females” (he does add that “groups of men can gang up on women”). His reasons for denying patriarchy are based on evolution: any gene (except for those on the Y chromosome) spends half its time in males and half its time in females, and it wouldn’t make evolutionary sense for a gene to allow one sex to dominate another. Well, that’s not really true, as it depends on the net reproductive effects of such genes on males and females. In sexually selected species like ducks, there can be genes in which males attack, forcibly copulate with, and even drown females. Yes, those genes are present in both sexes, but their expressions vary depending on which sex they’re in! On the whole, when a gene like that finds itself in males, it expresses itself via sexual aggression, creating a duck patriarchy. The genes presumably aren’t active in females, and so their value in getting copulations gives them a net selective advantage.

Further, patriarchal actions often depend on culture rather than genes. Men denying women the right to vote, or denying them educational and job opportunities, must have at least a substantial cultural component. Where I differ from Bret here is in his claim that patriarchy makes no sense because it makes no evolutionary sense. It certainly makes cultural sense if one sex is stronger than another and can gain benefits by dominating the other sex. But I agree with him and Heather that this kind of domination is outmoded and inimical.

There is some discussion by Bret and Heather about tech companies like Google and their attack on scientifically accepted gender differences, and about what features of the Left allow this to happen, but that’s speculative and a bit less interesting to me.

What I did find interesting was Bret’s answer to Fuller’s question, at 22:25, about why he spends his time attacking “small corners of the left” when most of the bad stuff in society is being done by the Authoritarian Right. Bret has a good answer, involving his own evenhandedness (I’m a bit less evenhanded— don’t want to police the Right since all my colleagues and friends are already doing it), as well as his desire to show centrists that you can be a Lefty and not a Loonie, and to show that you can speak the truth about biology as a progressive and not suffer too much. Well, Bret did suffer, as did Heather, but I admire them for not backing down. This video shows that they continue to be a valuable asset to the Left—even more so because they are biologists.

I’ll just add one example of how biologists have been cowed by the Authoritarian Left: the conflation of gender with sex as shown in a statement issued by all three major evolution and naturalist societies. That was embarrassing and even shameful, and I wrote about at this link.

Academic mob goes after scholar for simply urging debate on issues of race, genes, and intelligence

December 8, 2018 • 2:00 pm

This is the first piece from Quillette I’ve seen that doesn’t have an author—it’s an editorial written by “Quillette Magazine”. (Could that be Claire Lehmann?) But it doesn’t matter, for the piece describes a genuine academic witch hunt, one of many we’ve seen in the past two years. Click on the screenshot to read the editorial, and note that its title mocks along with the Stalinist nature of these mobs and of the “open letter” denouncng social scientist Noah Carl of the University of Cambridge:

Carl’s interest is “how intelligence and other psychological characteristics affect beliefs and attitudes,” and his Big Sin was to defend the right of academics to study and write about race, genes, and intelligence. As Quillette notes, Carl argues “that stifling debate in these areas is more likely to cause more harm than allowing them to be freely discussed by academics.”  But these topics are some of the Taboo Subjects Not Open to Academic Debate. (Carl, by the way, appears to think that there’s no resolution about the genetic contribution of IQ differences between “races”.)

That doesn’t matter. As Quillette reports:

Three hundred academics from around the world, many of them professors, have signed an open letter denouncing Dr Carl and demanding that the University of Cambridge “immediately conduct an investigation into the appointment process” on the grounds that his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed.” The letter states: “we are shocked that a body of work that includes vital errors in data analysis and interpretation appears to have been taken seriously.” Yet the letter contains no vidence of any academic misconduct. It does not include a single reference to any of Dr Carl’s papers, let alone any papers that are “ethically suspect” or “methodologically flawed.”

Drawing on disparate fields of research in psychology, psychometrics and sociology, Dr Carl’s papers have been peer reviewed and published in journals such as Intelligence, Personality & Individual Differences, The American Sociologist, Comparative Sociology, European Union Politics, and The British Journal of Sociology. His papers have been cited 235 times since 2013.

