“Intelligence researcher” doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a safe, uncontroversial profession. There are perhaps 200 people in the world who do that full-time. Despite this small population, we seem to get a story – often multiple stories – of them getting denounced, defamed, deplatformed, threatened, and even physically attacked every single year. Thanks to a recent paper by Noah Carl, and Michael Woodley – incidentally, Noah was himself recently fired from a Research Fellowship at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge University after a campaign by SJW student activists – we now have the first rigorous quantification of this Western version of Lysenkoism across time.
- Carl, Noah, and Woodley of Menie, Michael A. 2019. “A Scientometric Analysis of Controversies in the Field of Intelligence Research.” Intelligence 77 (November): 101397.
To do this, they assembled what is to date the world’s most comprehensive database of controversies involving intelligence researchers in the Western world since 1950. Each incident contains an individual, a year, and the “controversy” they were involved with. Controversies contained one of or some of the following characteristics:
- … that lasted for a week
- … that lasted for a year
- Physical attack
- Formal investigation
- Minor sanctions
- Major sanctions
Each controversy was weighed as the sum of each of its separate characteristics. While this method isn’t perfect and one might think of cases where the reputational or financial costs were much higher than the putative weight given to a specific controversy, in practice there were practically no cases with such large discrepancies. Note also that bigger real damage almost automatically translates into a high score, e.g. a “major sanction” such as getting fired qualifies as a “minor sanction” by default.
As the authors say in the footnotes, they chose to restrict incidents to the 1950+ period in democratic Western countries in order to ensure cases remained cultural comparability. (Some people, including myself, suggested including Stalinist persecutions of IQ researchers – which, obviously, went well beyond the unpleasant but ultimately rather anodyne inconveniences they experience from “woke” students and cowardly university administrators. But they do have a point. Repression of ideologically incompatible science in totalitarian societies such as the USSR or Nazi Germany is fundamentally different from the activist-driven harassment and deplatforming observed in relatively “open” societies).
Here are the main conclusions:
1. There were 110 incidents across 55 individuals, of whom a total of 11 ended up losing their jobs completely or substantially on account of their IQ-related comments: Noah Carl, Frank Ellis, Gerhard Meisenberg, Bryan Pesta, Jason Richwine, Alessandro Strumia, Larry Summers, James Watson, Christopher Brand, Toby Young and Thilo Sarrazin.
2. The distribution of incidents is highly skewed, with the top three – Arthur Jensen, William Shockley, and Hans Eysenck – accounting for 27% of all controversies.
3. There is no distinct upwards trend over time. Instead, one might describe the trend over time to be one of several cycles of hysteria across distinct “eras”.
These eras consist of the following:
- The Jensen Era in the 1970s, characterized by large protests at public lectures by the Big Three controversialists (Jensen, Shockley, Eysenck).
- The Rushton Era in the late 1980s-early 1990s, this time targeting Rushton, Gottfredson, and Levin. Murray & Herrnstein’s Bell Curve appears at its tail end.
- The Watson Era during the mid-2000s, mostly centering around controversial comments made by Watson, Ellis, and Larry Summers.
- The LCI Era during the mid-2000s, which is dominated by the fallout against intelligence researchers who presented at the London Conference on Intelligence. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that this spike would exist (if in attenuated form) even if only cases unrelated to the LCI event were to be considered.
4. The most controversial topics were as follows: Race differences in intelligence; dysgenics; sex differences in intelligence; the heritability of intelligence. Probably no surprises there.
5. One qualitative difference from prior episodes is that the Internet has enabled anyone to generate “fake news” and get them out to a wide audience.
The authors correctly note the prominent role of RationalWiki in this:
A concerning development from the most recent ‘LCI era’ of controversy is the presence of a number of hamartographic pseudo-biographies (attack pages) hosted on a website called Rationalwiki.org, which by virtue of conflation with Wikipedia.org and undue prominence in search results, have the potential to inflict serious reputational harm upon intelligence researchers. In considering RationalWiki, it is critical to note that the website was created as “a liberal response to Conservapedia” (Yan et al., 2017), and that in its own words, “RationalWiki Is not neutral” (RationalWiki, 2019a). Furthermore, RationalWiki’s attack pages on intelligence researchers contain numerous factual errors (such as unwarranted imputations of political affinities,using terms like ‘alt-right’, ‘eugenicist’ etc.), coupled with unsubstantiated claims that those researchers are engaged in ‘pseudoscience’. Collectively, these pages demonstrate poor understanding of the relevant literature on the part of RationalWiki’s contributors, as well as unchecked ideological bias. In fact, the existence of these pages is illustrative of the ease with which ‘fake news’ and other mis-information can spread online, creating yet more hazards for individuals who choose to grapple with controversial but important topics in the field of intelligence research. More broadly ,these hazards of the internet may have been the major reason why the LCI era has been so severe relative to other, previous eras of controversy.
I would furthermore note that one thing that makes it particularly invidious is that there is a strong self-sustaining dynamic behind it. RationalWiki (i.e. a few dystrophic basement dwellers such as Oliver D. Smith) write some hit pieces based on out of context quotes if not not outright fabrications. Left-wing journalists (as most journalists are) parrot RationalWiki, as it certainly beats doing independent research. RationalWiki then quotes the resulting articles as a citable, authoritative source. There are some examples of how that works here: https://akarlin.com/ratwiki/
The paper ends with a discussion of the philosophical and psychological underpinnings to virulent opposition to hereditarianism and race/sex realism, and ends with a discussion of how researchers may respond to future controversies. They recommend the following:
- “… Always remain polite, and avoid engaging in ad hominem attacks, so as not to give one’s detractors any further ammunition.”
- “… Do not publicly apologise for making reasonable scientific assertions or expressing one’s personal opinions in good faith”
- “…Consider taking legal action, in order to safeguard one’s reputation or obtain compensation for improper treatment.”
Not sure that (1) matters much one way or another, though (2) is certainly true. Noah Carl would certainly know, having been embroiled in a major controversy of his own and having recently raised $100,000 to fund legal action against the university administrators who revoked his position. One thing I would add is that if you are crowdfunding your legal fight, you should raise money on platforms that have a good record of being committed to freedom of speech. Places like GoFundMe are dominated by SJWs who will ban you just for attempting to raise money to restore your reputation.
Where thither for the LCI era? Personally, I think things will be coming to a head this next decade. On the one hand, we are living through what is now called the Great Awokening, and there is no way to tell if, or when, it will crest. Meanwhile, psychometrics is moving into genomics, which will make intellectual defense of the Blank Slate even less credible than it already is. (Indeed, countries that try to maintain the politically correct orthodoxies will eventually be overtaken and outcompeted by biorealist polities). This creates a profound contradiction, and I still have no idea whether truth will win out or whether the Western elites will allow their SJW pets to rule the roost. The answer to this question will certainly have major if not cardinal ramifications on 21st century geopolitics in a way that Lysenkoist nonsense never could (after all, plant genetics isn’t nuclear physics – or human bioaugmentation).
Couple of final comments.
First, I hope – and would suggest to Carl and Woodley – to make the database in question public, on a website or at least on a shared Google Doc that can be continuously updated (e.g. see FIRE’s Disinvitation Database).
Second, while leaving out extra-Western cases of repression is valid (e.g. in the Soviet Union), it is still something that I hope will be quantified (as opposed to just summarized) sooner rather than later.