Latest victim of school book-banning: Toni Morrison

January 29, 2022 • 1:30 pm

These incidents are becoming so common that they’re like the old “dog bites man” stories. In fact, when a school decides not to cancel a controversial book or remove it from a library or a reading list, that becomes a “man bites dog” story.

This book is in the former genre, as reported by Kirkus Reviews (click on screenshots). . .

. .  and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

We learn from this that Toni Morrison’s first novel (1970), The Bluest Eyehasn’t just been taken off school reading lists, but actually removed from a school library. Since the book (which I read and liked, but didn’t see as a classic) deals with childhood rape and abuse, clearly you shouldn’t ask elementary school kids to read it but removing it from a high school library is a different thing altogether. That is a form of censorship:

From the SLPD:

A national campaign to ban books with themes dealing with race and gender scored a victory Thursday when the Wentzville School Board voted 4-3 to pull “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison from the district’s high school libraries.

The board rejected the recommendation of a review committee of district staff and residents who said banning the book “would infringe on the rights of parents and students to decide for themselves if they want to read this work of literature.” The book is not part of the district curriculum.

Across the country, the push to restrict teaching about race and gender equity includes library books that conservative parents and lawmakers say are divisive and serve to indoctrinate students with a leftist ideology.

“The Bluest Eye” tells the story of a young Black girl growing up during the Great Depression who longs for blue eyes because she feels ugly and oppressed because of her skin color. Morrison, who died in 2019, said she wrote the book in the late 1960s to show the psychological damage caused by racism.

The novel, which includes passages about incest and child rape, frequently lands on the American Library Association’s annual list of most commonly banned books.

Wentzville School Board member Sandy Garber said she did not consider her vote against “The Bluest Eye” equivalent to banning but protecting children from obscenity.

That is a distinction without a difference. You can ban books as a way OF protecting people, and that’s what’s going on here. But it’s useless, especially for the intended targets. Obscenity, for instance, will be familiar to every kid with ears and an understanding of language. Note, too, that the book is being banned from high school libraries; that is, made inaccessible to kids between the ages of about 15-18.  I suspect those students don’t need “protection” from their parents, no matter how laudable the motives.

But wait! There’s more:

“By all means, go buy the book for your child,” she said at the board meeting. “I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see.”

Amber Crawford, a Wentzville parent who filed the challenge against “The Bluest Eye,” posted advice for challenges in other districts to the St. Charles County Parents Association’s Facebook group, including links to excerpts so they won’t have to read “the whole garbage book.”

At least two conservative groups with chapters in Missouri — Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education — have led the campaign against diversity and equity initiatives in schools.

No Left Turn in Education features more than 75 books on its website that it deems inappropriate because they “demean our nation and its heroes, revise our history, and divide us as a people for the purpose of indoctrinating kids to a dangerous ideology.” Nearly every book on the list features either Black or LGBTQ characters.

What are they protecting kids from here? Books about discrimination? Do they want to pretend it doesn’t exist? Not all books are getting banned, though: the article has one or two heartening tales of someone actually defending  controversial work! But, by and large, censorship is not only rife, but increasing. And in this state, it’s largely by the Right:

While the book ban in Wentzville is unique in the St. Louis area, several other local school districts have encountered recent challenges to library books. Last month, the Lindbergh School Board voted to keep “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe in the high school library, and a review committee in the Rockwood School District rejected similar challenges to “Gender Queer” and five other books.

After a challenge to the memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” the Francis Howell School District’s review committee voted 11 to 1 in November to keep the book in school libraries because it “shared a positive message of hope for individuals in society.”

Local school districts have rules allowing parents to restrict their children’s library privileges based on individual books, authors or themes. The policies for book challenges are similar, involving a review committee and subsequent vote by the school board.

The challenges are related to proposed bills in Missouri and dozens of other states that would restrict the teaching of critical race theory and other “divisive” topics on race and gender, said Heather Fleming, founder of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership and a Francis Howell parent.

“The whole point and purpose of this is to have a chilling effect on equity and equity education in our schools,” Fleming said. “We know this is about a story about a Black woman instead of scenes that are too mature, because we’re not banning Shakespeare.”

I’m not in favor of bills restricting teaching CRT, and i’m certainly not in favor of telling your kids, if they’re of an appropriate age, what they can and cannot read. I can’t remember my parents ever telling me that I couldn’t read any book, and I was a voracious reader who chose my own books.

The kicker is this: the same school district that banned Toni Morrison’s book also banned, at the same time, three other books. From Kirkus (I’ve added links to the books):

The other three books removed by the board have also seen their share of bans as well. All Boys Aren’t Blue has been taken off library shelves in multiple states, and Heavy, a Kirkus Prize finalist in 2018, was recently banned by a Kansas school district.Fun Homehas been a frequent target of censors; it made the ALA’s top 10 banned books list in 2015.

Now of course I don’t favor indoctrinating kids by giving them an entire diet of Woke books about “identities”, for to me that’s propaganda rather than learning. But surely there’s room for children to hear that there are people in the world who are different from them, and who face their own brand of troubles. And of course they must discuss them.

And is there ANY valid reason to remove books from a high-school library if they are not simply deaccessioning books due to space limitation?

When I was thinking of a list of “identity” books that I would definitely assign to high school students, especially in Chicago (because it takes place here), it would definitely include Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), which was both a bestseller and remains a classic not just of black literature, but of American literature. Surely, I thought, as it’s about the friction between blacks and whites, and neither a book about CRT nor even a valorization of blacks, but simply a graphic portrayal of the racism ubiquitous in America at the time, it couldn’t possibly be ban-able. I was wrong. I looked on Wikipedia and saw this about Wright’s book:

The novel has endured a series of challenges in public high schools and libraries all over the United States. Many of these challenges focus on the book’s being “sexually graphic,” “unnecessarily violent,”and “profane.” Despite complaints from parents, many schools have successfully fought to keep Wright’s work in the classroom. Some teachers believe the themes in Native Son and other challenged books “foster dialogue and discussion in the classroom” and “guide students into the reality of the complex adult and social world.” Native Son is number 27 on Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels List.

The book is number 71 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000. The Modern Library placed it number 20 on its list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. Time Magazine also included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

So it goes. You might find solace in these musings of Stephen King:

Maus banned in a Tennessee school distrinct because of eight swear words and a naked rodent

January 27, 2022 • 9:30 am

Today we’ll have two posts on how the “Elect”—et’s use that instead of “woke”, so as to conform to John McWhorter’s supposedly non-pejorative word—are changing or banning art to both confirm virtue and prevent others from enjoying good painting, dance, and writing. One source will be the liberal media; the other the conservative media. This first post deals mainly with literature, but I’ve put some “racialization of art” stuff at the very bottom.

Let’s start with the liberal media, which of course reports Elect shenanigans less often than does the liberal “MSM”. In this case, however, the Guardian is the source. This concerns Art Spiegelman’s “graphic novel” Maus, which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature (the “Special Awards and Letters” category) in 1986.

Before I first read Maus, I was disdainful of “graphic novels,” thinking they were just comic books for adults, made for people who wanted to look at pictures rather than read.

Was I wrong! I first saw Maus at the 57th Street Bookstore soon after I arrived in Chicago, and, knowing the plaudits it got, I pulled it off the shelf.  I started reading, and then couldn’t stop. The artwork, I found, added immensely to the power of the book, especially the depiction of all characters as animals, though one wouldn’t expect that power in a book about the Holocaust. I bought it, which I rarely do with books due to my groaning shelves, and it’s now one of several graphic novels I own. (The other two are volumes of wonderful series The Rabbi’s Cat, given to me by a friend.) It’s not just that the books have moggies in them; the attraction is, as in Animal Farm, that messages can be driven home more deeply using animals as metaphors than by straight depiction of human actions.

At any rate, everyone should read Maus (and I also recommend The Rabbi’s Cat).  But, according to the Guardian the good (?) people on a Tennessee school board have taken it upon themselves to deprive students of this access—for no good reason.

