Philosophy Journal Hosts Debate on “Jewish Influence” (updates: Article Retracted; New Editor Installed at Journal)


Have Jews insinuated themselves into positions of power and influence in politics and culture because they are innately gifted with higher IQs, or is it also because they are ethnocentric and hypocritical networkers good at using non-Jews in their self-serving mission of “transforming America contrary to white interests”? Race science and/or conspiracy theory? This—pardon the editorializing—outrageous question is currently under discussion in the pages of the academic philosophy journal Philosophia.

Welcome to 2022.

January 1st saw the online publication of “The ‘Default Hypothesis’ Fails to Explain Jewish Influence” by Kevin MacDonald, who is described on Wikipedia as an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, white supremacist, and retired professor of evolutionary psychology.” MacDonald’s 32-page article is a response to a piece by Nathan Cofnas, “The Anti-Jewish Narrative,” that Philosophia published last February, and which is one of a series of pieces in which Cofnas critiques McDonald.

Both MacDonald and Cofnas are preoccupied with the question: “Did Jews create liberal multiculturalism to advance their ethnic interests?” (Cofnas, p.1332).

Cofnas’s take on that issue is ultimately based on his claim that “Jews are overrepresented in all intellectual movements and activities that are not overtly anti-Semitic primarily because they have high mean IQs” (Cofnas, p.1331). This is part of his view that there is “legitimate science on race differences” (Cofnas, p. 1332) in regard to intelligence (previously).

Cofnas characterizes MacDonald as claiming that “intelligent, ethnocentric Jews created liberal intellectual and political movements to promote Jewish interests at the expense of gentiles” (Cofnas, pp. 1330-31). MacDonald posits ethnocentric “ethnic networking” (MacDonald, p.2), “Jewish hypocrisy” (p.9), “Jewish activism” (throughout), and efforts to “recruit gentiles as ‘window dressing’ to conceal the extent of Jewish dominance” (p.3) in leftwing organizations, among other things, as elements of the Jewish conspiracy.

MacDonald also takes up the question of whether Jews should be welcomed by white supremacists. Here is his answer, which I reproduce as a screenshot for those who might otherwise be incredulous that an academic journal published these words:

Did I mention that Philosophia‘s subtitle is “Philosophical Quarterly of Israel“? One might wonder to what extent Cofnas and MacDonald consider the publication of their articles in an Israel-based journal evidence against the presumptions of their debate.

Philosophia is edited by Asa Kasher (Tel Aviv). In response to questions about the publication of these articles, he wrote that the papers were refereed prior to publication, but that it was “a mistake” to publish them, explaining that he was “not aware of the general background of the debate” and that he is “sorry for treating the discussion as an ordinary philosophical debate.” He added that further comments from him may be forthcoming.

Yesterday, Moti Mizrahi (Florida Institute of Technology) who was until last night the associate editor of Philosophia, wrote on Twitter: “I had nothing to do with the publication of this [MacDonald’s] paper in Philosophia. I’ve asked the EiC to reconsider its publication in Philosophia.” Later in the day, he announced his resignation from the journal.

Readers may recall that Philosophia was in the news in 2020 for another paper that was published by “mistake.” Dr. Kasher informs me that he “asked Springer to start a procedure of retracting” that paper, though it remains online.

UPDATE 1 (1/3/22): The first sentence of this post has now been changed to better distinguish between the views of Cofnas and MacDonald.

UPDATE 2 (1/5/22): The following editorial note has been added to webpage for MacDonald’s article:

UPDATE 3 (1/7/22): A person has claimed to be one of the referees for the MacDonald’s paper published in Philosophia, saying that he sent the manuscript back to for revisions a few times, but conveying that he approves of its publication:

Edward Dutton appears to be a self-taught evolutionary psychologist with a PhD in religious studies. According to his Wikipedia entry:

he has written controversial racialist articles for fringe far-right journals such as Mankind Quarterly and OpenPsych, as well as articles for mainstream scientific journals such as Personality and Individual Differences and Intelligence. Some of the books Dutton has authored have been published by Washington Summit Publishers operated by neo-Nazi Richard B. Spencer… Dutton wrote a paper in defense of Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique series, which claims that Jewish people are biologically ethnocentric to the detriment of other groups…

Dutton was previously editor-in-chief of the pseudoscientific journal Mankind Quarterly. He currently sits on their Advisory Board. He is currently an editor of the Radix Journal, founded by American white supremacist Richard B. Spencer.

He does not appear to have any formal graduate training in philosophy, science, sociology, history, or any discipline related to the content of the article he claims to have refereed.

I have written to Philosophia’s editor-in-chief, Asa Kasher, asking whether Dutton was in fact one of the referees, and if so, why. I’ll let you know if I hear back.

(via Lewis Powell, who shared the news in a comment)

UPDATE 4 (1/11/22): A representative of Springer, responding to inquiries, informs me that the Research Integrity Group at Springer Nature is working with the Editor-in-Chief to investigate the concerns and, reiterating the statement placed on the page of MacDonald’s article, “editorial action will be taken as appropriate once investigation of the concerns is complete and all parties have been given an opportunity to respond in full.”

UPDATE 5 (1/13/22): A representative of Springer, responding to an inquiry about a 2020 article that the editor of Philosophia initially said had been published by mistake, writes that “This case was investigated with the support of the Springer Nature Research Integrity Group, which concluded that the peer review process was sufficient, but also noted that the article was submitted under an alias. The editorial note that has been added to the article reflects this.”

UPDATE 6 (6/29/22): “The ‘Default Hypothesis’ Fails to Explain Jewish Influence” by Kevin MacDonald has been retracted, effective June 3rd, 2022. A representative of Springer wrote in to share the retraction notice, which reads:

The Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article. After publication concerns were raised regarding the content in this article and the validity of its arguments. Post-publication peer review concluded that the article does not establish a consistent methodology or document its claims with well-established sources. The article also makes several comparative claims without providing appropriate comparison data. Kevin MacDonald does not agree to this retraction. The online version of this article contains the full text of the retracted article as supplementary information.

Springer has not yet provided any explicit response to concerns about the editor’s selection of Edward Dutton as a referee for the paper (see update 3, above).

UPDATE 7 (7/2/22): In response to inquiries regarding Philosophia editor-in-chief Asa Kasher’s choice of Edward Dutton as a referee for MacDonald’s paper (see update 3, above), a representative of Springer writes:

All concerns have been passed on to the Editor in Chief and we know that he has considered them carefully and is committed to rigorous editorial standards for the journal.  We can’t comment on specifics relating to reviewers as we treat this as confidential. 


UPDATE 8 (7/29/22): Philosophia will have a new editor-in-chief beginning August 1st, 2022: Mitchell Green, professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut. Further details about changes to the rest of the journal’s editorial team will be forthcoming.


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Stephen Cowley
8 months ago

It’s better to have these things out in the open and subject to criticism (as in, better for all concerned in the long run), unless you are suggesting that ethnic interests don’t exist or aren’t motives of action that help to shape cultures, or that they can’t be discussed sensibly and frankly.

By way or comparison, we haven’t generally censored discussions of class interests, or gender interests, in academic journals, at least in recent years, though there was a time when they were largely absent at least from Western philosophy journals (prior to the founding of Radical Philosophy in the UK, say).

I’ve seen comparable discussions of “white privilege/supremacy” on the APA blog, for example. See here:
https://blog.apaonline.org/tag/white-supremacy/Report

Luke Roelofs
Luke Roelofs
Reply to  Stephen Cowley
8 months ago

Discussions of ‘white privilege/supremacy’ are not remotely the same thing as discussions of ‘ethnic interests’, because the whole point of the former discussions is that the dividing lines involved are socially constructed by the same processes that construct the shared interests. There’s no pre-social entity called ‘white people’ that has a set of interests: the interests of people invested in whiteness are interests in preserving the social structure that counts them as ‘white’ and others as not. In that sense they’re not ethnic interests, and I think it’s precisely right that “ethnic interests don’t exist”.Report

Greg Littmann
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
8 months ago

Doesn’t everyone have an interest in not being unfairly discriminated against?Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Greg Littmann
8 months ago

If everyone has that interest, then in what sense is it an “ethnic interest”?Report

Greg Littmann
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
8 months ago

Everyone has an interest in not being unfairly discriminated against because of their ethnicity.Report

Edward Cantu
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
8 months ago

Luke, can you explain yourself a bit more? I’m not quite sure what you’re arguing. You write “there’s no pre-social entity called ‘white people.'” I hardly see why this matters. Are you arguing that there are no white people because whiteness is socially constructed? Because, if there are white people–even if only via social reification–then, like with ethnicities (which also don’t exist pre-socially), races are meaningful identity categories related to genetic heritage that people place themselves into.

It seems, then, that discussions about white hegemony, and the systems and ideologies designed to maintain it, are very analogous to the discussion of concern here. After all, most discussants who throw around concepts like white hegemony/privilege treat “white people” as a real established category rather than, as you suggest, center their thoughts around the social construction of whiteness itself (though this is indeed a point of focus for some).

In other words, it seems like the distinction you rely on is not a meaningful one for present purposes, and to a certain extent, that the distinction is largely illusory. Or perhaps I’m confused and I just need clarification. . . .

Report

Luke Roelofs
Luke Roelofs
Reply to  Edward Cantu
8 months ago

Hi Edward, well for a start I don’t think they’re analogous, because it’s a central element of Cofnas and MacDonald’s arguments to advance *genetic* explanations of group behaviour, in terms of the individual traits that members inherently have. Explanations that appeal to, e.g., white privilege don’t appeal to any such intrinsic traits of white people, but to how they are socially situated and the impact that has.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Luke Roelofs
Edward Cantu
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
8 months ago

Thanks Luke. I’m still dubious. A racial taxonomy is socially constructed through the gerrymandering of certain inherent traits into social importance. Sort of like how we “see” constellations in stars randomly scattered in the sky: there may not be a large dipper in the sky, but the stars are indeed there.

Similarly, it’s undeniably the case that when people use the phrase “white privilege” they are overwhelmingly referring to privileges that people have because of inherent traits that correspond to the classification that’s been ascribed social importance (whiteness). That is, race can be socially constructed in an important sense but at once be conceptually founded upon real inherent differences.

All of this is to say: of course claims that white people do X or Y bad thing are generally claims against a group of people characterized by inherent commonalities.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Edward Cantu
8 months ago

If at one point in time, a group of people wasn’t included among “white people” and then decades later they were, but this wasn’t a byproduct of a change in that group’s “inherent traits” becoming more similar to the rest of “white people”, and instead it was the result of shifting social norms around whether to exclude them when people say “white people supported this candidate in large numbers” or “realtors only sell houses in this neighborhood to white people” (just for example), that might help you understand how you could get a social view which isn’t simply an inherent trait view.

And then the people in that group get the privilege of buying houses in other neighborhoods than before or joining a country club or not seeing a sign that says “No [Xs] or Dogs allowed” on a storefront, without any change in the inherent traits of the group.

I’m not an expert on this stuff so I may have gotten the exact structure of the view wrong.

Anyway, I’m less dubious than you are that we can distinguish hereditarian racial realism from social construction style views.

(I imagine a lot has been written about this and people who are interested could probably read up on it?)Report

Jonathan Forel
Jonathan Forel
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

As an American White Jew, this is not only true, but something that comes with an extra edge. My being a Jew makes me a member of an ethnoreligious minority, especially having been born Jewish. My skin is light, and some degree of my genetic ancestry is European, specifically Slavic/Ukrainian in that hinted-at regard when called White (this is not important to being a Jew or not, but for those who still think we’re somehow European colonizers in a post-colonial age, they seem to think it is). This doesn’t matter to White supremacists. If it did, we’d have the ability to walk around without harassment in many places where we are, in actuality, not (completely) safe. And since many (though by no means all) Jews are erasively labeled as White, or rather, to be clear, European, other minorities treat us like we’re part of the top, not at all a minority. This has the extra effect of erasing non-White Jews from the public perception entirely.

Regardless of whether or not race is a real thing or a social construct, it will continue to have extreme detrimental impacts on anyone who is not fully accepted as White, more extreme as one is less and less identified by others as White. It falls on everyone to recognize this, even if one’s “Whiteness” does not seem to bring any genuine benefits or “privileges”, and especially when it comes to acting like any amount of ordinary in-group expectations are grounds to spread conspiratorial assertions.

And of course, I want to take the time to thank Daily Nous for raising attention to issues of antisemitism and upholding professional ethical standards expected of journalists and philosophers.

“Niven’s Law: No cause is so noble that it won’t attract fuggheads.” – Larry NivenReport

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Edward Cantu
8 months ago

Edward, even if you are right on this point (I’m not convinced), it doesn’t follow that the inherent traits that on your view ultimately ground the characteristics used for sorting people into the socially constructed categories are the same traits that explain the sort of behaviors that interest MacDonald and evidently Cofnas.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Moti Gorin
Edward Cantu
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

Moti, I’m not sure why this matters. It seems here the issue is more simple that some are making it out to be: is it fair to suggest that discussions of things white people do to further their group interests are comparable to discussions about what ethnicities may do to further their group interests? Of course they’re comparable, regardless of the role of social construction in either context. I suspect that some conceptual muddying of the waters is necessary to argue otherwise.

Putting it differently, I’m not comparing the work of MacDonald/Cofnas with discussions of white supremacy and asserting that they’re both in principle doing the exact same thing. I’m simply addressing the more general point raised above by the OP that the academy deems it generally fine to openly discuss group behavior (including groups defined largely by ultimate reference to inherent traits, such as “white people”) as motivated by that group’s interests. This general proposition seems sound.

This, of course, is not to suggest any view on my part that Jews behave in a manner that furthers their collective self-interests. It’s just an elephant in the room that academics do make these claims all the time about men, white people, etc., and we ought not to tie ourselves up in theoretical knots to avoid recognizing this fact.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Edward Cantu
8 months ago

Edward, I don’t think they are comparable because (among other reasons) the causal stories are so different in the two cases (anti-Semitism vs studies of colonialism or white supremacy). There may be superficial similarities (i.e., in both cases it is claimed that one group has sought dominance).

In any case, I don’t like race-based accounts of social processes, since I think race is less fundamental than other variables.

“Whiteness studies,” to which you (and others, I believe) seem to be objecting risks making it sound as if there is something distinctive about whiteness that gives rise to the kind of violence, domination, exploitation, etc. well-documented by scholars in those areas (and lots of other areas). I think that’s what people often object to about talk of “whiteness.” It’s an unfortunate label, in my view, since the phenomenon it purports to study is only very contingently white (in the racial sense of “white”).

And then it appears sensible to ask “well, why not ask about the Jews, or anyone else, if it’s open season on whites?” I think this is just an unfortunate artifact of an unfortunate label.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Moti Gorin
Luke Roelofs
Luke Roelofs
Reply to  Edward Cantu
8 months ago

Edward, do you really not see the relevant difference between:

“Only green-haired people become doctors because only green-haired people are smart enough to understand medicine”
and
“Only green-haired people become doctors because the ‘Green Hair Rulez’ club burns down the house of any non-green-haired person who studies medicine”
?

Like, yes, in some sense ‘being green-haired’, an inherent trait of green-haired people, is explanatory in both cases, but the explanatory role played is radically different.Report

Edward Cantu
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
8 months ago

Luke, the original post stated this:

“It’s better to have these things out in the open and subject to criticism . . . unless you are suggesting that ethnic interests don’t exist or aren’t motives of action that help to shape cultures . . . . By way or comparison, we haven’t generally censored discussions of class interests, or gender interests . . . . I’ve seen comparable discussions of “white privilege/supremacy” on the APA blog.”

You chimed in rejecting the comparison as not even “remotely” apt. Yet, from my perspective, nothing you’ve written, including in your original response, provides a clear explanation for why the comparison that the OP drew was so off. Your last post, I’m afraid, doesn’t help me much in this regard. Perhaps you can humor me and explicate why you think your green hair alternatives specifically help show that the OP’s comparison was off?Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Stephen Cowley
8 months ago

Sorry, but could you be clearer about what you mean by having these conversations “out in the open and subject to criticism?” In the age of social media, pretty much every topic you can think of is being discussed pretty openly. I think we can be close to certain that somewhere on reddit there are debates about whether Jews are using immigration to dispossess the white race, or whatever.

I think the issue here is whether these debates should be happening in academic journals. Part of the interest in academic debates is that they are supposed to go through various filtering processes to make sure that there is some intellectual merit to what they publish, that a reasonable attempt has been made to avoid cranks and conspiracy theorists and work that violates normal principles of reasoned debate. MacDonald’s paper seems to pretty clearly fail to meet those standards.Report

Roman Altshuler
Reply to  Stephen Cowley
8 months ago

I’m curious what work “it’s better to have these things said out in the open” is doing here and what guidance that’s supposed to give us.

First, these things *are* said out in the open, so if the claim is meaningful, I suppose it must be saying that it’s better to have them said out in the open *in fairly respectable academic journals* and not just on 4Chan, Twitter, and The Daily Stormer. But why, exactly, is that better? Is it just because we assume that many academics are completely ignorant of things that appear outside academic venues, and it’s better to have academics exposed to them?

Second, does “it’s better to have these things said out in the open” imply that they should be published in journals that supposedly have academic standards? In other words, is the implication that if a view is especially vile, papers expressing that view should be able to make it past standard journal gatekeeping more easily than those expressing less problematic views?Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Stephen Cowley
8 months ago

This is an absurd claim, unless you get very clear on what “these things” are and what the boundaries are. Should academic journals dedicate pages to arguing against the David Icke reptile alien theory? Jewish Space lasers? Cofnas argues (extremely unconvincingly to my mind, but at least with specific criteria) the case for engaging with the antisemetic conspiracy theory put forward by MacDonald, but it’s fairly clear that garbage theories are easier to generate than refutations of them, and it’s not at all clear that it’s a good use of anyone’s time to do so (nor that such refutations do anything to dampen enthusiasm for the theories).

Ultimately, then, as I believe Rae Langton has argued (iirc), it is a naive view to simply think the truth will out in such cases, and instead, it seems evident to me that we need to be a bit clearer about what the hell we are doing if we are platforming a crackpot antisemite whose conspiracy theories have already been aggressively disowned by his own former department and academic institution.Report

Michel-Antoine Xhignesse
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Yeah… I think philosophers would be well-served to read Ch. 10 of Linda Lipstadt’s excellent “Denying the Holocaust”. It’s called ‘The Battle for Campus’, and it’s about the AHA’s (American Historical Association) attempts to respond to holocaust deniers in the 1990s.

Their responses included having eminent historians tear them to shreds. Spoiler alert: it made the problem worse.Report

Chris Heathwood
Chris Heathwood
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

This is a tangent, but Lewis mentions the fact that MacDonald’s views have been “aggressively disowned by his own former department and academic institution.” I just want to say that I don’t at all like this idea of academic departments, much less entire universities, having official positions on the topics that individual faculty members within those departments and universities write on. My colleague Michael Tooley is famous/infamous for defending the moral innocuousness of infanticide. To many people, this view is just as offensive as anti-Semitism, but I am glad that my department and university never got it in our heads to officially condemn Tooley’s position. (Lewis, I realize that your taking the fact that MacDonald’s views were disowned as evidence that they shouldn’t be discussed in journals does not imply that you disagree with me on this.)Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Chris Heathwood
8 months ago

Maybe I’m missing something, but can’t we agree that in general departments should not publicly condemn individual researchers in the department, while acknowledging that it can be justified in rare, extreme cases? I took it this was part of Prof Powell’s point: MacDonald’s department has condemned him in this extremely unusual way, and this kind of condemnation is the sort of thing academics will usually be very reluctant to support.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Chris Heathwood
8 months ago

I am going to do my best to avoid getting drawn into a protracted discussion about this point here. I will make one (lengthy) comment, and then see if I can find a mast to tie myself to.

Let me begin by flagging that the only person who has mentioned the offensiveness of a view in this entire discussion, so far, is you. So, I don’t wish for that non sequitur to get introduced into the discussion and picked up as though anyone else has suggested that the issue is that Philosophia has been gauche in publishing something offensive to the taste or sensibilities of the philosophical community. Maybe that is something people are upset about, but no one has raised that concern, so to my mind it is a red herring.

