******************** THIS BLOG HAS MOVED TO WWW.LEGALINSURRECTION.COM ********************

This blog is moving to www.legalinsurrection.com. If you have not been automatically redirected please click on the link.

NEW COMMENTS will NOT be put through and will NOT be transferred to the new website.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Watch As I Place My Hand In Hot Oil

Nah, that would be too easy, and relatively painless compared to weighing in on the "Harvard Racist E-mail" controversy.

Haven't heard of it? Join the other 99.999% of Americans. But in the law-related blogosphere, the controversy is all the rage the past few days.

For various versions of and opinions on the story, TaxProf Blog is collecting links.

The short version of the story is that roughly six months ago a third-year female student at Harvard Law School wrote an e-mail to a (now former) friend regarding a debate over whether there was scientific research which could justify the position that blacks were less intelligent than whites. The student had a falling out with her friend, who then circulated the e-mail to the HLS Black Law Students Association and others. The rest, as they say, is internet history.

I suggest that you read the full text of the e-mail, because context is important, particularly the fact that the student was not embracing such theories. Here are the money-lines most frequently quoted (emphasis mine):

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic....

The reaction to the e-mail ranged from calls for the student to lose her federal judicial clerkship which she is to begin next fall, to making sure that the student is "outed" to every future potential employer.

A consistent theme has been that the theories raised by the student are so thoroughly discredited that there is no reason to challenge her on the merits; she simply is a racist.

In the meantime, the student has apologized.

Rather than repeating what others have said, here are some reactions worth reading:

I'd like to focus on something a little different.

Misperceptions and misconceptions do not go away because we forbid people to talk about them; rather, silence allows the misperceptions and misconceptions to grow unchallenged.

Would we not be better off if we fostered an academic culture in which we could debate -- and debunk -- abhorrent theories rather than letting them fester below the surface? Particularly when those theories are expressed by students still trying to figure things out, as opposed to people in positions of power?

That doesn't mean that vigorous criticism is out of line.

But the potential loss of employment and a life in which this student will be pursued relentlessly is a fairly significant sanction to place on a mid-20-something who wrote a private e-mail to a friend.

While the student has given the obligatory apology, I doubt that any minds have been changed, anywhere.

Unfortunately, the lesson which will be learned is not that the theories expressed in the e-mail were wrong on the merits, but that such thoughts should not be put in writing, even to a friend.

Update: Appears that the falling out which led to the e-mail being circulated was ... (wait for it) ... over a boy, or as Gawker terms it, a "cat fight." More at Althouse.

--------------------------------------------
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook
Bookmark and Share

24 comments:

  1. Should we consider a Corporate Windfall Profits Tax in order to balance the U.S. federal budget? Please share your opinion at www.dyslexinomicon.blogspot.com

    In 1965, even after Kennedy's historic tax cuts, corporate taxes made up 21.8%(1) of federal revenues, the marginal corporate income tax rate was 70%(2) and unemployment was at 4.5%(3). But as of 2007 corporations slashed their share down to 14.4% of federal revenues while shoving an additional 4% of the burden on individual tax payers. Currently the marginal corporate income tax rate is 35%, and unemployment hovers around 10%.

    Check it out yourself:
    (1) Federal burden sharing by sector:
    www.whitehouse.gov/omb/Budget/historicals , Office of Management and Budget Table 2.2

    (2) Marginal federal income tax rates: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States for marginal tax rates,

    (3) Unemployment history: www.gpoaccess.gov/eop/tables10.html , Table B-42 Civilian Unemployment Rates 1962-2009

    ReplyDelete
  2. 04/30/10 - Tom Maquire at JustOneMinute commented about the average performance of ethnic groups on standardized intelligence tests.

    "I wonder why the white geniuses that invented these culturally biased tests for intelligence couldn't rig them so that whites would out-score Asians. I bet if Asians had designed these tests they would have been able to rig them properly."

    EasyOpinions

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Would we not be better off if we fostered an academic culture in which we could debate -- and debunk -- abhorrent theories rather than letting them fester below the surface? Particularly when those theories are expressed by students still trying to figure things out, as opposed to people in positions of power?"

    Yes and yes. I would also add that academia would be far better off if it weren't so ideologically rigid that it refuses to accept viewpoints that don't tow the liberal line. I ran into some quite serious problems working on my dissertation (not about race, btw) not because my ideas were faulty or debunked but because they didn't fit the leftie loon worldview of my committee.

    Intellectual "rigor" in the academic world is largely about memorizing liberal ideology and being good at picking the right ready-made argument (replete with its originator and the text in which it was "proven"). It has little to do with independent thought or (oh noes!) tackling theories and questioning assumptions. Odd, because you'd think that would be the exact place to do this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nah -- we're never going to be a post-racial society.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This matter pops up every so often. Most recently, in 2007, Nobel Laureate James Watson (who won the prize for his role in discovering DNA) raised it -- and reaped a whirlwind of reactions. Back in 1994, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve, a tome that set forth the proposition that, based on IQ test results, it was at least possible that various races and sub-race ethnic groups did vary in some measures of intelligence because of genetic differences. This study set off a very big stink.

