Eric Hedin is back, now asserting that there is zero chance that life originated through natural processes, so God must have been responsible

August 13, 2021 • 11:30 am

I’ve tried to avoid writing about this, as Intelligent Design advocates really love getting publicity from me, and I’m tired of the muddleheaded lucubrations of Discovery Institute flacks like Michael Egnor and David Klinghoffer. But I have to call attention once again to Eric Hedin, ID advocate and former professor of physics at Ball State University, a public school.

Way back in 2013, I discovered that Hedin was teaching a general science class to nonmajors that not only promoted intelligent design, but religion itself. That was a violation of the Constitution, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation and I informed the school’s President that they were breaking the law. The result: Hedin’s class was ditched, as it should have been. I never called for him to be fired or not promoted (he was subsequently given tenure), but I didn’t want him teaching creationism as science, which the courts have repeatedly forbidden. I didn’t try to get the man dumped or permanently demonized, which is what cancellation is about.

This site has a gazillion posts over several years on the fallout; if you want to see some, go here.

As I wrote a short while back, Hedin is now trying to cash in on this incident by claiming he was canceled: he’s published a book called Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You To See. I’m apparently one of those atheists, for the Amazon blurb says this:

Eric Hedin was enjoying a productive career as a physics professor at Ball State University when the letter from a militant atheist arrived and all hell broke loose. The conflict spilled first onto the pages of the local newspaper, and then into the national news. The atheist attack included threats from the Freedom from Religion Foundation [FFRF], which targeted Hedin after learning his Boundaries of Science course exposed students to an evidence-based case for design and purpose in cosmology, physics, and biochemistry. Canceled Science tells the dramatic story of the atheist campaign to cancel Hedin’s course, reveals the evidence the atheists tried to bury, and explores discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of the nature and origin of matter, space, and even time itself.

I am indeed the militant atheist (see below), and for my part in this “cancellation” the Discovery Institute named me “Censor of the Year” in 2014, an honor I’m quite proud of. Meanwhile Hedin’s new book isn’t selling very well, and never did (it was published by the Discovery Institute in February and now ranks about 17,000 on Amazon). In the meantime, Hedin moved from Ball State to the Christian college Biola University (formerly the Bible University of Los Angeles), where he can teach all the Jesus he wants as a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and also Chair of the Department of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering. The Lord works in mysterious ways, eventually leading Hedin back to Home.

BTW, whenever I’m called a “militant atheist”, I remember this cartoon, which is great:

Perhaps to boost his sales, Hedin just gave an interview to the right-wing college-monitoring site The College Fix, which to its discredit has a palpable dislike for evolution, and makes the following claim (click the screenshot to read):

Hedin’s argument is familiar: it’s the “fine-tuning” argument, which claims that the laws and parameters of physics are too “fine-tuned” for life to be an accident, so God must have tuned the parameters (as for the rest of the Universe where life doesn’t exist, well, that’s just collateral damage). Further, the universe hasn’t always existed, and its finite time and space make it even unlikelier for life to have originated “by accident” (it wasn’t an accident, of course: life requires both accident and then natural selection). I’ll quote some of his argument, but I’ve argued before against this nonsense many times and am not in the mood to do so again:

As the title of your book suggests, what is it that atheists don’t want us to see?

Evidence that points to something beyond nature as being responsible for major aspects of our universe, in particular the origin of the universe. The laws of nature all seem to be finely tuned to a value that of course allows life, but there’s some razor sharp or knife-edge tuning to these parameters that really can’t be explained by saying, “Oh, it’s just luck.” The level of biological information that is within the cell far exceeds what can be attained by any natural process we can think of, and actually there are laws of physics that claim that natural processes cannot generate that level of complexity that is functional, specific, information-rich, resembling machines, architecture and coding. There’s also the esoteric aspects of human nature: a mind, a consciousness, emotions, a spiritual sense. These go beyond what can be explained by appealing to random interactions between particles guided by the push-pull forces that we find in nature. We see the universe, we look at it, we study it, and we find evidence of intelligent design. The more we study nature, the more evidence for something beyond nature comes into the picture.

He keeps citing “randomness” as an unlikely explanation for consciousness, emotions, and the like, but why does he leave out selection? And why is he so damn sure that these features couldn’t arise either as a direct product or a byproduct of selection? This is the ID argument: we can’t explain it now, so God must have done it. But is it really God? Yes! See below. First, though, more argument:

Do people who have not studied this issue in depth truly understand the mathematical enormity of the fine-tuning argument? It’s not just “the chances are low” that life arose by chance.

Honestly, as a physicist I would be willing to say the physical reality chance of life originating on its own by natural processes within this universe is zero, not just low. It’s because the universe is not infinitely big. There is a finite universe. We don’t have an infinite amount of time, the universe has a finite age, roughly 13.8 billion years. That limited time, limited spatial extent of the universe means that there’s a limited amount that any natural randomness could generate. The probabilistic resources of our universe fall short of what is necessary to develop even one large functional protein molecule that would be just one of tens of thousands of different protein molecules that are needed for human life to exist. It’s almost to me desperate to keep trying to think that this could have happened by chance.

