How to Take Back Academia
Note from Dorian: As I’ve noted before, Heterodox STEM is a free speech zone. The views expressed in posts are their author’s and I do not censor based on content. If you disagree with anything in this post (or any other), I encourage you to submit a response to firstname.lastname@example.org. The point of Heterodox STEM is to encourage open, rational, evidence-based discussions and intellectual exchanges, even on difficult topics.
For seven years, Heterodox Academy (HxA) has supposedly been promoting “viewpoint diversity” in academia. Also in that time period, dissenters from woke orthodoxy have been crushed, and a totalitarian monoculture has become supreme. In my article, “Four Reasons Why Heterodox Academy Failed,” I said that those of us who are unhappy about the current situation can look to HxA for “lessons about what not to do.” Now that we know what not to do, what should we do? Here I am going to propose a more specific plan of action.
Being a loser can turn into a habit, an identity, and a perverse satisfaction. This is especially likely to happen when victory seems impossibly distant, as it does in the fight to rescue universities—and all mainstream institutions—from the madness that has overtaken them. The woke juggernaut seems inexorable. And woe to those who provoke the juggernaut! But, as Kant observes, “whoever wills the end also wills...the indispensably necessary means.” The first thing we have to do is to decide whether we are prepared to will the necessary means to achieve victory.
Is there any chance that HxA can be reformed and start providing effective leadership? I’m afraid not. In my article, I argued that HxA failed for four main reasons: (1) it became another club for leftists, (2) it refuses to leverage political power, (3) its leaders are trying to make a big-tent movement to include people who are enemies of free inquiry, and (4) it won’t support heterodoxy on the most important topic (i.e., race differences). The new president of HxA, John Tomasi, published a reply, which confirmed that nothing is going to change. He claims that my complaints are “based on a false understanding of HxA and its mission.” Regarding my observation that they have not taken a stand against censorial wokism, he explains: “HxA was not founded as an explicit ‘anti-wokeness’ organization. In fact, we are not an anti-anything organization. Rather, we are a movement for improving the academy by advocating for principles of viewpoint diversity, open inquiry, and constructive disagreement.” But to be for X means that you are anti the forces that oppose X. If the leadership of HxA is too timid to be anti anything, then HxA stands for nothing.
What is our goal? We want to create a culture at universities that promotes free speech and open inquiry into all areas of legitimate scholarship. What stands in the way? A system that enforces conformity with a political orthodoxy called “wokism.” Wokism has no official catechism, and it takes a variety of forms. But the essence of the ideology is the idea that disparities between certain groups call for an ever-escalating war on white racism and sexism, which justifies all manner of censorship and suppression. Wherever wokism has the upper hand, free speech and open inquiry will be deemed “violence,” “hate,” and “racism.” There is no such thing as being pro so-called “heterodoxy” without being anti-woke.
Do we even deserve to succeed in this struggle if we refuse to ever be uncomfortable or take genuine risks? Do we deserve to win if we are forever waiting for the right time to take a stand—until we get tenure, promotion to full professor, another honorary doctorate, or a Nobel Prize? In any case, we’re guaranteed to fail if we are unwilling to take radical action starting now. Here I describe three things that we must do in order to change the cultural trajectory and take back universities.
Action 1: Promote Knowledge of the Cause of Race Differences
Wokism follows from an empirical claim, namely, that innate potential is distributed equally among all groups, particularly racial groups. Eritreans, Koreans, and Jews are on average born with exactly the same abilities and dispositions. But how do you explain persistent disparities in outcome if groups are identical? The obvious culprit is white racism. However, we can’t find many examples of contemporary racism that can explain the massive disparities that we find among Blacks, Whites, and Asians living side-by-side in America. Legal discrimination against historically persecuted minorities was outlawed three generations ago, (white) racists have become the most despised group in America, hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars have been invested in correcting the injustices of the past, and members of lower-performing groups are now given massively preferential treatment across the board. It must be that racism has survived in some new and mysterious forms. As Jonathan Haidt says, “it’s not that slavery ended, it changed form. It’s not that Jim Crow ended, it changes form.” And we have to take action to root out the racism. In Haidt’s words: “We do have to change things about our society that lead to different outcomes.” This inevitably gives rise to witch hunts in response to imagined racism, and to a culture of repression and intolerance—in short, to wokism.