Click on the screenshot below to read the piece. You know it’s gotta be egregious censorship if the woke Guardian reports it!

Why did the school board, which after deciding to redact the book, find it more practical to ban it outright? Because there was a single depiction of nudity OF A MOUSE and a few swear words that kids hear (and use) every day. An excerpt from the article (my emphasis):

Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer prize-winning novel from its classrooms over eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.

The graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by New Yorker Art Spiegelman, uses hand-drawn illustrations of mice and cats to depict how the author’s parents survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

The graphic memoir elevated a pulp mass medium to high art when it nabbed a slew of literary awards in 1992 but appears not to have impressed educators in Mcminn county.

Ten board members unanimously agreed in favour of removing the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum, citing its use of the phrase “God Damn” and drawings of “naked pictures” of women, according to minutes taken from a board of education meeting earlier this month.

Here’s the only passage about nudity (OF A MOUSE) in the school board minutes (have a look at the link above):

Mike Cochran- I will start. I went to school here thirteen years. I learned math, English, Reading and History. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. In third grade I had one of my classmates come up to me and say hey what’s this word? I sounded it out and it was “damn,” and I was real proud of myself because I sounded it out. She ran straight to the teacher and told her I was cussing. Besides that one book which I think she brought from home, now I’ve seen a cuss word in a textbook at school. So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don’t buy it.

. . .We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there. You see the naked pictures, you see the razor, the blade where the mom is cutting herself. You see her laying in a pool of her own blood. You have all this stuff in here, again, reading this to myself it was a decent book until the end. I thought the end was stupid to be honest with you. A lot of the cussing had to do with the son cussing out the father, so I don’t really know how that teaches our kids any kind of ethical stuff. It’s just the opposite, instead of treating his father with some kind of respect, he treated his father like he was the victim.

We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.

At least Mickey Mouse had the decency to cover his shame with pants!

At first they thought about just redacting the panels with nudity and cussing, but that would lead to copyright violations:

“There is some rough, objectionable language in this book,” director of school, Lee Parkison, is recorded as saying in the session’s opening remarks.

Parkison continued to say he had “consulted with our attorney” and as a result “we decided the best way to fix or handle the language in this book was to redact it … to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to.”

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

. . . After much discussion over the redaction of words the members found objectionable, the board eventually decided that alongside copyright concerns, it would be better to ban the graphic novel altogether.

Eventually they voted to entirely remove the book from the eight-grade curriculum. Those kids are about fourteen years old, and you tell me that none of them has seen a drawing or photo of a naked woman before, or heard (much less used) the words “God damn”.

But apparently the use of animals was said to”brutalize the Holocaust”, as if it wasn’t sufficiently brutal. Indeed, to bring home the nature of the Holocaust, pictures (either photos or artwork) are essential; words alone are insufficient:

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

“I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel,” Allman said in reference to the genocide and murder of six million European Jews during the second world war.

“It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy,” he added.

Allman also took aim at Spiegelman himself, alleging: “I may be wrong, but this guy that created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy.”

“You can look at his history, and we’re letting him do graphics in books for students in elementary school. If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.”

Mike Cochran, another school board member, described parts of the book as “completely unnecessary”.

“We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there,” Cochran said.

“We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.”

Here we have a bunch of Pecksniffian parents making the decision that fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t have access to a famous, powerful, and moving graphic novel.

Spiegelman’s reaction:

Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the outcome in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” the 73-year-old author said, adding he thought the school board was “Orwellian” for approving the ban.

Spiegelman’s Jewish parents were both sent to Nazi concentration camps and his mother took her own life when he was just 20.

“I’ve met so many young people who … have learned things from my book,” Spiegelman said. “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented. There’s something going on very, very haywire there.”

Well of course not all of Tennessee is demented, but there are some school board members who are acting, well, I won’t give my reaction.  Let’s just say it’s similar to Neil Gaiman’s:

*************

I don’t know where else to put this item, but it appears that Wokeness Electness has invaded the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I don’t know how far the rot has spread, but readers might check for themselves.  We know, at least, that David and Canova, were racists.  They could at least have depicted Socrates as a person of color!

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

h/t: Jean

Guest post: Censorship at a Canadian Medical Journal

January 2, 2022 • 11:15 am

I received a long email from reader Leslie MacMillan, and I suggested that he turn it into a post for our readers. He kindly agreed. I asked him to write me a brief biography, which is below:

Leslie is a retired physician who worked as an academic clinician-teacher and in hospital practice.  Now in obscurity, he enjoys dinner with his family at a reasonable hour, playing the piano, and indulging his grandchildren.”

And here’s his contribution:


Canadian Medical Association Journal yields to external religious pressure, censors published letter

by Leslie MacMillan

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ, “the Journal”) has retracted a Letter to the Editor following orchestrated religious pressure that accused the Journal and the author of “Islamophobia”.

“Islamophobia” is one of those words hurled at people without a definition of what it means.  Unlike many slurs, though, this one does have a definition.  “-phobia” means “fear of”.  A phobia can be irrational or it can be well founded.  Islamophobia, then, indicates only a fear of the implications of the tenets of Islam or the intentions of its adherents.  It cannot by the fact alone be equated with hate speech or, obviously, racism.  Yet it so often is.  Sometimes speakers will say, “tantamount to hate speech”, pulling their punches and evading the implication of an accusation of an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada and some other countries.  Fear can be thought of as unease or suspicion that professed views of love and tolerance are not sincere; it is then rational to withhold trust, the trust that liberal societies need to function.  If one is accused of Islamophobia, one ought to be able to respond, “Yes, I am.  Here’s why.”

For the cover page of its 8 Nov 21 on-line issue, the Journal used this stock photo.  There was no contextual link to any one article in the issue.  It seems to have been a generic free-standing cover photo in that it appears on the sidebar for each of the articles in the issue.

Dr. Sherif Emil, a senior academic surgeon in pediatrics at Montréal Children’s Hospital and McGill University wrote to the editor of the Journal objecting to depicting such a young child wearing a hijab.  He quoted Yasmine Mohammed, a Vancouver activist who has championed equality for Muslim women:  “The cover of @CMAJ features a little girl in hijab. How disheartening to see my so-called liberal society condone something that is only happening in the most extremist of religious homes.”   Emil then acknowledged his respect for the women he sees in his practice who wear the hijab—mothers and some adolescent patients.  He continued (direct quotations indented hereafter):

But respect does not alter the fact that the hijab, the niqab and the burka are also instruments of oppression for millions of girls and women around the world who are not allowed to make a choice. We are currently being reminded of this daily, as we see the tragic return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and its effect on the subjugation of women and girls. Girls as old as those in the picture are being sold into marriage to old men — institutionalized child rape. The mentality that allows this to happen shares much with the one that leads to covering up a toddler. But even in so-called moderate Islamic countries, such as the one I grew up in, societal pressures heavily marginalize women who choose not to wear the hijab. In addition, women in these countries who are not Muslim and do not wear the hijab are often subject to intense harassment and discrimination. I know that because some of these women are in my family. I respect the women who see the hijab as liberating. But we must also remember the women and girls who find it oppressive and misogynistic.

Ironically, the article [which he interpreted the photo as referring to] explores evaluating interventions to address social risks to health. A young girl such as the one depicted in the image is typically also banned from riding a bike, swimming or participating in other activities that characterize a healthy childhood. She is taught from an early age, directly or indirectly, that she is a sexual object, and it is her responsibility to hide her features from the opposite sex, lest she attract them. A heavy burden for modesty is placed squarely on her shoulders.  So many women have been traumatized by such an upbringing, which, I believe, frankly borders on child abuse. Is that not a social risk to health? Are these children not a vulnerable population?

This link includes a citation to the tweet by Ms Mohammed quoted in the letter.  (Link found and posted by Retraction Watch commenter Andrew.)