I do not think that these people know what “enormity” means. But at any rate, 13.8 billion years of Universe and 4.5 billion years of Earth, combined with a gazillion gazillion gazillion planets suitable for life—that seems like a lot of opportunity for me. And why did God wait so long between the stromatolites and the appearance of humans?. But Hedin, who makes no calculations, just says that the fine-tuning and limited-time-and-space arguments convince him that God Did It. And yes, it is God:

The intelligent design movement does not endorse a particular religion per se, just that all this could not have happened by accident, correct?

That is the main thrust, although my own personal conviction is that the designer is the God of the Bible. That comes through in a few places in the book but I don’t start with that.

No of course not. He wouldn’t want to reader to think his book is tendentious!

Finally, why do so many scientists reject Hedin’s claim that life absolutely proves the existence of God? He has an answer: atheists are religious!

It’s been said that it takes more faith to be an atheist. Why do your peers in the scientific community ignore all the evidence that points to design in life and nature?

Atheism has some similarities to a religion. The teaching of evolution and the teaching of naturalism is ingrained in the sciences and the educational system. There are people who want to keep it that way because they know if it didn’t happen naturally, then it’s happening supernaturally, and that opens the door for a divine designer and they are very opposed to that. A lot of times they think, “Well, we just need to keep studying and we will find some, almost vital force, some emergent system of complexity that explains it all naturally, even though what we already know dictates against that.” That was why I called my course at Ball State “Boundaries of Science.” There are boundaries to what nature can accomplish naturally.

You can see why Hedin’s course at Ball State was a violation of the First Amendment.  And he doesn’t explain why religious scientists like Ken Miller or Francis Collins are firm adherents of evolution. In fact, there are a fair few religious scientists who accept evolution. I guess Hedin would say they’re just conforming to the predominant view to be able to get along. But if you know Miller or Collins, you wouldn’t say that!

Meanwhile, over at the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News, Klinghoffer touts the interview and Hedin’s book:

Physicist Eric Hedin talked with Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix about Hedin’s recent book, Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See. She asked him to estimate the chances that life originated without intelligent guidance. His answer: a bold zero.

. . .  As Kabbany points out, Hedin was “canceled before the term cancel culture was even coined.” Atheists led by Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago meddled with Hedin’s department at Ball State University in a pretty despicable power play. Read the rest at The College Fix.

Despicable power play my tuchas! All I did (along with the FFRF) was call the University’s attention to a potential legal violation of its academic program. Ball State and its President did the rest.

More histrionic and harmful political statements from university departments

August 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

I recently wrote about an matter involving Anna Krylov, a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California (USC).  Fed up with the politicization of science, Krylov published a letter in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, which you can read by clicking the screenshot below.

Krylov’s point was to show the similarity between the scientific censorship and “erasure” in the Soviet Russia of her youth with academic censorship of scientists in the West today. I’ll give one quote from her article showing the kind of “erasure” of scientists that Krylov deplores (I’ve omitted the references save for a self-aggrandizing one):

As an example of political censorship and cancel culture, consider a recent viewpoint discussing the centuries-old tradition of attaching names to scientific concepts and discoveries (Archimede’s [sic] Principle, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Schrödinger equation, Curie Law, etc.). The authors call for vigilance in naming discoveries and assert that “basing the name with inclusive priorities may provide a path to a richer, deeper, and more robust understanding of the science and its advancement.” Really? On what empirical grounds is this based? History teaches us the opposite: the outcomes of the merit-based science of liberal, pluralistic societies are vastly superior to those of the ideologically controlled science of the USSR and other totalitarian regimes. The authors call for removing the names of people who “crossed the line” of moral or ethical standards. Examples include Fritz Haber, Peter Debye, and William Shockley, but the list could have been easily extended to include Stark (defended expulsion of Jews from German institutions), Heisenberg (led Germany’s nuclear weapons program), and Schrödinger (had romantic relationships with under-age girls). Indeed, learned societies are now devoting considerable effort to such renaming campaigns—among the most-recent cancellations is the renaming of the Fisher Prize by the Evolution Society, despite well-argued opposition by 10 past presidents and vice-presidents of the society.(20)

For writing her piece in the journal, Krylov of course received considerable pushback, for there are people whose raison d’être is to sniff out any bad things that famous scientists did, and then use that as an excuse to vilify them and remove any honorifics attached to them. (The shabby treatment of Ronald Fisher by the Society for the Study of Evolution is but one example; another is the impending removal of Thomas Henry Huxley’s name from an Institute at Western Washington University).