There is one way to stop wokism: refute the empirical claim that motivates it, namely, the equality thesis. Innate abilities and temperament are not distributed equally among all populations. This is the main reason why we find the same patterns of race differences appearing over and over again wherever there are population-representative groups of Africans, Europeans, and Asians. It is why policies predicated on egalitarianism always fail. People who understand the biological reality are not woke because they do not need to hallucinate racism in order to explain what is the product of nature.
But wokism is protected by a taboo on recognizing the genetic basis of race differences. From early childhood onwards, we’re taught that taking hereditarianism about group differences seriously is a heinous moral crime. All psychologically normal people have been affected by this experience. Until recently, there was a similar taboo on questioning the Biblical account of creation. Darwin himself, when sharing his view that species are not immutable, wrote that it felt like he was “confessing a murder.” In 2023, taboo violators face not just internal psychological resistance, but a very real threat of punishment.
Again, people have to make a decision: we can either live with wokism or do what is necessary to stop it. Whoever wills the demise of wokism wills knowledge of race differences. Many people are not happy to hear this, and I’ll consider four common objections.
Objection 1: “I would need to have at least three PhDs in genetics, psychometrics, and neuroscience in order to be qualified to assess the evidence for race differences. Therefore, I’m just not going to take a position on this issue.”
Answer: It really isn’t that complicated. Of course, if you know more about statistics, neuroscience, and other relevant subjects, you can understand the evidence on a deeper level, but an extensive background in these areas is not required to follow most of the debate.
For those who are new to this discussion, here is a very brief overview:
First of all, IQ measures something real and important, and not just the “ability to take an IQ test.” In the early twentieth century, Charles Spearman made the momentous discovery that subjects’ scores on different components of cognitive tests are positively correlated. People who are good with words tend to be better than average at rotating shapes. People who are good at repeating strings of digits in reverse order (the “digit span backwards” task) are usually better than average at making analogies. IQ tests are designed to measure the underlying factor that explains performance across a variety of cognitive tasks—a theoretical construct called “general intelligence.” IQ is correlated with all sorts of life outcomes both inside and outside the classroom including educational attainment, job performance, health, and the chance that you crash your car. Intelligence testing is the crown jewel of psychology—a field that is otherwise rife with nonreplicable and outright fraudulent claims. As Steven Pinker observes: “[The] replicability crisis in psych DOESN’T apply to IQ: huge n’s, replicable results. But people hate the message.”
What about race? Isn’t race just a biologically meaningless social construct? Well, no—not unless you insist on a strawman definition of “race.” A 2005 study found that “of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity.” It’s true that folk racial categories are sometimes used inconsistently and might not correspond perfectly to genetic clusters. But ancestral populations are genetically distinguishable, and race is rooted in biological reality.
Different racial groups have different distributions of scores on IQ tests. There is an approximately 15-point (1 standard deviation) IQ gap between black and white adults in the United States (85 vs. 100). The chart in Figure 1 (below) is generated from raw data for IQ scores in population-representative samples of American Blacks vs. Whites. It shows a gap of 1.2 standard deviations, or 18 IQ points. East Asians and Jews tend to score higher than white gentiles, with Asian intelligence being somewhat spatially tilted and Jewish intelligence being relatively verbal.
Figure 1. Graph based on raw IQ data for American Blacks vs. Whites in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Subjects in the NLSY comprise a large, representative sample of Americans who were between the ages of 14 and 22 in 1979. The graph is from Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve.
The IQ gap between Blacks and Whites is the best-studied and the most politically sensitive. Virtually all evidence points toward it having a genetic basis. Despite significant improvements in the socioeconomic status of Blacks and the (apparent) waning of overt racism, the gap among black and white adults has remained largely unchanged for cohorts born since the 1970s. Although the data are somewhat messy, and Blacks have made gains on some tests, the best studies continue to show an approximately 1 standard deviation gap in adults. In population-representative samples of adults used to norm the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IV in 2007, for example, there was a 1.16 standard deviation—or 17.4-point—difference between black and white mean IQ. Interventions during childhood—when the heritability of IQ is low—can substantially raise IQ, but the effects of such interventions fade out by adulthood. Black children adopted by middle- and upper-middle-class white families in Minnesota grew up to have the same average IQ as other African Americans. Adoptees with one black and one white parent had scores that were intermediate between the black and white means. Brain size is moderately correlated with IQ, and there are significant race differences in average brain size that correspond to IQ differences (African << European < East Asian). Environmentalists who insist that genes play no role in race differences typically blame “racism,” but without explaining the causal chain from racism to a deficit of 15 IQ points.
