Controversy at Philosophical Psychology Leads to Editor’s Resignation


In December 2019, the journal Philosophical Psychology published an article calling for scholars to take more seriously genetics-based approaches to research on race and intelligence. Yesterday, an editor of the journal announced his resignation. What happened?

The article in question is “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry,” by Nathan Cofnas, a graduate student at the University of Oxford. It appeared along with a note from the editorsCees van Leeuwen (University of Leuven) and Mitchell Herschbach (California State University, Northridge), defending its publication.

Once the article was published, it was met by objections to its quality and to the editors’ decision to accept it, criticisms of its “wholly imagined confirmation of a hereditary basis for racial differences in IQ,” and a petition calling for a response from the journal’s editors.

A group of scholars—Rasmus R. Larsen (University of Toronto Mississauga), Helen De Cruz (Saint Louis University), Jonathan Kaplan (Oregon State University), Agustín Fuentes (University of Notre Dame), Jonathan Marks (UNC Charlotte), Massimo Pigliucci (City University of New York), Mark Alfano (Macquarie University), Lauren Schroeder (University of Toronto Mississauga), and David Livingstone Smith (University of New England)— authored a reply piece, “More Than Provocative, Less Than Scientific: A Commentary on the Editorial Decision to Publish Cofnas,” and submitted it to the journal for consideration for publication.

But they became dissatisfied with how their submission was being handled, as they describe in a post published on Professor Pigliucci’s  Medium page:

Soon after the publication of Cofnas (2020), we, a group of 9 philosophers and scientists, co-authored a commentary that pointed out clear unscientific elements and informal fallacies in Cofnas’ piece, which we argued both disqualified the paper’s academic worth but also strongly suggested that it had been incompetently reviewed…

Our commentary was written in a respectful tone and in line with academic precedence and the responsibility we assume as scholars, such as addressing serious shortcomings in published articles and editorial decisions. Further, we intentionally decided to refrain from calling for any particular editorial action (e.g., such as correction or retraction), since this would, to some extent, go beyond our role and responsibility as academics.

The commentary was submitted to Philosophical Psychology on January 22, 2020.

Days before our submission, editor Van Leeuwen issued a detailed public note on Facebook responding to the rising academic uproar against Philosophical Psychology. In this open message, Van Leeuwen defended the editorial decision against various vocal criticisms. He also reiterated a recommendation previously addressed in the editor’s note, pledging to publish commentaries in Philosophical Psychology that would point out exactly “what is empirically and normatively controversial about Cofnas’ paper”.

From reading this message, we felt assured about the integrity of the editors and anticipated a swift and fair treatment of our manuscript….

On March 4, precisely 41 days after our original submission, we received a rejection from Philosophical Psychology, though the editors were committed to re-consider our manuscript if we revised it according to their proposed changes…

The primary reason the editors gave for their rejection was that we had addressed shortcomings in both Cofnas’ paper and the editors’ note…. As the editors stated, they did not think their journal was “the appropriate place to be debating with the editors”, and they requested that our commentary was revised to focus exclusively on Cofnas’ piece….

After a few days of deliberation, our group decided to send an email on March 9… respectfully declining the editors’ questionable proposal on the premise that there is, in fact, plenty of precedence in academic philosophy where journals allow for criticism of editorial decisions, and that their editors’ note could reasonably be seen as an appropriate target of criticism. We further criticized the editors for failing to appreciate that Cofnas’ piece was based on, and promoting, scientifically refuted ideas, suggesting that it would be academically and morally unacceptable to keep debating these wrong and harmful ideas in the journal.

Meanwhile, discussion of the issue had been flaring on social media.

Today, in an email, Cees van Leeuwen announced his resignation from his editorship of Philosophical Psychology, owing to the fact that others at the journal had successfully pushed to permit publication of the reply piece:

After 25 years at the journal, I am resigning as editor of Philosophical Psychology.

The reason is the imminent publication of a commentary bypassing editor moderation. While my co-editor and part of the editorial board felt that a stream of insinuations and personal attacks on social media left them with no better choice, my resignation should be seen as taking a stand for an independent, non-partisan forum for philosophical debate. The journal has witnessed forceful clashes of opinion in the past, and I hope this will continue in the future. But efforts to enforce ill-motivated slogans upon the journal’s pages should be kept at bay, in particular when they are dressed in a cloak of social justice.

I continue to support emphatically the very cause of antiracism these activists pretend to support, for which catfights within the academic establishment are as remote and ineffectual as they could possibly be. My only concern is that they will be grist to the mill of our detractors in and outside of academia.

I would like to express my gratitude to those who have contributed as reviewers to the journal, and my confidence in Mitchell Herschbach, the incumbent editor, and Taylor & Francis, the publisher, to steer the journal through its current turbulence.

Cees van Leeuwen

Professor Herschbach confirmed via email that the journal is proposing to publish the piece by Larsen et al as a “letter to the editor”, rather than as a commentary on Cofnas’s article.