A while back, Krylov and a large number of her USC colleagues wrote to the USC administration. concerned about the treatment of USC undergraduate Rose Ritch, forced to resign her position as Vice-President of the USC student government because Ritch, a Jew and Zionist, was subject to unrelenting harassment by student anti-Semites who oppose Zionism. The University President deplored the harassment and promised reform. But, as Krylov and colleagues say in a new letter, it never came:

In the wake of the Rose Ritch affair, we have been promised that a series of activities will be implemented to improve our campus climate. We were hoping to see educational activities that aim to combat zionophobia and antisemitism, as well as other forms of hate and discrimination, to reaffirm our commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and to enable discussion of controversial issues in a respectful environment. We are still waiting for concrete actions from the administration.

Now the attacks on Israel are back again, prompting another letter from Krylov and her colleagues.  This new letter was a reaction to a political letter signed by many university departments, programs, and centers concerned with women’s and gender studies, including the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies of the University of Southern California. Click below to read the latter letter.

The letter above comprises the usual overblown rhetoric and misleading statements about Israel, including the characterization of Israel as an apartheid state, a call for the “right of return” that would destroy Israel, and a call for solidarity of these feminist departments with Palestine, stating that “Palestine is a Feminist Issue.”

Well indeed it is, but not in the way the authors think. The culture of Palestine, unlike that of Israel—except for Orthodox Jews)—is deeply misogynistic, with women oppressed and treated as second-class citizens. It’s ironic, and highlights the blindness of this faction of the Left, that these women believe that supporting Palestine against Israel is a “feminist stand.” How nuts can you get? But so it goes.

Enough palaver; I won’t summarize the letter above because it’s short and you can read it for yourself.

The salient point for Krylov and her colleagues was not that academics were taking a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stand, which is their right, but that entire academic departments and units were speaking as a whole, presumably on behalf of their members. Yet surely not everyone in these many departments throughout the US share the histrionics about Israel. But, if they dissent, what can they do? Their dissenting views are lumped together with the opposite views of their colleagues.  What this does is chill the speech of the dissenters. What grad student, undergraduate student, or untenured professor in these departments would dare take a stand against their department as a whole?

It is this chilling of speech—this promulgating of official ideological, political, and moral views by departments of universities, indeed of universities as a whole—which led the University to issue the Kalven Report in 1967 and deem it one of our “Foundational Principles“. The Kalven Report, named after the committee’s chairman, expressly forbids the University from taking any official stands on political and ideological issues, though of course individual faculty are encouraged to do so. (There were also a few exceptions when the University may take a stand on an issue affecting the educational mission of the University itself.) The reason for the Kalven Report: because taking such stands chills the speech of dissenters and quashes free expression. Here’s a paragraph from the Report:

In October of last year, in response to inquiries from several of us, President Robert Zimmer affirmed that the Kalven Report extended to departments and units of the University. While faculty can take stands and sign their names to them, entire departments are forbidden from doing so for the reasons described above.  Despite that, several departments still have such statements on their websites, and they haven’t yet taken them down (nor does the University seem keen to force them to).

So Krylov and her colleagues, in their letter to the USC administration responding to the feminist calls for solidarity with Israel, promote principles identical to those limned by our Kalven Report: units of universities should not engage in wholesale political grandstanding lest it act to repress free speech: the lifeblood of any good university. The letter by Krylov and colleagues can be seen by clicking the screenshot below.

And here’s the crucial statement, which aligns very well with my University’s own stand. Note as well the misguided criticisms of Israel contained in these “official” statements:

We do not know whether such departmental declarations of political support are legal, but they are certainly unethical. They have nothing to do with freedom of speech of individuals; rather, they fall under compelled speech because they appear to speak on behalf of all members of the department (e.g. faculty, staff, and students), many of whom are untenured or supervised by more senior members and thus not in a position to openly disagree. Most concerning, this signing implies endorsement by USC itself. Thus, we call on USC leadership to publicly rebuke the practice of USC departments (or units) making statements for specific political agendas that have nothing to do with the University’s educational and research missions. The Statement above contains extreme, indeed fabricated, claims that criminalize the very creation of the State of Israel and, by implication, indict all its citizens and supporters, including us. Not doing so, would make USC complicit in comments within the Statement that describe the State of Israel as “settler colonialism”, “ethnonationalist violence”, “ongoing ethnic cleansing”, and “apartheid”. If USC’s implicit support stands, many Jewish students and others who believe in Israel’s right to exist will be reluctant to attend our university.

Do you think that USC will rebuke the posting of official departmental statements about issues having nothing to do with the departments’ educational mission? Will they make the departments take the statements down? I wouldn’t count on it. Even the University of Chicago, in response to repeated pleas by people like me, lets departmental political statements stand at the same time arguing that such statements violate university policy. I suppose it’s one thing to declare a policy, but another to tell a department that they’ve violated it and take “restorative” action.

Nevertheless these statements are examples of compelled speech applying to everybody in the units and departments, even if no individual signatures appear.