Second, I misstated, in my comment, by saying “institution”, as it was the academic senate, and not the entirety of the institution (at which I believe he retains emeritus status). This is relevant because academic freedom protections guarantee one certain sorts of non-interference from university administration, and so the question of when it is appropriate for other academics to remark on one’s work is simply distinct. There may be other considerations which make it inappropriate for a department to make a public statement about a faculty member like that, but it would require a different basis that academic freedom (which is why I want to be clear that it was the academic senate and not the administration). If I have a colleague who is a virulent antisemite, and academic freedom ensures that they cannot be terminated for this, I am very glad that I (and presumably the rest of my colleagues) are permitted to say “that person does not speak for us, they are actually doing a very bad job at reasoning about things, that’s why they can only get the antisemitism published on fringe outlets instead of in reputable venues”. And, in the instance where a field has established research methods, and a code of ethics and conduct, and one’s departmental peers say “when it comes to the topic of conspiratorial claims about jews, this person does not follow those methods or that code of ethics and conduct, does not subject their work to peer review, so, sure, for his other work, affiliate him with us all you want, but when it comes to the baseless anti-semitic conspiracy theories, no thanks”

But third and more to the point: while so many people in this thread want to formulate abstract principles, or compare cases (all of which strike me as extraordinarily unhelpful things to do and very much beside the point), the issue that arises for both of these requests is that the devil just really is in the details. So, for example, by following up on what it means when one learns that he is one of the party directors for the American Freedom Party (motto prior to rebranding; but don’t worry, the 2013 rebrand assured folks that: the values and mission would remain unchanged”), or that he published extensively on VDare, or like, just other stuff he proudly lists among his writings (but which have been swallowed by the sands of time), I can tell “hey, the stuff they said in those whereas clauses holds up, because he was publishing this stuff in non-academic outlets and it really does seem like it’s not meeting the standards of social science research that would ordinarily get published in regular academic outlets.” (The AFP directorship appears to have happened after the disaffiliation, but in terms of whether I am going to pretend not to know what is going on, here, now with this paper, I choose not to play the fool). I’m not personally an expert, or even a novice about academic psychology and its methods, but, given that the stuff he’s pitching is…the same old recycled antisemitic conspiracy theories, just dressed up in new “scientific” terminology, I am happy to bet his ex-colleagues (who were professors of psychology) knew what they were talking about when they decided to make that statement about his work.Report

Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

This seriously misrepresents my views.

The first sentence of Justin’s post implies that I argue that Jews “transform[ed] America contrary to white interests” because they have high IQs. My argument is that Jews didn’t make such a big difference to the political trajectory of America and the West. More important, my critiques of leftism have never been framed in terms of “white interests.”

One might wonder to what extent Cofnas and MacDonald consider the publication of their articles in an Israel-based journal evidence against the presumptions of their debate.

This statement implies that the fact that these papers were published in an Israeli journal poses a challenge to “presumptions of [the] debate” that I might accept. But my position is that there is not a Jewish conspiracy.

Why should we openly debate this topic? Why not just call MacDonald some names like “anti-Semite” and leave it at that? I have explained in detail why I think it’s important to engage with him. (See, e.g., section “Do MacDonald’s Theories Merit Scholarly Attention?”) I don’t think it’s right for Justin to insinuate that I have nefarious motives without acknowledging the reasons I have given to undertake this work.Report

Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
8 months ago

Or perhaps despite Jews’ influence being “disproportionate” it still “didn’t make such a big difference.”

Well…yeah. The fact that Jews had “disproportionate” influence doesn’t mean they “transform[ed] America,” “create[d] liberal multiculturalism,” or even made a “big difference to the political trajectory.” There’s no paradox here.

“Did Jews create liberal multiculturalism to advance their ethnic interests?” The natural read of this compound question is “What best explains why Jews created liberal multiculturalism?” which you answer with your so-called “default hypothesis”.

That is not the “natural read,” especially given that, after posing the question, I immediately give the answer that “the West was on a liberal trajectory with or without Jews, and Jews were not responsible for mass immigration to the US.” This is one of the main points of the paper.

sounds like a coded way of talking about threats to so-called “white interests.”

I do not think “sounds like a code[]” is sufficient evidence to make such accusations against me.Report

Jonathan Surovell
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

Hi Justin and Nathan,

Having read (most of) your paper, Nathan, I disagree with Justin that your agreement with MacDonald on Jewish IQ or disproportionate influence gets to the heart of your agreement with MacDonald, which seems to be Justin’s concern. You (henceforth ‘Cofnas,’ since addressing this post to both you and Justin makes ‘you’ ambiguous) and MacDonald are fighting over the direction “race realism” should take: Cofnas wants to purge the ideology of MacDonald-style anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. According to Cofnas, race realism without the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories is more “genuine,” by which I think you mean empirically sound.

So what is the race realism that Cofnas wants to rehabilitate? I understand it to be the conjunction of two theses. The first is rejection of what Cofnas calls the “mainstream narrative about race,” which he defines as the thesis that “all groups have the same innate
dispositions and potential, and all disparities—at least those favoring whites—are due to past or present racism.” The second tenet of Cofnas’ race realism is that rejection of this “mainstream narrative” is of profound social and political import. He says that “much of our social system is founded on the scientific premise that all groups (if not all individuals) are basically the same…. The long-term success of humanity will depend on our ability to come to terms with reality, including controversial facts about group differences” (1342).

Why think belief in innate racial differences in potential is so important for humanity? Cofnas takes up this question in his “Research on Group Differences in Intelligence: A Defense of Free Inquiry.”

https://www-tandfonline-com.libproxy.txstate.edu/doi/full/10.1080/09515089.2019.1697803

There, he identifies two policy issues that, he claims, bear some connection to beliefs about racial IQ differences: the Head Start program and, quoting Kourany, “that there are differences that might call for the creation of a program to ‘work with the strengths and work on the weaknesses of every [ethnic] group to help make them the very best they can be.’”

How do these issues put the long-term success of the species at risk? The Head Start program costs a few billion a year. Moreover, there’s a mountain of literature on its benefits, all of which Cofnas ignores in favor of cherry-picked findings that support his narrative. Those interested in this research can easily find it. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Head Start and am agnostic on whether it’s beneficial. What’s clear is that Cofnas’ discussion of it is, to put it mildly, incomplete.

What about programs to work with the strengths and weaknesses of different ethnic groups? I don’t know what this means and Cofnas doesn’t offer any concrete details. Interpreting him charitably, it sounds like the idea is that some ethnicities are good at STEM, while others are good at, say, building things with their hands. So we should offer more carpentry training for the benefit of the latter groups. If that’s the idea, the policy issue doesn’t hinge on beliefs about racial IQ differences: Cofnas cites a single study on the benefits of training for different kinds of skills and it doesn’t rely on racial differences. Indeed, tying the policies to controversial beliefs about racial differences is more likely to hinder than help them. Those who truly believe that such education policies are critical to human success would presumably advocate for them differently.

So to sum up: Cofnas thinks acceptance of race realism is needed for the long-term success of the species because (a) it would increase opposition to a relatively small program whose only putative downside (given everything he’s said) is wasting a negligible fraction of US GDP and whose benefits he gives no indication of having studied; and (b) it would increase support for training students in a wider variety of skills–a policy that can be (better) defended independently of race realism.

If these are the benefits of race realism, it’s hard to believe that they’re its real motivation qua political ideology. They’re much too flimsy.

Maybe the most interesting aspect, to me, of Cofnas’ disagreement with MacDonald is his explicit neutrality on whether “Jews should be white nationalists” (1342). This is particularly striking given Cofnas’ blase acknowledgment, in the abstract, that “some” people who reject the “mainstream narrative on race” “gravitate” towards MacDonald’s ideology, i.e., anti-Semitic white nationalism. (“Ho-hum.”) As I discuss in a comment below, MacDonald’s ideology (the Great Replacement Theory/white genocide) is a form of political extremism that has inspired numerous mass shootings, the 1/6 putsch, violence in the streets, and MAGA authoritarianism. Moreover, it retains almost all of these dangers even without its anti-Semitism. Cofnas’ acknowledgment entails, then, that there’s a substantive link between even his race realism and a virulent strand of political extremism. This is one of the most important effects of race realism that Cofnas has posited in either of the two papers I’ve mentioned; certainly, it’s of deadly importance. It’s a bit shocking that one could espouse an ideology, while aware of such a link, when the benefits of doing so are as flimsy as those Cofnas attributes to race realism.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

As for why we shouldn’t engage him academically: you have *literally* been a primary party to elevating his non-serious, non-academic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories into more serious academic venues by engaging them as though they merit careful, thoughtful attention and rebuttal. This isn’t a difficult question, and the current situation clearly bears it out, where your response to him appears to have opened the door for his work (which has been roundly rejected by his own former institution, at the level of his department all the way up to the entire academic senate), to gain ground as worthy of serious debate (when it is clearly not).Report

Max DuBoff
8 months ago

A few thoughts:
1. Why is this discussion happening in a philosophy journal? The questions here seem largely empirical, and perhaps quite important, but not particularly well suited for philosophical method. Even if there are some ethical upshots, these papers are not obviously framed around ethics, social ontology, etc. This point may also explain why the issue that MacDonald’s paper was supposedly refereed, if it was hard to find qualified readers.

2. MacDonald’s work should never be published in a respectable journal, even if Cofnas is right that MacDonald’s influence among the alt-right, among other reasons, should persuade us to debate MacDonald’s views in print.

3. As a philosopher who’s a Jew, I sometimes reflect on how academic analytic philosophy is, anecdotally, a better place for Jews in America than many humanities departments. This phenomenon seems to be explained at least in part by a sort of conservatism in analytic philosophy; some other humanities disciplines draw more on leftist ideology which sometimes traffics in anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially conflation of Israel with Jews. Although I don’t feel threatened by this article, I’m certainly disappointed (including because I’ve appreciated articles in Philosophia in the past), and I’d be curious for thoughts others have on academic analytic philosophy and Jews.Report

Max DuBoff
Reply to  Max DuBoff
8 months ago

I’ll add that I’m hopeful about the project of radical philosophy that’s not anti-Semitic.Report

Avi Sommer
Reply to  Max DuBoff
8 months ago

Are you sure that academic analytic philsophy really contains much “conservatism”? Perhaps it draws less on leftist ideology than other humanties disciples (perhaps because some of that ideology is a product of postmodernism, which in turn is a product of continental philosophy, which is not taken very seriously in analytic philosophy), but that hardly by itself makes it conservative. It may be that analytic philosphy draws less on leftist ideology simply because it is pretty apolitical, not because of any conservatism. Doubltess much work in core areas such a logic, metaphysics and philosophy of language is quite apolitical. It is also possible to be political but not draw on leftist ideology be being, say, moderatly liberal rather than conservative. Moreover, there is a great deal of leftist ideology among some poeple who draw on analytic philosophy and engage with it quite seriously, such as Richard Rorty.
I also doubt that leftist ideology in itself results in bad settings for Jews. Leftist ideology does not have to include anti-Zionism or Anti-Semitism, though it sometimes does.Report

Max DuBoff
Reply to  Avi Sommer
8 months ago

Thanks, Avi. I think you’re broadly correct. The sense in which academic philosophy has often been conservative is that of not engaging in big-picture social critique, and thereby upholding aspects of society’s status quo. We might point to political philosophy not informed by historical and current racial discrimination, for example. We might also point to to procreative ethics not informed by the experience of women as those gestating and giving birth. Or we might point to gender and racial imbalances in our field. I don’t think that disinterest in certain forms of leftist ideology makes the field conservative, but the factors I have in mind do make the field less likely to be interested in those ideologies. In any case, I agree that leftist ideology need not be anti-Semitic.Report

Alexandra Romanyshyn
Alexandra Romanyshyn
Reply to  Max DuBoff
8 months ago

I’m interested to see that you think more liberal disciplines would be more hostile to Jews, since so many Jews themselves are liberal (speaking anecdotally, but also the Pew Research Center has also found that, with the exception of Orthodox Jews, they are mostly liberal/democratic). Though I agree with you that anti-zionist, anti-semitic language is common on the left, it doesn’t seem to me that more conservative disciplines (if indeed analytic philosophy is such) would be any better. Most of the people I know whom I would characterize as anti-semites, or who have said antisemitic things around me, are in fact conservatives.Report

Max DuBoff
Reply to  Alexandra Romanyshyn
8 months ago

Hi Alexandra, yes, the type of conservatism I’m talking about is very consistent with voting Democratic. Most philosophers are politically on the left, by American standards, as are most American Jews. What makes some disciplines hostile to Jews, from anecdotal evidence I’ve heard, is sorts of thought that are on the fringes of mainstream American political discourse (although becoming more common, often for the good, in my opinion, despite periodic issues with anti-Semitism). The American Democratic party is far from leftist.Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Max DuBoff
8 months ago

I have no wish to defend these paper, but let’s not boundary police philosophy to criticise them. There’s no “philosophical method”; there are many things philosophers do and one of them is to engage heavily with empirical evidence. That’s the principal activity of some (excellent) philosophers. Have a look at specialist journals like “Mind and Language” or “Biology and Philosophy”. They contain many papers that are heavily empirical. Sometimes- rightly in my view – the generalist journals publish work like that.Report

Max DuBoff
Reply to  Neil Levy
8 months ago

Hi Neil, thanks. I’m a bit confused by your response, especially by your dismissal of philosophical method. Of course there’s no one philosophical method, or perhaps even a category of philosophical methodology. But there are ways of thinking and writing that are recognized by philosophers as philosophical. More importantly, there are questions that philosophers attempt to answer, and questions that philosophers leave others to answer (or rarely ask). There are certainly topics that philosophers should be talking and thinking about more than they current are, but there are topics that they’re not best suited to tackle.

In the case of Cofnas, a philosopher who also publishes in science journals, the question is why this contribution should be in a philosophy journal. My initial question was an honest one–I’d be happy to understand better why this contribution should be in a philosophy journal. (I’m a grad student working mostly in ancient, and some applied ethics, so I’m not as familiar with philosophy’s borders with cog sci and biology, and the sort of work published in those subdisciplines.)Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Max DuBoff
8 months ago

Lots of things are clearly philosophy. Nothing is definitely not philosophy. Philosophy is completely porous. If philosophers start doing it in their professional capacity, it’s philosophy. More precisely, when a philosopher starts doing something in their professional capacity (writing papers on predictive processing, or on game theory, or producing formal models) that should be seen as a bid: they’re saying “I think this, too, should be philosophy.” If the profession refuses, then the bid failed. If it allows it, then its philosophy. The cases I mentioned are all cases in which we decided “yep, that’s philosophy”.Report

Tom Leddy
Tom Leddy
Reply to  Neil Levy
8 months ago

Nice!

Sent from the all new AOL app for iOSReport

Chris Lawson
Chris Lawson
Reply to  Neil Levy
8 months ago

Neil, I agree that philosophy is an extremely broad discipline that includes empirical reasoning, to the point that I consider science itself to be the branch of philosophy devoted to empirical testing.

However, individual philosophers and journals have boundaries to their expertise and it seems clear to me that neither the Cofnas nor the MacDonald papers were within the scope of their reviewers’ competencies.Report

Greg Littmann
Reply to  Max DuBoff
8 months ago

Max, I’m disturbed to hear your report of anti-Semitism in academia. I’m aware that anti-Semitism exists on the left, but I’ve not, to my knowledge, encountered it in academia. I was trained as an analytic, but I’ve worked with a lot of continentals, and nobody has ever said anything to me that struck me as anti-Semitic.Report

Max DuBoff
Reply to  Greg Littmann
8 months ago

Hi Greg, just to clarify, I have no evidence that there are problems in the continental philosophy world. I’ve mainly heard of issues in area studies fields, including ones on the border of humanities, like ethnomusicology. But I have no hard data.Report

Moti Gorin
8 months ago

As a Jew, when I read such things I have one main reaction: good, all is working according to the Plan.Report

Philip Cafaro
Philip Cafaro
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

I knew it!Report

Tom Leddy
Tom Leddy
8 months ago

I think there is too much hyperventilating in the responses I have seen to this event. The claims should mainly be considered in the context of the actual piece, as was probably done in the blind review process, and only later in a, possibly good, ad hominem way, taking into account the context of the author’s life and other publications, as well as the contexts of its various receptions.  Name-calling is not a mature way to approach this. Consider the claims one by one, and the evidence for them. I shouldn’t have to say this. It is what we all teach. So practice what you preach!  This comment is not directed to any particular discussant or group, but to the predominant tone of the discussion so far.  Sent from the all new AOL app for iOSReport

Roman Altshuler
Reply to  Tom Leddy
8 months ago

Various anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have been circulating for centuries and, of course, many of the claims they make–as oft happens with conspiracy theories–are virtually impossible to disprove, while some can be disproven but only through an incredibly time consuming process that convinces only those who already know the conspiracy theories are trash, while those who believe in the conspiracy theories ignore any counterevidence and move on to new talking points.

Maybe I’m missing your point. But are you suggesting that every time anti-Semitic conspiracy theories pop up, instead of just saying “this is anti-Semitism,” we should waste our time on refutations that will serve no purpose other than to give the anti-Semitism publicity and the appearance of gravitas?Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Roman Altshuler
8 months ago

Making an evidential assessment is not the same as proving something false. To prove something false may indeed be more work, and is also (as an aim) an instance of begging the question.

To counter you, has there ever been a thoughtful analysis of anti-Jewish social / political / racial theories? One whose primary telos isn’t the suppression anti-semites?

If so, there is probably no need to rehash. Or if not, pay someone to do it so we have something to point people to.

To display fragility by hiding or suppressing discussion is catnip to the disaffected, apart from being repugnant in itself.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Matthew Capps
8 months ago

To counter you, has there ever been a thoughtful analysis of anti-Jewish social / political / racial theories? One whose primary telos isn’t the suppression [of] anti-semites?”

This is a truly shocking pair of questions to read. The answer to the first question is, “Yes, obviously. Just google it. If you want a famous historical exemplar, try Sarte’s “Anti-Semite and Jew.” The second question seems to presuppose that suppressing anti-semitism is bad actually. But it’s… well, it’s not.Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Mark Alfano
8 months ago

I’m pleased to have shocked you Mark. I think that’s a rare thing on the internet; perhaps even more rare with a clean and reflective conscience.

The first question is conditioned by the second. I’m indicating that what I mean by a ‘thoughtful’ analysis is one that doesn’t take the suppression of anti-semites as a primary aim. However, my ignorance here is thorough. This isn’t a problem, because my question’s rhetorical purpose was to set forth salient possible states of affairs, not to illustrate a dearth of such analyses.

So, reducing your criticism to the second question…

It’s not as easy to control what my questions seem as it is to control what my questions intend. Sometimes it’s impossible to cause what they seem and what they intend to align (at least for a certain audience), and I’m afraid this may be such a time.Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Mark Alfano
8 months ago

To answer you more simply, if not less obscurely – it’s harder to walk along a cliff’s edge than to push someone off it.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Matthew
Mark Alfano
Reply to  Matthew Capps
8 months ago

I suppose you think you’re being clever and erudite, Matthew.

In any event, I’d wager that the majority of work on anti-Semitism doesn’t take as its primary aim suppression but rather understanding. Several people in these comments have repeatedly pointed out that approaching these conspiracy theories as objects of study is perfectly fine. Researchers ask questions like, “What is the rhetorical function of this conspiracy theory?” “What risk factors make certain individuals more prone to accepting such conspiracy theories?” and “How is conspiratorial ideation related to other pathologies such as delusions and dissociative thinking?” The people asking these questions do not have suppression as a primary aim, as you seem to suggest.

It’s clear from your engagement above that you are either completely unaware of this literature or pretending that it doesn’t exist.

From your Twitter (e.g., https://twitter.com/MattCapps/status/1468675477300727816?s=20) endorsement of the Left Behind series, which notoriously trades in anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories, I conclude that your conscience is clean because you don’t have a problem with anti-Semitism.Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Mark Alfano
8 months ago

Having no genuine competencies, to think of myself as clever and erudite is my only consolation.

You on the other hand, are genuinely erudite: knowing more about my biography than I do. I haven’t yet clicked your link, but I don’t doubt your acumen for research.

In fact, I imagine that even the most sober attempts at understanding in the literature (of which I am indeed ignorant) pale by comparison to your keen insights of me.

In the study of anti-semites your work is surely exemplary, and none the worse for appearing in an informal medium.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Matthew
Simon May
8 months ago

Now I know where to send my paper on hematology ethics in the matzos industry.Report

Andrew Sepielli
8 months ago

Just to clarify: If it was still December 31 in Michigan when this article dropped, is it eligible for this year’s Philosophers’ Annual, or next year’s?Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Andrew Sepielli
8 months ago

Wouldn’t it make more sense to do it based on the Jewish calendar?Report

Justin Kalef
8 months ago

As an ethnic Jew myself, I have personal reasons for not liking it that a number of people believe in a big Jewish conspiracy. I can understand the feeling that we should stop McDonald’s views from being published *or even critically discussed* in an academic journal.

