A reader writes:
I think there's something important that's by-and-large been left out of this discussion. To me, the most alarming thing about the 3L email incident is how it demonstrates what I suppose you might call "Liberal Epistemic Closure.' This woman attends a university. She, like other bright young people with an independent, contrarian streak, wrote in an email that she was disinclined to accept the dogma of her environment as gospel simply because it was what she'd been spoon-fed and told to believe, and pointed out (quite fairly) that scientific conclusions tend to be somewhat warped by the political and cultural climates in which the studies take place. She was doing what people should be doing in academic environments: questioning accepted truth. But questioning accepted truth doesn't mean the rejection of that viewpoint, it means that she was playing around with ideas, asserting her right to engage with them until she was able to reach a satisfying conclusion on her own terms, as opposed to allowing her mind to be molded by popular prevailing opinion.
People like that are vital to society. We need them. They should be celebrated, not vilified. In fact, one could argue that the entire purpose of a liberal arts education is to teach people to think in an independent, contrarian, "I'm not going to think what you tell me to think until you convincingly demonstrate to me why I should" way. Academia should be the safest place for people to explore ideas and ask questions.
However, when this woman tried to do that, not only was she shot down by her peers and labeled as a racist, her email was leaked to the outside world, where she's pilloried, bullied, had her reputation utterly destroyed, and, quite possibly, her life ruined. On blogs, people have left comments saying that she should never have been allowed into Harvard Law in the first place – in other words, suggesting that university applicants conform to some kind of ideological litmus test as a condition of admittance. The dean of Harvard Law, instead of defending the intellectual rights of the young minds under her care and the sanctity of the academic environment, instead chose to throw this young woman under the bus by issuing a statement that did nothing but cover her own ass. The liberal and academic communities' response to questioning – not even rejecting, mind you, simply questioning – liberal dogma is evidently to engage in a mass, Hester Prynne-style public shaming. And nobody is horrified by this?
Here's the thing: if people have questions about race and ethnicity that they're not allowed to ask, and are in fact publicy rejected and shamed for doing so, they're going to go someplace where those questions are accepted. And I don't think we'd like the answers they get there. Right now, I'll bet dollars-to-doughnuts that the only letters of support this woman is receiving are probably from white supremacist groups. Is that really where we want to drive young people who think these thoughts and ask these questions? Isn't it possible to present a convincing intellectual argument for "our side" while keeping it in the realm of ideas, as opposed to attacking the people as individuals?
I'd only like to add that the strength of opinions elicited by this discussion illustrates the very issue our original emailer was attempting to describe. Even when made in the abstract, as in this case, any mention of a link between race and intelligence brings forth the most intense political opinions. How do you think this hullabaloo affects those scientists who, as honestly and ethically as they can, choose to study the link between geographic variation and any sort of biological trait? Would you choose a topic of research knowing that you would cause a ruckus and risk marginalization every time you mentioned your work? In other words, if you're just trying to get funding, which side of this issue would you make sure your research came down on?