In these fraught times, such statements, which often seem to be a form of virtue signaling, aren’t uncommon. Here’s one issued not long ago by nine departments and programs (and some individual faculty) at the University of California at Davis. Like the USC statement, it’s a misguided and politically heated heap of denunciation of Israel and valorization of Palestine (click on the screenshot):

The statement was “updated” by adding a disclaimer at the top: “The statements below are part of our educational mission and reflect the views of the faculty in the department and not official University policy.”

But that’s deeply unclear. Why is demonizing Israel and lauding Palestine (the usual accusations against Israel, like “apartheid state” are pervasive) part of UCD’s “educational mission”? There are, of course, many political statements that could have been made: against Iran, China, North Korea, and so on, but the usual suspect is, of course, Israel. Further, the disclaimer says that the statements “reflect the views of the faculty in the department”.  Well, which faculty? ALL the faculty? Or only some? If the latter, then only the faculty who agreed should have signed, not entire departments and programs.

UCD, like USC, is violating its education mission by chilling speech, by allowing official units to take political and ideological stands (a pretty misguided one in this case) that will brook no dissent. No wonder that more than half of college students, at least in a recent survey, said they felt intimidated from speaking:

A majority—53%—also reported that they often “felt intimidated” in sharing their ideas, opinions or beliefs in class because they were different from those of the professors. A slightly larger majority feared expressing themselves because of differences with classmates.

Even accounting for shy people, that figure is way too high.

As for UC Davis, the administration basically took the coward’s way out, pretending that their refusal to prohibit compelled speech was actually a way of ensuring free speech. How’s this for doublespeak?

A spokesperson for the university told J. [the Jewish News of Northern California] in an email Wednesday that Davis “is committed to ensuring that all persons may exercise their constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly and worship, even in instances in which the positions expressed may be viewed by some as controversial and unpopular.”

The spokesperson, Melissa Lutz Blouin, wrote that UC Davis had “consulted with University lawyers and learned that, provided that these statements do not engage in electioneering, including advocating for or against political candidates or ballot measures, these statements do not violate the law.” [JAC: they may not violate the law, but they still act to impede freedom of speech.]

She added that campus leadership is “consulting with campus stakeholders about whether there needs to be more regulation” in the area of “who may speak for a department” and “what may be posted on academic websites.”

The answer, UCD, is YES, there needs to be less promulgation of compelled speech.

I wonder if this politicization of universities is only a temporary phenomenon, and will one day be looked at as a sad overreaction to the George Floyd Era. Or is it here to stay?  Because if it’s here to stay, you can kiss academic freedom of speech—and academic freedom itself—goodbye.

And THAT is harm, however you define it.

The uselessness of land acknowledgments

April 7, 2021 • 10:30 am

We’ve all heard classes and talks preceded by “land acknowledgments”—admissions that the land on which the speaker is standing was stolen from others, usually indigenous people like Native Americans. Several examples are given in the article below by Adam Ellwanger at Critical Discourses. (Click on the screenshot.)

Ellwanter is a professor of English here in Texas—at the University of Houston downtown, and knows whereof he speaks.

Now we’ve discussed land acknowledgments before, including their uselessness except as a way of expiating guilt, as well as the confusion involved since American land has been taken over many times by various groups and tribes, who displaced each other, before the “colonists” got it. (It would be even worse in Europe, where you’d have to begin a string of acknowledgments with, “I acknowledge that this land has been taken from “Homo erectus, and then Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. . . “, and so on.)

And of course these disclaimers accomplish absolutely nothing, as they’re the epitome of virtue signaling: a lot of words that accomplish nothing except display the “high social consciousness” of the speaker or writer.

Whenever I hear one of these, I think to myself, “Well why the hell don’t you give the land back to the original occupants, then?”  But it’s a bit more complicated than that, for, as Ellwanger says in the piece below, many Native Americans had no conception of “owning” the land. That, of course, doesn’t make it right for settlers to have displaced them, but if people were serious about land acknowledgments, they’d either allow the descendants of previous occupants to move back onto the land, or give them an amount of money equal to the present value of the land.

At best, besides signaling the virtue of the speaker, they remind people of history—except that that history is usually truncated given multiple occupancy of territory over time.

Read on:

Ellwanger begins by criticizing those people who identify their pronouns, not those who do it as a way to show that they’re different from the usual cis-gender designations, but those who do it for two other reasons:

a. “to compel compliance from those who might not be willing to cooperate with the increasingly complicated lexicon that grows out of the pronoun wars.”

and

b. “to signify one’s membership in the priestly castes of university life: those intellectuals who, by mastering a complex vocabulary that eludes the grasp of regular people, demonstrate their superior respect for human dignity and their deeper concern for the many marginalized communities in the racist, fascist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynous hellscape some people still insist on calling “America.”