But it’s far from obvious to me that preventing people from reading *or even critically discussing* McDonald’s views in academic journals is the best solution to the problem. That doesn’t follow from the premise that it would be better if far fewer people took McDonald’s views seriously.

Some questions:

1. Does anyone actually think that, if we police enough discussion fora in the ways one can in a non-totalitarian society, and throw out anyone who raises a Jewish conspiracy theory, we’ll eventually get to the point where we’ve stopped all the Jewish conspiracy discussions? Why wouldn’t the conspiracy theorists just move to other forums, or create them, where they can have such conversations away from the would-be censors? And wouldn’t those forums be apt to be especially bad?

2. People who peddle conspiracy theories love to say, “Here’s what they don’t want you to hear about.” Everyone wants to get the inside scoop on things, and this plays into that. When conspiracy theorists can point to clear evidence that mainstream fora block readers from even seeing a case for the theory, it seems to make the conspiracy theory much more popular. Does anyone have good evidence for thinking that this doesn’t give more fuel to the conspiracy theorists, overall?

3. It’s true that many academics would not normally run across cases for Jewish conspiracy theories, and that publishing McDonald’s piece seems to expose many more academics to them. But is there good grounds for thinking that academics would be apt to be persuaded of Jewish conspiracy theories by reading such an article, especially in a publication that also provides a rebuttal in the very same issue, as here? Consider all the academics you’ve met.

4. Considering the contempt that conspiracy theorists tend to have for academic research, how much *extra* credibility would McDonald’s readers attribute to him on learning that his article was published, with a rebuttal, in a scholarly journal?

5. If there’s no plausible hope of shutting down discussion of conspiracy theories, would it be better for those discussions to occur *entirely* in places where critics will often be unable to respond to the arguments and evidence, and indeed where critics will seldom venture?

6. McDonald’s views are not the only ones that people have said should not be aired and discussed in academic or other publications. If editors stand to have their reputations damaged, perhaps in a very public forum, for publishing things some people think they should not have, it will be prudent for editors to err on the side of caution and avoid letting through anything controversial, except for things that parrot the party line in cases where there is strong and heartfelt agreement among academics on some otherwise divisive issues. This is apt to lead quite quickly to an echo chamber within academic culture, and even more so in an environment wherein nearly every topic can be politicized. The result tends to be a fierce consensus among academics that outsiders will immediately recognize as groupthink even when insiders tend not to notice it. Outsiders will therefore, it seems, be more apt to turn to alternative publications and discussion fora in search of balance. Mightn’t this be at least as serious a gateway to conspiracy theories as the alternative one all this seems meant to avoid?Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin, when you say ‘But it’s far from obvious to me that preventing people from reading *or even critically discussing* McDonald’s views in academic journals is the best solution to the problem’ do you mean to be criticizing people calling for retraction after it is published, or just people who think it shouldn’t have been published in the first place? If the latter, as someone else has already pointed out upthread, surely journals don’t have an obligation to publish every stupid conspiracy theory some people somewhere believe, regardless of whether any decent evidence can be martialed for it. (I’m inclined to agree that retraction would be bad, mostly because it will, as you say, be cited as precedent when people call for less worthless work that they don’t like for political reasons to be retracted, I don’t think it’ll undo any harms from publication, and it’ll give McDonald the chance to play martyr.)Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  David Mathers
8 months ago

I don’t know, David. It wasn’t my aim to criticize anyone, so much as to point out that a seemingly important set of considerations don’t appear to have been addressed. But I agree with much that you say.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin K., the way I see it, there’s a huge difference between discussing a conspiracy theory as an object of study, as scholars who work on them do, on the one hand, and engaging with them “from the inside”, as it were, as this current issue in Philosophia does. You’ve made a case that perhaps doing the latter has some benefits, and maybe it does (I’m not convinced the benefits outweigh the costs). But there is another consideration, which for me is decisive: engaging substantively with anti-semitic conspiracy theories is akin to swimming in a sewer–it just defiles the people who do it.

Just look at the excerpt Justin W. screenshotted. One claim there is that Jews should be “allowed” in white supremacist movements only if they (we) acknowledge the pernicious role we’ve played in setting back White interests.

How did this make it through the editorial process? Putting the mechanics aside: is this a serious academic claim that merits the attention of philosophers, qua philosophers? Is there any philosophical value whatsoever in pointing out that the question of whether Jews should be allowed in white supremacist movements is…misguided?

As my father used to say, when you see a pile of dog shit, it’s almost always better to avoid stepping in it. The case for stepping in it has to be very strong. Do you really think there is a good argument for stepping in it in this case? It’s an absolute embarrassment for the journal and for the profession.

(To be clear, I remain agnostic on the question of retraction.)Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

Hi, Moti.

Like you, I have a hard time seeing how the discussion of whether Jews should be allowed into white identity movement is relevant. I would have thought (long ago perhaps) that questions of who should or shouldn’t be welcomed into identity groups undertaking social activism had no place in academic inquiry, since academics qua academics are employed in truth-seeking rather than political organization. I have been appalled for a couple of decades now at how normal many academics seem to find it that that boundary line is routinely crossed, more in certain disciplines and subdisciplines than others. I would be very glad to see all of that bundled up and thrown out of academia, and I think there are principled reasons for doing that.

That still leaves us with the general question: should academics be free, qua academics, to propose or dispute causal accounts of the prominence of this or that ethnic group within certain fields? It seems to me that the answer to that question is yes, since among other things it will be useful to have a grasp of the dialectic in case a significant number of people (almost certainly non-academics) start propounding a false account to their advantage. And in order to have a grasp of that dialectic, we need to see how it plays out. I agree that there are also reasons against allowing it to play out in an academic journal, but I haven’t yet seen why those other reasons are weightier.

You raise a prudential question about the risks of stepping in dog waste. For the prudential reasons you give, and the precarious state of existence involved in plying one’s trade in the academy nowadays, many academics will avoid taking such questions on. To me, that’s a reason for being particularly grateful to scholars like Cofnas who respond to the likes of McDonald despite this.

Should an academic journal allow issues like this to be discussed (minus the question of who gets to join a white identity group)? I think you present a good _prudential_ argument that they should not. But none of the questions I asked question that prudential answer. I’m more interested in the broader consequences.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

People should be free to ask any questions they wish to ask. The question here is whether academic journals should provide a venue for them to do so in all cases, for all questions.

My view is that they should not. McDonald-style work is unworthy of serious academic interest. This doesn’t mean that there would be no value in someone showing why this is so in some venue, perhaps even a prestigious venue. But academically, philosophically, the question of Jewish membership in white supremacist activism is bereft of interest.

I have read interesting articles on Jewish intelligence (higher IQ scores) Jewish success in the US, in various cultural institutions, and so on. None were written by adherents of scientific racism; none promoted white identitarianism; none held Jews responsible for degrading “white culture” or the inheritance of “the West.” None were written by authors who, according to Wikipedia, have elsewhere argued that Nazism was a rational response to Jewish corruption of white value.

This is the stuff of the Nazi sewer.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Moti.

You say that people should be free to discuss such things in other fora. I’m glad we agree on that.

I might also ultimately agree with your closing comment that “this is the stuff of the Nazi sewer.” and that it therefore has no place being discussed and debated in a serious philosophical journal — you might persuade me quite easily, in fact — but only if you make clear what fair criterion or method you propose to distinguish the acceptable from the unacceptable.

I’ll give you a reason for my being hesitant on this point: I once, like you, thought there were clear and objective criteria in place that ruled such stuff out as proper academic philosophy. But I have seen a number of philosophical talks, articles and books over the years that violate such norms as ‘No sloppy, negative generalizations about any ethnic groups’, ‘No grand theories of one ethnic group’s domination over others or control of the world’s resources, buttressed by cherry-picked data’.

I’m no right winger, but I don’t understand why some of the views I just mentioned have been winked at and even openly applauded at academic philosophy talks or in the journals. Is it because some of this racialized material is associated with the far right (unacceptable) and some is associated with the far left (acceptable)? That can’t be a fair standard for an objective academic enterprise, much as I hate what the far right has to say. Or is there some clear criterion that doesn’t leave it up to the personal and socially-influenced judgment of editors? If so, what is that criterion, roughly?

It’s completely fine with me if the criterion also rules out the large-scale racial theorizing and antagonizing of the identitarian right as well as the identitarian left: if you say that it all should get chucked out of the journals and into the sewer where it belongs, I’ll raise a glass to you in approval. But a double standard is a recipe for bad philosophical practice, and violates some of the fundamental norms of the discipline, as I hope you’ll agree.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Sorry, are you saying we can’t retract the Nazi article unless we set up a relatively mechanical procedure for deciding whether or not to retract any paper addressing issues of racial identity–because otherwise we would be acting unfair to the Nazis?Report

Robert A Gressis
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

I don’t think he’s worried about being unfair to Nazis. I think he’s worried about our being unfair to people in the future whom we designate as being on the same level as Nazis, but who are, as a matter of fact, not.

I get the sense Kalef is imagining two systems of norms:

System 1: whatever passes peer review is not subject to retraction (unless it’s fraudulent).

System 2: views that are incredibly offensive may be subject to retraction, even if they pass the peer review process.

No system is perfect: the problem with System 1 is that it will allow some anti-semitic tripe through. The problem with System 2 is that it’s vulnerable to people labeling views that they don’t like, but which are defensible, as incredibly offensive, in the hopes of getting them retracted.

I get the sense that Kalef favors system 1 because he’s afraid that system 2 will be too easily gamed. I don’t know what I think. But I may have Kalef’s views wrong.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
8 months ago

I will note that, other than the place where Heathwood introduced the notion of offensiveness below (which I already flagged) this is now the only place where “offensiveness” has been mentioned. So I think if that is the concern, it has not been made clear, and it does not accurately capture any criticisms of the paper that have been offered.

I’d appreciate if, when people describe what is being objected to about the paper, they do not replace the objections that have been levied with different objections that are frequently dismissed as not worthy of attending to, such as “people find it offensive”. The issue with publishing baseless, unfounded antisemitic conspiracy theories is not that people are offended by them. It is the other things that have been said against publishing them, in the other comments.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Lewis, first of all, my apologies, I accidentally reported your comment when I meant to click like. Mea Culpa. Hopefully this doesn’t result in your banning. Or mine.

And yes, I just wanted to add that my position is:

(1) Academic journals should only publish papers of academic value.

(2) MacDonald’s paper is without academic value.

(3) 1+2 probably justify retraction, and definitely justify taking steps to improve peer review in future.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

 I accidentally reported your comment when I meant to click like. Mea Culpa. Hopefully this doesn’t result in your banning. Or mine.


See, this is the problem.
At one extreme, there is the policy of never clicking anything. At the other, there is indiscriminate clicking. Adopting the latter policy is bound to result in occasional misclicking REPORT, and getting innocent people banned; the former would mean you can never LIKE anything. Of course you could adopt an intermediate policy, but then you have to have an objective criterion for deciding when to click. I am doubtful that there is such a criterion.
I fear you are sliding down some… metaphor I can’t recall, and are in grave danger of ending up in a… something really bad I can’t think of at the moment.Report

Jennifer Fletcher
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
8 months ago

This is why I click when it’s obvious that clicking is the thing to do, and I set aside settling on a criterion until I encounter difficult cases.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
8 months ago

LOL. Nicely done.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
8 months ago

First, no one proposed system 2. Second, he explicitly says that maybe certain topics should be off limits, but that that needs to be applied equally to people on the right and the left, otherwise we are being unfair.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Why is your stance on the Macdonald paper conditioned on whether Moti can successfully overcome whatever grievances you have about other, unrelated publications on “the left”?

Either this paper is baseless, conspiratorial nonsense or it isn’t. If it is the former, and you agree, then say so, and maybe bring up the other papers you think do the same thing as also making the same definitively flawed mistakes.

If you disagree, have the courage of your convictions and defend the paper as worthy of publication and meriting our attention (at which point I will know not to take you seriously).

But you have been framing your measured/tepid defense of this article in a half-hearted/half-measured way, as though that is reasonable, and all it really does is allow you to conversationally, defend the publication of the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory without any clear demarcation of your stance. Your stance isn’t/shouldn’t be contingent on Moti’s Gorin’s.

Right now we aren’t talking about some other unspecified papers you are invoking to both-sides this thing. Do you think this paper *as it is written* deserves to be taken seriously by academics? Ought it be retracted? If you can’t take stances on those issues without vaguely gesturing at your dislike of leftist trends in publications, why not?Report

Jennifer Fletcher
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

In his initial reply to Moti Gorin, Justin Kalef indicated that his personal view of this paper’s merits is irrelevant. In his view, “academics should be free, qua academics, to propose or dispute causal accounts of the prominence of this or that ethnic group within certain fields.” The debate needs to proceed, he believes, “since among other things it will be useful to have a grasp of the dialectic in case a significant number of people (almost certainly non-academics) start propounding a false account to their advantage.”

It is difficult for him to hold the opposite view in a principled way. You might see why if in the first quotation above, you replace ‘ethnic’ with ‘gender’. Given his publicly known beliefs about gender issues in the profession, if the paper were about the prominence of men in philosophy being the result of their bad behavior toward women, he could not hold that the paper should not be published, or that there’s no need for debate.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Derek and Lewis: I’m not saying the things you seem to think I’m saying. I don’t have any conviction that this or that paper is worthy of publication (though I suspect that some of the cases that they are not so worthy have been made reflexively and without consideration of consequences or principle). Whether McDonald’s paper or Cofnas’s paper should be retracted is a matter I don’t have a fixed opinion on, though it seems to me that others are making that case very confidently without, as far as I can see, sorting out the principles and implications first. That’s what prompted me to comment.

What approach do I prefer for such things? Since you seem curious, I’ll state that more clearly. The most important thing by far is that the rules and principles need to be objective and applied fairly, not on the basis of which side happens to have political support in the contingent historical circumstances in which they are offered. It is almost equally important that standards be _seen_ to be applied fairly.

Then comes what to me is a secondary question: should generalizations on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, etc. be permitted to be made, and prominently made, in academic papers? I would be quite happy to agree that the answer should be no to that across the board. But if such a policy is repeatedly violated by people who routinely publish critical (and often very broad-brush) generalizations about one ethnicity, supplemented with cherry-picked facts, then we are already in the sewer Moti mentions. In that case, we lose our basis for prohibiting the discussion of papers that do the same thing with a different ethnicity in the cross-hairs.

That is honestly where I stand with all this. I began years ago with the understanding that none of this business belonged in academic journals and talks and classrooms. Then I saw that many others violated what I took to be the rule, and that nobody did anything about it, so I concluded that the principles people follow in academia are not what I took them to be or wanted them to be. Now I’m wondering whether there really are any principles, or whether academia as a whole is even pretending that there are principles, or whether most academics even care. I’d be much happier to find that I’m mistaken about the principles that are applied, or to be convinced that the principles are different from what I think they should be, than I would to learn that, indeed, I’m an outlier for caring about whether we act in a principled manner.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

I began years ago with the understanding that none of this business belonged in academic journals and talks and classrooms. Then I saw that many others violated what I took to be the rule, and that nobody did anything about it, so I concluded that the principles people follow in academia are not what I took them to be or wanted them to be. Now I’m wondering whether there really are any principles, or whether academia as a whole is even pretending that there are principles, or whether most academics even care.

Let’s start by distinguishing pedagogical contexts from research contexts, since you are lumping them together. If you are teaching a class, and during class discussion, a student introduces certain baseless/odious proposals into the conversation, you might wind up having certain responsibilities to engage with the student’s comments, and take them seriously, due to a) the fact that they have been presented to the whole class, b) your pastoral/pedagogical responsibilities towards that student, c) your pastoral/pedagogical responsibilities towards the other students, etc. We can then have a conversation about what the best ways are to engage with those proposals in class while making sure you uphold your responsibilities as an educator, your responsibility not to spread pernicious ideas to the students in the classroom, and so on.

Separately, but still in the classroom/teaching context, there are considerations about how to structure course content, because, as educators, and outside of certain areas/topics like (some) logic courses, we are in a discipline where attention needs to be paid to the fact that many questions aren’t settled, and so, proper pedagogy often/usually involves teaching conflicting views on a debate. The fact that I think a given position in a debate in a contemporary moral problems class is false is not, in and of itself, a sufficient reason not to teach a paper advocating it. At the same time, when choosing papers to teach, or positions to consider in a class, the driving consideration is pedagogical value. How does it serve the purposes of the course? If these are principles that satisfy you, great! They are helpful to me here, because, I don’t (currently) teach any courses whose pedagogical goals are served by reading papers that advance antisemitic conspiracy theories. I can think of some courses whose goals are advanced that way, but the simplest case would be a course about the nature of anti-semitism (where the paper is being treated as an object of study, not an argument to be engaged with).

The actual thing we are discussing here, however, concerns the context of research and publication, not pedagogy. So the questions are whether this antisemitic nonsense should have been published in a serious journal (answer: obviously no), and whether it should be retracted (answer: obviously yes). Now, peer review is a large scale bureaucratic process. Failures are bound to happen. Good articles will be mistakenly rejected, bad articles will make it into print. The issue, however, is that this article very, very obviously falls well below the established academic standards for a reputable journal, due to it advancing a long discredited, pernicious conspiracy theory that is lacking in academic and evidential merit.

Now, this is not merely my judgment of it. MacDonald’s own former department and in fact, the academic senate for CSU Long Beach have both formally and publicly disassociated themselves from his anti-semitic and conspiricist work, over a decade ago. Note that, among the concerns raised by the department (who had him present his work at a forum for the department, before formally disassociating themselves from it), they reference methodological/conceptual concerns, concerns with whether he was following the (other) APA’s ethical principles and code of conduct, and “It was also noted that many of these writings have appeared in other media rather than in psychological journals that require peer review and rigorous scientific and psychological methodology.”

Anyway, I do think it is very weird that you are bringing left-wing vs. right-wing into this. I’d have hoped that everyone within the pale, as it were, agreed with the principle “journals ought not publish baseless pernicious conspiracy theories, and if they do, they should retract them” but, I am left to infer, from your remarks, that you think there are a plethora of left-wing baseless pernicious conspiracy theories that get publishes all the time, and so you’d like us to make space for this one on some sort of goose/gander basis?

You may have noticed that my tone has gotten slightly snippier, and that is because you ended your comment with the extremely insulting suggestion that you are some rare outlier in terms of having principles out here in the world of philosophy (perhaps all of academia?), though you have yet to even attempt to substantiate the absurd false equivalence that our journals are rife with anything comparable to this antisemitic tripe. So, please rest assured that I am dialing back my tone quite a bit, because for you to act holier than thou while offering lengthy, specious, and sophistical defenses of this paper is a bit hard to take.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Since I never wrote a defense of the paper, I never wrote a “lengthy, specious, and sophistical one.” I already explained that I wasn’t defending the paper.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin,

You said that it wouldn’t be fair to retract MacDonald’s paper without first establishing rules that would lead to retracting certain papers on the left side of the political spectrum. To whom, exactly, would it be unfair?

I’m largely in agreement with Moti and Lewis. I think we need principles for hard cases or gray areas. But it seems like everyone agrees that this particular paper is both intellectually without merit and racist. Any principles we formulate to explain why the paper should be retracted are going to be more controversial than our judgments about the case itself. Maybe there are trickier cases that do call for principles. But this one seems pretty straightforward.

As for why I am so confident it should be retracted–it’s because no one in this entire conversation has defended the paper. No one seems to think that it adds value to the academic debate. Everyone seems to agree that it is in fact racist. Convergence of expert opinion seems like pretty good evidence to me.

I think some degree of trust in our colleagues and in our profession on these matters is warranted. And if it isn’t–and you really seem to be suggesting that it isn’t–then maybe this discipline is a mistake.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Derek Baker
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin,

I don’t have a theory or principle that can distinguish between the sewage and the non-sewage. But I don’t think we always need one. Whatever principle we end up with, we already know that some will fall on the sewage side of the line, some on the other side. Same with plenty of things, e.g., pornography. We do not always need some tidy theory of the nature of pornography to know that a particular case clearly counts as pornography or that some other case does not. I think McDonald’s work, academically or philosophically speaking, is equivalent to horse necrophilia, pornographically speaking.

