Lee Jussim

Jan 13, 2020

8 min read

Against Academic Cancel Culture: On Engaging With Biased Academics with Political Agendas

Another Academic Outrage Mob

The National Association of Scholars NASC (for short) is holding a conference on Fixing Science, to which I was invited as both a moderator of a panel and as a speaker. The conference is now being targeted by outrage mobs of academics, a topic I wrote about here: The Threat to Academic Freedom…From Academics. At the time, I was writing about other academics. I will now have to add this conference, and by extension, me, to that list.

Who Are the National Association of Scholars?

Wikipedia describes them as “de jure independent, de facto conservative.” This means that though there is no organizational document that declares “We, the NASC, are Conservative,” in fact, it mostly attracts rightwing scholars. Its activities and products are often consistent with conservative perspectives.

Why Outrage?

There seem to be several accusations: but the main ones are that they are holding a “manference” (a conference with all male speakers), that they use subterfuge to advance all sorts of nasty, hidden agendas, that they are engaging in conservative advocacy masquerading as science, and that they are exploiting serious scientists to advance their nefarious agendas.

Manference

The released schedule includes about 25 speakers, nearly all white males.

KKK Front

You might think I am making this up. I am not.

Hidden Agendas/Exploiting Naive But Well-Intended Scientists

The idea here is that NASC is not “really” (whatever that means) a scholarly organization because it has hidden political agendas, such as advancing conservative policy preferences. A natural extension of this idea is that, by crafting a plausibly-serious-but-really-nefarious agenda, they are suckering in serious scientists. These “useful idiots” provide justification, rhetoric, and soundbites that they can use in their advocacy work that corrodes rather than advances science.

Is Bias and Political Agenda a Reason Not to Attend a Conference?

I love Dorothy Bishop’s work, which has done about as much as anyone else’s to improve the conduct and validity of scientific research. Here is why I disagree with her on this:

Are We “Being Played”?

Dorothy Bishop wrote: “ But this is really not about regular scientific debate. It’s about weaponising the reproducibility debate to bolster the message that everything in science is uncertain — which is very convenient for those who wish to promote fringe ideas.”

Conclusion

There is a long list of moral failings that could lead me to avoid a conference (violence, abuse, corruption, fraud etc.). “Bias” and “political agenda” do not make the list.