This introduction may undercut Ellwanger’s thesis a bit, as I wouldn’t want to die on Pronoun Hill, but he does it to segue into land acknowledgements, for he feels that once everybody is using pronoun specifiers—and this is pretty much true in academia—then you have to find another way to demonstrate your moral superiority and membership in The Elect. That way is to precede every talk or class you give with a land acknowledgment.

Here are two specimens of land acknowledgments given by Ellwanger: from Queens University and The Unversity of Texas.

Why are these statements multiplying? Here’s Ellwanger’s explanation:

The fact that these statements imply a moral duty to acknowledge facts that are already well-known is a primary indicator that the Land Acknowledgement Statements are performing some function beyond merely “acknowledging” land ownership. One covert purpose is to put students on notice as to which worldview and ideology will be privileged in a given course. By immediately drawing an audience’s attention to “historical injustice” in a context of, say, a chemistry class, the instructor signals to students that they are in a space where the politics of grievance will be honored and encouraged. Further, the Land Acknowledgement Statement serves to compel a certain penitential attitude that is a prerequisite for the functioning of “critical pedagogies.” By clarifying that the university is a beneficiary of a program of cultural violence, Land Acknowledgement Statements make it clear to students that they are “complicit” in this legacy of violence and exclusion merely by matriculating at the school in question.

Who can deny the truth of what he said?

But there are problems with these acknowledgements. First, as I noted above, they don’t deal with successive occupation of the land:

. . . the statement from University of Texas names no fewer than ten tribes before concluding the sentence with an embarrassed “etcetera,” which acknowledges “all the [other] American Indian and Indigenous Peoples and communities who have been or have become a part of these lands”. The truth of the matter is that any piece of land in the modern-day United States was likely held by various native tribes over the course of the Pre-Columbian era and the early American republic. In other words, we can’t even be sure who needs to be “acknowledged” for the land: much of the information is lost to history.

And, more important, Ellwanger emphasizes that many Native Americans did not share our capitalistic preoccupation with “owning” land. He gives several examples; here’s one:

Massasoit Sachem (leader of the Wampanoag confederacy) is reputed to have asked “What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all.”

And he adds this:

Thus, by “acknowledging” the native claims to a piece of land and implying that these claims supersede and negate the claim that modern local and federal governments make upon the territory, the Land Acknowledgement Statements erase the very particularities of Native American cultures that these academics purport to honor and preserve. In short, the non-Native academics speak on behalf of the people whose dignity they claim to uphold: by appropriating the right of those people to speak, they inadvertently inflict the very sort of cultural violence that they profess to abhor.

This all makes sense, but of course even if Native Americans didn’t have our concept of “property”, they were still displaced from their lands by settlers. To me that seems just as bad, especially when they were forcibly driven to desolate reservations. I don’t know the solution to this, except to say that Native Americans continually displaced each other by the same methods (war, broken treaties, and so on), and we are just part of that history.

To me, land acknowledgments are the height of performative wokeness: statements that accomplish absolutely nothing save to call attention to your heightened consciousness—and perhaps impart a history lesson, but why is that part of a talk or a syllabus?  If you’re on stolen land, then give it back instead of moaning about it. It’s as if one began a class by saying “I’m using a laser pointer I stole from Professor Jones, but I’m not going to give it back to him.”

Ellwanger ends by citing the two lessons that land acknowlegments impart:

1.) “Recall that the primary purpose of these statements is not to do justice to the victims of historical oppression but rather to signify one’s affinity for the performative rituals of academic wokeness. The first lesson, then, is that the intellectual elite who fetishize the tragic stories of marginalized groups in America are less interested in redressing those sufferings than they are using them to maintain their membership in an elite group that is far removed from the plight of the “Other” (as they might say).”

and

2.) The second lesson is a darker one; one that the progressive left would do well to learn. Enamored as they are with the postmodern tradition of critical theory which they name-check when “speaking truth to power,” they miss one of the central insights of postmodern philosophy: that one can never get outside the network of power to speak truth to it. In their enthusiasm for condemning or humbling the entities that they identify as culturally-empowered ones, they forget that any gesture like a “Land Acknowledgement Statement” is itself an exercise of power. Through their attempts to honor the culture of historically-marginalized groups to which they do not belong – trying to create a space for those cultures to speak on their own behalf – they only end up speaking for them. In this way, they reenact the same legacies of privilege and appropriation that they disdain. So much for checking one’s privilege.

Whenever I read about stuff like land acknowledgments, I remember Grania’s test for the efficacy of social-justice statements and actions: Do they really accomplish something for the group that is marginalized? Land acknowledgments don’t do this, although sometimes a pittance is given to Native Americans as a token of apology. But imagine how much the lands owned by the University of Texas are worth!

And if you’re a reader who wants to defend these acknowledgments, why aren’t you preceding every one of your comments with the statement that your house or office is sitting on land previously occupied by people driven away by settlers? Because surely it was.

Is social-media criticism by professors bullying and a violation of academic freedom?