Particular outlets need to make judgments with the help of peer review. Occasionally, there will be mistakes, and something like McDonald’s work will slip through. People respond critically, there is discussion and debate, some editors resign or not, and so on. That’s how these things will get resolved, not by appeal to some principle to which everyone has pledged allegiance.

As I’m sure you can appreciate, it’s difficult for me to respond to your claims about left-wing equivalents, or possible equivalents, without specific examples. Are there philosophy papers out there arguing for Louis Farrakhan-style “white devil” positions, where white people are claimed to have some essential properties in virtue of which they are evil, corrupt, whatever? Not that I’m aware of. That’s the kind of paper we’d need to see to have a fair comparison.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Moti Gorin
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

To me, it seems that a Jewish conspiracy theory is false and, if widely accepted, apt to lead to bad things whether or not it entails that we Jews have “essential properties in virtue of which they are evil, corrupt, whatever.”

I would think that a paper that argues that Jews collude with one another to oppress other races would be bad even if it didn’t posit the essential properties, or even if it blamed only a small number of Jews but claimed that all Jews benefited from the wiles of the powerful few and hence that all Jews were guilty. And I have certainly seen and heard a number of academic papers, including philosophical ones, in which parallel claims were made with another race substituted in for Jews.

Again, I’d be happy for there to be a principle that rules such a thing out. One might be ‘No academic journal may publish an article that seeks to collectively blame the members of an ethnicity (with or without limited exceptions) for some wrongdoing.

I would imagine that a principle like that would get more to the heart of the objection many of us feel than would a reliance on the discipline’s interpretation of the data it has taken the time to examine.

A thought experiment that I think supports this: Suppose that a new race conspiracy theory is advanced. The claim is a new one and nobody has had a chance to investigate whether there’s anything to it. Wouldn’t most of us still hesitate before publishing it? If so, and if the reasons for hesitation there are not purely conformist and self-serving, then I think something like the principle is already in play, however inconsistently we apply it.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin, I think probably we have a disagreement over the parallels, or purported parallels, between MacDonald-style work and whatever kind of work you have in mind on the left.

It’s probably not worth investigating that disagreement here because the solution you’ve offered–finding a principle and sticking to it–is no better than our current approach–peer review, editors, making judgments, maybe appealing to principles, etc. This is because, as I’ve said elsewhere here, along with others, dominant groups can distort our principles, or our adherence to them, just as well as they can distort a more piecemeal approach.

Everyone seems to agree that the paper should not have been published. That’s important to remember.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

“Everyone seems to agree that the paper should not have been published.”
Everyone except a notorious white supremacist, who claims to have been a reviewer for the article. Perhaps we can agree on the principle that you should never invite a white supremacist to be a reviewer for a scholarly journal? Even a journal that seems to have nothing to do with racial politics. I mean, would we want this Dutton character refereeing a paper for the Journal of the Aesthetics of Kitchen Appliances on “The Optimal Color for Blenders”?Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
8 months ago

Perhaps we can agree on that, but even there I think the principle, once formulated, would apply to the review and publication process rather than the content of the papers that are published (or not).

This hack shouldn’t have been asked to review because he doesn’t have the relevant expertise. If it were a math journal and he were a mathemetician, I think it would be fine to ask him to review, even if he were a white supremacist. (Needless to say, we’d have all kinds of other objections to his views and to him.) To take your example, if this guy had expertise in aesthetics or art or whatever, with a specialty in kitchen appliance aesthetics, then I think he could be asked to review.

I say this not because I like the people who believe I am vermin, but because I don’t see any viable alternative. I think we stick to relevant expertise and leave other things out or else everything turns into political purge, witch hunt, black lists, etc.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Moti Gorin
Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

That’s very generous-minded of you Moti, but I actually would like to apply the “no white supremacist reviewers” principle across the board. I think adherence to white supremacy is both an intellectual and a moral failing, and I wouldn’t trust the views of a white supremacist on other topics too. Just like I wouldn’t trust the views of a flat-earther on topics that have nothing to do with the shape of the planet. The blender color example was just tongue-in-cheek, of course. I mean, there’s only one blender color a white supremacist would approve of, surely?Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Alastair Norcross
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
8 months ago

I’m more willing to compartmentalize these sorts of features of people, at least in some contexts. I see no reason to think that a Nazi mathematician would necessarily be untrustworthy on math. I don’t know Frege’s work well but I think he’d be a good pick to review some paper that discusses his and related views, even though he was an anti-Semite.

“I mean, there’s only one blender color a white supremacist would approve of, surely?”

I imagine this is one of the drawbacks of being a white supremacist.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

Frege is deceased, and should not be used as a referee on any papers, actually.

(I am willing to stand by the principle that we should not solicit referee reports from the deceased pretty unequivocally).Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Lewis Powell
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Given how long some reports take, I’m not sure referee status as living or dead always makes a difference.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

One other thing, Alastair–it’s not a matter of my being “generous-minded.” It’s that I really don’t see the alternative. You’ve seen, I’m sure, as have I, the term “white supremacist” bandied about quite casually as of late. If there were a no “white supremacist reviewer” rule, lots of perfectly good (and not really white supremacist) reviewers would be banned. I think it’s easier and less contentious to make judgements of professional competence than it is to make judgments of what makes a white supremacist (putting aside the obvious cases). This why I’ve been arguing all along that the MacDonald paper should have been rejected because it’s philosophically/academically worthless, not because it’s morally objectionable.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

Moti, you write: “As I’ve said elsewhere here, along with others, dominant groups can distort our principles, or our adherence to them, just as well as they can distort a more piecemeal approach.

It is just this that I take issue with. There are a great many things that our society as well as our narrow discipline depend on, that many of us take for granted. Those things depend on principles being understood, respected and followed. Our adherence to those principles must be strong enough to get us through times when violating them seems morally expeditious in the short term.

Perhaps we have been living too many decades without a strong reminder of the risks of leaving things up to the discretion of those in power, whether officially or unofficially held. But one things history repeatedly teaches us is that where principles are abandoned in favor of trust in authority, a bad change in authority and resulting disaster soon follows.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

I think we probably agree on the dangers of trust in the powerful. And I certainly don’t advocate for blind trust in editors or reviewers. I just don’t think trust in principle, or in application of principle by the powerful, is justified by a degree great enough to use the publication of an anti-semitic conspiracy theory in a philosophy journal to argue for it.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

I wish it were not so, Moti. Certainly, I’m very much opposed to Jewish conspiracy theories, and I certainly grant that it’s tougher to make a case to staying the course and adhering to principles when this is what we’re talking about. Nonetheless, I think we ought to work out clear principles and stick to them, for roughly the same reasons that we stipulate the laws in advance of the particular situations under discussion rather than throwing out the laws and asking judges or juries to ignore precedents and just decide each case on the basis of what seems right. I fear that many are losing sight of why that’s a bad idea.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

I doubt that any decision we make about this one journal article matters for how widespread anti-semitic conspiracy theories are in society at large. Philosophia is not likely to be anyone’s gateway drug into the world of Naziism. The primary worries here have to do with what seems like a total failure of the peer review process, how that’s embarrassing to the discipline, and what we should do about it.

First of all, I’m just going to assume we all agree that this paper should not have made it through peer review. No one seems to be defending any of the merits of the paper, and I think we can all agree that whether white power groups should accept Jewish members is about as interesting an ethical question as when it is okay to beat one’s slaves. There’s a big presupposition failure lurking around.

If that’s right, what do we do about it? Well, first of all, maybe the journal should retract the paper. Why? Not because it will spread racism, at least not primarily. But because we all agree its publication only happened through a massive failure of the peer review process. Now I agree that we should err on the side of caution when it comes to retracting controversial papers. Generally you shouldn’t do it. But the publication of this paper seems like an extreme enough failing that retraction would be justified.

And before we start worrying about slippery slopes and opening gateways, we should notice that Philosophia has published a number of other papers on very controversial topics, and people here are not calling for their retraction. We can assume some level of judgment and goodwill within our profession. And if we can’t what is the point of this as an academic discipline?

Beyond that, I think it is fine for a blog dedicated to professional matters to point out how serious a failure of the peer review and editorial process happened here, as a way of enforcing and reaffirming professional and scholarly norms. I don’t want to sign a petition or harass anyone, and I do in fact feel a little bad for the parties involved. I realize editors are overworked and understandably make mistakes. But the editors and reviewers should feel a bit embarrassed about all of this, and will hopefully think through how they can tighten up their reviewing process to prevent papers on this level from getting published again. Or, if they don’t plan on doing that, those of us who think they should can revise our opinions about the scholarly merits of the journal.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

With respect to your number 1, generally we do not base our plans to address problems around a strategy of total eradication, but instead around measures to try to largely reduce the magnitude/extent of the harms. So, while I don’t think we can stop people from ever formulating conspiracy theories ever again, the question is “is the plan proposed going to make it better, worse, or stay the same”. We also ask questions about integrity, like if you are editor, “are you okay being party to publishing this anti-semitic drivel?” Note that, below, I address how your accommodationist proposal invites more conspiracy theorizing, rather than reducing it, which is the goal.

The idea (your number 2/4) that conspiracy theorists won’t use the academic credibility of mainstream/legitimate publication as a rhetorical boost for their position is frighteningly naive. The purveyors of the theories will adopt whatever rhetorical posture is advantageous. If they are fully shut out, it is evidence of the conspiracy. If they have a publication, it is evidence that their theory is so strong, even the gatekeepers cannot fully deny the strength of their views, etc. So, they will market the legitimation to their benefit. (If you don’t believe me, go look at the way any covid-19 conspiracy theorist pitches their connections to the medical community).

Even if we grant (3) that no one in the academy is going to be moved towards conspiratorial thinking by increased presence of anti-semitic conspiracy papers in legitimate journals, the idea that, because the paper will fail to persuade, we should not object to it being published, is absurd. If someone wanted to print a paper in favor of depriving me personally of liberty of movement, I don’t think it would convince many people, but that’s not an argument in favor of being okay with it getting published.

An entirely foreseeable consequence of your proposal (5) is that object-level conspiracy theory content (and rebuttals) would quickly predominate academic journals, to the exclusion of the actual non-conspiracy theory related work that could be done, because the incentive structure you are proposing is one on which it is vastly beneficial for anyone wanting to propagate conspiracy theories to start generating a bunch of nonsense in academic journals for people to have to address.

Your 6 only matters if you think we should accept a free speech fundamentalism so extreme that denying publication of literally any view whatsoever has a chilling effect, but I imagine that even you would agree that there are some views that should not be published. If you do, explain why this paper isn’t among them. If you don’t, I’m not sure we can profitably discuss this or any case.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

A number of people have responded here in the apparent belief that I hold that McDonald’s paper should have been published, or that it can only be legitimately retracted if we first present a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for retracting papers. But again, what I’ve been doing here is presenting questions that it seems natural and important to ask and that it seems many have not considered.

Some in this discussion may not remember the controversy, when the American Civil Liberties Union came into its own, when the organization (with a Jewish leader and Jewish attorney) fought hard to defend the right of a self-described ‘Nazi’ organization to march through Skokie, Illinois with mock-SS uniforms, swastika armbands, etc. Skokie had a large Jewish community, many members of whom were Holocaust survivors.

Many people were surprised that Jews would be supporters of these rights, and were baffled that black civil rights leaders came out to support the right of neo-Nazis and KKK members to make demonstrations. But Ira Glasser (the head of the ACLU) had also been involved in the civil rights movement, and he knew what the black civil rights leaders knew: that the very rights the Nazis and KKK were asking for were the rights the civil rights movement, gay rights movement, etc. depended on for social progress. Their experience showed them the importance of looking beyond the immediate issue to the underlying principle. But to people who lacked the experience of fighting in the struggle for civil rights and who couldn’t imagine the tactics that could be used, the principle of free speech seemed merely quaint. They couldn’t conceive that much of what they took for granted depended on just those principles.

Even fewer people in academia today have direct experience fighting against people who can effectively stifle dissent and debate. And since the pressures of today’s academic context make virtual consensus on sociopolitical issues easy to achieve, I worry that we dismiss too easily the risks of acting in an unprincipled manner. But political winds have a way of changing, and support for general principles of freedom is fragile and hard to replace. If we set a precedent now of replacing principle with consensus, we’re in real trouble when the tides turn. This is what the civil libertarians of old understood.

Before someone starts this up again, let me stress that *I fully appreciate that academic journals are a different thing from street protests*. Yes, of course, we can say that discussions of wonky theories about an ethnic group’s purported schemes to dominate other races are just out of bounds for serious academic discussion. What I’m saying is that that decision would need to rest on something like a clear disciplinary boundary, or a general norm for all academic discussion that we’ve thought through and doesn’t seem apt to come back and bite us when the winds change.

That doesn’t mean that nobody can retract the McDonald paper without first giving an exhaustive statement of what the principle is. But it does mean that if McDonald and his critic Cofnas both have their papers chucked out, some people are ultimately going to start asking why papers that promote the theory that the structure of contemporary society is kept as it is to keep whites on top while essentially perpetuating slavery, etc., can be published if race-conspiracy is out of bounds.

And maybe there really is some plausible, non-gerrymandered principle one can point to that draws a distinction between these cases. If so, great. But in that case, I’d like to understand more about what the principle is and how it works. What I’m worried about is a response like, ‘Never mind the questions of principle: we can all see that A is fine and B is unacceptable, and we don’t need principles when we have consensus.’ I keep hearing about the threat that the forces of evil will win the next elections and that they are even now passing bills that violate the autonomy of academia. If that’s true, then doesn’t it seem awfully imprudent, if nothing else, to let the standard for acceptability depend on the judgment of those in power within academia?

And *that’s* the point I’m making in all this: that whatever we do in this case, we need to consider how the norms we’re putting in place can be used against us when the political polarities of academia and elite society are reversed. That day may not even be far off.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

I feel as though the principe that one should not publish papers wholly lacking in academic merit, and if that has been done one should retract them (at least the ones that are trafficking in false, long discredited, baseless and pernicious conspiratorial thinking), ought not to be controversial.

But perhaps I am an optimist.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

All right, Lewis. But then I don’t know how you propose to deal with the problem I’ve been describing. Picture the scene: the pendulum swings (as it inevitably does), and now the dominant positions in academia are not at the far end of the political left, but the far end of the political right. This can come about in any number of ways, from legislative fiat to a somewhat spontaneous shift in the zeitgeist as a new generation takes over.

Now the editors of some journals decide that pieces defending Critical Race Theory, patriarchy feminism, and so on are wholly lacking in academic merit (the majority of scholars in this possible future world thinks so), and that they traffic in false, long-discredited, baseless and pernicious conspiratorial thinking. Hence, the editors of these journals decide not to publish such pieces, or even to publish articles disputing those accounts.

Do you see the problem? It’s just what I said before: if you make these questions depend on the opinions of editors, and put the editors in thrall to prevailing sociopolitical beliefs by nodding at petitions against editors who step out of the party line, then very bad things happen as soon as a bad ideology predominates.

What you propose is not, _de facto_, really a principle at all: it’s just a concession to whatever viewpoint is dominant at a given time.

I say _de facto_ because, while there is something ostensibly objective in your proposal — something can be lacking in merit, or baseless, even if people fail to recognize it — the decision procedure it requires us to use gives us no protection against the ideologue with a false belief. If the scenario I describe were to unfold, you could say, “Hang on, Critical Race Theory is not a refuted theory, but the white supremacist viewpoint is,” and of course you might be objectively justified in saying that. But since you seem to provide no decision procedure outside of the opinions of editors and others in the profession who put pressure on them, I don’t yet see what sort of protection this provides.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin K., the kind of scenario you imagine, where the pendulum swings, can easily be envisioned at the level of whatever kind of principle you favor over the current method some of us have been arguing for (i.e., “it’s clearly tripe, don’t accept it”).

So, rather than “hang on, Critical Theory has been refuted, it’s trash, etc.” we might get “hang on, principle X is outdated, wrong, trash, etc.”

The way to avoid this problem at either level is by doing our best to aim for the truth when doing philosophy and to aim for justice when doing politics, knowing we might fail along the way in various ways, but guarding against that. There is no escaping this.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Do you see the problem? It’s just what I said before: if you make these questions depend on the opinions of editors, and put the editors in thrall to prevailing sociopolitical beliefs by nodding at petitions against editors who step out of the party line, then very bad things happen as soon as a bad ideology predominates.

I am going to have to insist that you try harder to respond to the actual positions being advanced by the people you are responding to, rather than fanciful, invented positions that you want to argue against.

It sounds as though you, perhaps, believe there are no such things as standards of academic merit which can be assessed. I say this because your (otherwise entirely irrelevant) comments about the swinging of the pendulum and such only bear on this conversation if you think *all assessments* of academic merit are radically relative to one’s political outlook. When I ask myself “To what extent? Does Kalef think questions of academic merit are relative to political outlook?” I see that you have claimed just raised the question (in a manner heavily implying you think there is no way to answer it), of how we could possibly develop a principled way to demarcate baseless, discredited antisemitic conspiracy theories from academic output with real merit.

I think it is a shame that you don’t think there is a principled difference between any of the work that you’ve done, or that I’ve done, or that anyone else has done, and what MacDonald has done.

You’ll note that I don’t join you on your (irrelevant) hypothetical excursions to variously valenced authoritarian worlds of thought experiment, despite your repeated requests to do so. I’ll explain why, so that you can, at the very least, stop inviting me:

Apart from being laden with not-so-subtle attempts to smuggle claims of present day left-wing authoritarianism into the common-ground (and please, if you want to make such absurd accusations, have the gumption to do so outright, rather than trying to sneak them in behind the camouflage of your weak pendulum metaphor), they do not illuminate anything about the present situation.

If you accept that papers can have or lack academic merit, and that the role of editors and peer reviewers (I am simplifying now, because reviewers and editors have a more complex role than just this) is to assess whether and to what extent papers exhibit academic merit, before ratifying or denying that a paper belongs in an academic venue, we can see that if a paper which totally lacks merit gets published, this is a failure (which will sometimes happen) and ask what to do about it. That is what has happened here.

All the rest is, I am afraid, starting to look a lot like sophistry.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Lewis, you are certainly proudly stomping around huffing and puffing about how sophistical you think I am, and blah blah blah, but it’s clear that you haven’t grasped the idea yet. I suggest that you stick with getting that down before you turn to your self-confident jabs. Let me try once more to get it across.

You say: “It sounds as though you, perhaps, believe there are no such things as standards of academic merit which can be assessed.

Incorrect. I believe that there are standards of academic merit that do not depend on the assessment of those who happen to be journal editors (or members of the academic disciplines. Those who assess the value of others’ academic work must attempt to discern whether that work does or doesn’t have merit, but their judgments do not constitute the fact of the work having or lacking merit. It’s an objective enterprise.

At the same time, I hold that we tend not to be reliable judges of such things, especially when the topic under discussion is some hot-button sociopolitical matter. I do *NOT* think that philosophers are mistaken or confused about whether there’s a Jewish conspiracy — I think it’s clear that there is not — but I *DO* think that it would be unwise to trust editors of philosophy journals now and in the future to decide for everyone else what social topics and positions are acceptable, *assuming that those editors will make those decisions on the basis of personal confidence rather than principle.*

You write: “I see that you have claimed just raised the question (in a manner heavily implying you think there is no way to answer it), of how we could possibly develop a principled way to demarcate baseless, discredited antisemitic conspiracy theories from academic output with real merit.

Here, you make two errors. The first is to assume that I hold that there is no principled way to demarcate unacceptable topics (like Jewish conspiracy theories, perhaps) from acceptable topics (like the abortion question). In fact, I have already proposed such a principle: the principle might be ‘No paper may assign blame to an entire ethnic group, or defeasibly assign guilt to members of an ethnic group qua members of that group.’ As I said, I originally thought that such a rule was in effect, but then I saw that it was not followed, and now people want to follow it again and think everyone else should think it ought to be followed. But we are sticking to the principle, we should be clear on what it is and not allow other exceptions to it. We should avoid applying a principle inconsistently, which is what predictably happens when we ignore the basic principle and leave matters up to the personal views of editors (which are in turn predictably affected by contingent social factors).

The second confusion comes from your apparent conflation of questions of appropriateness with questions of merit. In fact, I have never said that the McDonald or Cofnas piece has merit. I merely suggested that we should clearly articulate the principle that justifies not publishing such things, if we should not.