    I've always thought the William F. Buckley's response to the controversy was the right one. Buckley wrote that if we suppose hypothetically that the Bell Curve proposition is true -- Blacks have a slightly lower mean intelligence (in some sense of that word) than whites -- whta difference would it or should it make? Surely, many Blacks would still be highly intelligent and many whites very unintelligent, the small mean variation having little consequence for individuals. If as a society, we treated everyone as an individual -- and evaluated their merit individually -- it would not matter at all. Of course, as long as we regard people not as individuals but as members of a group, it will have a great impact.

    Personally, as a white an of 100% Irish descent, I would not be knocked for a loop -- or even surprised to tell the truth -- if someone demonstrated that, on average, East Asians or Ashkinazy Jews had a higher mean intelligence that Irishmen. Why should it matter to me when I went to an Ivy college and both my son and daughter did as well? It wouldn't in large part because I am not carrying around an inferiority complex drummed into me from toddlerhood to law school and reinforced by politicians who think they are doing me a favor by treating me as a perpetual victim.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The blogs and media who reported on this story made certain every reader knows the name of Stephanie Grace as the person who wrote the email. I wish they would have been just as diligent about prominently reporting the name of the "friend" who went public with the email.

    Because if I'm an employer doing a Google search on a potential employee's name, I want to know about an unethical candidate who betrayed the trust of a friend by gong public with an email that was intended to be a private conversation between friends, without the consent of the writer of the email, for the purpose of harming Ms. Grace's reputation and employment prospects.

    Maybe I'm old fashioned or just plain wrong, but to me the sin of the friend is greater than the sin of Ms. Grace. The friend appeared to have acted out of malice, while Ms. Grace simply expressed her honest, perhaps controversial opinion, about the mere possibility of a scientific fact that the PC police found distasteful.

    ReplyDelete
  7. well, if you want to suffer, how about try the everyone draw mohammed movement. Fatwahs for everyone!

    http://everyonedrawmohammed.blogspot.com/

    As creepy and bad the behavior was at harvard, it pales in comparison to what is happening at comedy central.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is simply absurd. The girl seemed simply to express an agnosticism about the issue. To think that genetics has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence is simply ridiculous. The girl was open to whatever science may prove.

    Perhaps the problem is that human beings are no longer thought to have an intrinsic value which exceeds their societal use. The fear is then that if any one group of people were found to have, on average, a lower mean of intelligence, they would be morally devalued. Rather than deny, a priori, the plausible idea that genetics have an effect on intelligence, we should deny the philosophical presupposition that human beings have value only in so far as they are useful. Therefore, no matter what the case, every individual human being should be treated as a subject who has the same inalienable rights as every other human being.

    To give this girl so much grief is teetering on the edge of condemning her as a thought criminal, with the Tyranny of Public Opinion acting as the enforcer of the penalty. Haven't any of her fellow law students read Mill's On Liberty? All we can safely speak about is the weather and they call it the freedom of thought.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ahhhh.....now is this the "it" that you wouldn't comment on (yet)? Good. No one is blogging on this one.

    I agree with John Burke's last paragraph. Too many are getting this racist inferiority meme drummed into them since birth, almost. Shame on those who wish to enslave free men and women by turning them into perpetual victims. All the liberal left wants is to keep them "in their place" so they will vote "as they wish" not according to what is best for the individuals involved. Shameful!

    I also agree with your take. Open debate is the best way to shatter misconceptions, including one race is superior to another. What ever happened to our "post-racial America" - as if I didn't know.... Thanks again, Professor!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Peter

    > All we can safely speak about is the weather and they call it the freedom of thought.

    Not even that. If you express skepticism of global warming...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Isn't the purpose of an academic environment to educate? I guess it's just easier to indoctrinate.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Actually in all seriousness, at my alma mater, Yale, i think you could get away with saying many, many heresies and not get in trouble. I gave my teachers hell and they gave me honors for it. They genuinely enjoyed someone trying to rip their arguments apart, and, well, they presented a fat target.

    ReplyDelete
  13. A.W. brings an interesting point. Perhaps it wasn't so much that this was being questioned in public but she had the audacity to wonder in private about such things.

    After all, it's the terror of every insecure person that someone is thinking "something else" about you in private than what you'd want them to. And, outside of our politicians, Liberals seem to own political insecurity.