Michael Levin refers to the “army of straw men” with which hereditarians must contend, and this is not the place for me to take up the fight. If you’re looking for resources to learn about race differences from a hereditarian perspective, here are some recommendations: Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen’s paper, “Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability,” gives an overview of the state of the evidence up to 2005. Rushton and Jensen might make an occasional mistake, and some of Rushton’s other work is unreliable, but this paper is very good. Bo Winegard, Ben Winegard, and Jonathan Anomaly’s paper, “Dodging Darwin: Race, Evolution, and the Hereditarian Hypothesis,” covers more up-to-date evidence. (Fun fact: the lead author, Bo Winegard, was fired from his tenure-track position at Marietta College for publishing this.) Russell Warne’s book, In the Know: Debunking 35 Myths about Human Intelligence, is the best introduction to the science of intelligence testing, and it has an excellent discussion of group differences. Charles Murray’s book, Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, reviews the evidence for sex and race differences. In my paper, “Research on Group Differences in Intelligence: A Defense of Free Inquiry,” I show that hostility toward hereditarianism is largely politically motivated. (In order to get through peer review I downplayed the strength of the evidence for hereditarianism, so one should read it with that in mind.) I also have a popular article responding to some objections. Neven Sesardić’s book, Making Sense of Heritability, responds to methodological challenges to the study of race differences, and his paper, “Race: A Social Destruction of a Biological Concept,” explains how race is a meaningful biological category.
Objection 2: “Attributing race differences to genes is too inflammatory. Let’s just say that disparities are due to sociological factors that are not related to white racism.”
Answer: The problem with sociological theories that don’t invoke white racism—for example, bad outcomes are caused by “failed Democratic policies,” “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” or “a lack of family values”—is that they tend to be scientifically weak. Conservative intellectuals have been promoting such cultural explanations for decades, and experience shows that they have not had much success. The majority of smart and educated people do not find these theories convincing. If disparities are the result of “culture,” where does the bad culture come from? Why do the same “cultures” follow people of the same ancestries wherever they go all over the world? Conservatives like Thomas Sowell do not have good answers to these questions. So non-racism-based-sociological explanations tend to be rejected on scientific grounds, and then we’re back to the discrimination hypothesis and then to wokism.
Objection 3: “The subject of race differences is too inflammatory. Let’s only talk about sex differences.”
Answer: First, the arguments used to reject race differences are essentially the same ones used to reject sex differences: tests are meaningless, it’s impossible to control for the effect of discrimination, and so on. It makes no sense to say that these objections are okay when they’re used to undermine research on race but not sex. Smart people are not fooled. Second, people are demanding an explanation for racial disparities. That is the political issue of our time, and it cannot be ignored. The only prima facie viable explanations are genes and racism. If you don’t implicate genes, most people will gravitate toward the racism explanation, and this leads to wokism.
Objection 4: “We can’t play up race differences because it will create a split in the heterodox movement.”
Answer: It will cause a split in the “heterodox” movement, and that’s a good thing. People who don’t want to adopt effective means of fighting are not helping the cause. Let them twiddle their thumbs at HxA.
Action 2: Change the Population of Decision Makers on Campus
In the last twenty to thirty years, huge numbers of leftist activists have been hired as professors. Many of these people have nothing to contribute to scholarship and are only here to push their ideological agenda. The activists are now so numerous that it has become almost impossible to be hired by a university without their approval. If they are allowed to control graduate admissions and faculty hiring for another generation, it is game over. From our perspective, there is no path to success that doesn’t involve removing the activist non-scholars from these decision-making processes.
There are two ways to reduce the power of the wokesters on campus: remove them by showing that they don’t satisfy minimal criteria for contract renewal or academic promotion, or dilute their influence by bringing in some of the non-woke scholars who have been pushed out of academia for political reasons.