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NOTE: As an experiment to improve the quality of discussion in the comments, those wishing to comment on this post must use their full names and submit working email addresses with their comments (email addresses are not published). No anonymous or pseudonymous handles may be used. Comments may take longer to appear than usual. Also, comment “like” buttons have been temporarily removed. If you haven’t done so in a while, please read the comments policy.

 

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Rob Wilson
8 months ago

From how this is reported here, it doesn’t sound like the problem is “the imminent publication of a commentary bypassing editor moderation”, as stated by Professor van Leeuwen, but rather his having lost out in an internal editorial struggle (unless there has been some procedural violation by those who have decided to proceed with publication). One could complain that editorial board members have been swayed by irrelevant factors and resign on that basis, but that isn’t quite the same as doing so because the sin of “bypassing editor moderation” was committed. Disclosure: my reading of this may be skewed by my “positionality”. As someone with expertise on eugenics who was shocked that a piece of work as flawed as “Eugenics Defended” could be published by Monash Bioethics Review in 2018–sufficiently so to write a reply to it (“Eugenics Undefended”)–I am wary of influential publication venues that pass off shoddy work in the name of “seeing both sides” or “standing firm for open inquiry”. My own sense is that PP made an editorial error of this kind in their initial publication decision with the Cofnas piece and that the publication of the reply (whether as a letter or as a commentary) would compensate partially for this. Professor van Leeuwen would no doubt disagree on both counts. Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
8 months ago

I would like to reminder readers of the Daily Noûs that last year there was another discussion of a paper in Philosophical Psychology, which, in my opinion, employed an illegitimate methodology. http://dailynous.com/2019/07/29/political-hostility-willingness-discriminate-philosophy/Report

Mark Alfano
8 months ago

Would professor van Leeuwen care to specify what “ill-motivated slogans” are contained in our letter to the editors? No such criticism was raised by van Leeuwen in our correspondence during the drawn-out submission and review process described and documented by Massimo Pigliucci, so I am puzzled that he is now suggesting that we were merely engaged in sloganeering.Report

Josh Turkewitz
Josh Turkewitz
8 months ago

I’m a bit confused by the way Larsen et al. describe and dismiss racial realism (unless I am missing something, it is by pointing to the genetic diversity and intersection between ‘races’).

But work like Tang et al. (2005) seems to show that “Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1196372/

It’s my understanding that race realism is false because (as Charles Mills argues, although I can’t find a citation at the moment) the ontology of race is social insofar as what matters about being a certain race is not determined by biological difference (e.g., there is nothing biological that prevents an Apartheid era black South African from marrying an Apartheid era white South African.) But this is a very different argument than something like ‘it is false that “the human species is naturally divided into many clusters of biologically discrete/different populations.” ‘Report

David Duffy
David Duffy
8 months ago

I think the Larsen et al (2020) are incorrect to jump straight to “racial realism” as an “implicit endorsement” by Cofnas in the target paper. I think the quotations from David Reich in the introduction address that claim. And I think the arguments of Larsen and colleagues could be just as easily turned against many papers in the genomics literature. I will take just one of these, Guo et al (2018) published in Nature Communications (journal impact factor 11.8; 34 Google Scholar citations for this paper in 2 years)
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-04191-y
From the abstract:

“There are mean differences in complex traits among global human populations. We hypothesize that part of the phenotypic differentiation is due to natural selection. To address this hypothesis, we assess the differentiation in allele frequencies of trait-associated SNPs among African, Eastern Asian, and European populations for ten complex traits…”

They interpret differences in allele frequencies at SNPs already known (from published GWAS) to affect height, waist-to-hip-ratio and schizophrenia risk between these “global populations” as evidence of natural selection. An alternative statistical test comparing linkage disequilibrium between such causal SNPs in the different populations found parallel support for effects on height and schizophrenia risk. This latter test also detected evidence of effects on educational attainment (P=2.37 × 10^-8) in one study, that did not replicate as strongly in a second study (P=5.2 × 10^-3), and so did not survive a correction for multiple statistical tests.

I do not think Guo et al are committed to racial realism. However, they easily detect “global population” differences in polygenic prediction scores that correlate with mean differences between these populations for uncontroversial traits such as height and waist-to-hip ratio. Results for these types of polygenic prediction scores lead to many other “risky” conclusions: for example, In Supplementary Table 12 of Selzman et al (2019)
https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(19)30231-9
we read that the regression coefficient for an IQ polygenic predictor score predicting socioeconomic status is 0.23 (P=4×10^-55).

Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
8 months ago

I am excited about the experiment here of not permitting anonymized comments. Let’s all try to notice how this goes, keeping in mind how difficult it may be to understand the full impact of this.Report

Josh Turkewitz
Josh Turkewitz
Reply to  David Sobel
8 months ago

I miss likes, they let me know who was reading what, and what aspects of the discussion people were most interested in/found most relevant. Also, they let me gauge the quality of my own posts.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Josh Turkewitz
8 months ago

Like.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
Reply to  Josh Turkewitz
7 months ago

Right, so there are two experiments going on at once here–not having anonymized comments and not having likes. I’m interested in the impact of each. But likely that would only show itself over time.
Report

Robert Anonymous Gressis
Robert Anonymous Gressis
Reply to  David Sobel
7 months ago

Has there been a post here explaining why “likes” and anonymous comments were removed? Report

Greg Littmann
Greg Littmann
Reply to  Robert Anonymous Gressis
7 months ago

The idea is to “improve the quality of discussion in the comments”, but i’m not sure what problems with comments it is intended to address or how. Personally, I liked both allowing anonymity and poviding likes. Anonymity allows people to speak freely without fear of reprisals and the like button serves as an opinion poll.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
8 months ago

Two thoughts:

1) I strongly criticized the original petition (organized by one of the co-authors of this reply), which demanded that the editors apologize, retract the paper, or resign, and threatening a boycott of the journal until the demand was met. I felt that this was a threat to academic freedom, and the wrong way to respond to a perceived failure of the editorial process; I stand by that view. But by the same token, I’m quite concerned with how the reply was handled. *Arguing* against a decision to publish a paper is the *right* way to respond, and it’s not consistent with academic freedom for the journal to refuse to consider it for publication just because they didn’t want criticism of the editorial process in the journal. I’ve (skim-)read the reply: I agree with the authors that it is appropriately scholarly in tone, even while being sharply critical. I’m sure it would be uncomfortable to read for someone involved in the decision to publish the original paper, but that’s not a reason not to publish. And I can’t agree with the supposed norm that we can’t discuss alleged failures of the referee process in print. Where else are we going to discuss them?

2) That said, there are also some disturbing allegations in Professor van Leeuwen’s resignation note. If he resigned because he lost a vote among the editorial board on a matter he regarded as critical, that’s one thing. But he alleges that the decision was made because “a stream of insinuations and personal attacks on social media left them with no better choice”. I don’t know whether that’s true (I don’t have any information on this debate beyond what’s in this DN post and in the reply authors’ commentary). But if it is, it’s wholly inappropriate.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
8 months ago

Just as a qualifier to my (1), I’ve now seen that the correspondence with the editors is in the preprint as an appendix. It’s not the case (as I’d originally thought from the OP) that the editors weren’t prepared to have criticism of publishing decisions in their journal. (From their R&R letter: ” it is entirely appropriate in a commentary to argue that a paper’s flaws are so significant that it does not deserve to be published. It is also appropriate to comment on the moral implications of a paper’s being published.”) The issue seems to be whether those criticisms had to be framed as a reply to/commentary on Cofnas, or whether they could be explicitly made as a commentary on the decision to publish. The editors wanted the former; the reply authors insisted on the latter, I assume on principle, given their view that engaging in print with Cofnas’s paper just lends it undeserved legitimacy.
I guess if pushed, I think there’s an academic freedom case that the authors ought to have got their way on this. But it’s substantially more nuanced than I had thought.Report

Andrea Mattia Marcelli
Andrea Mattia Marcelli
Reply to  David Wallace
7 months ago

I am looking up “Philosophical Psychology” on Twitter right now and I find many have taken the request for “changes” in the rebuttal as a rejection of the article as a whole.

This means the entire interaction between editor and respondents was framed as “he refused to publish the rebuttal”. Which is false. Plain false. But Cofnas’ critiques appear to have framed as such the request for changes in their article. This might be due to a bad summary published on Twitter. But I can totally stand with the editor, who appears to claim: “I have been wrongly framed as the guy who refused to publish a rebuttal.” Because that’s exactly what I am reading on Twitter.

###

Now… Regarding you 2nd point, I think I have a hunch.

After collaborating close quarters for the past 5 years with aged faculty members, it occurred to me that many of them are quite sensitive (over sensitive?) when it comes to social media discussions about their character and opinions. I am thinking in particular of over-65 teaching staff.
This has become especially apparent in my Uni, which is one of the first Elearning universities of the country. Students or collaborators tend to be hyperactive on the Internet, and poor feedback-gathering practice might affect the perception of debates and opinions… Even if they do not constitute a representative sample of the students’ perspectives.

I mentioned Elearning (distance learning) institutions because of my experience, but also because distance learning tends to amplify medium-related issues (such as, say, trolling, cyberbullism of teaching staff, good old slander, etc.). By no means I am saying this does not happen elsewhere. It is just I noticed the phenomenon at a distance learning institution is particularly relevant.

Basically, at some Unis, you do 80% of your activities on the Internet. Slander and personal attacks do not occur, of course, on the University website or on the learning management system. Far from that. However, it tends to occur within ancillary Internet-based contexts, such as WhatsApp student groups, Facebook pages, Unofficial Forums, etc. Given most of the job is carried out on the Internet already, there is some sort of halo effect that transfers the relevance you attach to University-grounded feedback to feedback published in ancillary contexts. After all, the Internet might as well be perceived as a monolithic board, no matter its apparent delimitation. Wrong perception, but widely shared by many.