The letter appeared in the Journal’s 20 Dec online issue under the heading, “Don’t use an instrument of oppression as a symbol of diversity and inclusion”, a form of words of the editor’s choosing, not the author’s.

Advocacy groups claiming to represent the interests of Muslims in Canada and Québec vigorously protested the publication of the letter and called for its retraction.  Dr. Emil received abuse personally on Twitter as well, as noted by Retraction Watch (q.v.)

The CMAJ editor responsible, Kirsten Patrick, apologized particularly for her choice of words in the heading.  The uproar, a lengthy happy-talk on why hijab is not oppressive, and the Journal’s efforts at damage control, are reported in a long CTV news article of 20 Dec from which I’ve taken a small snippet:

[Lina] El Bakir [Quebec advocacy officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims] argues that publishing the letter was irresponsible, especially during a pandemic when doctors who wear a hijab are dealing with prejudices in their daily practice. . . .

A pre-written response to the CMAJ, included on the national council’s website as part of an online letter-writing campaign, cites a few sections in the Canadian ‘Medical Association’s Code of Ethics and Professionalism that medical professionals must adhere to.

“This article falls short of these standards,” the response states.

“We are asking CMAJ to retract this article immediately and issue a public apology before it does any further harm to a demographic that has been targeted by some of the most violent forms of Islamophobia in this country.  [Emphases mine,–LM]

The Canadian Medical Association itself, which owns and publishes the Journal, piled on with an official and gratuitous swipe at the author.

Islamophobia and other forms of hate [there’s that incorrect conflation again –L.M.] must not be tolerated in the health care profession or in our society. Like CMAJ, the Canadian Medical Association deeply regrets the harm caused by the publication of an opinion letter in CMAJ on Dec. 20, 2021.

CMAJ is operated independently of the Canadian Medical Association with its own governance structure and editorial board. While we will always uphold the editorial independence of CMAJ, we feel a responsibility to speak out and express our sincere apologies for the harm caused.

On 23 Dec., the Journal buckled to this pressure and not only retracted the letter but removed it from its website.  It made no visible effort to send the commentary to the author, publish some of it, and invite a response before doing so.  Click on the screenshot or read the text below.

The letter “Don’t use an instrument of oppression as a symbol of diversity and inclusion” (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.80742; author: Sherif Emil)1 published in the Dec. 20, 2021, issue of CMAJ has been retracted by the interim editor-in-chief of CMAJ because the editorial process for the article was flawed and biased, and the letter should not have been published.

CMAJ acknowledges and is deeply sorry for the considerable hurt that many people across Canada have experienced from reading this letter. A formal apology from the interim editor-in-chief has been published at https://www.cmaj.ca/content/193/51/E1935.

Retraction Watch criticized the removal, contrary to guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics, which recommended marking it as retracted (as the PubMed copy is)

The author of the letter has posted his own conciliatory statement at the Canadian Healthcare Network here.

CTVnews reported further on 24 Dec:

Tabassum Wyne, executive director of the Muslim Advisory Council of Canada, [said] she was glad the CMAJ “took the necessary steps to correct that mistake” and hear from diverse voices. . . .The council had a virtual meeting with the CMAJ’s interim editor-in-chief, Wyne said, during which it was suggested that the journal look at anti-Islamophobia training in the future.

Wyne also expressed concerns about having anyone on the internet read the letter in an accredited journal.   “And that’s why we pushed so hard to have it retracted, and we’re happy with the results.”

It gets worse.  The CMAJ editorial group “seeks to remedy” the current lack of Islamic representation on its Editorial Advisory Board.  The Muslim advocacy organizations clearly seek to exercise prior restraint instead of merely complaining about it afterward.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims has since thanked the CMAJ for removing the letter, saying it appreciates “the efforts of the editor in chief for taking action and doing the right thing” and looks forward to working with her to “ensure this never happens again.”

(This CTVnews article misleadingly shows a photo of someone protesting Québec’s  laïcité law, la Loi 21.  This affair has nothing to do with that law and the author says he disagrees with it anyway.)

If the CMAJ follows through on this, there will be religious oversight of what an academic medical journal is permitted to publish.

Action

I have written the CMAJ and the CMA criticizing them for their lack of integrity in this episode. I encourage readers, particularly Canadian physicians, to do the same, even if you are not members of the CMA (as I am not), and even if you would not have published the letter in the first place were you the editor.  The Journal has received comments from readers mostly criticizing the decision to retract and censor —see the retraction e-letters link below—but I don’t see awareness of the undertaking to invite Muslim advocates to exercise prior restraint on publication.  This hidden censorship is especially dangerous.  I recommend that letters specifically call this out so the CMAJ knows you are watching.

Contacts for responding:

This site refers to the retraction announcement, not the original letter. You can submit e-letters there.

At this site you can contact the Canadian Medical Association.

John Locke argued that it is better for a society to be governed around religious tolerance because this would lead to less social disorder than for the state to enforce adherence to one religion and, necessarily, to suppress all others.  This works only if the religions themselves are compelled by secular laws to tolerate people who reject or even mock their every teaching—otherwise you have a state religion sneaking in the back door under the guise of stamping out (in this case) Islamophobia.

Growing up in secular Canada, I was always glad that believers could enjoy their freedom of religion but was even gladder that I enjoyed my freedom from religion.  Religious differences just never came up in ordinary or professional life.  The idea that someone should be enjoined from doing something because it offended someone else’s religious views, and that could be called “harm”, was unthinkable.  Increasingly it looks as if we risk losing this freedom out of fearful acquiescence of our institutions to intolerant and censorious religious pressure.  Islamophobia (my correct definition) afflicts them, too, and they don’t even notice it.  It’s up to us to open their eyes.

Richard Dawkins writes to New Zealand’s “friends of science and reason”

December 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

As I’ve written a couple of times, New Zealand is undergoing a dilution of its science education since the increasingly woke government and university administrators have decided that indigenous ways of knowing, called “mātauranga Māori”, should be taught as coequal with science in both high school and university science classes. But the Māori “ways of knowing” are a mixed bag. There’s some “practical” science there, like how to determine which areas are likely to flood, and how to catch eels, but there’s also a whole bunch of mythology and superstition that are simply refuted by modern science. These include a creationist view of existing plants and animals. Teaching both in a Kiwi science class is like teaching evolutionary biology alongside creationism in an American evolution class: it’s a recipe for confusion and divisiveness—and an impediment for those Māori who want to become scientists.

Of course “mātauranga Māori” should be taught in some academic venue, as Māori culture is pervasive and influential in New Zealand.. But the venue should involve anthropology or sociology, not science.

A short while ago, seven professors from Auckland University wrote a letter objecting to the proposed coequal teaching of science and mātauranga Māori. Called “In Defense of Science,” it was published in a weekly magazine called “The Listener”, and you can see it here. In response, the Royal Society of New Zealand is considering punishing or expelling the two signers who are members of the Royal Society of New Zealand. And many NZ academics signed a petition objecting to the letter (do read it; it’s inoffensive to anybody who’s sapient). Dawn Freshwater, the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University, calling attention to the letter and its signers, declared this:

A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether Mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni.

While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.

As I’ve said, it’s not clear whether the Vice-Chancellor has any authority to declare what the “views of the University of Auckland” are, nor whether there are any official views. It’s clear she is demonizing the professors at the same time she says well, they have the right of free speech—but note that the University can officially criticize them and the Royal Society can punish them! As for the Vice-Chancellor emphasizing the “considerable hurt and dismay” at the University, I consider that a ludicrous form appeal to emotion rather than reason. Are you, as a Kiwi, hurt or dismayed by that letter? Too bad. If you have counterarguments, express them, not your emotions.