March 28, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Here we have a back-and-forth in The Chronicle of Higher Education between two professors at Portland State University (“PSU”; a public college). The first piece is by Jennifer Ruth, a professor of film studies, and the second by Peter Boghossian, a philosopher, anti-woke writer, atheist, and one of the three people involved in the “Grievance Studies Affair“.  Ruth complains that critics of Critical Theory have been bullies by engaging in social-media pile-one (does she know how the Woke do that much more often?), and refers specifically to Boghossian and another professor, Bruce Gilley, who has argued that colonialism is good for the colonized, which of course caused a huge fracas.

As far as I can determine, what happened here is that a student (none of the principals already named) took pictures of some slides in a teacher education course which “offended” him/her because they were of the “Math is Racist” genre, and put the slides on Twitter. Boghossian and Gilley retweeted the slides. Apparently, though, some of the first names of students were on the slides, and so the dean asked Gilley and Boghossian to take down the tweets. They did so immediately. But apparently others joined in on the discussion, and that was considered bullying by Dr. Ruth.

Click on the screenshots to read.

Why was this considered “bullying”? According to Ruth:

[The professor who showed the slides] is shocked, then, to find her name and picture tied to the phrase “math is racist” — shorn of any context or any reference to the CNN article — and posted on Twitter by two of her male colleagues. It is picked up by the anti-woke warrior Chris Rufo, who tags the professional provocateur Joe Rogan and Fox’s voluble and influential Tucker Carlson. She has now become the latest exhibit in a national right-wing campaign to frame university professors as the new apparatchiks of a racially motivated totalitarianism. She shares an article with her students, and she is cast as one of Stalin’s henchmen. She is one of the “new racists.”

Anyone who has lived through one of the right-wing rage-gasms of the past decade — and they are disproportionately women and faculty of color — knows how terrifying they can be. All you have to do is say, “It’s true that the Greeks painted their statues,” or, “Hmm, it seems that the far right is appropriating a lot of medieval imagery,” and you can find yourself in the cross hairs, subject to doxxing, hate mail, physical harassment, and death threats.

Note that neither Gilley nor Boghossian engaged in this pile-on and did not encourage it; others took up the issue and (I didn’t follow this) there was a social media pile-on—one of the kind with which we’re familiar but apparently coming from the anti-woke. Nevertheless, Gilley and Boghossian suffer the consequences and take the blame for the mob. Peter, by the way, is a classical liberal, not “right-wing”.

Ruth continues:

The two men who circulated the “math is racist” meme were outsourcing the harassment of a colleague to the legions of trolls flying from Mr. Potato Head to Dr. Seuss to rapping librarians to the next faux-outrage fury-fest. Every time this happens, the targets of right-wing rage can only hope that a shiny new object will come along to distract their tormentors. But there is always the possibility — given the apocalyptic rhetoric that higher education’s attempts to reckon with systemic racism constitute a Maoist Cultural Revolution — that one of these stunts will get someone hurt.

The above scenario is not a hypothetical. It happened at my university, Portland State, and was instigated by our very own anti-woke warriors, Bruce Gilley and Peter Boghossian. Gilley and Boghossian have been working this beat for years now, on Twitter and on blogs. And they claim to be doing so in the name of academic freedom.

No, Boghossian and Gilley—and no, I don’t agree with Gilley’s thesis, but he has the right to his opinion—did not outsource harassment or encourage it. They were simply exercising the right to criticize ideas like “math is racist.” That is both free speech (PSU must adhere to the First Amendment and academic freedom). And the “math is racist” meme certainly does deserve examination, criticism, and, to my mind, a fair amount of ridicule.

As for the worry that “one of these stunts will get someone hurt”, it’s ironic that Ruth is part of the group who is always claiming that speech itself is considered harm. She’s already been hurt!

The details of this kerfuffle are described in a document by the Oregon Association of Scholars. which links to the following resolution of the PSU Faculty Senate which was the result of the two retweets (click on screenshot):

Part of the resolution:

While we all have the right to express our opinions in accordance with The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, there are limitations to free speech when it violates our laws and when it results in a true threat for an individual or a group of individuals or incites actions that will harm others. It is crucial to ensure that the members of our academic community can learn and work in an environment that is free of hate and hostility.

Whereas When faculty become active in, or even endorse or tacitly support, public campaigns calling for the intimidation of individual colleagues they disagree with, or with an entire faculty they disagree with, they are undermining academic freedom. Intimidation and explicit or implied threats to physical integrity are not accepted as academic methods.

. . . . BE IT RESOLVED

As Faculty, we must be thoughtful in our exercise of academic freedom and guard against its cynical abuse that can take the form of bullying and intimidation. This kind of abuse of academic freedom destroys academic freedom by eroding the trust that makes possible open dialogue, which is a central tenet in university intellectual life as well as in the practice of participatory democracy more broadly.