As a consequence of the above, it happens some faculty members pay as much attention to Facebook as they do to the university website and the work email. Complaints that are not “fired” through the approved complaint process of the company are nonetheless valued as equally relevant… Either by the victims of attacks or — as it happens in some cases — by the company management itself, which is deeply concerned with its public image.

Thus, the professional may be exposed to knee jerk reactions, rants, offenses, lamentations, etc. All of them relevant enough to cause a stir, but not followed-through enough to escalate to a formal complaint. In the pre-Internet era, rants were isolated and inconsequential. Now, they are easily publishable, spreadable, and might ignite flames in no time.

E.g. This happened to me the other day. I gathered the results of some on line tests on the day I administered them. 5 hours later, grades were published. I had designed a challenging test for students, with the tacit promise of raising the grades in case it proved too challenging for them… Which I eventually did after reviewing four questions. This practice is debatable in itself, but please be charitable with me as I strongly needed to experiment with a different test format. All students reported satisfaction with the obtained grades. But here’s what I discovered, later on: in the short time frame between the end of the test and the publication of the grades, some students had gone to one of their Facebook groups and vented out their stress by expressing themselves in a rather negative way about my test… And my person. Some of the complaints were based on false evidence (e.g. claims the test was not based on the course content, which is plain false since I had taken most questions straight from the lecture notes). Now, all of this happened in a 5 hours time frame… A student representative even brought this to the attention of my supervisor (!!!) who politely asked me what was going on. The issue subsided after it became clear no formal complaint had been made and that whoever complained was a ridiculously small minority compared to the hundred test takers. Also, I guess you cannot prevent students from going around saying the Professor is an a****le in private Facebook groups 5 minutes after exiting the classroom (hadn’t it been for the whistle-blower, I wouldn’t have gotten news of that. At all).

But here comes the aged perspective: whereas people of my generation (25-35 y.o.) tend to regard episodes such as the previous one as inconsequential… Aged faculty members tend to be literally destroyed by that. During my working life I have seen aged individuals literally consumed by the awareness that “someone said something false about me on the Internet.” They explain: “I gave them evidence their premises were false… They agreed with my points, but they did not delete the comment in which they argued against me. Now it is there forever. Why wouldn’t they delete it? Why?”. This would annoy everyone, but I noticed aged faculty members find it very hard to forget and move on.

There seems to be some age-related fragility at play, here. Either it depends on the individual’s own personality or to shared generational attitudes towards publicity. To put it in more of a “savvy” way, it all mirrors the motives behind Rousseau’s Confessions, as analysed by Foucault in one of his articles: the author is deluded he may control the narrative about who he actually is…

Hence, my opinion is that the editor went through analogous dire straits:
1. He made a conscious decision
2. He was criticised for that
3. He tried to preserve his management choice (by asking to be left out of the conversation)
4. He got ousted by the other board members during a voting session
5. However, he resigns mostly because he cannot stand the idea of having been misunderstood in his intentions. He cannot stand the idea someone misrepresented his point on the Internet. Possibly, he felt more saddened by the authors’ comments on Facebook or Twitter than the actual sub-editors’ choices.

P.S.: given the new comment policies, please understand that all of the above reflect my perception and not the views of the institution I work for, and which I am not a representative of. The examples I made are purely anecdotal and do reflect some remarks I made over the course of different jobs at different institutions.Report

John Jackson
7 months ago

Cofnas’s paper is chock full of empirical claims that require empirical evidence. I don’t understand how any referee or editor would publish a paper that merely asserts things like it does. A sample:

“Environmentalists never predicted that the Black–White IQ gap would, after reaching one standard deviation, remain impervious to early education, adoption, massive improvements in the socioeconomic status of Blacks, and the (apparent) waning of overt racism and discrimination.“ (p. 129)

“A degree of censorship is already in operation when it comes to findings supporting hereditarianism about group differences. Mainstream media coverage of the race-and-IQ controversy almost always falsely claims that there is a consensus among the relevant experts that hereditarianism has been refuted.” (p. 132)

“However, work supporting hereditarianism can be much more difficult to publish and disseminate, and research testing the possible genetic basis of race differences is rarely funded.” (p. 132)

“In the liberal West, many of our institutions, laws, and moral values are predicated on the assumption that race differences are either nonexistent or environmentally caused.” (p. 136)

“A common fear is that, if race differences were proven to have a genetic basis, this would cause people to turn to Nazism. Indeed,the study of race differences is often explicitly equated with Nazism.” (p. 137)

“outside of certain university departments, virtually everyone believes that there are physical and psychological differences (on average) between men and women, and most people essentialize these differences.” (p. 138) Which university departments? “Most people?”

