More than provocative, less than scientific: A commentary on the editorial decision to publish Cofnas (2020)

image from Wikimedia Commons

Below are the first two paragraphs of a paper I co-authored with several colleagues in the journal Philosophical Psychology. It’s an unusual entry in my list of publications, because it’s a pointed criticism of the editorial decision by the journal to publish a paper defending “scientific” race theory, a position that is ideologically motivated and flatly contradicted by the actual scientific evidence. You can judge the merits of our argument for yourself by downloading the full paper.

We are addressing this letter to the editors of Philosophical Psychology after reading an article they decided to publish in the recent Volume 33, Issue 1. The article is by Nathan Cofnas and is entitled “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry” (2020). The purpose of our letter is not to invite Cofnas’s contribution into a broader dialogue, but to respectfully voice our concerns about the decision to publish the manuscript, which, in our opinion, fails to meet a range of academic quality standards usually expected of academic publications.

As we read it, Cofnas’s article is a defense of the pursuit of the hereditarian scientific program that explores the alleged genomic differences in IQ between “racially” defined populations (e.g., “blacks” vs. “whites”), claiming that there is a strong and unfortunate tendency among researchers to ignore this line of research due to moral reservations. Cofnas argues that racial classifications, insofar as these may have discrete genetic correlates, could one day partially explain the differences measured in IQ between various populations; ignoring this hypothesis, Cofnas holds, could have potentially harmful consequences.

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Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

6 thoughts on “More than provocative, less than scientific: A commentary on the editorial decision to publish Cofnas (2020)”

  1. I’m sure there are valid concerns about the rigor of the study, but of course all studies are imperfect and can be criticized on various grounds. To the extent that your concerns with this study were purely methodological, va bene. But there are thousands of articles published every month and this is not the worst; yet, it has garnered disproportionate attention, and my concern would be about trying to hide studies because they are politically incorrect or draw conclusions that we think might be dangerous.

    I’m sure you’ve noticed how political correctness has begun to chip away at free scientific inquiry as the woke-social justice movement has gained influence. Published studies are being “disappeared” because they don’t support a certain narrative (because the results are being USED in a way Johns Hopkins didn’t like, not because they were WRONG), such as:

    https://trevorfitzgibb1.medium.com/dr-slams-johns-hopkins-for-censoring-own-covid-study-that-finds-no-increase-in-deaths-4ace7dc22ca0

    Other “scientific” studies are published with clearly political motivations:

    https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/04/lancet-retracts-major-covid-19-paper-that-raised-safety-concerns-about-malaria-drugs/

    If the ideas are bad, subject them to scrutiny and criticism (as you did), but I would not try to keep them from public view. The worse they are, the easier it should be to debunk them. It’s the stronger argument that should win, not the one with more political force behind it.

    One of the reasons that people distrust scientists (the subject of your recent great paper) is because it is clear that political correctness is playing too big of a role in “scientific” inquiry. Shall we shut down STEM because it is racist:

    https://gizmodo.com/scientists-call-for-academic-shutdown-in-support-of-bla-1843944068

    Does COVID know WHY people are gathering in crowds?

    https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/05/health/health-care-open-letter-protests-coronavirus-trnd/index.html

    I doubt that those scientists claiming that 2+2=5 have ever read 1984:

    https://www.westernjournal.com/wokeness-comes-mathematics-academics-saying-225/

    Just as the Catholic Church (the powerful political faction at the time) tried to shut down Galileo, the woke crowd (the powerful political faction now, in seeming control of academia, social media, media, and the Democrat party) is trying to shut down Weinstein, Peterson, etc. I know Peterson is not your favorite Massimo (mine neither) but should his work be hidden from the public:

    https://thefederalist.com/2020/11/25/hysterical-staff-at-penguin-random-house-canada-melt-down-over-publishing-jordan-petersons-new-book/

    And when it becomes expedient, the woke crowd will come after the left too:

    There are those fighting back, thankfully:

    https://www.allsides.com/news/2020-07-14-1121/black-intellectual-roundtable-bret-weinsteins-darkhorse-podcast

    What we are seeing today is not free scientific inquiry. It isn’t a quest for the truth.
    After all, there is a difference between correct and politically correct, elsewise we would not need the latter term. There are things that are correct but not politically correct; others are politically correct but not correct. I feel that the scientific community has bent the knee too much to political correctness at the expense of correctness, and until we get our room in order, we can’t blame people for distrusting us.

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    1. My gosh, so responding back with publishing your own critical analysis rather than demanding someone to be taken down is also now to be accused of being part of the woke police. What that shows really is that you don’t like the discussion, not policing.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There should be a tendency among researchers to ignore lines of research that have no scientific basis.
    What is unfortunate is that this has been going on for so long and still pretending to be science. Having attended UWO in the late 1980’s when Dr. Philippe Rushton concluded that intelligence is related to penis size, which was determined racially, I can only consider myself lucky to not have been in his class.
    Racism always masquerades itself as something else and is especially disappointing when it masquerades itself as science.

    Liked by 2 people

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