Again, this meeting was occasioned solely by the two taken-down retweets by Gilley and Boghossian who, needless to say, are not greatly beloved at PSU. And the resolution accuses them, though it doesn’t mention them by name, of intimidation, making threats, and academic bullying.

None of that was true; remember that this comes from just two social media posts taken down at the behest of the Dean. This is, pure and simple, chilling of free speech and academic freedom (which, though Ruth claims are not the same thing, are so closely related—identical in this case—that one must be careful about distinguishing them).

At any rate, Peter (full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) wrote a response to Ruth’s piece in the Chronicle, and it’s quite good. The take-home lesson is in the title, and we should all make this a mantra:

I’ll give two quotes. Given that two retweets brought down official opprobrium of PSU on Boghossian and Gilley, Peter is quite measured in his response (the bolding is mine):

By claiming that criticism of published ideas and pedagogical models is harassment, and by creating institutional mechanisms that erect barriers to wholly appropriate critique, entire lines of scholarship become exempt from scrutiny. The academic process depends on having the freedom not only to state ideas but also to criticize other ideas. Limiting criticism in academia is tantamount to telling potters they can make all the clay pots they want so long as they never use clay. This is particularly disturbing because the claims in question — almost always about race, gender, and sexual orientation — are presented as knowledge and then used to influence public policy.

It is worth noting that criticism is framed as harassment only by academicians working in certain domains of thought that are in Critical Theory’s orbit. Civil engineers are not claiming that criticism of truss bridge design is harassment. Physicists are not claiming they’re being persecuted when their contributions to quantum theory are criticized. Philosophers are not claiming victimization when their arguments about free will are scrutinized. Claiming criticism is harassment occurs when a discipline’s North Star is not Truth, but ideology.

The internal rationale for calling criticism “harassment” is as simple as it is absurd: because these Critical Theories are believed to proceed from one’s “social position” as an occupant of some “identity category,” the person and her ideas are treated as though they overlap. They do not. Thinking they do is a dangerous mistake for anyone to make, not least institutions that are nominally devoted to Truth. The backbone of rational thought is separating people from ideas to protect the dignity of the former while being free to criticize the latter.

Boghossian defends the use of Twitter as a way of alerting people to what’s going on inside the academy, and also as a way of making arguments—not the best venue for extended discourse, though! However, scholarly journals aren’t accessible to the public. Boghossian ends like this:

There’s a dual irony in Ruth’s accusations. First, if there’s an institutionalized rule that criticism of academic work is harassment, how would Critical Theory, which is entirely predicated on criticizing existing systems, have emerged? It would not have. The ability to criticize has enabled the existence of disciplines in which my colleagues work, and from which they have framed criticism as harassment. Second, Ruth is doing to Gilley and me exactly what she claims we are doing to our colleagues — criticizing us. The only difference is, she takes aim at us, while we take aim at ideas.

Gender studies professor has freedom of speech chilled for “transphobia”

March 26, 2021 • 10:15 am

This instance of free-speech suppression has a twist, as the victim is an endowed professor of gender and women’s studies at a public university. She’s Donna M. Hughes, who holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Endowed Chair of Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island (URI).  She’s known for her work on human trafficking and sex work, but has now ventured into the minefield of transgender analysis. As Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reports, her university has, while grudgingly affirming her freedom of speech (always guaranteed at state schools), nevertheless done everything it can to demonize her and distance itself from her. Why? Because she feels—as do I—that there are some limits to the rights and privileges of transgender women considered as “women”. That makes Hughes, of course, a “transphobe”.

Click the screenshot to read the piece by Coleen Flaherty.

Hughes was somewhat out of mainstream feminist ideology when she wrote in the past that “there’s a fine line between sex work and sex trafficking and that legalizing prostitution helps only pimps and johns, not sex workers.” But that didn’t get her in nearly as much trouble as her February essay in 4W (a “fourth wave feminist” site), in which she not only called out QAnon, but made an analogy with that group and some of the proponents of the “transsexual women are fully women” view:

The political left is quick to denounce the campaign of disinformation that led to the Capitol riot on January 6. But fake news and harmful politicized beliefs leading to real harm are not solely a right-wing phenomenon. The American political left is increasingly diving headfirst into their own world of lies and fantasy and, unlike in the imaginary world of QAnon, real children are becoming actual victims.

The trans-sex fantasy, the belief that a person can change his or her sex, either from male to female or from female to male, is spreading largely unquestioned among the political left.

The trans-sex fantasy returns us to the question: “What is a woman?”. . .