“If people believe that members of certain races are victimized or benefited by racism, this could also foster essentialist thinking. It may be more likely to lead to racial conflict…” (p. 138)

“There is a danger for the philosophical community in putting our credibility on the line over the claim that race differences are entirely environmental.” (p. 142) Who in philosophy makes the claim about “entirely environmental” and who speaks for this “community?

How can any scholarly paper merely assert these things without any citation whatsoever?Report

Ryan MacDonald
Ryan MacDonald
Reply to  John Jackson
7 months ago

Thanks for reading it so I don’t have to.Report

Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  John Jackson
7 months ago

“How can any scholarly paper merely assert these things without any citation whatsoever?”

You left out the citations:

“A degree of censorship is already in operation when it comes to findings supporting hereditarianism about group differences. Mainstream media coverage of the race-and-IQ controversy almost always falsely claims that there is a consensus among the relevant experts that hereditarianism has been refuted. **In fact, anonymous surveys reveal that a substantial proportion of experts on intelligence believe that there is a genetic component to race differences (Rindermann, Becker, & Coyle, 2016, 2020, Figure 3; Snyderman & Rothman, 1987, 1988).**”

“However, work supporting hereditarianism can be much more difficult to publish and disseminate, and research testing the possible genetic basis of race differences is rarely funded. **As James Flynn (after whom the “Flynn effect” is named) notes, “if universities have their way, the necessary research [on race and intelligence] will never be done. They fund the most mundane research projects, but never seem to have funds to test for genetic differences” (Flynn, 2012, p. 36). Flynn (2018) says that “scholars at one of America’s most distinguished universities…admitted [to him] that they had never approved a research grant that might clarify whether black[s] and white[s] had equivalent genes for IQ” (p. 128). When he suggested some ways to test if there is a genetic component to the Black–White IQ gap, “they evaded the issue” (J. Flynn, personal communication, January 7, 2019).**”

“**Our tendency for “folk essentialism,” which manifests in early childhood (Gelman, 2003), is a possible source of danger. People tend to explain why each entity has the properties it does by appealing to invisible essences shared by all members of a particular category that generate those properties (Gelman, 2003). Thus, children believe that rocks, men, women, and trees belong to categories whose members possess rock-ness, maleness, etc.**…outside of certain university departments, virtually everyone believes that there are physical and psychological differences (on average) between men and women, and most people essentialize these differences.”

“**For decades, the contribution of philosophers to this debate has consisted mostly in providing alternative explanations for evidence seeming to support hereditarianism about race differences (see Sesardic, 2000, 2005), and advocating various kinds of restriction and censorship (see Cofnas, 2016).**…There is a danger for the philosophical community in putting our credibility on the line over the claim that race differences are entirely environmental.”Report

David Duffy
David Duffy
Reply to  John Jackson
7 months ago

You might look at his Reference 12 – Cofnas [2015] ‘Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting” Fact–Value Conflation and the Study of Intelligence’ – which gives multiple quotations he thought relevant eg Chomsky (1988): “Surely people differ in their biologically determined qualities.…But discovery of a correlation between some of these qualities is of no scientific interest and of no social significance, except to racists, sexists, and the like”. As to the “empirical claims” cited above, some seem quite plausible based on my personal experience of scientific funding. As to “who speaks for this [philosophical] ‘community'”, obviously it is social media at the moment. The question is not whether this was a great paper, but whether it meets a minimum bar (“MPU”), which presumably the referees and editors thought it did.
Report

John Jackson
Reply to  David Duffy
7 months ago

Cofnas, of course, leaves many of my objections completely unanswered. His provided citations do not actually support the claim he offers.

1. Claim: “Mainstream media coverage of the race-and-IQ controversy almost always falsely claims that there is a consensus among the relevant experts that hereditarianism has been refuted.” To support this you would need some kind of study that actually looks at what mainstream media reports. Cofnas cites Snyderman & Rothman’s almost 3-decade old study and Rindermann’s work which reports only what psychologists THINK is in the media, not what actually is in the media (and what “media” is referred to anyway? TV? Newspapers? podcasts? blogs?). Hence no support is offered. Of course, Rindermann’s reports asked about 1500 psychologists survey questions and report about 70 responses for the reported questions. Hardly evidence of what even most psychologist THINK about the media which, of course, does not support the claim in any case.

2. “work supporting hereditarianism can be much more difficult to publish and disseminate, and research testing the possible genetic basis of race differences is rarely funded.” Cofnas cites James Flynn’s unsupported speculations that this is so. There is no data at all to support the point. No studies of funding agencies, grants given, no study of rejection rates of different kinds research from journals, no studies of impact factors of published studies. In other words, the opinion of Flynn, given in a “personal communication” is hardly evidence to support the claim offered.

3. I’m betting not even Gelman believes his study supports Cofnas’s strange claim that “virtually everyone” believes anything. And, the equally strange claim about what “some university departments” teach is still a mystery.