Regarding the first option, critics may say that removing, or taking any other action against, the pseudoscholars would violate “academic freedom.” But academic freedom doesn’t mean that taxpayers have a moral obligation to (directly or indirectly) finance lifelong sinecures for political activists, many of whom were hired by illegal procedures where straight white men or non-leftists were disqualified in advance. Realistically, however, it will be very difficult to get rid of people who have already been hired and even given tenure.
In the short run, the second option is more achievable. With the aid of non-woke or conservative donors and politicians, we can create new centers or departments at universities that will represent a different point of view. But we can expect vicious resistance. Carlos Carvalho and Richard Lowery recently tried to set up a center at the University of Texas at Austin called the Liberty Institute, which was supposed to have the power to hire tenure-track faculty. The plan was to recruit people with views that would disqualify them for employment at other departments. Carvalho and Lowery received support from the Texas legislature and conservative donors. However, the president of the university took the Liberty Institute away from Carvalho and Lowery and appointed a critical race theorist associated with an ethnic studies department to oversee it. The administration decided that the Institute would only be allowed to hire faculty members who had been approved by other departments, and the whole project was undermined. The conservative donors and politicians acquiesced to this either because they didn’t understand the situation or because they didn’t have the courage to stand up to the administrators. (Lowery is now suing three university officials for allegedly threatening to retaliate against him for his trouble making.) But other, similar efforts have been successful—for example, the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization at the University of Colorado Boulder. Creating institutes like this is the easiest way to get dissenters on campuses. At public universities this can be done with the help of the legislature, and at private universities via pressure from donors.
Action 3: Leverage Political Power
We need to recognize that the fight against wokism in universities (and elsewhere) requires political support, and, realistically, that will only come from the Republican Party. The institutionalization of wokism has been greatly facilitated by Democrat-sponsored laws. Richard Hanania exaggerates only slightly when he says that “woke institutions is just civil rights law.” Affirmative action, HR tyranny, kangaroo courts to investigate Title IX complaints, and so on exist because of laws passed by Democrats and (for the most part) opposed by Republicans. Woke brainwashing begins not in universities but in elementary schools, most of which are government run and controlled by leftists affiliated with the Democratic Party. Zach Goldberg and Eric Kaufmann show that “critical race theory” (i.e., wokism) is being taught in publicly funded schools, and that it is leading students to become woke long before they get to college. Government intervention is required to stop these government-sponsored activities, and that means action by Republicans.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and activist Christopher Rufo are leading the effort to use political power to advance our cause. DeSantis banned CRT indoctrination from public schools in Florida, and Rufo has helped organize successful campaigns to do the same thing in other states. Recently, DeSantis appointed Rufo and some other like-minded people to the board of trustees of New College of Florida, and they are attempting to de-wokify the university from the inside. There is much to admire in what DeSantis and Rufo are doing, but this kind of effort is not by itself going to change the trajectory of our culture or our universities. Republicans risk coming across as anti-intellectual thugs imposing their political agenda on innocent scholars. DeSantis and Rufo need more guidance from allies inside of the academy who have a better understanding of the university system and exactly how it needs to change. Universities won’t be fixed by replacing SJW administrators with conservative activists and Christian fundamentalists, but by empowering non-woke scholars on the inside.
Don’t Give Up
Some people feel that the task of retaking universities is too daunting, and we should just start new ones. While there is certainly a place for new institutions, abandoning existing universities is a terrible idea. The Harvards, Stanfords, and Berkeleys with their gazillion-dollar endowments are the center of our cultural and intellectual life, and that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. And there’s no point in founding new institutions if they will inevitably go the way of HxA, which is what will happen if we don’t address the root causes of wokism.
In order to execute the strategy I’ve described, a number of things need to happen at the same time. That’s why we need leaders with a vision of where we are going, a clear-eyed view of how to get there, and the skill to coordinate the efforts of various parties. Such leaders have not yet emerged. Hopefully the right people will step forward soon.
But we don’t have time to wait for a messiah. I have identified the three things that we must do. If and only if we are bold enough to seize this trident, we can face the raging juggernaut head-on—and prevail.