In response to the threat of punishment of the letter signers by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which has made that society into a joke, Richard Dawkins wrote a letter to the then chief executive of the Society (you can see his letter here), and also issued a tweet:

Now, in response to a request from some of the letter’s signers, Richard has tweaked his letter and aimed it at the people of New Zealand, not at the Royal Society of New Zealand. It has just appeared in the online version The Listener (bad screenshot below), and will be in the paper edition this weekend. I have permission to publish it, and so have put it below. The original title that Richard gave it was, “Dear New Zealand friends of science and reason,” which the editors changed in the published version below. (They also eliminated a reference to “bollocks”.) I like the original title better.

SCIENCE IS SCIENCE

Since the subject of mātauranga Māori was raised through Letters in July, a global response has been building against the ludicrous move to incorporate Māori “ways of knowing” into New Zealand’s science curricula, and the frankly appalling failure of the Royal Society of New Zealand to stand up for science – which is, after all, what the society exists to do.

The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the Royal Society of which I have the honour to be a Fellow, is supposed to stand for science. Not “Western” science, not “European” science, not “White” science, not “Colonialist” science. Just science. Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what “tradition” they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence­based, not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to sup­plement and validate fallible senses, etc.

If a “different” way of knowing worked, if it satisfied the above tests of being evidence-based, it wouldn’t be different, it would be science. Science works. It lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, dates the origin of the universe, and reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed moa.

If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country, who will? What else is the society for? What else is the rationale for its existence? I hope you won’t think me presumptuous as an outsider (who actually rather wishes he was a New Zealander) if I encourage you to stand up against this nonsense and encourage others to do so.

Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS
Emeritus Professor of the Public Under­standing of Science, University of Oxford

I especially love the one sentence, “If a ‘different’ way of knowing worked, if it satisfied the above tests of being evidence-based, it wouldn’t be different, it would be science.” That’s classic Dawkins.

Screenshot of above in online version:

If you are a Kiwi scientist who has the bollocks (or ovaries) to stand up to the government’s, universities’, and Royal Society’s nonsense, and to stand up for reason and the value of science in the only institutionalized “way of knowing”, I ask you to join Richard and the “Satanic Seven.” Yes, I know there are real threats of reprisal should you defend evidence and reason. And you remain silent out of fear, I won’t criticize you. But I suggest that you consider joining Dawkins and the Satanic Seven, lest New Zealand science go down the loo.

Abigail Shrier speaks truth to Princeton

December 9, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I’d forgotten that Abigail Shrier had a Substack column called “The Truth Fairy“, and so I would have missed this wonderful talk (in transcript) had several readers not sent me the link. It is a talk that Shrier gave to a group of students at Princeton, hosted by the Princeton Tory, the Witherspoon Institute, and the Tikvah Fund. It is well worth your time to read this, and will stiffen your resolve against wokeness.

For surely you remember Ms. Shrier, a former writer with the Wall Street Journal and then author of the book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which I’ve read. It’s an account of the exponential rise in the number of young women and girls who want to transition to becoming transmales; an attempt to explain it partly (but not by any means wholly) as a result of social pressure and mental illness; and a critique of the “affirmation therapy” in which therapists and doctors facilitate these transitions without adequate medical and psychological assessment and supervision.

It’s not a transphobic book, nor is Shrier a transphobe. She is thoughtful and deeply sympathetic to people with gender dysphoria who have given their transitions mature and rational consideration. It is a call for caution towards younger people—women in particular—who might not be getting proper guidance.

For writing this reasonable book, Shrier was demonized, widely called a transphobe (including by the ACLU, one of whose lawyers called for her book to be banned), she’s been disinvited to speak, and major chains wouldn’t carry her book. Science-Based Medicine removed a positive review written about Shrier’s book by Dr. Harriet Hall. I’ve documented much of this on posts on this website.

Here we have Shrier giving the Princeton students the equivalent of a graduation speech: imparting lessons she learned the hard way to try to emphasize the importance of independent thought in a time of liberal conformity. I wish I could reproduce the whole talk, but you can read it by clicking on the screenshot below.

There’s a bit of biography to show how Shrier went down the route to being demonized. First, though, the question she’s answering (all bolding is mine).

The question I get most often—the thing that most interviewers want to know, even when they’re pretending to care about more high-minded things—is:  What’s it like to be so hated?  I can only assume that’s what some of you rubberneckers want to know as well:  What’s it like to be on a GLAAD black list? What’s it like to have top ACLU lawyers come out in favor of banning your book? What’s it like to have prestigious institutions disavow you as an alum? What’s it like to lose the favor of the fancy people who once claimed you as their own?

And then she began writing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, and the die was cast:

. . . One of those op-eds inspired a reader to contact me and tell me the story of her teen daughter who was rushing into a sudden gender transition. After trying and failing to find an investigative journalist who wanted the assignment, I took it on myself. My investigations turned into a book called Irreversible Damage.

All of which is to say: I’m not a provocateur. I don’t get a rush from making people angry. You don’t have to be a troll to find yourself in the center of controversy. You need only be two things: effective, and unwilling to back down.

Why am I unwilling to back down? Why wouldn’t I prostrate myself before the petulant mobs who insist that my standard journalistic investigation into a medical mystery—specifically, why so many teen girls were suddenly identifying as transgender and clamoring to alter their bodies—makes me a hater? Why on earth would I have chosen to write this book in the first place and am I glad that I wrote it?

And she says she found it freeing to express her opinion even though it went against the grain of most trans activists. There’s a bit of a confusing discussion of “freedom,” as Shrier appears to be a determinist, and her half-page discussion might have been omitted, for, after discussing how our views are manipulated by outside sources like social media sites and Wikipedia articles, which constitutes neuronal wiring completely compatible with determinism, she says this:

If you form views based on those Wikipedia articles or reports by corrupt fact-checkers, if you act based on them, are you exercising freedom of will? Given that you’ve been spun and prodded along to a pre-determined conclusion by hidden persuaders, perhaps you aren’t. Perhaps you’re left in the same sorry state as the Moor of Venice: toyed with, subverted, manipulated. Acting out someone else’s plan, pointed in the direction that he wants you to walk.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years debating whether this kind of manipulation is at the root of our political divisions, but I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to an even more basic question: how it has interfered with freedom of conscience and ultimately free will.

But she’s strongly questioned whether we even have free will! What she objects to is not unwarranted interference with some dualistic “will,” but unwarranted interference with your brain.

But that doesn’t matter; it’s a small digression in a magnificent talk—but a digression that takes her into territory I inhabit. At any rate, the following words are what’s going to get her into trouble, and the kind of writing that makes me so admire Shrier:

When polled, nearly two out of three Americans (62%) say they are afraid to express an unpopular opinion. That doesn’t sound like a free people in a free country. We are, each day, force-fed falsehoods we are all expected to take seriously, on pain of forfeiting esteem and professional opportunity:

Some men have periods and get pregnant.” “Hard work and objectivity are hallmarks of whiteness.” “Only a child knows her own true gender.”  “Transwomen don’t have an unfair advantage when playing girls’ sports.”

On that final example of a lie, the one about transwomen in girls’ sports, I want you to think for a moment about a young woman here at Princeton. She’s a magnificent athlete named Ellie Marquardt, an all-American swimmer who set an Ivy League record in the 500-meter freestyle event as a freshman. Just before Thanksgiving, Ellie was defeated in the 500-meter, the event she held the record in, by almost 14 seconds [Shrier’s bolding] by a 22 year old biological male at Penn who was competing on the men’s team as recently as November of 2019. That male athlete now holds multiple U.S. records in women’s swimming, erasing the hard work of so many of our best female athletes, and making a mockery of the rights women fought for generations to achieve.

Ellie Marquart swam her heart out for Princeton. When will Princeton fight for her? Where are the student protests to say—enough is enough. When a biological male who has enjoyed the full benefits of male puberty—larger cardiovascular system, 40% more upper body muscle mass, more fast-twitch muscle fiber, more oxygenated blood—decides after three seasons on the men’s team to compete as a woman and smashes the records of the top female swimmers in this country, that is not valor—that’s vandalism.

