Morten Østergaard, Danish Minister for Research, Innovation, and Higher Education. Morten, if you’re reading this post, please reply to my e-mail.
I first learned about Danish psychologist Helmuth Nyborg while working on my doctoral thesis. In those pre-Internet days, I plodded my way through the academic literature largely by consulting the Science Citation Index and then pulling bound journals off library shelves. This was how I encountered Dr. Nyborg, or rather his studies on hormones and behavior.
As early as the late 1980s, he began to take an interest in “human biodiversity,” i.e., the belief that heritable mental and behavioral traits differ among human populations just as they do among individuals. At the time, I had an attitude of friendly skepticism, being still influenced by the belief that cultural evolution had replaced genetic evolution way back in the Pleistocene. Only later did I learn that cultural evolution had actually accelerated the pace of genetic evolution (Hawks et al., 2007).
In recent years, Dr. Nyborg has turned his attention to the demographic changes that are sweeping through Western Europe and his own country. In this, he has acted not just as an academic who wishes to understand reality, but also as a Danish citizen who is concerned about his country’s future. What will Denmark look like half a century from now? Will it still be recognizably Danish? Will it still be functioning as a modern society with a high quality of life?
On the basis of population projections, he concluded that ethnic Danes will become a minority in their own country, the tipping point being sometime in the late 21st century. In addition, the Danish population will no longer be able to provide the standard of living that Danes have long been used to. Denmark will cease to be a First World country.
His study made the following points:
– Contrary to official statistics, immigrant birth rates are not falling. In fact, they have been rising since 1980 and were over twice the ethnic Danish birth rate in 2009. Meanwhile, the ethnic Danish birth rate has been falling since 1995 and reached a new low of 9.31 in 2009.
– After rising for half a century, average national IQ began to fall in 1997. This decline has also been observed in Norway, even though average IQ has continued to rise elsewhere (in line with the Flynn effect).
– By 2050, less than one fifth of the population will have IQs in the 90 to 104 range, whereas over half will have IQs in the 70 to 85 range. Primary schools will mainly have low IQ children of sub-Saharan, Middle Eastern, North African, Latin American, and Caribbean backgrounds.
– By 2072, ethnic Danes will have fallen to 60% of the population and 33% of all births. They will become a minority around 2085.
This study was met with much criticism. Unfortunately, not content with making their views known in academic forums, three people complained to the Danish Committee for Scientific Dishonesty. The committee ruled that two of their complaints were justified: “the defendant had committed scientific dishonesty by appearing as the sole author of an article and by including a reference which did not support the data it indicated to support.” The committee also ruled that Dr. Nyborg must withdraw his study from the scientific literature.
The two complaints seem to me weird. Yes, another person had contributed to the study, but he had specifically requested that his contribution remain anonymous. The second complaint is a bit more valid. Dr. Nyborg had not explained how he had converted his fertility rate data into birth rate data. Nonetheless, he corrected that shortcoming by having an addendum published in a subsequent issue of the journal.
I was initially stumped by the ruling that Dr. Nyborg must withdraw his study from the scientific literature. How can one withdraw an already published study? Then the penny dropped. Most journals are now published online, and cash-strapped university libraries have been phasing out their paper subscriptions. So it’s quite easy to “disappear” a published study.
I e-mailed the following letter to the Danish minister responsible for this committee:
Morten Østergaard, Minister for Research, Innovation, and Higher Education
Subject: Decision that Helmuth Nyborg must withdraw a published paper from the international scientific literature
Dear Mr. Østergaard:
I have known Dr. Nyborg for many years. He is much appreciated in the international academic community and has published on many subjects, some of which are controversial. Recently, the Danish Committee for Scientific Dishonestyhas ruled that Dr. Nyborg must withdraw a published article from the international scientific literature. In my opinion, this kind of ruling is unprecedented and should not go unchallenged.
Scientific papers are published with a view to provoking debate. If other scholars consider a paper to be “dishonest,” they are free to write a letter to the journal of that paper and, normally, such letters will be published in a subsequent issue. They are also free to denounce the paper at conferences or in their own published papers. That is how the system works, and to date it has worked very well.
But no one has the right to delete a paper once it has been published. The paper no longer belongs solely to its author. It also belongs to the international academic community. It is part of the marketplace of ideas. Yes, in the past, certain governments would try to remove books, articles, and papers from circulation. Police officers would go into bookstores, libraries, and publishing houses and literally remove the offending publications from the shelves. Must I state the obvious? Such governments were totalitarian. They were either communist or fascist.
Yes, thanks to electronic publishing of academic journals, it is much easier to delete a published paper. But that does not change the rightness or wrongness of the act. Your ministry is acting in a way that is morally wrong. Not technically wrong. Morally wrong. This decision is an offence not just to the Danish academic community, but also to the international academic community.
Please, think long and hard about the implications of this decision.
Peter Frost, Ph.D.
Anthropology Université Laval
Quebec City, Canada
I resisted the temptation to write something like: “I disagree with what he says, but I defend his right to say it.” That goes without saying. Just as physicians must swear the Hippocratic Oath, academics are supposed to defend the marketplace of ideas.
I will say more in my next post. In the meantime, I encourage others, especially other academics, to denounce this decision by e-mailing Morten Østergaard ([email protected])
Hawks, J., E.T. Wang, G.M. Cochran, H.C. Harpending, and R.K. Moyzis. (2007). Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 104(52), 20753–20758.http://www.pnas.org/content/104/52/20753.full
Nyborg, H. (2011). The decay of Western civilization: Double relaxed Darwinian Selection. Personality and Individual Differences, 53, 118-125.http://emilkirkegaard.dk/da/wp-content/uploads/Helmuth-nyborg-2011-the-decay-of-western-civilization-double-relaxed-darwinian-selection1.pdf