I think a simple thought experiment would suffice to show that this should not be a question of merit: would you really feel differently about the issue if McDonald and Cofnas had done the best scholarly work they could have done in defense of their respective positions? Perhaps you will respond that there is no way for McDonald to have done a great job arguing for his case no matter what he did, because his view is clearly wrong. But then it would seem to follow that you don’t think a journal should publish a philosophical article defending a position the editors think is clearly wrong, and I think that leads to some odd conclusions.

You write: “I think it is a shame that you don’t think there is a principled difference between any of the work that you’ve done, or that I’ve done, or that anyone else has done, and what MacDonald has done.”

That, again, gets my position exactly backward. That is the opposite of what I believe.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

The point of the editor, as a role, is to exercise their judgment. If you are concerned about a particular editor’s judgment, it is one thing, but if, in general, you don’t think the editors can be trusted to exercise that judgment, you are rejecting a basic premise of the system. So, that’s just a stopping point for us to talk about your views on peer review.

As to your claim about the principle you thought was in effect and then thought wasn’t and then think people want to follow again; It sounds very much like that’s a confusion on your part, and rather than accusing everyone else of selecting hypocrisy it would be an excellent time for you to exercise some work trying to see where you misunderstood what other people were thinking in the first place? I do agree with you, though that different editors might have different views on these matters, and so it may not be consistent between journals! (That doesn’t strike me as a damning objection, though, in and of itself).

I still haven’t heard why “if lacks merit, then don’t publish” is a bad principle, but I don’t think I will get an answer on that from you, so we can forget about that.

I’m sorry to have misstated your view, and I’m glad you think there is a principled difference between the work that people generally do, and MacDonalds. You shouldn’t have any concerns about us retracting MacDonald’s paper, then, on grounds that it fails that principle. If you feel this way, you’d probably want to focus on encouraging people to live up to that principle other places, rather than leveling down so that we print more meritless pernicious stuff, I’d think!Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Lewis, you still seem to be conflating two distinct issues:

  1. Whether editors and reviewers should be permitted to judge the merits of papers, and to determine on the basis of their merits whether those papers should get published (I hold that they should, despite what you seem to think I hold), and
  2. Whether it is inappropriate for editors or authors to make academic journals serve as a forum for discussions of racial grievances and speculation (I hold that there are reasons both for and against it; but that however it’s resolved, we must not employ a double standard there or allow the standard to depend on the opinions of editors who in turn are to be subject to the spectre of reputation-threatening censure from the philosophical or broader academic community for allowing the wrong thing through).

The first of these issues — the one to do with the merit of the work — is something I have not been discussing at all.

The main thing I’ve been discussing is the consistency. Cofnas and the editor of the journal have been criticized here for violating a norm of appropriateness — not, I take it, for writing or publishing a piece that fails to live up to academic standards of rigor. Don’t you find it curious that subpar journal articles on metaethics, epistemology, etc. appear quite often, but that the writers and editors involved are never trashed on Daily Nous for making errors in their reasoning?

One reason why what I see as the hypocrisy here as especially bad is that people are being criticized for doing something that is apparently so clearly unacceptable that everyone is meant to see that it was wrong of them to do it, and yet nobody is saying just what was wrong with what they did. We often hear norms uttered within and about the discipline that suggest that nothing is off-limits for discussion: one of the sidebar items you’ll see if you scroll up here is an interview with Yujin Nagasawa, who says, “What is unique and liberating about philosophy is that you are allowed to defend any idea, no matter how crazy it might sound, as long as you have an argument that you are willing to subject to scrutiny.” And yet, this doesn’t seem to be the practice at all. Or it is, but only if people are talking about the right groups. It’s all such a mess. Before we go throwing blame at people for not following the rules, I really think we need to clarify what the rules are.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

But the objection to the paper is on grounds of merit, not “appropriateness”. If this is your concern, you’re not responding to the actual objections.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

That’s actually your explanation of what’s going on here — that everyone would be fine with McDonald arguing that there’s a Jewish conspiracy and Cofnas arguing against it, if only they’d presented more cogent arguments?

And that it’s normal practice for papers on epistemic modals, hybrid expressivism, metaphysical grounding, etc. to receive this same sort of treatment here on Daily Nous and elsewhere, if they make it through the review process and get published but aren’t argued very well?

And/or that papers arguing for positions most of us hold to have been refuted long ago (like the divine command theory, which most of us take to have been clearly refuted by the Euthyphro objection) also generate this sort of scandalized response here and elsewhere when they get published along with a reply that responds in ways many find to be suboptimal?Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

That’s actually your explanation of what’s going on here — that everyone would be fine with McDonald arguing that there’s a Jewish conspiracy and Cofnas arguing against it, if only they’d presented more cogent arguments?

And that it’s normal practice for papers on epistemic modals, hybrid expressivism, metaphysical grounding, etc. to receive this same sort of treatment here on Daily Nous and elsewhere, if they make it through the review process and get published but aren’t argued very well?

This is not my position, and has not been my position at any point.

I’m going to stop replying to you now on this subthread and all other subthreads, and allow you to have as many last words as you feel necessary, but to my mind, if you think I’ve said anything remotely suggesting that all papers lacking academic merit are (and should be) treated identically, regardless of particular details and circumstances, you have some reading comprehension issues that you would do well to address. My principal commitment is that if a paper has no academic merit, it shouldn’t be published in academic venues. I have not even made the claim that any meritless paper that is mistakenly published requires retraction. So it is not some sort of “gotcha” to observe that some cases of meritless publication may prompt a larger degree of reaction than others. I will confirm for you, I think this is the correct reaction, depending on the circumstances. I would imagine that you could, if you made some effort, reconstruct a principled argument on behalf of someone who holds my position, for why it would be appropriate to respond differently to different papers, depending on actual information about: the methods deployed in the paper, the sorts of claims made in the paper, the refereeing process, the relationship of the subject matter to the venue, the body of accumulated empirical knowledge possessed by the intellectual community at large as it bears on claims made in the paper (if applicable), and so on.

As I said, I won’t be replying to you any more, so you may not ever get satisfaction on what my position is, and if you are forced to conclude that I have no coherent position, that is something I will just learn to live with.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

All right. I do, indeed, suspect that what you’ve been saying is just what you now deny you were saying, especially since you refuse to clarify what you were saying. But the evidence points to it. Those who are interested can of course read what you said before and judge for themselves.Report

Nate Sheff
8 months ago

Has anyone else here been surprised at how many of their students believe the Earth is flat, because they saw it on YouTube? I’m not surprised anymore. It makes me wonder how helpful it is to “get these things out in the open.”Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Nate Sheff
8 months ago

Is it more meaningful for a student

  1. to accept that the earth is round,
  2. to be able to demonstrate to her own satisfaction that it is round,
  3. or to gleefully inhabit a world where it is flat?

I think the answer is distorted by our social/historical location.

But we certainly wouldn’t want to shroud serious discussion about our knowledge of planetary physics etc… from students, thereby repressing #2, in an inevitably ineffectual attempt to prevent #3.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Matthew
Nate Sheff
Reply to  Matthew Capps
8 months ago

It’s good if someone knows that the Earth is round, and better if they know why it’s round. It’s unfortunate if someone thinks the Earth is flat, partly because being convinced it’s flat is an impediment to learning that it isn’t. YouTube convinced my round-Earth-skeptic students, and luckily for me, they were willing to hear “the other side.” But I’m worried they didn’t get past their skepticism, and why not? Maybe the issue is too controversial to say one way or the other?Report

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Nate Sheff
8 months ago

Agreed. Though I think there’s little difference between believing the earth is flat in 1000bce (without knowing why) and knowing the earth is round in 2022ce (without knowing why).

But as far as the flat earthers… as far as I can tell, everyone is picking their way through an epistemic archipelago like polar bears on fractured ice sheets in a rough sea. I think we suffer in less obvious ways from the same epistemic / ethical sickness. At least I know that I do.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Matthew
Walter Horn
8 months ago

Just want to commend Moti for his integrity.Report

Rebecca Schleider
8 months ago

The biggest take away for me, is that, no, there isn’t some far leftist publishing bias. We’ve seen a lot of talk lately because of these fake papers published from a leftist point of view that made it through the review process. The thing that’s been missing from these exposes has always been a serious attempt to publish rightwing nonsense. Well, thanks to MacDonald, we can finally put that to bed. This incident should be cited every time when discussing bias against conservative publications.

Note: I am not saying that there isn’t or couldn’t be other biases against conservatives in other aspects of academia. It’s just that this incident seems to highlight what I always expected the real problem was: a failure of the review process.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Rebecca Schleider
8 months ago

Perhaps the main problem has always been a failure of the review process. But I can’t recall any cases in recent decades of an editor being compelled to apologize for allowing a radical left-wing article to be published, etc.Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Care to provide an example of a “radical left-wing article” that is analogous to the topic of the present conservation–that is, defense of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory? My sense is that you’re likely peddling in false equivalences, but I am happy to be wrong about that.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
8 months ago

Do you mean any academic article or book that presumes or argues that racial disparities are the result of the underhanded manipulation of society by a race with better outcomes and more political representation?Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Yes, this is precisely the kind of false equivalence I had in mind. Bravo! You’ve compared a view that has no empirical support (and which is historically dangerous–having led to genocides and the like) with a view that has mountains of empirical support (and which has not only not been historically dangerous, but which is designed to redress historical injustices). That said, this will be the last exchange I have with you in this thread. I have learned from reading your contributions to this blog that you seem to have more time than sense. But keep tirelessly fighting what you take to be the good fight. The profession benefits from antiheroes who are brave enough to be on the wrong side of every moral issue (and who do so while feigning neutrality).Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
8 months ago

Thomas, I’m afraid you continue to miss the point. Do you really not see that the very moves you’re making here could be (and have been) used by the other side, and to terrible effect?

People with all sorts of views, including highly odious ones, have held that their belief systems are supported by mountains of evidence while the opposing view is false, pernicious, and based on the most flimsy evidence possible.

Have a look at what people, including many of the most highly educated and intelligent, believed in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China. They all believed that their side had knock-down arguments for their views of just the kind you now espouse. One also sees this in the devoted followers of all the major religions (and militant atheist movements). Their side is right and clearly right. The other side is not only wrong but foolishly wrong, and prone to cause terrible harm.

Note that I’m not advocating relativism here. I do think that, in fact, the Jewish conspiracy theory (like so many other racist views) is both false and harmful. But I don’t understand how one could be justified in holding with certainty that a view is false if one doesn’t hear what there is to be said for that view. Most people who are not caught up in an issue and see it from the outside can see this, which is why confident, sneering pronouncements of dogma tend to be alienating rather than persuasive to outsiders.

Again, I say that as an ethnic Jew myself, and someone who holds that McDonald’s views are both false and harmful. But if one cannot even step outside of one’s own certainties to consider what things look like from other perspectives and to see whether one is opposing a bad view for a good reason, then perhaps it’s not so bad for such a one to step out of the conversation.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

People with all sorts of views, including highly odious ones, have held that their belief systems are supported by mountains of evidence while the opposing view is false, pernicious, and based on the most flimsy evidence possible.

I am not surprised to learn, and I am sure others are not either, that the people who subscribe to a given belief system, believe the various tenets of that system, and take them to be well supported. I don’t know if that’s strictly speaking a tautology, but it is, at any rate, not news.

What you seem to be missing, when you insist that everyone is short-sighted and overly dogmatic except for you and the other defenders of…as far as I can tell, either the permissibility or necessity of publishing baseless anti-semitic conspiracy theories in academic venues (though whenever this is suggested to be your stance you say you aren’t taking that stance), is that one need not be dogmatic or fail to consider other perspectives or ignorant of historical authoritarianism and the way in which it was mobilized to restrict various freedoms in order to read the MacDonald paper (or his other writings, or learn about what he gets up to), and judge that it has no place in an academic journal (believe it or not, some people may even have come to that conclusion informed in part by evidence and inquiry using information about historical uses of authoritarianism to curtail freedom).

As always, it would be nice if you could try to exhibit some of the virtues of good discourse when carrying out this ridiculous exercise you are undertaking, such as not casually suggesting your interlocutors are all dogmatically blinded by their certainty in the same way as the extremist authoritarians under the Stalinist regime, for example, that would be much appreciated.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Again: what I am arguing for is consistency and thoughtfulness.

Consistency: if, as I assumed years ago, it is inappropriate for a philosophical journal to publish things that impugn members of various races, then we need to be clear that that is the *principle* we are following, and apply that principle even-handedly. I am opposed to the practice of refusing to state general principles and requiring us to trust the judgment of journal editors or the bulk of the philosophical profession, which does not seem to be a reliable indicator of anything.

Thoughtfulness: whether or not it would be more appropriate for things like the Jewish conspiracy theory to be kept out of philosophy journals (and, though you repeatedly fail to notice this, I have repeated many times here that that was my default presumption and that such a suggestion is fine with me), there is the further question of whether Nathan Cofnas should be dragged over the coals yet again on this blog for having contributed to the debate. The question of whether or not to engage racists in reasoned discussion is separate from the question whether it is appropriate for academic journals to publish those exchanges. The sense I strongly get is that Cofnas would have been bashed here merely for engaging in the discussion with McDonald, whether or not it had taken place in an academic journal. Indeed, when Kathleen Stock was publicly attacked just a few months ago, some commenters said that one reason she deserved it was that she had published her objections to the Gender Recognition Act in *non*-academic fora. There are some strong reasons, familiar to old-school civil libertarians who did the most to fight for social progress in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, for preferring free discussion on those topics to something that sets a dangerous precedent. Now, as you say, there may be people who know of these reasons but think that they are outweighed by other considerations. Fine — then we should presumably have a discussion of why exactly the latter outweigh the former. So far, I haven’t seen that done here.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Lewis Powell
Caleb Kendrick
8 months ago

While I think the decision to publish the MacDonald piece shows a serious lack of editorial oversight, I also don’t see any intellectual value to the Cofnas piece. There are millions of cranks with obviously insane views. Refuting the arguments of a crank is, for the most part, completely trivial. Do you think that Physical Review would publish an article refuting flat earthers? Do you think Nature would publish an article refuting young Earth creationists? Of course not! Those are completely unserious views held by completely unserious people, which could be quickly refuted by any competent average undergrad. So, I fail what could possibly be the intellectual merit of Cofnas’ piece. The paper’s entire conceit seems lazy and amateurish.Report

Caleb Kendrick
Reply to  Caleb Kendrick
8 months ago

*I fail to seeReport

Jennifer Fletcher
8 months ago

A question some here seem to have concerns the following principle: as academics, we should be free to propose or dispute accounts of the prominence of this or that group within a field. Many of you would defend specific instances of this principle (e.g. when it concerns women in philosophy), but attack other instances. How can this be coherently done?

One approach appeals to conspiracy theory, but must specify what counts as a conspiracy theory in a suitable way. If you defend the principle in the case of women in philosophy, the relevant causal accounts had better not involve anything that counts as a conspiracy theory according to your specification.

Another approach appeals to harm caused to a relevant group, but must specify how the harm can occur in one case but not in the other. If you defend the principle in the case of women in philosophy, relevantly similar harm had better not occur in that case.

One might take a particularist approach, but then must give up on principles of academic freedom. This is unlikely to be favorable among academics.

I’m sure there are other approaches, but I’m too lazy to mention more. What is your preferred approach?Report

Spencer Case
8 months ago

I appreciate that Philosophia is more open to publishing papers that defend unpopular political views. And as someone who has published something there, I’m not entirely disinterested about that. It seems to me that there is a variety of reasonable policies a journal might take as far as how open they are to accepting papers that defend conclusions that are shocking to the sensibilities of most people in the profession. I think there should at least be a few out there that are open to publishing papers that defend some pretty wild views, including views of the sort that most of us rightly find revolting. Does that include papers defending the idea that there’s a Jewish conspiracy? I don’t know, that seems pretty morally warped and epistemically unlikely to me. But so does moral error theory, and reputable journals publish defenses of that. And I’m glad they do. I want to know I’m being exposed to the best arguments for that view, so I can tackle them head on.

I think it’s important to think of the rule here, not the specific case. A journal that is committed to heterodoxy and openness is going to err some amount of the time in publishing views that don’t really deserve a hearing. (I haven’t read the McDonald article, but my priors are high that it falls into this category). A journal that chooses to err on the side of caution won’t make nearly so many mistakes of that kind. But they’ll probably sometimes error on the side of restricting the range of discussable opinion. (I know that there will be people here that don’t think that this is a problem. I’ll just say that my experience suggests otherwise.) And note which kind of error is most likely to be penalized. Philosophia is taking flack for publishing this, but what journals are subject to such scrutiny for failing to publish heterodox views that deserve a hearing? Those mistakes don’t get seen.

Moreover, I think there’s a tendency to catastrophize the mistake of elevating the status of kooks by allowing for them to speak at universities or be published in academic journals. Anyone who thinks “Oooh, McDonald passed peer review, that must mean his views have a lot going for them” is probably rationalizing a preconceived desire to believe his conclusions. How many people are going to believe in a Jewish conspiracy because of this who wouldn’t otherwise? I’m open to hearing empirical evidence on this point, but my impression is probably not many. It might even be for the better that we can say “You see, academics gave him a chance and his views were soundly refuted.” That might prevent people from saying that that McDonald’s views are being shut out merely because they’re un-PC or something. In short, I’m skeptical of intuitions about the supposed harmfulness of publishing this or that. In most cases, it’s really difficult to determine what the long-term consequences are likely to be (anti-vax quackery, I concede, is probably an exception to this rule).Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

Again, no one has objected to the paper on the grounds that it is shocking or offensive. If the defenders of the paper (or the people posing as speculatively interested in venues that adopt standards so low that they will invariably, *without editorial failures*, sometimes provide haven to specious conspiracy mongers), please for the love of good faith engagement in this forum please stop inventing a bad objection and then responding to it, it may help you to see the actual objections being raised.

A long discredited view, which is not worth anyone’s time, has been ratified by the journal (the whole point of the peer review process is to certify papers as worthy of consideration, confer prestige upon them, credit them as having certain sorts of academic merit, etc.). This paper lacks these things. This was failure of the editorial and peer review process.

Trust me, you don’t have to cape for antisemitism under virtually any circumstances, but this is long discredited, poorly argued, specious anti-Semitism. I don’t understand what would motivate someone to pick this hill to plant their flag on and say “yes, we must make sure the standards of publication are so abysmal that they permit a paper like this”.

My assumption is that the publication of the article was a massive failure in editorial oversight, and not that the journal intends to adopt these standards. But if you wish to defend these standards: why? What is to be gained by turning the marketplace of ideas into not only an anti-Semitic swap meet, but one that lacks any discernible academic standards?Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Lewis Powell
Spencer Case
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Maybe I’m wrong, you’ll have to persuade me, but there’s no bad faith here. The views we find repugnant, shocking, etc. we also give low credence to. And a policy of a general willingness to engage repugnant and unpopular views will have some misfires in this direction. Don’t overlook that part of my comment in which I conceded that this was a misfire. It’s just the kind I expect would occasionally happen for a journal that has a reasonable policy, and not obviously worse than errors of a different kind that would arise from a different policy. Again, I’m open to persuasion on these points, but nothing I’ve said has been in bad faith.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

Spencer, I am sure people find antisemitic conspiracy theories shocking and offensive. But if you notice, people are making *other specific objections* and the only people in this thread who have mentioned offensiveness are Chris Heathwood, Rob Gressis and You, along with me, trying to nip that in the bud each time, because no one suggested that *the problem with publishing the piece* was that it is an offensive view.

Now, you can either engage the arguments being made by the people objecting to the publication of the piece, maybe you can articulate that you think there are suppressed premises in their arguments to do with it, but if you focus on offensiveness without explaining why you’ve introduced it into the conversation, you aren’t actually addressing the objections that have been raised, at best you are giving a straussian reading of your interlocutors which is rude to do directly to them, even if it isn’t “bad faith.”

Now, if the issue here was the one back when the IHE piece came out, or you responded directly to one of the comments about Cofnas, I could make sense of you commenting about willingness to engage MacDonald because that’s what Cofnas did. The journal didn’t engage him, it ratified his article as meriting publication and so on. It conferred status and prestige and judged it to have merit (which it lacks).

You can either tell me you think it has that merit, and you disagree with me, or you can say you think Philosophia should have low enough standards that it’s fine to publish things with no merit, or you can press your “maybe the (possibly imaginary) practical upshots outweigh the academic shortcomings” but none of those have anything to do with whether the paper is offensive.Report

Spencer Case
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

No, I get it, your problem with the view is that it’s bullshit, not that it’s “offensive.” Fair enough. I didn’t mean to characterize your view as “offensive views must be excluded” because that would be a straw man, indeed.