Where is the outrage? Imagine, for a second, what it must be like to be a female swimmer at Princeton, knowing you must pretend that this is fair—that the NCAA competition is anything other than a joke. Imagine being told to bite your tongue as men lecture you that you just need to swim harder. “Be grateful for your silver medals, ladies, and maybe work harder next time,” is the message. Imagine what that level of repression does to warp the soul.

Now, imagine, instead, the women’s swimmers had all walked out. Imagine they had stood together and said: We will meet any competitor head on. But we will not grant this travesty the honor of our participation. We did not spend our childhoods setting our alarm clocks for 4am every morning, training for hours before and after school, to lend our good names to this fixed fight.

Many of us agree with Shrier (I know I do), but how many of us would say this words, or write these words, publicly? Not many, I warrant.

She goes on to extol and explain the freedom she found in resisting the influences of authoritarians and trans activists (granted, she had no choice about resisting, but resisting did bring her a jolt of endorphin that one wants to experience again). And so a few more excerpts:

I didn’t write Irreversible Damage to be provocative.  In a freer world, nothing in my book would have created controversy. I wrote the book because I knew it was truthful and I believed recording what I found—that there was a social contagion leading many teenage girls to irreversible damage—was the right thing to do. I also believe if I hadn’t written it, thousands more girls would be caught up in an identity movement that was not organic to them but would nonetheless lead them to profound self-harm. But I didn’t write it specifically to stop them. I wrote it simply because it was true.

When I testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in March, I started by stating that I am proud to live in an America where gay and transgender Americans live with less stigma and fear than at any point in American history. That is the glory of freedom as well—the chance for adults to live authentic lives and guide their own destinies. And allowing mature adults to make those sorts of choices for themselves is absolutely a requirement of a free society. Yes, you can reject the false, dogmatic insistences of Gender Ideology and still wish to see transgender Americans prosper and flourish and fulfill their dreams in America. I do.

I wrote the book because the story of one mom and her teen daughter compelled me, and so did that of the dozens of other parents who then spoke to me—mothers and fathers who sobbed as they described how their daughters had become caught up in a craze that seemed completely inauthentic to the child, but which they were powerless to arrest.

And a conclusion:

I’m 43, which I realize makes me very old to many of you. But not so long from now, you’ll wake up and be 43 yourselves. And when I look back on my life thus far, it occurs to me that the decisions of which I am most proud—the ones that strike like an unexpected kiss—are not the times when I obeyed the algorithm. They’re the times when I defied it and felt, for a moment, the magic and power of being alive. When I felt, even for an instant, the exquisite joy of not being anyone’s subject. When I had the unmistakable sense that I’ve existed for a purpose, that I stood the chance of leaving the world better than I found it. You don’t get any of that through lock-step career achievement and you certainly don’t get that by being the Left’s star pupil.

You feel that frisson when you choose a person to commit yourself to knowing full well that any marriage may fail; when you bring children into a world where there are no guarantees of their safety or success. When you summon the courage to fashion a life, something that will remain after you are gone. When you speak the truth publicly—with care and lucidity.  And when you say to the world: you cannot buy me with flattery. Purchase my colleagues or classmates at bulk rate. I am not for sale.

Yes, that frisson isn’t in everyone, but some like Shrier are wired to experience it through rebellion, and to sell that experience to others. And perhaps that itself will rewire the brains of the others. But forget the determinism. The fact is that Shrier spoke the truth as she saw it, not realizing what would happen. But when the shitstorm began, she just put up an umbrella and weathered it. And she continues to fight. Moreover, she has a lot to lose here, though it turns out that the damnation she experienced as a supposed “transphobe” actually brought her more attention and a louder microphone. I can echo her words because I have very little to lose by doing so, but I want to echo her words because they bear repeating, and may echo in other people’s brains.

In short, my message to Shrier is, “You go, girl!

Canadian girls’ book club event with Nobel Peace Prize activist canceled because of potential “Islamophobia”

November 22, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Here’s a theory that is mine. And now, my theory: Canada is more woke than the United States. Why? Because although the innate degree of wokeness may be the same, Canadians are famous for their politeness, and thus don’t push back very hard on Woke insanity, like the article I describe below. Without pushback, Wokeness, with its drive for power, spreads inexorably.

So here’s the article, which you can get translated automatically from the French (at least I could with Chrome). It’s from Le Figaro. Sadly, the story it tells seems true.

Nadia Murad is an Iraqi who now lives in Germany. In 2018 she and Denis Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize; she for her campaign “to help women and children who are victims of abuse and human trafficking, and Mukwege for “repeatedly condemn[ing] impunity for mass rape and criticiz[ing] the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war.

Murad’s drive came from personal experience, for as the Nobel Committee notes:

Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, and in 2014 the Islamic State (IS) launched a brutal attack on her home village. Several hundred people were massacred, and girls and young women were abducted and held as sex slaves. While a captive of the IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. After three months she managed to flee.

Murad is the first Yazidi and first Iraqi to be awarded the Nobel Prize for anything. She was invited to a Toronto school book club, and what a catch she would be, for she was talking about her latest and autobiographical book. (There was another guest as well; see below.) But she and the other participant were canceled. As the paper describes (note: this is an automatic translation so I’ve tweaked it a bit to make it clearer):

The Toronto school board has withdrawn its support for a book club dedicated to young girls. The presence of the Nobel Peace Prize, committed to the Yazidi cause, could, according to its representatives, offend Muslim students.

Founded by Tanya Lee about four years ago, the book club where Nadia Murad is a guest welcomes young girls aged 13 to 18, from various secondary schools, themselves overseen by the said school board. Without being directly governed by the institution, the club is promoted by its members to the students. The organizer of this literary meeting told the Globe and Mail of her misunderstanding , explaining that the superintendent of the school, Helen Fisher, allegedly said that the students would not participate in the event, scheduled for February 2022 .

The reason given? Her book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against Islamic State , may promote Islamophobia, reports The Globe and Mail . This is to forget that the 28-year-old Iraqi girl was, for three months, the sexual slavery of no less than 13 Daesh soldiers in 2014, before she managed to flee to Germany. Shocked by the exchange with Helen Fisher, Tanya Lee says she then sent her an email containing detailed information on the Islamic organization, coming from the BBC and CNN. “This is what the Islamic State means ,” she wrote to the superintendent.It is a terrorist organization. It has nothing to do with ordinary Muslims. The Toronto school board should be aware of the difference. ”

Apparently a council of the school board finally decided not to distribute the book to students. That’s absurd. What better role model for girls of that age than a woman who was abused and fought back hard—gaining a Nobel Prize in the end? The “Islamophibia” excuse of course comes from fear: that Muslims might take offense at the topic and cause trouble. But remember, Murad was abducted and sexually abused by an extremist group of Muslims. All rational Muslims should support Murad and her appearance. But of course religion has a way of eroding rationality. What the school board is doing is in effect saying that what ISIS did to Murad shouldn’t be criticized publicly, thus condoning religiously-inspired sexual slavery.

By the way, another person, also canceled, was supposed to appear with Murad in a joint event:

The event was supposed to carry discussion on two books in presence of their authors — Marie Henein’s ‘Nothing But the Truth: A Memoir‘ and Nadia Murad’s ‘The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State‘.

The board said it has withdrawn support to hold the October event with Henein, the daughter of Egyptian immigrants and one of Canada’s most prominent lawyers, because her book was “problematic” as she “defended” former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi when he was accused of sexual assault.