. . .The trans-sex/“gender identity” ideology challenges same-sex rights, particularly those of women and girls. Interestingly, men and boys have had no attack on their rights. The biological category of sex, particularly women’s sex, is being smashed. Women and girls are expected to give up their places of privacy such as restrooms, locker rooms, and even prison cells. When biological males identify as trans-women, they can compete in women’s and girls’ sports. There are now cases of women being injured, some severely, by biologically larger and stronger biological men competing as “transwomen.” In the most well-known case in 2014, a transgender competitor broke the skull (linked video is graphic) of a female during a mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. In Fall 2020, World Rugby banned the participation of transwomen (biological males) in rugby citing the high risk of injury. Even Title IX, which granted women equal access to educational opportunities, such as those provided by sports and scholarships, are being taken away. It used to be when someone took unfair advantage, we’d call it cheating, but that is no longer recognized in this fantasy world.

The dystopian trans-sex/“gender identity” world claims that female mammalian characteristics should be redefined and disappeared from the female body to satisfy the feelings of biological males who identify as women. Basic biological words like breast and vagina are replaced by misogynistic, trans-sex/trans-gender language so that a female has a “front hole” instead of a vagina; females “chest feed” instead of breastfeed. All references to women disappear into terms such: “people who menstruate,” “people with uteruses,” “a pregnant person,” or “a birthing parent.” No such changes in terms are proposed for men’s bodies and anatomy. These redefinitions are hatred targeted at women’s bodies and their rights.

Strong stuff, but not irrational or hateful stuff. Nevertheless, that can’t be allowed to stand in a liberal university! And so, as IHE reports, the University of Rhode Island has issued the usual statement that criticizes the views of a faculty member while at the same time saying that it “honors and respects” her right of freedom of speech. That’s a form of hypocrisy. A good free-speech university, like the University of Chicago is at present, affirms that it will make no official statement supporting political, ideological, or moral views, and in response to the mob that’s descending on Hughes, would have said something like “Professor Hughes has the right to say whatever she wants, and the University supports that right.”

But URI has to flaunt its virtue, and so issued the statement below:

I find this statement weaselly to the extreme. While it’s entirely proper for the URI to have a page of resources and policies for supporting transgender students, faculty, or staff, it should not issue statements criticizing individual faculty members’ political views. (They even name Hughes!). What that does, as Hughes claims in the article, is to chill the speech of those who hold similar views, and it’s not at all “transphobic” to want a rational discussion about the extent to which transgender women (or men) are identical to biological women (or men). In other words, URI’s statement acts to squelch the speech of others—and they are many—who want a public discussion of the issue, and a discussion without being demonized as a “transphobe.”  This is why the University of Chicago enshrined in the Kalven Report the principle of not officially endorsing political/ideological/moral views. (Faculty members and others, of course, are free to issue their own personal statements on the issue.) Imagine how brave you’d have to be to risk being named as a public enemy by your own university!

It’s no wonder that Hughes takes this as an affront. It’s a blatant attempt to stifle the speech of URI members who have views different from those of extreme pro-trans-rights people.  The statement below says, in effect, that “Hughes can say what she wants, but she really shouldn’t have said this stuff”:

A faculty member’s First Amendment and academic freedom rights are not boundless, however, and should be exercised responsibly with due regard for the faculty member’s other obligations, including their obligations to the University’s students and the University community. As stated in the above referenced documents, faculty have a special obligation to show due respect for the opinions of others and to “exercise critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint” in transmitting their personal opinions.

In other words, her own University is calling Hughes irresponsible and disrespectful of the opinions of others, lacking “critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint”. If that’s not an attempt to stifle speech that’s not ideologically approved, I don’t know what is.

I could go on, but you can read the articles for yourself. Let me just add that Hughes has a lawyer, which means that a free-speech/academic freedom lawsuit may be in the offing. While the University may have had the right to publicly criticize Hughes’s views, and even name her, any respectable institution wouldn’t have done that, nor implied in the statement that there are limitations to freedom of speech and academic freedom. I have no respect for what URI has done to Hughes.

And here’s a statement she gave to IHE:

Via email, Hughes said it’s “just sad that we have reached a point in society where difficult issues cannot be freely and openly discussed without resort to personal attacks and calls for censorship.”

The marketplace of ideas, she added, “has broken down and increasingly, university faculty are terrified to speak out on a wide range of important issues for fear that — as seems to be happening here — they will draw criticism from their students and their institution will throw them under the bus.”

Bingo. No academic institution should make its members afraid to express views on political issues, nor try to enforce a political orthodoxy, no matter what it is. They can affirm that they won’t discriminate against various targeted groups (after all, that creates a climate for free discussion), but that’s as far as it should go.

h/t: William

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.

Sincerely,

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.

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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:

ETHN 206 – RACE/ETHNC RELATIONS IN US(DV)
INTS 499 – INDEPENDENT STUDY
MAPS 710 – THE GLOBAL CITY
SOCA 101 – INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY
SOCA 206 – RACE/ETHNC RELATIONS IN US(DV)
SOCA 301 – INTRO SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY
SOCA 301 – SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY
SOCA 492 – INTERNSHIP IN SOCIOLOGY
SOCA 499 – INDEPENDENT STUDY

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.