So let me phrase my point so that it doesn’t appear that I’m misrepresenting you, because I really don’t intend to: a journal that’s committed to going out on a limb and publishing views others find offensive is likely to sometimes err in the direction of publishing views that shouldn’t be published because they’re too implausible to be worthy of serious scholarly consideration, as a kind of over-correction. There’s too much objective evidence against them.

I assume that no journal policy is going to get the balance right 100% of the time. We’ve got to settle for some tradeoff between errors of over-inclusiveness and errors of over-exclusiveness. And it seems to me that it’s not obvious that errors of the first time are the bigger problem. Is that fair enough? Have I at least characterized your position fairly?Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

If the error of over-exclusiveness opens up a public discussion about factually spurious, historically dangerous, morally problematic, and philosophically debunked views while giving these views a sheen of legitimacy–that is, worthy of being taken seriously enough to discuss in a reputable philosophy journal–then the standard is not stringent enough. What’s next, a special issue on whether slavery was actually good for the slaves in the long run or that racial and ethnic minorities are genetically inferior to whites, or that women would have been better off if they’d stayed in the kitchen, etc.?Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Thomas Nadelhoffer
Derek Baker
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

I don’t know, I think a journal could adopt “We’ll publish any controversial idea–except Nazi conspiracy theories,” as its editorial policy, and that would work fine.Report

Spencer Case
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

And that would be the only exception? There wouldn’t be any temptation to add another exception: “everything except Nazi conspiracy theories and nihliism and… and…” You see the issue.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

No. I don’t see the issue, actually. Because almost no one in philosophy would seriously consider adding nihilism to the list.

If the issue is that there are certain topics that some philosophers want to stop discussing in academic journals and others don’t, well, that is an interesting problem and we probably need to think more about how to deal with it, but for the time being I’m happy to err on the side of permissiveness. But the thing is, traditional anti-semitic conspiracy theories are not among these problem cases. So what’s the problem with saying we won’t publish them?Report

Spencer Case
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

I guess it comes down to the fact that I fear the promiscuous expansion of that list more than you do. I think the damage of publishing too many bad views can be substantially mitigated by publishing refutations. I don’t see how the harm of journals being too exclusionary can be so easily mitigated. So that’s why I prefer to err on the other side.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

It’s the year 2050. Over the past three decades, there’s been a growing consensus within academia that Critical Race Theory is the most evil ideology of all time (the students and young scholars attended grade school in the ’30s and ’40s, when the school boards were completely dominated by Republicans, so this seems entirely natural to them). Those who accepted Critical Race Theory in the early 2020s have either changed their views with the fashion, or pretended to, or just got out of academia.

Just about anything can get published in academic journals in 2050, unless the editors deem that it counts as Critical Race Theory.

One of the few dissenters left in academia can’t even get published any longer. Why? Simple: the editorial policies of the academic journals now are “We’ll publish any controversial idea — except anything we consider to be Critical Race Theory.”

Nobody raises an eyebrow at this any longer. After all, it’s long been the standard within academia. This was even given as an open defense of journalistic practice back in 2022. The rule is that, when there’s a consensus or near consensus within academia against a view, journal editors do right by prohibiting articles on any topic touching that view, and for that reason alone.

Do you really not think that we can do better than that rule? Maybe one that wouldn’t lead to such a bad result in this possible 2050?Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

It is actually 2022.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Right. I gave you a thought experiment. The whole point of a thought experiment is that it’s counterfactual.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

I was engaging in something known as “gentle mockery”, because your thought experiment was irrelevant and does not help clarify what stance we should take towards discredited antisemitic conspiracy theories.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Just to spell it out for you, Lewis: the thought experiment is meant to help clarify that the response we should take to people who promote antisemitic conspiracy theories should not be one that would make it easy for people in the perhaps not-too-distant future from prohibiting us from saying things we will rightly want very much to say then.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Can you present your argument in numbered premise-premise-conclusion format for me, so that I can tell you which premise I reject? I find it easier to do this, if there are specific claims being made than based on fairy tales about future authoritarian academic editors modulating their behavior based on what principles current editors adopt.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Okay, Lewis.

P1. There are reasons not to make room for those with Jewish conspiracy theories to promote their ideas in academic journals.

P2. There are much stronger reasons against allowing editors (especially those liable to social pressure) to prevent important ‘underdog’ views from being discussed in academic journals.

P3. If we state a clear principle like ‘Academic journals should not publish works that heap blame and guilt upon entire races as part of a grand Manichean narrative’ to prevent the publication of Jewish conspiracy theories in academic journals, then we can consistently oppose the inclusion of Jewish conspiracy theories without opening the door to much more harmful gatekeeping later on, when the tides change.

P4. On the other hand, if we abandon consistency and simply declare that any decision by an editor (quite possibly under explicit or implicit pressure by committed activists) to prohibit entire topics of conversation is legitimate, then the worry in P2 becomes very real.

C. Therefore, it is better to respond to the attempt to publish Jewish conspiracy theories in a principled way, rather than a ‘trust the editors to arbitrarily decide what violates the norms of appropriateness’ way.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

That argument is obviously invalid.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

I didn’t think I needed to specify things like “a valid argument” or that the premises shouldn’t contain extraneous clauses, etc. so we can cut out some loops of this cycle, I’ll just flat that I think you can guess that no one you are objecting to would accept your characterization of the alternative you are saying we should reject (I.e. your opponent’s position), so that’s not passing the bar for “have you tried to understand what principle or view we’ve actually advocated”.Report

Jeremy Michael Pober
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

I think what Justin’s going for is something like:

P1) To refuse publishing articles on the basis of their containing antisemitic conspiracy theories, we need a valid universal principle as justification.

P2) The best potential principle is (quoting here) “‘Academic journals should not publish works that heap blame and guilt upon entire races as part of a grand Manichean narrative’”

P3) But P2 would prohibit publishing CRT.

P4) Editors publish CRT.

C) Thus, editors are either i) not enforcing the principle in P2, in which case they cannot ban antisemitic conspiracy theories, or ii) poorly (inconsistently) enforcing the principle in P2 so they cannot be trusted to make these decisions, and thus should not be in a position to ban antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Analysis:
P1 is debateable (Lewis has done an admirable job refuting it, IMO) but not absurd.

P3 and P4 are simple truths.

P2 is where the problem is. Even if we were to use a different principle, Justin (and others on this thread, like Spencer) seem to think that *any* principle by which “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion 2.0” can be banned should also ban things liberals/leftists like. They seem to see a fundamental unfairness in not publishing antisemitism but publishing CRT.

The problem is that it is just clearly/obviously/HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THIS/unequivocally false that any principle which bans MacDonald would ban CRT. Here are a few potential candidates for principles capturing antisemitic raving conspiracy theories and not CRT that are facially neutral:

P2a Things that discuss groups of people as having common traits in virtue of shared biology, genetics, or “psychoevolutionary strategy” (CRT does not do this; it talks about social situatedness)

P2b Things that discuss P2a *and have been robustly falsified.*

P2c Things that discuss P2a and offer no argument for why a biological explanation is superior to a social one

P2d Things that have in fact been used as justifications for perpetrating violence against said groups.

Hell, you could even use Justin’s principle about not heaping blame onto whole groups qua groups and just recognize that it does not apply to any reasonable construal of CRT as opposed to what Fox News wants their viewers to think CRT is.

I’ll leave it to others to think of more (which there certainly are). Point being, they are numerous and manifest; this is not rocket science/modal semantics.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Jeremy Michael Pober
8 months ago

Thanks, Jeremy. That’s a great reconstruction, and you’re completely right.

I strongly suspect the problem with principles 2a – d will turn out to be precisely that they do not recommend banning CRT.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Ah — I thought you just wanted a sketch of the argument in Premise/Conclusion form, and that you would apply the principle of charity in filling in the hidden premises Since you apparently want an argument that’s already got the missing premises filled in for you, I’ll give a more simplified but complete version (see the previous version for explanations of anything unclear here):

You’ll see that this version doesn’t explicitly mention Critical Race Theory. The reason for that is that people seem to have got my reason for including it all wrong. I included CRT as an example of the sort of thing that I presumed my audience would *not* want to prohibit, but that could be prohibited in the future, if we set a principle-free precedent. Any other sociopolitical view you don’t want people to be able to keep out of the journals would do just as well. (In case you’re curious, I am _opposed_ to CRT being banned from free discussion in universities and academic journals: I figured you would be as well).

P1. We should respond to the article defending a Jewish conspiracy theory.

P2. Some ways of responding to the article defending a Jewish conspiracy theory invoke a principle on acceptable topics for philosophy journals, and the rest do not.

P3. The ways of responding to the article that invoke a principle of the sort described in P2 can be formulated in ways that prevent future editors from doing certain undesirable things.

P4. The ways of responding to the article that do not involve reference to such a principle make it acceptable for future editors to do the undesirable things.mentioned in P3.

P5. The undesirable things mentioned in P3 are worse than the undesirable things permitted by the best principled responses.

P6. If there are two ways to respond to something and the undesirable results of one way are worse than the undesirable things permitted by going the other way in the best manner, and it is possible to go the other way in the best manner, we should go the other way.

C. Therefore, we should respond to the article in ways that invoke a principle of the sort described in P2.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Okay, but Jeremy has just stated principles that would disallow MacDonald’s paper without the undesirable implications you worry about. The original principle I stated, “Don’t publish Nazi conspiracy theories, but everything else is okay,” would disallow MacDonald’s paper without undesirable implications. So what is your complaint, exactly?Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

I can’t tell, from how you have formulated P2, whether you are intending to carve the alternatives into “principled” vs “unprincipled” responses or “responses based on acceptable topic principles” vs. “responses based on other sorts of principles and unprincipled responses”. (P2 is true either way, I just am not sure how to classify a principle that isn’t framed in terms of whether a given topic is acceptable; this would bear on P5, but largely because you just used the phrase “best principled responses” instead of explicitly re-referencing P2).

Regardless, (P3) and (P4) are false. No matter how you formulate principles now, they can be discarded, perversely interpreted, or selectively applied by future nefarious regimes or bad faith actors. (Pick your favorite political example from current events, recent history or distant history, if you like, but let’s not cite them explicitly because doing so seems like a real invitation to sidetrack the discussion in, somehow, even more unproductive directions). The problem is future malignant actors are not bound/constrained by the principles that we adopt. We ourselves are not even strictly bound/constrained by the principles that we adopt, hence the desire to have people of integrity and resolve in positions upholding the principles we have decided on. (Now, the thought experiment you repeatedly invoked was based around a system under extremist control with a particular political outlook/ideology and one sort of view they wanted to stamp out. Since that is just a pure hypothetical, and there is no particular reason to worry that it is a likely byproduct of retracting this paper, I’m pretty happy to just say that P3/P4 are false because that level of consequence is just made up, and no principles of journal acceptance/retraction we adopt can impact the journal practices that would be observed under that regime (if it comes to be). If, to be charitable, you are trying to make a more nuanced argument that the polices adopted by the journal now play a role in how likely we are to arrive at such an apocalyptic scenario, I am more likely to agree that it matters what policies we adopt, but not that the narrow class of principles you seem to have in mind are the only game in town, or produce the best outcomes (and that seems like the sort of question for which we would want to inform ourselves of, perhaps, some empirical data about what actually impacts the likelihood of such jack-booted regimes?)

So, this is not to say one should not adopt a principled response (before you go attributing such a reply to me), but that the basis for doing so is not grounded in the facile idea that it will stop a dictator or authoritarian in the future from perversely interpreting the principles we adopt, or abandoning them entirely, to achieve whatever goals they have.

Rather (as an approximation/slight simplification), one should maybe seek to determine the principles that actually govern the correct operation of the enterprise, and enforce those when one is in a position to do so, and treat the question of “how do you prevent a future in which evil overlords destroy academic freedom and prevent people from publishing things that should be permitted?” as a separate debate from “is it okay to platform discredited antisemitic conspiracy theories (bonus: when one of the referee reports saying to do so came from another antisemitic conspiracy theorist)?”, though, insofar as the latter informs the former, it should be empirically informed, because this is not the first rodeo.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Of course people in the future could be so depraved that they would ignore all principles. But they might be somewhat depraved and only disregard principles that are not insisted on and do not have a track record of being maintained by people of all sides of all issues, come what may. In fact, nearer possible worlds are more like the latter. That’s why principles are important.

The principle Derek suggests, “Don’t publish Nazi conspiracy theories, but everything else is okay,” is obviously wrong. Everything else? Calls for a return to Jim Crow? Calls for a recriminalization of homosexuality? Why should Nazi conspiracy theories be the only outlier? Moreover, the rule seems completely arbitrary.

Jeremy Michael Pober, who seems to have a clear idea of what counts as a good principle and why they matter, has presented a number of interesting ones:

  1. Things that discuss groups of people as having common traits in virtue of shared biology, genetics, or “psychoevolutionary strategy”
  2. Things that discuss 1 *and have been robustly falsified.*
  3. Things that discuss 1 and offer no argument for why a biological explanation is superior to a social one
  4. Things that have in fact been used as justifications for perpetrating violence against said groups.

I have some questions about these proposals, but they all seem to be promising leads. What’s astonishing is that we didn’t start with a simple listing of some promising candidate principles like this and get to work on them. It’s been like pulling teeth to get us to this stage. I hate to be that nostalgic guy, but I really can remember, not long ago, a time when this sort of response from Pober would have been the first thing anyone threw into the discussion and things would go from there.

This seems to be the start of a good philosophical discussion, but it comes too late for me to take any interest in it at present. That’s not to say that I have no interest in Pober’s candidate principles: I’ll think them over on my own and discuss them with friends. But I’m exhausted with what it took to get the conversation to this point here in the thread.

Perhaps others might be interested in actually starting the philosophical job of reasoning through which, if any, of the principles (perhaps with suitable modifications) are good ones to adopt in light of all this. If so, I might join back in. Otherwise, I’m out. Thanks again to Pober for getting us started.Report

Jeremy Pober
Jeremy Pober
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Hi Justin,

I (genuinely) appreciate that you hold my suggested principles in high enough regard to consider me someone who knows what a good principle is.

But I actually agree with Lewis, Derek, and (elsewhere) in this thread Thomas Nadelhoffer that the publication of MacDonald’s paper *doesn’t* warrant a robust inquiry into the boundaries of acceptability for publication, and (consequently) think it a good thing that the discussion didn’t go there right away. If you’d like, we could say that there is a second order principle at work here: it is borderline cases that require appeal to, and thus full clarification of principles and, on any metric you’d care to use, MacDonald’s work is no borderline case.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Jeremy Pober
8 months ago

Hi, Jeremy. That could well be correct, but the reason I joined the discussion was that it seemed to me that people were taking a very hard line, condemning the editor of the journal and also publicly attacking Nathan Cofnas (again). Is that warranted? Perhaps, if they have seriously violated an important professional norm that they had good reason to believe was in effect. But for various reasons, I’m not sure that’s the case. There’s certainly been a good deal of ambiguity in practice about how the norms are applied and what the boundaries are.

Even if one holds that there is something very objectionable about promoting a Jewish conspiracy theory (which Cofnas of course does not do), it seems worth spelling out just what principle we’re dealing with here so that we can be sure that it’s really something we agree on. If it is, then we ought to apply it even-handedly, and I don’t think any of the principles you suggested are in fact applied even-handedly.

There is a long-standing precedent in philosophy that permits us to ask ‘why’ questions about obvious things, including obvious moral things. For instance, Peter Singer famously devotes a chapter of _Practical Ethics_ to the question, ‘What’s Wrong with Killing?’. He asks this not because he isn’t sure whether killing is ever bad, but because it’s enlightening to consider the reasons that could plausibly stand behind what for many of us is a knee-jerk moral reaction. As he goes on to show, considering those questions illuminates a number of less obvious points.

If, as I hold, there’s considerably hypocrisy in our journals’ publication practices, then it might well follow from what people have said about this that no more papers like this should be published, and maybe even that the papers should be retracted (though that seems to require a much stronger case): but I think the lack of consistency on the issues at least implies that we ought to go easy on Cofnas and the journal editor. These are our professional colleagues and I think a higher bar must be cleared before we are warranted in bashing their reputations in public, and joining in pile-ons against them.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

…it seems worth spelling out just what principle we’re dealing with here so that we can be sure that it’s really something we agree on. If it is, then we ought to apply it even-handedly, and I don’t think any of the principles you suggested are in fact applied even-handedly.

I thought you were bowing out of this discussion, but okay. First of all, and this is very important, multiple people in this conversation have repeatedly asked you for some specific example of hypocrisy or double standards in philosophical publishing. I’m going to ask you again. What are your examples? Is there some reason you won’t tell us?

You need to provide some example to move this conversation forward, for the simple reason that the people who disagree with you don’t think there is a substantial problem with hypocrisy and double standards. I mean, I’m sure there are some double standards — because these are human institutions and humans are imperfect. And everyone has, I think, encountered the referee who subjects the manuscript to death by a thousand paper cuts because they clearly hate the thesis you are arguing for. (Usually this has nothing to do with politics, btw.) But I don’t actually believe that leftwing equivalents of MacDonald’s paper are getting published regularly, and it seems like plenty of other people here don’t believe it either. So, if you expect us to take your argument seriously, you need to provide some evidence that this is actually going on. And if you don’t care what we believe, fine. But then I’m not sure what you’re doing other than delivering this slightly passive-aggressive browbeating to everyone. Like, we get it. You think you are more authentically a philosopher than any of us. Cool.

I also want to make one other point, because I think it is important here. Different philosophers (and people in general) have different styles of reasoning. Some philosophers like to answer questions through systematic, big-picture theories. We need principles — the more universal the better — on the basis of which we can derive answers to particulars. Other philosophers — like me — are very skeptical of these big-picture theories. I think Singer’s work is very illuminating, as you say, but the big-picture theory supporting it all is obviously false. (Or if it is true I have no idea how we come to know this on the basis of the evidence available to humans.) I think good arguments can be made for almost any philosophical view that is taken seriously in some debate, but good arguments can also be made for the rival view. That is why there is an ongoing debate.

What this means is that I am much more confident that killing a man just to watch him die is wrong than I am in any particular philosophical explanation of why it is wrong. So if you ask me why it’s wrong, I’m going to say, “I don’t know.” I would like to know why. That’s why I do philosophy. But I suspect I probably will never know why, and this doesn’t lead to any doubt on my part about the wrongfulness of killing for fun. Similarly, I am much more confident that publishing MacDonald’s paper was a mistake than I am of any principle that would explain why it was a mistake.

Now you seem to like the systematic, big-picture way of thinking about this stuff. That’s fine. But you really need to stop implying that the rest of us aren’t being true to philosophy, or are hypocrite, or are having “knee-jerk moral reactions.” It’s insulting. And you should be well aware that other philosophers, including ones much better than you or I, prefer less systematic ways of approaching these problems. So when people tell you they don’t really think we need a principle here, you owe a better response than to imply that somehow we’re letting the discipline down.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Derek Baker
Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

“What’s astonishing is that we didn’t start with a simple listing of some promising candidate principles like this and get to work on them…. This seems to be the start of a good philosophical discussion, but it comes too late for me to take any interest in it at present.”

It’s tragic that, as a passive subject buffeted around by the winds of the conversation, you were prevented from starting in in this way and have now become too exhausted to engage in the very conversation you came here to have.

It’s like a reverse aporetic dialogue in which Socrates is the one who tires of the philosophical difficulties he has uncovered.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

It’s 2477 and the Earth is ruled by a tyrannical cyborg God-King called Malaxor. Food has been outlawed. 1000 babies a day are fed into Malaxor’s horrible cybermaw. All humans who make eye contact are thrown into torture vortex. Now, in a situation like that, wouldn’t you rather that academic journals still allow articles like, “Why Malaxor should throw fewer people into the torture vortex” rather than adopting an editorial policy of only accepting pro-Malaxor arguments?Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

Of course.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Right, the new rule in 2050 sounds like a bad one, but unless you genuinely believe anti-semitic conspiracy theories and critical race theory are on a par, I’m not sure what the point you are making is.

And yes, if they were on a par, then journals shouldn’t publish CRT. But I am capable of thinking that some things are worse than others. And of course I can be wrong in my judgments. But at some point, when making decisions about the real world, I need to have some trust in my judgments, especially when they are shared by other people I trust. And we can still be wrong. But in that case, someone should point out to us what the mistake is. Do you have any evidence that CRT is actually as bad as anti-semitic conspiracy theories?Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

Hi, Derek.