As far as I know, Ghomeshi was found “not guilty.” This is going too damn far, school board! Why aren’t Canadians objecting to this and writing letters to the Toronto school board?

h/t: Paul

Abbotgate hits the mainstream media and Quillette: MIT gets egg on its face

October 21, 2021 • 11:00 am

UPDATE: Now NBC News has covered the story in an article called “After lecture is canceled, free speech debate roils science academia.” It deals largely with David Romps’s resignation as Director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Science Center, which he details in a series of tweets (first one in the thread is below).  (h/t Simon)

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The saga of Dorian Abbot began quietly on my campus, and when it was resolved at the University of Chicago, I thought that was the end of it. But then, because Abbot had written and made videos criticizing affirmative action and DEI initiatives, he was disinvited from the prestigious Carlson lectures at MIT, where he was supposed to speak on global warming (they later offered him a smaller technical lecture on his work). This deplatforming was picked up by several venues in the conservative media, including the conservative columnist Bret Stephens at the NYT, but I was frustrated that the non-conservative press ignored such an egregious incident of cancellation.

It was especially egregious because Abbot wasn’t going to talk at MIT about DEI or the like, but about global warming and other planets. In other words, he was being punished for saying things in other venues that offended people. More than that: there is a valid debate about the methods of DEI initiatives, though their intent is admirable. I accept the need for some affirmative action as a means of reparation, but others don’t, and none of us should be punished or cancelled for our views.

Now both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have published new pieces on Abbotgate, which you can access by clicking below. The NYT piece is an article by Michael Powell, and seems to me pretty favorable by way of making Abbot seem unfairly treated by MIT. (He’s not biased, but the facts do indict MIT.) The op-ed in the WSJ is by Lawrence Krauss, and also deals with Abbot, further describing how DEI initiatives are stifling science and swallowing up academia. There’s also a piece in Quillette (third screenshot below) that is largely about Abbot.

All in all, MIT has not come out of this looking good. And although the MIT President, Provost, and head of the department that invited Abbot, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (DEAPS) originally affirmed that yes, the school was strongly in favor free speech, and that Abbot had not really been canceled, but offered another (far inferior!) lecture, now they’re getting more defensive and hostile. Such is the Streisand effect.

I’ll give just the new information from the NYT piece. First, some anti-free-speech sentiments from the head of EAPS, much stronger than we’ve heard previously:

On Sept. 30, M.I.T. reversed course. The head of its earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences department called off Dr. Abbot’s lecture, to be delivered to professors, graduate students and the public, including some top Black and Latino high school students.

“Besides freedom of speech, we have the freedom to pick the speaker who best fits our needs,” said Robert van der Hilst, the head of the department at M.I.T. “Words matter and have consequences.”

The consequences are that you don’t get to talk about something irrelevant to words you’ve said before. And, as I emphasized, though Abbot and a colleague went a bit too far at the end of their Newsweek editorial on free speech, why should criticism of DEI, a perfectly valid philosophical and ethical debate, have such dire consequences? (Abbot notes correctly  at the end that “these controversies will have a negative impact on my scientific career”.)

I’m quoted as well after a long interview with Powell, expressing surprise that scientists would get just as wokified as humanities people:

“I thought scientists would not get on board with the denial-of-free-speech movement,” said Jerry Coyne, an emeritus professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. “I was absolutely wrong, 100 percent so.”

My point was that freedom of speech is taken for granted in science: each of us has the right—nay, duty—to criticize others whose work we think is wrong. I assumed (wrongly) that that scientists’ emphasis on free speech would carry over into politics. Well, I’m neither a politician nor a pundit.

A professor at Princeton asked Abbot to give his Carlson lecture at his school, and that will happen today. But there were other consequences:

The story took another turn this week, as David Romps, a professor of climate physics at the University of California, Berkeley, announced that he would resign as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center. He said he had tried to persuade his fellow scientists and professors to invite Dr. Abbot to speak and so reaffirm the importance of separating science from politics.

“In my view, there are some institutional principles that we have to hold sacred,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

His colleagues weren’t persuaded, so Romps resigned.

Now the NYT piece isn’t perfect, for in the two paragraphs below I see reporter Powell trying to imply that science is guilty of present-day as well as past racism:

The history of science is no less marked than other fields of learning by abhorrent chapters of suppression and prejudice. Nazi and Communist regimes twisted science to their own end, and scientists buckled, fled or suffered perilous consequences. Some professors point to aspects of that history as a cautionary tale for American science. In the United States, so-called race science — including the measurement of skulls with the intent to determine intelligence — was used to justify the subordination of Black people, Chinese, Italians, Jews and others. Experiments were carried out on people without their consent.

The worst of that history lies decades past. That said, the faculty at geoscience departments in the United States has more white faculty than some other sciences. Departments have attracted more female professors of late but struggle to recruit Black and Latino candidates. The number of Asian Americans earning geoscience degrees has decreased since the mid-1990s.

Indeed, the worst of that history lies decades past; at present, science departments are lining up in droves to hire good minority candidates. But the second paragraph, at least to me, is a Kendi-an implication that inequities in geoscience departments still reflect racism in those departments.  That’s simply not true. It is a “pipeline problem” whose rectification requires a huge and necessary societal effort well beyond DEI efforts on the college and grad-school level.

There were professors who supported Abbot’s cancellation, of course. One is Phoebe Cohen, a geoscience professor at Williams College, who makes an unbelievably dumb statement that I’ve put in bold below:

Phoebe A. Cohen is a geosciences professor and department chair at Williams College and one of many who expressed anger on Twitter at M.I.T.’s decision to invite Dr. Abbot to speak, given that he has spoken against affirmative action in the past.

Dr. Cohen agreed that Dr. Abbot’s views reflect a broad current in American society. Ideally, she said, a university should not invite speakers who do not share its values on diversity and affirmative action. Nor was she enamored of M.I.T.’s offer to let him speak at a later date to the M.I.T. professors. “Honestly, I don’t know that I agree with that choice,” she said. “To me, the professional consequences are extremely minimal.”

What, she was asked, of the effect on academic debate? Should the academy serve as a bastion of unfettered speech?

“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.

What? Intellectual debate and rigor are signs of toxic male white supremacy? What an outrageously stupid statement! Intellectual debate and rigor are de rigueur not just in science, but in academia as a whole. I mourn for Dr. Cohen’s geoscience students at Williams: are they taught to go with their feelings and emotions instead of “intellectual rigor” when they take her classes?

Finally, we return to the chair of MIT’s EAPS defending the cancelation. I’d be surprised if Abbot takes up the invitation to address his department (my emphasis):

Dr. van der Hilst speculated that Black students might well have been repelled if they learned of Dr. Abbot’s views on affirmative action. This lecture program was founded to explore new findings on climate science and M.I.T. has hoped to attract such students to the school. He acknowledged that these same students might well in years to come encounter professors, mentors even, who hold political views at odds with their own.

“Those are good questions but somewhat hypothetical,” Dr. van der Hilst said. “Freedom of speech goes very far but it makes civility difficult.”

Dr. van der Hilst added that he invited Dr. Abbot to meet privately with faculty there to discuss his research.

What happened to the departmental lecture? Has it been replaced by “private meetings with faculty”? At any rate, yes, students might have been repelled or offended by what Abbot said outside MIT, but they have plenty of recourse. They don’t have to go to Abbot’s lecture, they could picket it outside quietly, or they could use counterspeech. But Hilst even admits that the world is full of encounters with speech you don’t like, so why is Abbot being deplatformed? This is not “somewhat hypothetical”—those are weasel words—but real. So why can’t MIT use the Carlson Lecture as an example?

As for his last sentence, “Freedom of speech makes civility difficult,” yes, it’s partly true but not inevitable, and so what? Violation of civility is not protected by the Constitution, but freedom of speech is.

All in all, I’m pleased that the NYT not only covered Abbot’s disinvitation, but, in describing it objectively, still makes MIT look pretty bad. (I am of course biased, but I am not alone in my feelings.)

