Speaking of what is and is not politically correct in academia, there are a lot of interesting posts over at Volokh’s place on the “racist” email incident at Harvard. I agree with Eugene:
I, for one, am disheartened that — for perfectly understandable reasons — a student at a research university feels the need to apologize for having the temerity to be open to scientific evidence on a scientific question, and for deciding to express her openness to her friends.
Now there was something “sad and unfortunate” and lacking in “responsibility” in the circulation of the original e-mail: As best I can tell, the recipients forwarded the sender’s e-mail without the sender’s permissions. That is generally not proper with regard to personal mail, especially personal mail that refers back to an earlier conversation and may be hard to evaluate fully without knowing that conversation. If that were all that the Dean was condemning, I would agree with her. But my sense is that the Dean is condemning the sender, not the forwarders.
Hernstein and Murray were unjustly condemned for The Bell Curve, in my opinion. It may indeed be true that their research wasn’t valid, but that’s not what they were condemned for. They were condemned for even asking the question.
I have no idea whether blacks are on average less intelligent, or more intelligent, than whites (and of course there are different flavors of intelligence, so they could be smarter in some ways, and less so in others). But I’m open to believing that either could be true, because it seems obvious that blacks are unlikely to be exactly as intelligent as whites on every axis. In order to believe that they are, you have to believe that intelligence is not heritable (i.e., you have to be a leftist who denies human nature and believes in the tabula rasa). Because any trait that is heritable, like height, or athletic ability or…skin color, is going to have different averages within a population.
But while it would be ludicrous to argue that blacks don’t have darker skin, on average, or that Inuit tend to be more stout than Kenyans, on average, to have such a discussion about intelligence is completely taboo in academia. Stephen Jay Gould took this to the greatest heights in his Mismeasure of Man, in which he took great pains to gather as much research as possible to “prove” that all homo sapiens, everywhere, have the same innate capacity to learn. And he did this not in the interest of science, though I’m sure that he flattered himself that he did, but in the interest of his Marxist ideology, which could not morally tolerate any other conclusion.
Do I think that such research is socially useful? No, not particularly, but that doesn’t mean that I oppose its being done, as long as it isn’t with my money. But the left considers it socially dangerous research. It’s clear why they consider it so, but the reason that I consider it pure research (that is, not having any societal implications) is that unlike them, I am an individualist, whereas they are collectivists. I treat people as individuals, whereas they treat them as members of favored or disfavored groups. So for them, any research that can result in a group being favored or disfavored, particularly if it isn’t derivative from their own notions of social history, is beyond the pale.
Me? I say what difference does it make how smart the average black is? I’m uninterested in averages — I only want to know how smart the particular black that I’m considering hiring is, and I don’t particularly care whether or not she’s black. Suppose we did find out that blacks were ten points higher, or lower, than whites? Does it mean that we’re going to educate them differently simply because they’re black? I would certainly hope not, but that’s the instinct of the collectivist.
And of course, this is why I find complaints from the left about the “war on science” by the “right” so tendentious. Because in many ways, theirs is even more serious, and unrelenting. Trofim Lysenko, or Margaret Mead, or Margaret Sanger were certainly not right wingers.
[Update a few minutes later]
This seems somewhat related: Why can’t a man be more like a woman?