The point is not that CRT and Jewish conspiracy theories are equally plausible. That’s not what I’m saying.

The point is that, if we allow a norm of deferring to the judgment of the dominant academic group rather than to a principle of academic freedom with content non-specific exemptions, then it will be very difficult to resist the sort of move I mention in the thought experiment. The fact that there are certain differences between CRT and Jewish conspiracy theories, in that case, would only be helpful if we could trust that the recognition of those differences would be evident to the people in power at the time, since the practice that seems to be implicitly advocated here appears to entail simply deferring to the moral and epistemic judgments of those whose views are dominant at the time in question. But we have excellent general evidence for thinking that those views will change with the fashion.

My whole point is a version of the old ‘nation of laws, not of men’ idea. It has nothing to do with the details of this or that theory.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin,

Your thought experiment is under-described. Has the academic community come to reject CRT through a rational process (e.g., after a few decades of debate, people have concluded on the basis of evidence that CRT so thoroughly lost the debate that it is now a discredited research program)? If so, I guess I have no objections to this imagined policy–because we have stipulated that the academic community has reasonably come to this conclusion and so this is an example of academic progress. These papers are no longer published for the same reason papers advocating phlogiston are no longer published.

If, on the other hand, this is supposed to have happened through a non-rational process, then obviously it is really bad. But what exactly are we supposed to do about that? If, in 2050, the entire academic community becomes so dogmatic that they won’t allow publication of CRT even though the evidence doesn’t merit that, how do the rules we adopt about publication in 2022 help? Even if we have very good rules, the rules you think are best, wouldn’t this absurdly dogmatic academic community simply change those rules?Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

You ask an excellent question, Derek. My answer is somewhere in the middle. To explain more clearly:

Thought I wish it were otherwise, I do not believe any longer that the academic community, or the more narrow philosophical community, tends to arrive at its moral or social views through careful and objective reasoning, proportioning its degrees of belief to the strength of the arguments. I think there are a few people within philosophy who do that, but that most of us simply accept as given the position that has become aggressively dominant among our peers (influenced of course by the broader cultural world in which we academics tend to find ourselves) and then learn a whole bunch of arguments in support of those positions, if necessary using our cleverness to create more arguments. We then come to feel outraged at anyone who doesn’t share our views, and to publicly judge them as bad people, which naturally accelerates and strengthens the total conformity of beliefs on the matter. And when non-moral questions need to be answered in a certain way to accommodate our moral and political commitments, we tend to answer those answers as best fits those commitments, and again rationalize our way toward the answer being obvious.

I wouldn’t have believed that this was the case twenty years ago, perhaps because there were fewer opportunities to see philosophers in action discussing current events in an off-the-cuff way. But I just don’t see how one could plausibly deny that this is the case.

To take just one instance, consider the cluster of issues that put trans activists into opposition with gender-critical feminists: questions of access to traditionally women-only spaces, of participation in women’s sports, and the rights we must consider giving to children to begin associated medical processes. Imagine asking philosophers in 1997 whether, in twenty-five years, mainstream philosophical opinion would settle on one side or the other of these issues, even to the extent of decrying those who dissent from the status quo as terrible human beings whose writings on the matter should not even be published in academic journals. Even if you gave the philosophers of 1997 the advantage of knowing that the dominant sociopolitical view in 2022 would be fiercely progressive, I doubt you would have got anything like a general agreement from the 1997 philosophers on what the correct view would be seen to be on any of those issues. Most of them would probably imagine that, to the extent that philosophers would give any thought to the issues in 2022 (and I think they would greatly underestimate the extent to which we do discuss them), it would be a matter of open debate in the more usual philosophical style as it was back in the 1990s, with philosophers on both sides arguing back and forth with one another and paying more and more attention to the subtleties of the terrain. And of course, they would be completely wrong.

If you were to go back another twenty-five years to 1972, philosophers would probably be somewhat bewildered by the question, so foreign would the issues be to them. And all this is within living memory.

What do you think happened here (and this is just one example)? Do you think it’s a matter of philosophers having examined the issues carefully and fairly, discovered some knockdown arguments that their interlocutors could not answer, try as they might (with no discouragement from trying)? I cannot remember any point at which such arguments were produced and defended. But I certainly remember a growing consensus of mainstream opinion (in much of the mass media, in education, on Twitter, etc.) on one side of these issues. And, lo and behold, philosophers — who tend strongly to belong to the same social environment as others whose opinions quickly came into agreement on these issues — followed suit. I know of no philosophical book or paper that persuaded everyone that the now-popular answers to these questions are correct, such that those who tried to resist the conclusions were intellectually unable to do so. Instead, the preferred answers to these questions just became so obvious to everyone that it was difficult to imagine how any decent person could disagree with them.

And yet, it seems easy to imagine an alternate world that branched off from ours not that many years ago, in which what are now called gender-critical feminists would have won the day and nearly all of us in academia would have thought that their answers to these questions were obviously correct and that those who disagreed were despicable. What made the difference? Not arguments, but (I suspect) a number of highly contingent issues that probably include some lucky breaks by one activist group over another in spreading the word.

This is just one of many examples. My point is this: the moral and political opinions of most philosophers on moral, social and political issues tend to be formed by social pressures, largely from outside philosophy, and have painfully little to do with any philosophical reasoning on the subject. The reasoning on these subjects, nowadays at least, appears as an afterthought, if at all.

If all that is right, then whether or not most philosophers accept Critical Race Theory or some Jewish conspiracy theory, or for that matter the rightness or wrongness of abortion, capital punishment, censorship, and so on is not ultimately determined by philosophical practice. In fact, I don’t think that Critical Race Theory ever came to be so highly regarded because it developed knock-down arguments that nobody could refute, based on factual claims that could only be interpreted one way. The sociopolitical grounds for accepting that view were ripe in certain places, so it came to be accepted. If certain things were to be moved around — if progressives rather than conservatives begin to feel unwelcome in universities, and university presidents commit themselves to fighting CRT (perhaps at the behest of Republican legislators who come to control the purse strings), and if the opinion-making newspapers and social media accounts turn against it, then I hold that philosophers in twenty-five years will come to feel that CRT is obviously false, just as many philosophers today feel that it’s obviously true.

And I hold that this is, sadly, business as usual, especially given the growing intolerance of dissent within the philosophical community.

If I’m right about this — and if I’m not, I’d like to hear some evidence that I’m not — then what philosophers happen to judge as plausible or implausible on social issues is nothing more than a rationalization of whatever foolishness elite society happens to believe at the time. Those elite beliefs can be pro- or anti-trans, pro- or anti-CRT, pro- or anti- abortion, and even pro- or anti-Nazi or pro- or anti-slavery, given enough time and social pressure. There will always be plenty of arguments to create in favor of the dominant views, and philosophers will find ways to create them while demonizing those who disagree.

This is why I say we mustn’t trust the editors of journals, or petitions written by angry groups of these socially embedded philosophers, to decide what gets published.

Mixed in with all these clever followers of mass elite opinion are a few philosophers who actually think philosophically about things. This is not easy. It requires us to separate ourselves from broader social pressures that tend to have an immense effect on us. The hope of philosophy helping anyone to come to the right conclusions on any social/moral issue depends on them.

But even those few true philosophers — the ones who would tend to find it at least somewhat disturbing to discover that their supposedly objective reasoning tends to hew so closely to what is straightforwardly a historically contingent set of social beliefs shared by current elite opinion — cannot think things through adequately unless there are ways for them to engage philosophically with alternative beliefs and arguments.

Hence, on sociopolitical issues, I feel it is best for philosophy for journals to avoid treating even repulsive moral and social views as though they are on a par with phlogiston. At least, with phlogiston, we can be fairly sure that there was no historically contingent social pressure at work: there was not, as I understand it, any mass moral consensus or religious involvement at all.

Someone else in this thread (or maybe it was you) asked: won’t it always be up to the historically contingent opinions of philosophers what may and may not be printed in journals? My answer is: let’s try as hard as we can to stop it from being so by agreeing on principles that would allow people to write articles condemning slavery even if slavery comes to be morally accepted again, and so on.Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

“then what philosophers happen to judge as plausible or implausible on social issues is nothing more than a rationalization of whatever foolishness elite society happens to believe at the time.”

Marx had something to say about this, or at least not too far from it.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

From this remark I think it is finally clear that Kalef simply opposes editorial oversight of the publication process:

This is why I say we mustn’t trust the editors of journals, or petitions written by angry groups of these socially embedded philosophers, to decide what gets published.

And please note that there is no petition, in this instance, regarding the Philosophia publication. An associate editor of the journal resigned, the editor of a blog asked questions of the EIC, and several academics are discussing the matter on this blog. Other people may have inquired with the EIC as well. While some people are intent to misrepresent things as though a mob exists, that’s just false. And it would be nice if people could be slightly less cavalier about the truth in this regard.

Kalef’s use of phlogiston is an intriguing choice to suggest the absence of social pressures in the development of scientific theories. Perhaps he has Kitcher in mind as example of the degraded state of the field, and chose the example Kitcher uses to make the opposite point on purpose? Or perhaps he is speaking on a subject where he has a cartoon understanding of how the science developed, and has not familiarized himself with what anyone has written about the matter in the past thirty years?

And of course, if we think through how his main argument here goes—about the shift in attitudes towards what positions are within vs. beyond the pale—might go, for various progressive causes throughout history, using the same “how shocked would people be 10/20/40 years ago” litmus test, it is easy to see that, in the years prior to them being settled as not suitable matters to debate in serious intellectual venues, many people would have been shocked to learn that they would live to see a day when you couldn’t find a reputable place to publish your argument about those debates.

At any rate, Justin K., I recommend reading some (or a lot) of Elizabeth Anderson’s work, if you’d like to actually learn something about the subject matter you purport to be so interested in. At present, you are doing a great impression of Socrates from The Clouds and not so much Socrates from the works of Plato, and since you have spoken at length about the importance of being True Philosophers, you may want to practice a bit more Socratic humility, and a bit less arrogantly disparaging everyone else in the profession while revealing that you purport to know things about which you are uninformed.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Justin,

If you think the discipline has so thoroughly collapsed as an intellectual project, why do you care what editorial standards the journals use? In fact, I’m a little confused why you want to continue being part of this discipline. Participating in an academic discipline that has gone of the rails and ceased to be anything other reflexive, unthinking activism seems like a horrible waste of one’s life.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

I guess what this comes down to is that I think we have to assume some basic level of competence and good will among the profession, because if we can’t assume that, it really doesn’t matter what the rules are (because there are no rules we couldn’t change tomorrow if we felt like it). As far as I can tell, you seem to think that the profession as a whole lacks competence and good will. I don’t think that’s true. But if it is, who cares if MacDonald’s paper gets published or not? We won’t be capable of responding to it in a reasonable way anyway. Publishing paper is only valuable if there is a community capable of thinking about their contents, and you seem to think there isn’t, at least not in philosophy.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

Thanks for your responses, Justin W. and Derek.

Justin W.: your hypothesis that my perception may be skewed by the availability heuristic is an interesting one. I have certainly seen many philosophers whose opinions on sociopolitical issues seem to be blown around quite easily by the winds of fashion, and who always end up holding the views that everyone else seems to have adopted over the past few years, even though many of them held very different views (the ones that were more popular then) a decade or so earlier, and they never make clear any powerful argument that rationally persuaded them. Is it possible that these people I keep running into are in fact a small but vocal minority? Perhaps, but I still don’t feel comfortable assuming that all the journal editors of the near and distant future will be bound to get things right. I don’t yet see the ground for that kind of confidence. I also think that a principled approach is better on general grounds.

You also ask why I think I’m so special. I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to. I think I’m prone to these sorts of errors, too. If I knew that all the philosophers of the future would be very much like me, I would still not trust that the Justin Kalef clones would get everything right in their intuitive judgments. I’d much prefer a principled approach.

Derek, you ask what merit I see in philosophy at all, given that I have such a low degree of confidence in the intuitive moral and sociopolitical judgments of philosophers. Well, two things: first, I think that philosophers are much more apt to think rationally when they move away from social issues; second, even if the majority of philosophers allow their sociopolitical views to be formed by social pressures that they then rationalize (even to themselves) with post hoc arguments, I don’t think that they all do. However small the percentage, some philosophers do try to follow the arguments where they lead, caring little of what others will think. Philosophy, to me, has always been for such people, however advanced they are. The great philosophers of the past whom we remember today are the few who had interesting and innovative things to say, and who were not merely the products of their time, as so many people in every age are. Many great philosophers — Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Hume, and so on — were considered scandalous by many during their lifetimes. It was often held that the questions they investigated were not even fit for discussion. If we had trusted the established scholars of their time to make that determination for us, they would almost certainly have chosen badly. But to say that does not imply that no philosopher has good enough judgment to be read.Report

Jennifer Fletcher
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

The point you’re making rests on there being some relevant similarities between CRT and the paper in question. If you believe that the paper in question and some paper or book on CRT lack merit in similar, relevant respects, you should say so and perhaps identify those respects. Otherwise, Baker’s and Nadelhoffer’s responses seem apt.

It seems to me that one way in which they could be lacking merit in similar, relevant respects is in their inclusion of unverifiable, questionable causal claims and of cherry-picked facts. (I’m not suggesting this can be said of all CRT.) If this is right, the point you’re making seems fair, despite the facts that CRT is meant to be in support of justice, that CRT has some genuine evidential support, that supporting CRT is not as bad as supporting the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, etc.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Jennifer Fletcher
Spencer Case
Reply to  Jennifer Fletcher
8 months ago

“CRT” is a fairly amorphous category that includes all sorts of claims and views. Typically, when you criticize it, defenders retreat to claims consistent with CRT that aren’t unique to it and not all that controversial: “Oh, it’s just the view that racism exists, and we need to acknowledge it.” As if no one else thought this. But one thread in core CRT writings, including those by Derek Bell, is that there’s been essentially no racial progress in the U.S., and that isn’t evidentially supported. See Randall Kennedy’s critique of Bell.

Most defenders of CRT exclude Robin DiAngelo as a CRT-ist — understandably, because the association is embarrassing — but I think she defends enough of the core claims that she should count. Regardless, her view, however we categorize it, really does seem to me comparably bad to this Jewish conspiracy nonsense, and it has had a whole lot more uptake among educated people than McDonald’s conspiracy theorizing. The whole of White Fragility is one long exercise in Kafkatrapping. And despite her throwing around words like “systemic,” DiAngelo does believe in a pretty extreme form of collective culpability that has rightly been compared to original sin. Read the chapter of White Fragility on “white women’s tears.” It’s really bad. But if a philosophy journal decided to publish DiAngelo saying something like this in order that she might be refuted in a later issue, I wouldn’t consider that a scandal, just a mistake. If it were up to me, though, I wouldn’t publish her or McDonald.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

Hi Spencer. Yeah, that’s a reasonable position. As far as I can tell, though, JK doesn’t even want to agree that it would be a mistake.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

What I want is simply a clarification of what would count as a mistake (or a scandal) that doesn’t in practice depend on the opinions of the people who happen to be socially dominant in academia at the time.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
8 months ago

Sorry, isn’t the whole idea of peer review that ultimately, the way we decide these things is by appealing to the opinions of the scholarly community?Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

“Regardless, her view, however we categorize it, really does seem to me comparably bad to this Jewish conspiracy nonsense, and it has had a whole lot more uptake among educated people than McDonald’s conspiracy theorizing.”

Comparably bad in what sense? Is it comparably dangerous? Has it been used historically to defend equally morally and legally problematic views and policies?

Perhaps you just mean comparably unsubstantiated, empirically speaking. Even that strikes me as false. But even if I agree that DiAngelo’s views are problematic, that doesn’t make them comparable to the nonsense defended by McDonald. That’s why I suggested that CRT is an unhelpful false equivalence earlier in this thread. It serves as a convenient diversion.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

I actually don’t think trying to figure out what “counts” as an “equivalent” of MacDonald “for the left” is an endeavor we should be engaged in. First off, none of those objecting to the paper are saying this is a right-wing conspiracy in particular, rather, Cofnas (who, recall, approves of the paper, and thinks it should be published) noted that MacDonald is popular among the alt-right, and MacDonald makes some claims in his work about the political orientation of Jewish people. But this left-right axis fixation is actual primarily Kalef’s hobby-horse, so we don’t need to all ride it.

But, more to the point, and as I was stressing, several times, when I said all these flight-of-fancy hypotheticals were not worth pursuing: we have not gained anything by the process of sidetracking into a discussion of how reputable CRT is (though I know that some people do enjoy arguing about that), or whether Robin DiAngelo is on a par with Kevin MacDonald. It does not shed light on whether MacDonald’s paper should be retracted, whether Philosophia made a mistake here, whether or whether Justin Kalef has a position on any of these matters.

If anyone can explain how playing this game—and please acknowledge that you are, at this juncture, treating this as a game—contributes to any substantive aspect of this discussion, let me know.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

It doesn’t matter that it’s CRT. I picked CRT because people have been passing legislation restricting the teaching of CRT and I imagined that most here oppose them, making it clearer why the consequence I mention would be very undesirable.

If you like, you can change my thought experiment into one in which future academics will hold that articles defending abortion, democracy, resistance to The Party, etc. are unacceptable, instead of CRT. It makes no difference to the argument. The point is that, if we don’t have a clear principle in place and just leave things to the moral/sociopolitical intuitions of editors (who in turn are at risk of being harmfully denounced by others in their social milieu), then we put the scope of philosophy at the whim of intellectual fashion, which history teaches us is deeply malleable.

The point is that we had better set out an actual principle and give it strength by adhering to it. And I hold that there are good principles that will do the trick, but we had got to agree on what they are and should make sure that we follow them.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

Additionally, if you think it might be helpful to publish these views which, I will repeat *are baseless, have been discredited, traffic in anti-Semitic conspiracy and have no academic merit* (which is the actual basis of the objection, not some vague “offensiveness” concern), please, rather than idly speculate from your armchair, go to google scholar and see whether you can find *some* evidence for that, which would justify overriding the fairly sensible idea that academic journals should employ some minimal academic standards in what they publish.

Alternately, read the paper, and tell me you think it has sufficient academic merit to be worthy of publication in an academic journal, if you want to actually defend its publication.

It takes some audacity for you to speculate on the (imagined) potential upshots of hearing this paper out, when you admit you haven’t looked at the paper, you aren’t defending the paper on it’s merits, and you have the audacity to suggest that the opponents of publishing baseless conspiracy theories in legitimate academic venues are the ones who need to find empirical evidence that this might have negative consequences.

Papers need reasons *to* get published, not vice versa. The obvious one is academic merit. Since it is absent here, we come to the bizarre pleading on behalf of the (merely possible) value of hearing out the author whose work, they seem to admit, is not actually worth listening to. Or the practical upshot of showing that we were willing to do so. It is obviously incumbent on the person advancing that bizarre argument in favor of lowered publication standards to show some reason to think that such benefits are not mere figments of thier imagination, since they are the one advocating the deviation from ordinary academic standards for publication.Report

Spencer Case
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

if you think it might be helpful to publish these views…”

The basic point was let’s not catastrophize the mistake, not that it wasn’t a mistake. An article can be unworthy of publication and still we can catastrophize the mistake of publishing it. I’m not arguing for lower publication standards. I’m not accusing you of doing this on purpose, but it doesn’t appear to me that you’re responding to what I’ve actually said.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Spencer Case
8 months ago

You have entered this thread, you have not read the paper, you are concerned that we are “catastrophizing” this mistake. You have idly speculated about positive upshots of legitimating these garbage conspiracy theories and idly suggested that concerns about negative consequences are overblown. You haven’t offered any empirical evidence but have suggested that you are open to seeing evidence from those who have such concerns (it is unclear why they should be especially concerned to share it with you rather than vice versa). My first comment addressed virtual all of this, and the only aspect of it which you addressed was me using the phrase “good faith”.

Nevertheless:

My arguments have largely not been consequence oriented, they have been about the role of peer review and journal acceptance. I have remarked that legitimating conspiracy theorists is not a good idea, but my primary focus is that academic publications should have academic merit, ergo: this piece should not have been published and should be retracted.

This is an easy case. Maybe I have an unfair advantage from my time as an administrative editor for a journal? But I think it’s just pretty straightforward: warmed over discredited conspiracy theories that have been long rejected by their home discipline aren’t the sort of thing that qualify as good philosophical work. They aren’t mediocre philosophical work.