Here’s Lawrence Krauss’s short piece in the Wall Street Journal. He’s careful not to go after DEI initiatives in the way Abbot did, but still calls them out for injuring science and causing academic bloat. Click on screenshot:

Just two short from Krauss:

Several years ago, one began to see an additional criterion in advertisements for faculty openings. As a recent Cornell ad puts it: “Also required is a statement of diversity, equity and inclusion describing the applicant’s efforts and aspirations to promote equity, inclusion and diversity through teaching, research and service.” This sort of requirement became more common and is now virtually ubiquitous. Of the 25 most recent advertisements for junior faculty that appeared in Physics Today online listings as of Oct. 15—from research institutions like Caltech to liberal-arts colleges like Bryn Mawr, and even in areas as esoteric as quantum engineering and theoretical astrophysics—24 require applicants to demonstrate an explicit, active commitment to the DEI agenda.

This isn’t merely pro forma; it’s a real barrier to employment. The life-sciences department at the University of California, Berkeley reports that it rejected 76% of applicants in 2018-19 based on their diversity statements without looking at their research records. A colleague at a major research institution, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her students, wrote to me: “I have a student on the market this year, agonizing more on the diversity statement than on the research proposal. He even took training where they taught them how to write one. It breaks my heart to see this.” Other colleagues relate that their white male postdocs aren’t getting interviews or have chosen to seek jobs outside academia.

This is happening not only in universities. Last week the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a biomedical research charity, announced a $2.2 billion initiative aimed at reducing racial disparity, made possible by a contraction in its funding of significant research for senior investigators. The initiative includes $1.2 billion in grants for early-career researchers. Science magazine reports that because antidiscrimination law prohibits disqualifying applicants on the basis of race and sex, the recipients will be chosen based on their “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” in the words of the institute’s president, Erin O’Shea. How? “Diversity statements,” she says, are “a very promising approach.”

In other words, diversity statements are a surrogate for the candidate’s race, and you can do an end run around illegal race-based hiring by ranking diversity statements. We’ve known this for a while, though.

Krauss’s conclusion:

Beyond these fearful faculty members, and talented would-be scientists who will be dissuaded or excluded from academic research, DEI offices are working to indoctrinate incoming students. This year at Princeton, the New York Post reports, freshmen were required to watch a video promoting “social justice” and describing dissenting debate as “masculine-ized bravado.” If such efforts succeed, a new generation of students won’t have the opportunity to subject their own viewpoints to challenge—surely one of the benefits of higher education.

Critics have likened DEI statements to the loyalty oaths of the Red Scare. In 1950 the University of California fired 31 faculty members for refusing to sign a statement disavowing any party advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government. That violated their freedom of speech and conscience, but this is worse. Whereas a loyalty oath compels assent to authority, a DEI statement demands active ideological engagement. It’s less like the excesses of anticommunism than like communism itself.

And now I’ve run out of space (and steam), so I’ll refer you to the article in Quillette (click on screenshot below) by Peter Schuck, the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law school. It ends like this:

The MIT fiasco should remind us how much cancel culture has to answer for. Although this culture’s activists are relatively few and its rhetoric is often risible in its hyperbole, its militants on college campuses sometimes have an outsize effect on others: cruelly blighted reputations, perverse policy agendas, stigmatization of moderate Democrats, and much more. But Princeton’s swift response to Abbot’s cancellation by providing an alternative, honored forum also suggests a hopeful, low-cost remedy, consistent with free speech and liberal academic values. MIT should be ashamed of its craven support for bullying—and perhaps other more principled institutions will heed this simple exemplary lesson.

Perhaps, but probably not.

Two easy pieces

October 17, 2021 • 1:00 pm

There are two items today that I commend to your attention.

The first is Andrew Sullivan’s latest newsletter on The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot below), in particular his main piece on a new phenomenon: people confronting politicians or those whom thy oppose in private venues, and harassing them or vandalizing their property. You might remember that this started in the days running up to the Trump election, when people would accost Republican politicians in restaurants, scream at them, or, sometimes, the restaurant owner would ask them to leave.  Although some readers thought this was fine, I didn’t. People should be able to dine in restaurants in public with their families and be left in peace, whether they be Trumpites or Bernie bros. (Most of the hectoring was done by the Left, but as Sullivan notes in this week’s column, the Right is not immune.)

Both sides need to lay off disturbing people’s regular lives, for it has no salubrious result; it allows some people to blow of steam while hardening the divisions in America. And it inspires other people to go off on their enemies in public.

Click on the screenshot to read, and remember to subscribe if you read often:

The title itself shows one example of Leftist damage to the home of Oakland’s mayor. As you see, it says “defund the OPD [Oakland Police Department]”, “cancel rent!” (that would work well) and so on. That mess of paint requires serious cleaning up!  Sullivan cites a bunch of examples of similar attacks by the Left, but you can read for yourself. I’ll adduce one more: the mayor of Portland, Oregon had to move because protestors went after his condo, even breaking windows of other people’s offices and throwing burning material in them. Yelling at people is insufficient these days! No, you have to follow them into the bathroom and yell at them in their stalls when they’re trying to micturate, as happened to Kyrsten Sinema.

And attacks by the Right as well:

Although not as persistent or as widespread as the far left’s invasion of the privacy of public figures, the far right is not innocent either. LA Mayor Garcetti’s residence was targeted by anti-lockdown activists; LA County’s public health director was also targeted at home; some folks brought menacing tiki-torches to the Boise mayor’s home; in Duluth, Trump supporters organized 20 trucks to circle the mayor’s home. Over the new year, Nancy Pelosi’s private home was vandalized, graffiti written on her garage door, and a bloody pig’s head was thrown into the mix for good measure.

There are also attacks on school board members around the country, who favor teaching the concepts of critical race theory to kids, or are implementing Covid mask policies. It’s fine and good to protest; it is not fine and good to force these people and their families to live under personal siege.

Anti-mask demonstrators, for example, hounded one Brevard School Board member and mother, Jennifer Jenkins, at her Florida home, at one point coming to her doorstep and coughing in her face. She later testified that she was ok with demonstrators outside her home, but that “I object to them following my car around, I reject them saying they are coming for me and I need to beg for mercy … that they are going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors. That they’re making false DCF [child welfare agency] claims against me to my daughter. That I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go underneath her clothing and check for burn marks. That’s what I’m against.”

All of this is to make the point that the personal is not political, a phrase that never made a lot of sense to me. Sullivan, like me, is opposed to this kind of stuff, and is and was also opposed to outing closeted gays. As he says, “I have long felt that way even about ‘outing’ public figures who have bad records on gay rights. Legitimize outing gays to combat homophobia and you legitimize other people outing gays in order to shame and humiliate.”

Sullivan ends like this:

What we’re losing, I fear, is the idea that we can take on a role as public citizens that is separate from our role as private human beings; that we can place limits on what the state can do to us, and what we can do to each other. As Hannah Arendt perhaps best grasped, a liberal society is almost defined by its belief that politics has limits, and that it exists to defend us from either the government or our fellow citizens leveraging private human flaws for political purposes. There are, in fact, many worse things than hypocrisy. Shamelessness, for example. The first is human; the second is sociopathic. I want to live in a world where the former prevails.

The idea that “the personal is political” is not just a glib phrase. It is actually best exemplified by totalitarian systems, which seek no limits to their authority over private matters, even those matters that are buried deep in your mind and soul, and which enroll citizens into becoming mutual spies in pursuit of heretics. I don’t want to live in that transparent, unsparing, brutalizing world. It turns us all into spies; it gives no one space to think or escape; it is devoid of mercy and gives no benefit of the doubt.

Let’s not lose the distinction between public and private. Let’s remember that everything we decide to do to violate the privacy of others comes back to legitimize others’ violation of ours. The immediate payoff may be gratifying; but what it does to a society over time, as the tit-for-tats cascade, is to remove the chance for civil debate, and enhance the power of personal hatred, and, ultimately political violence. That’s where this leads: a descent from civil argument to civil war.

That last sentence might be hyperbole, but it’s not out of the question.

