Friday, June 12, 2020

Twitter Attacks, and a Defense of Scientific Inquiry

I have not responded to these nasty Twitter attacks, but unfortunately they have gotten enough traction that I feel I need to respond now. [ Note: I have been informed that some of the signatures on their petition are fake, including one purported to be from my colleague Corey Washington! See counter petition and support letters on my behalf. ]

The attacks attempt to depict me as a racist and sexist, using short video clips out of context, and also by misrepresenting the content of some of my blog posts. A cursory inspection reveals bad faith in their presentation.

The accusations are entirely false -- I am neither racist nor sexist.

The Twitter mobs want to suppress scientific work that they find objectionable. What is really at stake: academic freedom, open discussion of important ideas, scientific inquiry. All are imperiled and all must be defended.

One of the video clips is taken from an interview I did with YouTuber Stefan Molyneux in 2017. Molyneux was not a controversial figure in 2017, although he has since become one. Prominent scientists working on human intelligence who were interviewed on his show around the same time include James Flynn and Eric Turkheimer. (Noam Chomsky was also a guest some time after I was.) Here is what I said to Molyneux about genetic group differences in intelligence:

Here is a similar interview I did with Cambridge University PhD student Daphne Martschenko:

As you can see, contrary to the Twitter accusations (lies), I do not endorse claims of genetic group differences. In fact I urge great caution in this area.

The tweets also criticize two podcasts I recorded with my co-host Corey Washington: a discussion with a prominent MSU Psychology professor who studies police shootings (this discussion has elicited a strong response due to the tragic death of George Floyd), and with Claude Steele, a renowned African American researcher who discovered Stereotype Threat and has been Provost at Columbia and Berkeley. The conversation with Steele is a nuanced discussion of race, discrimination, and education in America.

The blog posts under attack, dating back over a decade, are almost all discussions of published scientific papers by leading scholars in Psychology, Neuroscience, Genomics, Machine Learning, and other fields. The papers are published in journals like Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. However, a detailed reading is required to judge the research and related inferences. I maintain that all the work described is well-motivated and potentially important. Certainly worthy of a blog post. (I have written several thousand blog posts; apparently these are the most objectionable out of those thousands!)

In several of the blog posts I explicitly denounce racism and discrimination based on identity.

This paper, from 2008, discusses early capability to ascertain ancestry from gene sequence. The topic was highly controversial in 2008 (subject to political attack, because it suggested there could be a genetic basis for “race”), but the science is correct. It is now common for people to investigate their heritage using DNA samples (23andMe, Ancestry) using exactly these methods. This case provides a perfect example of science that faced suppression for political reasons, but has since been developed for many useful applications.

This 2016 paper is by the UCSD Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics collaboration. They claim that fMRI features of brain morphology can be predicted by genetic ancestry via machine learning.

These blog posts discuss the firing of software engineer James Damore by Google over a memo on diversity practices. The first post describes the legal situation and quotes a professor of labor law at Notre Dame. The second compares the claims made in Damore’s memo to an article in the Stanford Medical School magazine, which covers similar material and was (by coincidence) published around the same time.

These papers discuss evidence from large DNA datasets for recent natural selection in human evolution. This research has been attacked for political reasons, but should be defended since it addresses fundamental questions in deep human history and evolution.

Regarding my work as Vice President for Research, the numbers speak for themselves. MSU went from roughly $500M in annual research expenditures to about $700M during my tenure. We have often been ranked #1 in the Big Ten for research growth. I participated in the recruitment of numerous prominent female and minority professors, in fields like Precision Medicine, Genomics, Chemistry, and many others. Until this Twitter attack there has been not even a single allegation (over 8 years) of bias or discrimination on my part in promotion and tenure or faculty recruitment. These are two activities at the heart of the modern research university, involving hundreds of individuals each year.

Academics and scientists must not submit to mob rule.


Media coverage:

A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State (Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)

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