Much of Dr Carl’s research focuses on how intelligence and other psychological characteristics affect beliefs and attitudes. Papers include: Leave and Remain voters’ knowledge of the EU after the referendum of 2016Cognitive Ability and Political Beliefs in the United Statesand his most cited paper, published in Intelligence in 2014, Verbal Intelligence is correlated with socially and economically liberal beliefs.

Which of these, or any of Dr Carl’s other papers, contain “vital errors in data-analysis”? We’re not told. Nevertheless, on the strength of these allegations alone, with no supporting evidence provided, the letter’s authors have invited people to sign the petition—and hundreds have.

Quickly scanning the list of signatories, I found—as is usual in such cases—that nearly all the signatories are in the humanities, with a real dearth of people in the hard sciences (by “hard,” I mean biology, physics, and chemistry). (There are a couple of physicists and, curiously, a larger dollop of mathematicians.) Why is there always this disparity between scientists and humanities scholars?

At any rate, this kind of mindless denunciation of someone without evidence—except for Carl’s attending a meeting at which Even More Demonized People spoke—is typical fare in academia these days. I wonder how many of the people who signed that letter even read a single paper by Dr. Carl.

Princeton’s course on how marginalized scientists can produce “different ways of knowing”

December 5, 2018 • 10:45 am

The class below, found on the Princeton University course website, asks two questions:

1.) Is science gendered, racialized, ableist, and classist?


2.) Does the presence or absence of women (and other marginalized individuals) lead to the production of different kinds of scientific knowledge?


Do any of you doubt for a moment that the answer to both questions is “yes”? (My answers to both would be “no”, since while some scientists may be bigots, science itself cannot be, as it’s simply a method for producing knowledge.) And I’d argue against anyone who claims that different sexes or ethnic groups will produce “different kinds of scientific knowledge”. Maybe they’ll ask different questions, and if that’s what Catherine Taylor means, fine, but there are already plenty of women scientists who ask exactly the same type of questions, in the same way, as do men scientists. Check out Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier’s work on CRISPR/Cas9, which builds on work by a whole community of scientists of different sex and nationality. Doudna and Charpentier approach molecular biology in exactly the way everyone else does.

In fact, if the answers to the course’s questions were “no”, there would be no need for such a course. What we have here is a semester-long exercise in confirmation bias.

Evelyn Fox Keller, in her biography of Barbara McClintock, A Feeling for the Organism, argued that McClintock, in finding mobile genetic elements, was expressing a female quality of empathy, of letting the organism (in her case corn) tell you what’s going on (see here for a precis of that thesis).  I did not find Keller’s thesis convincing, as I have never seen—nor did I see in McClintock—a distinctively female way of approaching research. (Note that Keller is an editor of one of the course’s texts.)

That is not, of course, to claim that science is a male-oriented way of doing research, despite the fact that science was, because of sexism that limited the opportunities of women, developed largely by men. The tools that produce truth—hypothesis testing, criticism, interrogating nature, and falsification, and so on—have been developed over the centuries by trial and error: seeing what techniques give us reliable knowledge. Those methods aren’t, and cannot be, limited to or characteristic of one sex. We use what works, not what flatters particular sexes, ethnicities, or classes.

But I digress. The course above is an embarrassment for a school of Princeton’s reputation. It is simply social-justice propaganda that will distort science for ideological ends. It’s dubious scholarship, a waste of the students’ tuition money, and unlikely itself to produce new knowledge. It will produce clones that parrot Clune-Taylor’s ideology.

It’s taught by Catherine Clune-Taylor, a postdoctoral research associate in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton. (In general, I don’t favor courses being taught entirely by postdocs.) Her thesis at the University of Alberta was ““From Intersex to DSD: A Foucauldian Analysis of the Science, Ethics and Politics of the Medical Production of Cisgendered Lives.” Enough said.