Academics' Mobbing of a Young Scholar Must be Denounced
The latest victim of an academic mobbing is 28-year old social scientist Noah Carl who has been awarded a Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellowship at St Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge.
Rarely has the power asymmetry between the academic mob and its victim been so stark. Dr Carl is a young researcher, just starting out in his career, who is being mobbed for being awarded a prestigious research scholarship on the basis of his peer-reviewed research.
While getting a position like this is normally a time for celebration for junior academics, Dr Carl has gone to ground, unable to defend his reputation from libellous attacks, as he has been instructed not to talk to the media.
Three hundred academics from around the world, many of them professors, have signed an open letter denouncing Dr Carl and demanding that the University of Cambridge “immediately conduct an investigation into the appointment process” on the grounds that his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed.” The letter states: “we are shocked that a body of work that includes vital errors in data analysis and interpretation appears to have been taken seriously.” Yet the letter contains no evidence of any academic misconduct. It does not include a single reference to any of Dr Carl’s papers, let alone any papers that are “ethically suspect” or “methodologically flawed.”
Drawing on disparate fields of research in psychology, psychometrics and sociology, Dr Carl’s papers have been peer reviewed and published in journals such as Intelligence, Personality & Individual Differences, The American Sociologist, Comparative Sociology, The Political Quarterly and The British Journal of Sociology. His papers have been cited 235 times since 2013.
Much of Dr Carl’s research focuses on how intelligence and other psychological characteristics affect beliefs and attitudes. Papers include: Leave and Remain voters’ knowledge of the EU after the referendum of 2016, Cognitive Ability and Political Beliefs in the United States, and his most cited paper, published in Intelligence in 2014, Verbal Intelligence is correlated with socially and economically liberal beliefs.
Which of these, or any of Dr Carl’s other papers, contain “vital errors in data-analysis”? We’re not told. Nevertheless, on the strength of these allegations alone, with no supporting evidence provided, the letter’s authors have invited people to sign the petition – and hundreds have.
So why all the fuss? Dr Carl’s crime is that he has defended intelligence researchers who’ve written about the taboo topics of race, genes and IQ and argued that stifling debate in these areas is likely to cause more harm than allowing them to be freely discussed by academics. It appears to be this, and the fact that he spoke at the London Conference of Intelligence in 2017 alongside some of these researchers (although he did not himself speak about race, genes or IQ at that conference), that is the basis for the accusation, made in the letter, that he is guilty of “pseudoscientific racism.”
One of the signatories is Professor David Graeber, the anthropologist and left-wing political activist, who described Dr Carl on Twitter as a “very creepy ‘race scientist’.” When asked to justify this accusation of racism and clarify what aspects of Dr Carl’s research he found “methodologically flawed,” he replied: "that's easy. The concepts "race" "genetic intelligence" and "criminality" are all concepts with at best questionable scientific validity, so any study that assumes all 3 as unproblematic is so wildly methodologically flawed that one can only assume a racist motive in the author."
Yet Professor Graeber did not specify a single research paper by Dr Carl that includes any of these concepts, let alone all three. And we couldn’t find any instances in Dr Carl’s work of his using the term “genetic intelligence.” The implication of Professor Graeber’s response, as well as the letter, is that Dr Carl has linked average differences in intelligence between races to genetic differences, when, in fact, he has stated that a genetic contribution to racial gaps in IQ has not been conclusively demonstrated. Perhaps Professor Graeber is confusing references in Dr Carl’s work to the fact that individual differences in IQ are genetically influenced (although not genetically determined) with claims about group differences being genetically influenced? The second would be controversial, but the first is one of the most robust, oft replicated findings in all of psychology.
Given that Dr Carl has not linked group differences in IQ to genetic differences, and does not appear to have ever used the term “genetic intelligence,” it is reasonable to assume that professor Graeber has not read the work he has publicly denounced. If Professor Graeber’s cavalier approach is representative of the group of academics who have signed the petition – and it doesn’t seem probable that many of them will have taken the trouble to examine Dr Carl’s work before signing the letter – it can be assumed that most of these scholars have denounced a junior colleague, and publicly trashed his reputation, on the basis of hearsay, and as a convenient way to advertise their opposition to the discussion of race, genes and IQ in the academy.
Accusing a young scholar of “psuedoscientific racism,” and to claim his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed,” is not something that should be done lightly, given the likely impact on their career. So for a group of over 300 academics to sign their names to this charge sheet without appearing to have conducted even the most cursory examinations of Dr Carl’s work is an absolute scandal. These are trumped up charges, brought against Dr Carl because he dissents from the prevailing orthodoxy about a controversial field of academic research. He hasn’t even waded into these dangerous waters himself – just defended the right of academics to do so. But that alone is enough for a group of his colleagues to attempt to ruin him. So much for the principles of academic freedom and open inquiry, not to mention diversity, tolerance and inclusion. This is academic McCarthyism.
We believe that this disgraceful attempt to smear a junior scholar by a powerful cabal of senior academics poses a far greater risk to the reputation of the academy than any work authored by Dr Carl or those researchers he has defended. Anyone who cares about intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity should join us in denouncing this witch-hunt.