Can we have a little civility around here? America is so polarized that even at the University of Chicago, when our administration refused to get rid of its police department, students camped out in the street in front of our Provost’s house for a week (an illegal act, but the police let them be for a while), and even painted a parking space for the Provost, who’s of Chinese descent.  She’s not by any means a racist, but that’s the worst thing that the Woke can call someone, and so they painted it in front of her house, helpfully in Chinese and English (I don’t even know if she reads or speaks Chinese). “CareNotCops” is the local student “progressive” group.

This is not okay:

***************

Second item (h/t Paul): a 28-minute interview of Bari Weiss by Brian Stelter, CNN’s lead reporter on the media.  The topic is why she, like Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, and others, have moved from “MSM” to Substack. Click on the screenshot below to go to the page with the audio interview, and then on the arrow by the header below.

As Stelter notes, Weiss now makes a lot more money on Substack than she did before she resigned from the New York Times, but I’m sure she did it for the freedom to write without censorship, not for money (she couldn’t predict that she’d get over 100,000 subscribers). She indicts the NYT for pushing a defined narrative rather than “all the news that’s fit to print.”  She wants her column, Common Sense, to be “the op-ed column I would like to read”, the place that cover stories that the MSM won’t touch.  She gives a laundry list of “the ways that the world’s gone mad”; you’ll be familiar with many of them, including MIT’s cancellation of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot’s invited lecture, which was completely ignored by the major media save the Wall Street Journal. (She also indicts CNN itself.)

In the end, her aim is to publish things that will affect our “fear-based society” in a good way, so that people don’t become afraid, as many are, to say what they think. Stelter pushes back at some points, and it’s a very good interview.

h/t: Paul

Censorship of schoolbooks by the Right

September 26, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I’ve been criticized for concentrating on “cancelling” by the Left and ignoring the same activities by the Right. If that’s true, it’s because I think the Left’s activities will help the Republicans in the next elections, while everybody in the liberal media concentrates on the Right. But it is true that we shouldn’t forget that the Right is guilty of some equally stupid attempts at censorship, several of them described in this article in The Daily Beast. Among the things that the Right-wing group “Moms for Liberty” are fighting to ban in schools are predictable ones: mentions of race, the struggle for civil rights, Native Americans, descriptions of segregation in schools, and so on.

But click on the screenshot below to read some new and unpredictable targets of Right-Wing opprobrium, including, for crying out loud, the reproduction of seahorses!

This article describes the battle in Tennessee’s Williamson County School District, in a state where there are already laws against teaching CRT (I object to any such laws).  Here’s some of the offensive stuff:

At the heart of that fight is a conservative group, led by a private-schoolparent, that has a sprawling list of complaints against common classroom books. Many of the books are about race, but other targets include dragons, sad little owls, and hurricanes.

. . .With school back in session, the Williamson County feud has been renewed, Reuters reported this week. And the scope of the proposed book ban is even broader and loonier than MFL’s June letter suggests.

Accompanying that letter is an 11-page spreadsheet with complaints about books on the district’s curriculum, ranging from popular books on civil rights heroes to books about poisonous animals (“text speaks of horned lizard squirting blood out of its eyes”), Johnny Appleseed (“story is sad and dark”), and Greek and Roman mythology (“illustration of the goddess Venus naked coming out of the ocean…story of Tantalus and how he cooks up, serves, and eats his son.”) A book about hurricanes is no good (“1st grade is too young to hear about possible devastating effects of hurricanes”) and a book about owls is designated as a downer. (“It’s a sad book, but turns out ok. Not a book I would want to read for fun,” an adult wrote of the owl book in the spreadsheet.)

You can find what I think are the 11 pages of spreadsheets here and here (enlarge a download), and you can see a pdf presentation of some of the offensive stuff here, along with some videos by The Offended.

But wait—there’s more! Foreign words don’t make the cut, and the parents also join those historians of science who say that the affair of Galileo does not show antiscientific behavior of the Catholic church!

Multiple books that contain Spanish or French Creole words receive warnings from the group for potentially “confusing” children. An article about crackdowns on civil rights demonstrators, meanwhile, is deemed inappropriate for “negative view of Firemen and police.” A fictional book about the Civil War (given to fifth graders) is deemed inappropriate, in part due to depictions of “out of marriage families between white men and black women” and descriptions of “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’”

At one juncture, the group implores the school district to include more charitable descriptions of the Catholic Church when teaching a book about astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted by said church for suggesting that Earth revolves around the sun.

“Where is the HERO of the church?” the group’s spreadsheet asks, “to contrast with their mistakes? There are so many opportunities to teach children the truth of our history as a nation. The Church has a huge and lasting influence on American culture. Both good and bad should be represented. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of Hospitals, Orphanages, Social Work, Charity, to name a few.”

Finally, my favorite bit is the seahorse ban. As I’ve written before, both seahorses and pipefishes reverse the usual course of offspring care. In both groups, males have pouches to contain and incubate the fertilized eggs, and females compete for those eggs to get into those pouches. (This is because females can produce eggs faster than males can incubate broods.) Because here females compete for rare space in male pouches, sexual selection is reversed, and in seahorses and pipefish it is the females rather than the males that is the highly decorated sex (see here and here).

You can imagine the consternation this situation would cause for right-wingers: males get pregnant! Why, it’s almost like transexuality! And so they object:

MFL’s Williamson County chapter also takes issue with a picture book about seahorses, in part because it depicted “mating seahorses with pictures of postions [sic] and discussion of the male carrying the eggs.”

The Daily Beast reviewed the text in question via a children’s story time YouTube channel.

Readers looking for a Kama Sutra of seahorse sex will be disappointed. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish In The Sea contains nothing more risqué than watercolor illustrations of two seahorses holding tails or touching bellies (never—heavens—at the same time).

The passage that “describes how they have sex” reads: “they twist their tails together and twirl gently around, changing color until they match. Sea horses are faithful to one mate and often pair up for life. Today Sea Horse’s mate is full of ripe eggs. The two of them dance until sunset and then she puts her eggs into his pouch. [JAC: OMG that is HOT!] Barbour sea horses mate every few weeks during the breeding season. Only the male sea horse has a pouch. Only the female sea horse can grow eggs.”

MFL recommends the book be reserved for older children, up to grade eight.

As your reward, here’s a video of a male seahorse giving birth to hundreds of miniatures (warning: sex-role reversal!):

 

h/t: GInger K.

The ACLU alters an RBG quote to avoid “transphobic” implications

September 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

It’s a sad day when the American Civil Liberties Union has to alter a quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (one of our mutual heroes) to placate the potentially offended. Here’s one of their recent tweets:

Here’s the original quote from Ginsburg:

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.”

― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

There are six changes, five in brackets, getting rid of “woman” and “her” (substituting “persons” and “people” for “woman” and “they” or “their” for three “hers”).  The missing part of the quote, which is “It is a decision she must make for herself”, could have been altered to “It is a decision they must make for themselves,” but that would add two more sets of brackets and make the whole quotation look really weird.

The explanation is simple and obvious; they are removing RBG’s reference to women having babies since the ACLU, whose mission now includes a substantial amount of transgender activism, is onboard with the idea that transmen, who are now given the pronouns “he” and “men”, can have babies. And indeed, transmen have given birth.

I have no quarrel with asserting that transsexual men can have offspring while using male pronouns.  What bothers me is the alteration of RBG’s quotation, which strikes me as disingenuous, as it alters what somebody actually said with the purpose of conforming to an ideology that didn’t exist during most of RBG’s life. Would it cause harm if people were to read the actual quote?  Would the quote really be considered transphobic given that RBG was not a transphobe?

I doubt it; we know that usage has changed in the past decade. And if we can go ahead and alter quotes any way we want so they are seen as less offensive and less “harmful”, well, we’re in trouble.

As I’ve said for a while, the ACLU is circling the drain. If they were offended by the original quote, they should have either used it as it was spoken, or not used it at all.

To be fair, I’ll link you to a defense of this kind of usage (which to me still doesn’t justify altering RBG’s quote), in this article by Emma Green in the Atlantic.