4. Cofnas says philosophers “claim that race differences are entirely environmental.” But the Sesardic evidence says, “philosophers to this debate has consisted mostly in providing alternative explanations for evidence seeming to support hereditarianism about race differences.” Which is not the same thing as saying that they claim that “race differences are entirely environmental.” A much more common claim is that we don’t know and, as the Chomsky quotation provided by David Duffy says, the question is scientifically uninteresting and only of social interest because it is embedded in a racist society. Hereditarian psychologists have been trying for a century to establish their case; do we really need to indulge them for another century?

And, I’m afraid David Duffy’s arguments simply reinforce my point. Cofnas’s argument about funding might “seem quite plausible based on my personal experience of scientific funding” to him but that is hardly evidence at all. Especially because Cofnas admits that hereditarian research gets published all the time. It amazes me that strong empirical claims about how scientific research is funded, published and received is merely accepted with a shrug and “seems plausible.”

David Duffy’s second point that, “obviously it is social media at the moment” speaks for the philosophical community is not “obvious” at all. There are entire disciplines in communication, sociology, anthropology that study “social media.” There are methods available for content analysis, network analysis etc. Dismissing these established fields of research is a mistake and hardly a sign of the rigor in which philosophy prides itself. If you are going to make a claim about what the “philosophical community” thinks, a bare assertion simply won’t cut it.

David Duffy’s final point: “The question is not whether this was a great paper, but whether it meets a minimum bar (“MPU”), which presumably the referees and editors thought it did.” This is what I am saying. Cofnas sent in a paper that, on its face, is full of assertions and misreadings and the referees and editors failed in their jobs. Report

Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  John Jackson
7 months ago

You now say, “His provided citations [from the paper] do not actually support the claim he offers.” That’s quite different from your original claim that the “paper merely asserts these things without any citation whatsoever.”Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
7 months ago

Not exactly. He’s claiming that the few citations you supply are irrelevant to the claims requiring support. The claims in question, he argues, are still in need of citations if the citations provided pertain to different claims. I have no stake in this and I’m not making any claim about meeting the minimum bar or not, but you’re deflecting the request for evidence.Report

Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
7 months ago

John Jackson said he doesn’t “understand how any referee or editor would publish a paper that merely asserts things like it does…without any citation whatsoever.” The obvious implication is that the paper lacks prima facie scholarly merit, so shouldn’t have been seriously considered for publication. I think it’s worth pointing out that what Jackson really meant is that there *are* citations, but he disagrees with my interpretation of them. That’s a different claim with different implications.

I don’t think it would be useful to respond to every one of Jackson’s criticisms. Apparently he thinks I need to cite a (recent) study to back up every assertion I make, even when it’s common sense and/or agreed upon by virtually everyone. E.g., when I say it’s hard to get funding for research on race differences in intelligence, it’s not enough to quote James Flynn affirming this–that’s just Flynn’s “unsupported speculations.” (Why did no one complain that Flynn was allowed to publish these unsupported speculations in a book with CUP and a paper in the Journal of Criminal Justice?) Jackson takes issue with my claim that mainstream media coverage of the race-and-IQ controversy almost always says there’s a consensus that genes play no role in differences, saying, “A much more common claim is that we don’t know.” Why is Jackson permitted to say that “we don’t know” is a “much more common claim,” although he cites no study to back this up? I don’t think this is serious.

@JohnJackson: “I’m betting not even Gelman believes his study supports Cofnas’s strange claim that “virtually everyone” believes anything” – FYI, Susan Gelman is a she.Report

John Jackson
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
7 months ago

Hereditarians have been writing Cofnas’s argument for 60 years. Always claiming they are censored and suppressed. Never providing any evidence for those claims. Cofnas ridiculously claims it is “common sense” and “everybody agrees” simply because when challenged to show evidence of, for example, funding or media coverage he cannot. Indeed he denies he should even be required to.

Cofnas is only the latest hereditarian to write this article about their repression. Don’t believe me? Here’s a partial list of the articles that Cofnas has regurgitated for us. It is one thing for this kind of nonsense to appear in MANKIND QUARTERLY or, as Glayde Whitney wrote, in the forward to the introduction to David Dukes biography. It is quite another to allow hereditarians to assert how censored they are in the pages of a respected philosophical journal. Here’s the list of articles from the past 60 years. They are all as well documented as Cofnas’s:

Garrett, H. E. (1961). The Equalitarian Dogma. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 4(4), 480–484. https://doi.org/10.1353/pbm.1961.0028

Garrett, H.E. (1961). The Equalitarian Dogma. Mankind Quarterly, 1, 253–257.

Pearson, R. (1991). Race, intelligence and bias in academe. Scott-Townsend.

Gottfredson, L. S. (1994). Egalitarian fiction and collective fraud. Society, 31, 53–53.

Rushton, J. P. (1994). The equalitarian dogma revisited. Intelligence, 19, 263–280.

Whitney, G. (1995). Ideology and Censorship in Behavior Genetics. Mankind Quarterly, 35(4), 327–342.