    ReplyDelete
  14. What if all the evidence showed blacks to be, on average, more intelligent than whites. Wouldn't this be the biggest boost to The Left's argument that blacks are still greatly oppressed? What does it say about us that there are questions that are off limits, as if the answers would condone racism or other evils? There are many diseases with which blacks are more likely to be afflicted, and yet there aren't demonstrations and racial arguments made about (disclaimer: not making this statement) the "physiological inferiority of blacks."

    ReplyDelete
  15. I found Brian Leiter's take on the issue extremely offensive. Not only can he not read and comprehend, he had the unmitigated gall to call the woman "a neanderthal". My response to jerks like him would be, "Pot? Kettle?".

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm wondering why the university isnt going after the girl who released the private email after a falling out with her friend as revenge. To me thats the more unethical item in the story.

    She got pissed enough to folward it to the black student group? Yeah I'd be sanctioning her, rather than a woman who was having a debate.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am truly tired of self-righteous hypocrisy. What is it about Harvard that people who attend school there end up with a gigantic pole up their butts?

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm amazed the friend didn't forward the missive on to Professor Gates and President obama. Why stop with a black student group.

    I agree with Margot about a friend's betrayal. However, a bright law student has got to remember that whatever she writes in an email can not only be forwarded, it can be stored forever by the ISP or whomever out there in the internet wants it. Facebook will take anything and then sell it again.

    So no privacy; no honor and no freedom of inquiry - sounds like another day in the neighborhood.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Brian Leiter rides beyond the range of his evidence - he cites an article that says that heritable traits may not always have a direct genetic component, and summarizes that as heritable traits do not have a direct genetic component. And him a law professor and all - tsk, tsk.

    Tom Maguire

    ReplyDelete
  20. --mikehinton said... There are many diseases with which blacks are more likely to be afflicted, and yet there aren't demonstrations and racial arguments made about (disclaimer: not making this statement) the "physiological inferiority of blacks."

    May 3, 2010 5:34 PM
    ================================================

    Mike, yes they are. When Obama was running for President, an e-group I had belonged to for 10 years was having a discussion about him only having released a one-page medical assessment while McCain released mountains of records for perusal by the press.

    The subject came around to the purple/bluish color of Obama's lips and the fact that he always seemed tired as compared to McCain who was 20 plus years older.

    I made the comment that the color of Obama's lips could be attributed to any number of things including simple Mendelian genetics or lack of oxygen. Further, lack of energy might also be a symptom of oxygen deprivation. I then continued by stating lack of oxygen might be attributed to a range of things from lung problems caused by a lifetime of smoking to sickle cell anemia.

    Because I mentioned sickle cell, I was immediately called a racist and, after more than a decade of debate and discussion of topics from movies to politics, summarily kicked out of the group by the liberal moderator.

    There is no room for criticism of Obama with liberals. It's their way or the highway.

    ReplyDelete
  21. If blacks are equal in intellect than other groups, they why do universities such as U of M insist on keeping minority based (and are women really a minority on college campuses today?) quota admission policies? Wouldn't that insistence mean the university does not believe blacks can compete? A university administrator who would admonish a student, while defending an affirmative action policy seems to lack confidence of an equality claim.

    John Burke's comment on William F Buckley makes a good point. For myself, I think after a certain IQ is reached other character traits become as important as pure intellect in leading a successful life.

    This incident is a good example of why women don't like to work with or especially for other women. Things like this happen when they disagree, or especially as in this case, they only hear what they want to.. They don't disagree, they get even.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Among those in the IQ field, that race differences exist is not a controversial topic (IQ itself, is controversial to the leftist world). In the US, Blacks score lower than Whites. And Whites score lower than Asians. The causes of these differences are what is debated. It is conceivable that the difference is partly due to genetic differences (that was Jensen's argument years ago, based on sound reasoning), but the difference could also be purely environmental. It is a difficult issue to address, although many people have in various clever ways. Anyway, that groups differ is something no leftist wants to hear about and merely suggesting it cost Summers his job as President of Harvard. But just because Leftists can't cope with groups differing on numerous traits and individuals differing on numerous traits, doesn't mean it isn't so! If only those people were willing to see the world as it is, rather than how they believe it to be or how they wish it to be, we'd have a much better society with fewer problems.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I wonder if we substituted another subject in Ms Grace's comments if the reactions would be the same?

    I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria.

    I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that homosexual males are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less attracted to females. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as attracted to females as heterosexual males under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of =sexuality is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria.


    I also wonder if Mr. Leiter would similarly assert that, "There is no evidence--literally, none--that sexuality differences ... have a genetic basis."

    ReplyDelete
  24. What always puzzled me is that it's perfectly ok to say that blacks are more athletic than whites or that blacks have certain appendages that are larger. It's even ok to say that asians are smarter than whites and blacks.

    However, somehow it's not possible that the same genetic processes which tend to give these positive attributes to black people cannot also confer a less desirable quality such as a lower average intelligence. It's as if genetics can only provide positive qualities and not negative.

    ReplyDelete