I haven’t catastrophized on any reasonable meaning of the term. I’ve just fervently and clearly stuck to my position that this paper has no place in an academic journal, that this should be evident to all of us, and that it should be retracted.

I am, indeed skeptical of claims that any positive consequences would come of publishing it, conspiracy theorists benefit from attention and things they can use to claim legitimacy, so this is a double whammy. My strongest “catastrophe” looking claim was that Justin Kalef seemed to propose a system where accepting and rebutting this sort of garbage was the norm, rather than a rare blip (I cannot actually tell if I understood the proposal correctly), and I think that would be a catastrophe.Report

Spencer Case
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

To clarify one thing: I don’t think I need to have read the article because I’m conceding what you say about it! I’m conceding that this was an error. But I think I’m going to need to elaborate my response elsewhere where I can organize my thoughts better. Thanks for the engagement.Report

Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

Many people have formed strong opinions about this situation without appearing to be aware of relevant facts. I find it particularly problematic that Justin called on people to condemn—and potentially ask for the retraction of—MacDonald’s paper without providing a link to it. Some of the quotes that Justin cites are missing context, and in isolation they give a misleading impression of the nature of MacDonald’s paper. (Justin also asked people to condemn my paper without linking to it. As noted above, in his original post he claimed I was arguing for the position I was actually seeking to refute.) Many commenters on Daily Nous and social media have been tossing around accusations of Nazism, scholarly incompetence, racism, and the like without doing minimal research.

I first published a critique of MacDonald in the journal Human Nature in 2018. I gave three reasons for engaging with him. (1) Some respected scholars (e.g., David Sloan Wilson) have endorsed his ideas. (2) Jewish influence is a legitimate subject for scientific investigation, and his theory cannot be dismissed a priori. (3) He has been enormously influential on the far right, and the refusal of scholars to engage with him has been perceived by his followers as proof that there are no good arguments against his views.

Some DN commenters insist that refuting MacDonald is a waste of time. I suppose they think that anyone who takes MacDonald seriously must be an unthinking monster who is beyond reason. This is untrue. Although MacDonald’s fans are a mixed bag, and some of them do conform to the cartoon-Nazi stereotype, there are also intelligent, informed people who have been misled, and who previously never had the opportunity to hear another side of the story.

To the people saying that my work hasn’t changed anyone’s mind—what is that claim based on? My 2018 paper was downloaded more than 100,000 times. Jordan Peterson promoted it, wrote a blog post based on it, and discussed these ideas in videos that reached hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom might have been susceptible to MacDonald’s ideas. Alex Jones (yes, that Alex Jones) endorsed Peterson’s take on his show. How many people changed their minds as a direct or indirect result of my paper? I know for a fact that some people completely changed their minds. Others adopted an intermediate position. I don’t know what the exact numbers are. But I am confident that I had a nontrivial, positive influence on how the so-called “Jewish question” is discussed in certain quarters. To me, that’s worth 23 pages of journal space.

In one of the most upvoted comments on this post, Lewis Powell highlights the fact that MacDonald’s work “has been roundly rejected by his own former institution, at the level of his department all the way up to the entire academic senate.” If you’re looking for an idea that doesn’t merit discussion, I can’t think of a better example than we shouldn’t discuss X because X was condemned by some academic senate.

Caleb Kendrick says that MacDonald’s ideas could be “quickly refuted by any competent average undergrad.” This is false. MacDonald has been a thorn in the side of evolutionary psychologists for decades. A few prominent EPs promised refutations of him, which never materialized. A few journalists and academics tried their hand at refutation, but the results were not very convincing. My background in philosophy, Judaism, and evolutionary psychology made me particularly qualified for this task.

From an objective point of view, MacDonald’s paper clearly meets the minimum threshold of scholarly competence, and I strongly agree with the decision to publish it in Philosophia. I have argued that he twists sources, cherry-picks facts, and that his conclusions are wrong. But his scholarship is just as good or better than a lot of what’s published without controversy. In addition, a journal should not publish only one side of a debate. Since there are good reasons to publish a refutation of MacDonald, a journal should be open to publishing his reply.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

Nathan,

In your paper you describe his work as pseudoscience and you accuse him both in that paper and in this post of cherry-picking facts and misrepresenting sources. In fact, you write that he “systematically misrepresented sources.” But you are also telling us he is doing good scholarship. These can’t both be true at the same time.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Derek Baker
Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

I did not say “he is doing good scholarship.” I said his “scholarship is just as good or better than a lot of what’s published without controversy.” Being just as good or better than something that’s bad (i.e., a great deal of work that’s published without controversy) doesn’t make the thing “good.”Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

I’m not sure why the correct conclusion, in that case, isn’t simply that a lot more papers need to be retracted, if many of them worse than something which is fraudulent.

In any case, I don’t understand how you are maintaining that this guy publishes pseudoscience and systematically misrepresents sources, and yet still merits publication in scholarly journals.Report

Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

I think behaviorism was pseudoscience. The behaviorists systematically distorted evidence, ignored counterexamples, and so on. But I agree with the decision to allow Skinner to publish a reply to Chomsky’s review of Verbal Behavior. If there’s a debate, both sides should be heard, including the side that’s wrong.

I gave three reasons why I think a refutation of MacDonald should be published. The idea that only my side of the debate should be given a platform in academic journals strikes me as both unfair and bad for scholarship. The reason I wrote the refutation was to persuade people that I’m right and MacDonald is wrong. In order to make a judgment, people need to compare my arguments to MacDonald’s. That doesn’t mean the journal has an obligation to publish anything MacDonald might submit. If his reply were racist insults and made-up quotes, it should be rejected. But in fact his reply basically meets the minimum threshold for publishability. If he were using similarly biased arguments to reach a politically correct conclusion, no one would complain. That is why I think the decision to accept it was correct.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

In order to make a judgment, people need to compare my arguments to MacDonald’s.

Two obvious points here.

  1. How are we supposed to compare these arguments if one side systematically misrepresents sources? Our ability to compare arguments is extremely limited if those arguments are being made in bad faith.
  2. According to you, philosophers with PhDs and in many cases tenure are apparently unable to accurately evaluate the arguments. Because a lot of us think there is a prima facie case for retracting the paper, and this is, you seem to think, a completely ridiculous misunderstanding of MacDonald’s paper (which is also pseudoscience). So who exactly is supposed to be making this judgment?

Beyond all of this, it’s straightforward that a work cannot be pseudoscience which systematically misrepresents sources and meet the scholarly threshold to merit publication. You seem to just be adopting an extraordinarily weird normative view, and then demanding that everyone else accept it, without providing a single reason to.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

A final thing I want to add here. You want people to make a judgment that MacDonald is wrong on the basis of your argument. Fair enough. But you chose to publish in a venue where the overwhelming majority of the readers have probably never heard of the guy (until now), and if they knew anything about him, would already agree with you.

In any case, how do you expect the target audience of this journal to evaluate the arguments? Both papers are primarily historical studies of how changes in immigration laws in majority white countries happened, and sociological claims about the . This isn’t something that philosophers are trained to evaluate. I’m sure a trained historian who specializes in Jewish history or history of immigration could easily determine who is cherry-picking evidence, etc. But I can’t, and I read history in my spare time. I know more history than most philosophers, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you how sources are being misrepresented.

I’m forced to rely here on common sense: MacDonald’s thesis is pretty outlandish, and so probably false. And I’m forced to rely on indicators of reliability: the fact that he’s regarded as a pariah by peers within his own discipline; his ties with various white supremacist groups. If that’s not the kind of evaluation you want MacDonald’s work to receive, if you want us to judge who won the exchange purely on the scholarly merits, you should have had the exchange in a venue whose audience would have the training needed to evaluate the merits.

So what kind of engagement from the philosophical community are you asking for, exactly, and why does this seem like the right community to ask to decide who wins this debate?Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

Since I am in this comment section I am going to insist on higher argumentative standards than you may be used to, given your usual target of a pseudo-scientific conspiracist who has repackaged the same antisemitic conspiracies with a thin new paint job and given you a soft target which no one else has taken shots at becuase they rightfully have ignored it.

I did not argue “academic senate condemned x therefore we shouldn’t discuss x”. My comments may be getting long but they aren’t actually diffficult to parse, and even if they are hard for you to understand on a first read, I’d appreciate if you gave me more courtesy than you give the anti-Semite, and put in some minimal interpretive effort to see what my position actually is.Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Lewis Powell
Jeremy Michael Pober
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

On the one hand, I guess we should concede that if you are in fact lowering the number of people who believe in pernicious conspiracy theories that are essentially a repackaged version of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” that is a good thing. Credit where credit is due.

That being said, you seem confused as to why Justin and others might put your work in the same bucket as MacDonald’s (after all, as you repeatedly insist, you’re saying there *isn’t* a Jewish plot!) and even more frustrated that people think *neither* of you should be publishing in an academic journal.

First of all, it’s not clear from what you say that being published in a journal is at all necessary, or even relevant, to talking people down from the antisemitic cliff. I doubt Alex Jones, or his audience, care much about what you say in the pages of philosophia. If you want to spend your time and energy engaging with the likes of Jones, I’d say go right ahead, but the fact that he and his ilk are your intended audience only speaks more to the point that respectable journals are the wrong venue for this discussion.

You try to refute this point by noting that MacDonald is a “thorn in the side” of evolutionary psychologists. But evolutionary psychology is a questionable paradigm at best, and has been so since its inception—or at least, so say the best evolutionary biologists of our lifetimes (ie Lewontin and Gould). But evolutionary psychology is *especially* suspect from an empirical standpoint when applied to races and ethnic groups, as opposed to individuals (I must admit to finding some irony in an evolutionary psychologist calling behaviorism illegitimate. I’m no behaviorist, but there was at least a period of time where it was the best game in town, which is much more than can be said for evolutionary psychology).

And that, I think, is the sense in which you and MacDonald are on the same page. You both think that i) groups like Jews have a good number of substantive personality traits in common in virtue of their group membership, and ii) that the explanation for this is biological. You happen to associate positive traits with Jewish group membership, whereas McDonald associates negative ones, and your putative biological explanation is less facially absurd than his. But you’re in the same ballpark, even if your playing styles are a bit different.

That you are in this ballpark, so to speak, is clear to me from your claim that the “Jewish question” is a legitimate one. It isn’t, or at least there is a massive burden of proof in those who think it is. What is true is that Jewish people are disproportionately represented in some professions relative to their (our, fwiw) numbers in the general population. But to go from this simple fact to the idea that there is such a thing as “Jewish influence” implies that many of our actions are somehow performed as Jews qua Jews. I’m not sure of any reason to accept this claim. We certainly aren’t getting together and seeing what we can do as Jews to influence society at large. Moreover, it’s not even clear that the actions of individual people who are Jewish ought to be grouped together as “the actions of Jews”: speaking for myself, I’d say that for better or worse, my American-ness is probably a more central part of my identity than my Jewishness.

All this is to say that from the standpoint of someone who thinks biological essentialism is false when applied to racial and ethnic groups (and holds this belief on solid scientific ground), you and MacDonald just aren’t all that far apart. And, since I don’t know you, I won’t speculate as to your motivations for endorsing it, but in my experience most people who are biological essentialists about race or ethnicity have at least *some* racial or ethnic group that they don’t like. In that light, the fact that for a given biological essentialist, Jews aren’t that group is rather beside the point.Report

Caleb Kendrick
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

If Kevin MacDonald is a thorn in the side of evolutionary psychology, maybe that speaks to the sad state of evolutionary psychology, a field which is mainly a collection of unfalsiable, pseudoscientific nonsense. Kevin MacDonald’s paper and your paper simply do not meet the standard for publication in any reputable philosophy journal. Both papers are filled with dubious, unsubstantiated empirical claims and minimal argumentation (both features it shares in common woth your awful article about racial differences in IQ that you published in Philosophical Psychology). Maybe stick to publishing in Mankind Quarterly with your crank colleagues?Report

Moti Gorin
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
8 months ago

“I suppose they think that anyone who takes MacDonald seriously must be an unthinking monster who is beyond reason.”

I’m not sure about “monster” but someone who claims Nazism was a rational response to Jewish influence (or to anything at all) is unserious. Has he retracted or amended this claim?

You mention Jordan Peterson and Alex Jones and their audiences. As others have pointed out, there are better ways to influence these people–Youtube, Reddit, whatever other online cesspools attract and radicalize these people. Getting name/thesis checked by Alex Jones does not strengthen your case. Anyone who wants to step into that gutter is free to do so. Just don’t come walking back into the house with your shoes on and expect people not to hold their noses.

The biggest thorn in the side of evolutionary psychologists is evolutionary psychology.

(I apologize to the readers of this thread for all the scatological references. They just won’t stop seeming apt.)Report

Last edited 8 months ago by Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

I should also say that although I don’t find your good cop/bad cop routine with MacDonald convincing, and I think Philosophia made a mistake, my view, after having thought about it a bit, is they should retract only if there was some kind of procedural error in acceptance or if there was some kind of scholarly malfeasance of the sort that would call for retraction in any other case. If the papers went through the ordinary process and everything was kosher (ahem) in that regard, they should remain. The alternative–retracting based on substance–sets a bad precedent.

It’s a black eye for Philosophia and for the profession, but I think it’s better to take the lumps and move on.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Moti Gorin
8 months ago

This.

(I think substantive errors on data-collection or the use of formal tools is also grounds for retraction, but that very rarely comes up in philosophy and I doubt it does hre.)Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  David Wallace
8 months ago

On your view the *only* cases in which a paper should be retracted are if it contains data collection errors or misapplication of formal tools, and not say, radical procedural failings in how it got to print? (Perhaps, unqualified referees with indefensible conflicts of interest, say?)Report

Jeremy Pober
Jeremy Pober
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

I do hope we can all agree that asking someone with Dutton’s 1) antecedent biases and 2) lack of qualifications to be a referee is a radical procedural failing, and that either 1) or 2) alone would be sufficient to make it so, yes?Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

I said that data collection errors or misapplication of formal tools are *also* grounds for retraction. I agree with Moti Gorin that procedural errors in acceptance or scholarly malfeasance are grounds for retraction.

That said, I don’t think poor judgement in choice of referees is legitimate grounds for retraction. The referees advise the editor; the editor is ultimately responsible for acceptance or rejection. I guess there are probably situations where an undisclosed conflict of interest by a referee would invalidate their advice and justify a retraction (say, the referee is sleeping with the author and doesn’t recuse), but just choosing a bad referee is on the editor.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  David Wallace
8 months ago

You are correct that I misread your reply to Moti’s comment, and I apologize.

I am not sure I agree that editorial lapses wouldn’t qualify, but I do apologize for misrepresenting your position.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Lewis Powell
8 months ago

Apology accepted; let he who has never misread a blog comment cast the first stone!Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  David Wallace
8 months ago

David (or Moti),

Could you explain why you think the grounds for retraction should be so narrow? I’m not saying this is wrong–it may well be right. But a lot of people in these discussions act as though it is simply obvious that this is the only justifiable grounds for retraction, but I’ve never actually heard an argument. I honestly don’t even know what the argument would be, except maybe some sort of indirect consequentialist one: we don’t want to be constantly relitigating whether a paper merited publication or not. This would seem like a reasonable argument, but people are often much more strident about this position than the indirect consequentialist argument could justify. At best that would seem to support an attitude of “my guess is that this is the best policy in the long run.”

I’ll admit, though, I’m not too worried about it either way. I think retraction is much less of a big deal than most academics seem to–or at least most who write about it. The paper is still going to be out there. In the age of the internet, anyone who wants to read it will be able to. MacDonald’s career will not suffer for a retraction. So I have a hard time seeing how there are any free speech issue or academic freedom issues at work. By the same token, I don’t think retracting it will do much good, except maybe as a way of symbolically acknowledging a mistake and reaffirming scholarly norms (assuming that retraction is justified).Report

Jennifer Fletcher
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

My guess is that David Wallace and Moti Gorin believe that we do not yet have sufficient grounds for retraction inconsistent with our normal standards. I agree with this belief. Let me explain.

Begin with an argument. Normal academic standards for retraction are to be applied in the case of any normal academic publication. Since this is a normal academic publication, those are the standards to be applied in this case.

The only questionable premise is that this is a normal academic publication. To have sufficient grounds for retraction inconsistent with our normal standards, we need an argument against the relevant premise. And it must provide grounds for believing that the publication is exceptional in a way that calls for the application of an abnormal standard for retraction. To do this, it must specify a standard that can be reasonably regarded as consistent with academic freedom, and as setting an acceptable precedent.

As things currently stand, we have no such argument. (I’m not saying that there can be no such argument, but that we haven’t yet found one.) Consequently, we have insufficient grounds for retraction inconsistent with our normal standards.Report

Lewis Powell
Lewis Powell
Reply to  Jennifer Fletcher
8 months ago

Gross editorial negligence or malpractice, combined with lack of academic merit and containing pernicious antisemitic conspiracy theories, seem like normal grounds for retraction. But perhaps I am in outlier in having that view.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

: fair question. My starting point here is: what is the content of a journal accepting an article? I think it comprises three claims:

1) The factual claims made by the article are true.
2) Formal, mathematical claims in the article are true.
3) The editor(s) of the journal, following a properly conducted referee process, regard the article of sufficient scholarly merit to publish it in the journal.

(1) matters because the factual claims in articles (usually about empirical data) are not and cannot be checked in peer review. So if an article says ‘we did this experiment and got this result’, and we didn’t and we didn’t, retraction is warranted. The overwhelming majority of science retractions have this form.

(2) matters because (a) peer review doesn’t reliably check math, and (b) the criteria are pretty clear cut.

But (1) and (2) don’t usually apply in philosophy. So we’re left with (3). And unlike (1) and (2), (3) is a snapshot claim: was the proper process carried out? If it was, then nothing substantive (as opposed to procedural) that comes to light later can invalidate it.

I think a lot of the discussion of retraction in philosophy tacitly presumes that we should replace (3) with something like

(3′) in the current judgement of the editors, the article is of sufficient scholarly merit to publish it in the journal.

I think that’s a terrible criterion. We all know peer review is imperfect, and that some egregious failures happen; I’ve read innumerable articles where my response is ‘who the hell recommended publishing that?’ But they did recommend publishing it, and so it was published, and that’s just how it went down. I think our profession would be very ill served by a constantly-updated ‘does the editor right now favor publication’ approach.

All of this is entirely compatible with thinking the journal editor made a really serious error in accepting this paper. I haven’t looked at the paper, but the comments here suggest that they did. If that leads to process reform, fine. If it leads to resignations, also fine. It shouldn’t lead to a retraction. The journal decided the paper was worth publishing. So they published it. That’s just a fact; you can’t rewrite history.

(I’d add that terrible work is published all the time, and mostly people don’t read it, and mostly it’s counterproductive to complain about how terrible it is rather than ignoring it. That’s why I wasn’t originally going to comment on this thread… but then we got on to retraction.)Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  David Wallace
8 months ago

I used to be of David’s and Motti’s view and I still think that his criterion covers nearly all articles that should be retracted. But if due to gross negligence of the editors, someone’s laundry list gets published, I do think publication should be retracted. More generally, I think that if there is a wide consensus among the relevant community that a paper could only have been accepted through at the very least gross negligence on the part of the editors, then retraction is acceptable. Nazi propaganda seems to me to fall within this criterion (For the record, I don’t know of any other philosophy paper that should be retracted on this principle).Report

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
8 months ago

I think that if there is a wide consensus among the relevant community that a paper could only have been accepted through at the very least gross negligence on the part of the editors, then retraction is acceptable.”

Given that 830 people (many of them presumably part of the relevant community) signed an open letter calling for Rebecca Tuvel’s transracialism article to be retracted, I think this principle would imply that her paper should have been retracted. Would you accept that implication?Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Molly Gardner
8 months ago

Hi Molly,

Isn’t that a clear case where there wasn’t consensus, given how many people were openly opposed to retracting the article?Report

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Derek Baker
8 months ago

Hi, Derek. I guess I don’t have any sense of how many people in the relevant community were openly opposed to retracting the article. Maybe 30? I’m also not sure what the ratio of pro-retraction to anti-retraction community members needs to be for the consensus to be “wide.” 830 to 30 is a big ratio, but it’s not clear that all 830 people were part of the relevant community. So this is an unclear case to me.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Molly Gardner
8 months ago

I don’t have any sense of numbers, but it seemed like on my Facebook feed, which swings pretty left, significantly more people were criticizing the letter than defending it.