Whitney, G. (1997). Raymond B. Cattell and the Fourth Inquisition. Mankind Quarterly, 38, 99–125.

Whitney, G. (1998). Foreword. In D. Duke, My Awakening (pp. 1–5). Free Speech Press.

Hunt, M. M. (1999). The new know-nothings: The political foes of the scientific study of human nature. Transaction.

Ellis, F. (2002). Political correctness and the ideological struggle: From Lenin and Mao to Marcuse and Foucault. Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, 27(4), 409–444.

Whitney, G. (2002). Subversion of Science: How Psychology Lost Darwin. Journal of Historical Review, 21 (2002), 20–30.

Gottfredson, L.S. (2005). Suppressing Intelligence Research: Hurting Those We Intend to Help. In R. Wright & N. A. Cummings (Eds.), Destructive trends in mental health: The well-intentioned path to harm (pp. 155–187). Routledge.

Gottfredson, L.S. (2010). Lessons in academic freedom as lived experience. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 272–280.

Nyborg, H. (2011). The Greatest Collective Scientific Fraud of the 20th Century: The Demolition of Differential Psychology and Eugenics. Mankind Quarterly, 51(3), 241–268.

Taylor, J. (2012, October 29). A Conversation with Arthur Jensen. American Renaissance. https://web.archive.org/web/20200417020715/https://www.amren.com/news/2012/10/arthur-jensen-has-died/

Hill, T. P. (2018, September 7). Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole. Quillette. https://web.archive.org/web/20200219062230/https://quillette.com/2018/09/07/academic-activists-send-a-published-paper-down-the-memory-hole/

Winegard, B. (2018, February 7). “Equalitarianism” and Progressive Bias. Quillette. https://quillette.com/2018/02/07/equalitarianism-progressive-bias/

I invite you to go read some of them. Evidence is pretty damn scarce. Report

Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
7 months ago

John Jackson:

It’s funny that you cite Bo Winegard’s paper as an example to show there’s no censorship or suppression. A couple months ago, Winegard was fired from his tenure-track position at Marietta College for publishing a defense of hereditarianism.

Just 7 days ago, Stephen Hsu was forced to resign from his position as Vice President for research and graduate studies at Michigan State University because he spoke favorably of hereditarianism.

Recently, the Journal of Intelligence updated it’s aims and scope section to say, “The journal will not publish articles that may lead to or enhance political controversies.” They now desk reject any submission that discusses group differences, citing this policy. Many other journals have the same policy but don’t openly acknowledge it.

I can’t review all of the extensive evidence for censorship in the comments section. Those who are interested can see my 2016 paper, “Science is not always self-correcting,” in Foundations of Science. Since that paper was published the situation has gotten worse.Report

Neven Sesardić
Neven Sesardić
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
7 months ago

Prominent psychologist Steven Ceci is just one example of an anti-hereditarian who confirms that hereditarians are unfairly disadvantaged in academia:

“I personally believe that … any racial differences in IQ scores are due to differing ecological challenges faced by white and black Americans, not to genetic or other biological differences…
I am fortunate that these are my views because they are politically correct and garner me praise, speaking and writing invitations, and book adoptions at the same time those who disagree with me are demeaned, ostracized, and in some cases threatened with tenure revocation even though their science is as reasonable as mine. Don’t get me wrong, I think their positions are incorrect and I have relished aiming my pen at what I regard to be their leaps of logic and flawed analysis. But they deeply believe that I am wrong. The problem is that I can tell my side far more easily than they are permitted to tell theirs, through invitations to speak at meetings, to contribute chapters and articles, etc.. This offends my sense of fairness and cannot be good for science.”
https://www.cato-unbound.org/2007/11/20/stephen-j-ceci/chilling-effect-iq-taboosReport

John Jackson
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
7 months ago

Many of the claims I listed still do not have citations.

And the claim you say have “citations” may, indeed, have “citations,” but they still don’t have evidence. I take it, since you’ve decided to focus on my clumsy choice of words, you have no intention of supplying any evidence at this point. Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  John Jackson
7 months ago

That’s the point I was trying to make in your defense. Nathan writes:
“I think it’s worth pointing out that what Jackson really meant is that there *are* citations, but he disagrees with my interpretation of them. That’s a different claim with different implications.”
No, the contention is not about the interpretation; it is that Nathan has left many claims hanging without any citations. There are citations somewhere but they don’t pertain—are not relevant—to the claims at hand.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
7 months ago

Winegard was not fired. His contract was not renewed. There’s a difference. In any event, I don’t think that people should be fired for publishing objectionable views and have never advocated for that. But if you’re going to nit-pick, Nathan, please be careful with your own language. Report

David Mark Wallace
David Mark Wallace
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
7 months ago

Winegard was a tenure-track professor. I suppose it’s not technically ‘firing’ to throw someone off the tenure track partway through by not renewing their annual pre-tenure appointment; similarly, technically Steven Salaita wasn’t fired by the University of Chicago, he just had his nominally-provisional offer of employment withdrawn. But it doesn’t seem a morally relevant difference in either case.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
7 months ago

University of Illinois, sorry.Report

Matthew J. Brown
7 months ago

Congratulations to Mitch Herschbach and the editorial board for having the good sense to publish the reply and permit commentary on the ill-advised decision to publish the paper by Cofnas. This goes a long way towards restoring faith in the journal. Report

Rich Norton
Rich Norton
7 months ago

I think it’s important to note that the core criticism of the rejoinder letter being published is seriously flawed. Specifically, it locates the fundamental problem of Cofnas’ paper in something it calls “race realism.” While Cofnas has used that term to describe himself on Twitter, it doesn’t occur in his paper, and everything in said paper can easily be reformulated on a purely social constructivist view of what constitutes races.

If that sounds counterintuitive, consider the following claim:

(X) In the year 2020, people with Finnish citizenship are more genetically predisposed to have light skin than people with Nigerian citizenship.

This is, I think, not just true, but obviously true. National citizenship is purely a social construct, if anything is! However, it is objectively true that different groups of people are included in the social constructs “Finnish citizen” and “Nigerian citizen,” and those two groups just happen (in 2020) to possess the various genes determining skin color at different frequencies. That could of course change in the future given certain possible patterns of immigration. Furthermore, (X) need not posit any kind of implicit causal relationship; obviously, applying for Finnish citizenship won’t change your genes or your skin color. It also remains true even though the statistical pattern reverses if we look at different subsections of citizenship, like “Finnish citizens whose parents immigrated from Nigeria” versus “Nigerian citizens whose parents immigrated from Finland.” However, if we stuck all current Finnish citizens on desert island A and all current Nigerian citizens on desert island B and asked which island’s second generation would probably have the lighter average skin color, we’d all pick A.

Even if races are social constructs, it can still be true that those constructs pick out different groups of individuals, and those groups could theoretically possess the genes influencing psychological traits (if such genes exist) at different frequencies, in exactly the same way as above. So there’s no purely *conceptual* problem with what Cofnas is arguing.

I’d really like to stress that none of this implies Cofnas or other defenders of scientific racism are ultimately correct. There are powerful arguments to the contrary. However, I think this can’t be one of them.

(There are other serious mistakes the reply makes, like falsely attributing to Cofnas the position that races are “discrete” or that human populations were ever “isolated” into “pure groups,” but I wanted to highlight the main confusion. Also, apologies if I posted this comment twice; I messed up the first time.)Report

Raff Donelson
7 months ago

Here’s an observation.

The authors of the reply are primarily animated by the thought that racial realism is false. They liken it to anti-vax thinking. As a result, they think the editors were wrong even to publish something that implies the truth of racial realism. (Some people credibly argue that Cofnas doesn’t imply this, but leave that aside.)

A number of Black philosophers have defended racial realism in print. Quayshawn Spencer might be the preeminent philosopher defending this view. Michael Hardimon is another. Where were the calls for Phil Compass to retract Spencer’s work? Or for Oxford to stop selling Hardimon’s book? I don’t recall any of that.

Now, here’s a suspicion.

The uproar around the piece, the reply, the resignation – none of this would’ve happened if Cofnas were Black. His work would be read mostly by specialists, and nobody would suggest that this work doesn’t meet the minimum bar for publication, which it clearly does. In this way, this controversy reminds me of the Tuvel affair. If Tuvel were Black, most philosophers would’ve ignored her work, just as they do with most phil of race.

If I’m right that race motivates the reactions, what do I think about that? Well, in some ways, I’m pretty happy. As I read it, a good number of White philosophers now have a little alarm that goes off when other White people defend certain claims; they’re wondering, “What’s motivating this and where is this going?” As a Black man, that little alarm goes off *all* the time. Still, I wonder if some people’s little alarm is sounding a little too loudly.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Raff Donelson
7 months ago

Surely the reason people reacted with so much hostility is because the paper was defending taking seriously the idea of black intellectual inferiority, not just because it was (perceived to be) claiming that race is biologically real? I don’t doubt that you’re right that people are more on their guard with a White author on this topic than a Black author (and I agree with you that this is probably rooted in healthy impulses, but might sometimes be taken to excess.) But If, as is unlikely, but I guess possible, a Black philosopher published something advocating taking seriously as quite possibly true the idea that Blacks are genetically intellectually inferior to Whites, don’t you think that would be *pretty* controversial. Have Spencer or Hardimon done that? If not, I think you can very well explain the difference in reaction to their race realsim, even leaving aside the fact that they are Black and Cofnas is white. Report

Seymour Borgman
Seymour Borgman
7 months ago

The title of the post is loaded. The controversy did not “lead to” the editor’s resignation, as though that were some inevitable outcome given the publication of the letter or the existence of a controversy. What happened is that an “editor resigned in protest” over some thing(s) ensuing from the controversy, such as the journal being used as a forum to criticize its own editors.

Please consider fixing! Report