Life has not been easy for dissidents from blank-slate orthodoxy at Harvard. In 2005, then Harvard President Larry Summers made the mistake of suggesting that biological reasons may explain why women do not excel at science. The faculty gave him a no-confidence vote and he resigned.
Harvard has been closed-minded for decades. In 1971, long before he touched on race, Richard Herrnstein published an article in Atlantic Monthly entitled “IQ,” arguing that the concept was meaningful and intelligence was heritable. Leftists leafleted the campus with flyers that said “Fight Harvard Prof’s Fascist Lies,” and plastered Harvard Square with his picture and the caption, “Wanted for Racism.” He received death threats and had to cancel lectures.
Professor E.O. Wilson faced similar attacks after he published his seminal book, Sociobiology. His colleagues Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin’s “Science for the People” held teach-ins, and radicals crashed his lectures. In 1978, a leftist poured a pitcher of water over him and yelled “Wilson, you’re all wet” when he gave a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Now, the same anti-science, anti-free speech fanatics have a new target: Harvard Law student Stephanie Grace. Miss Grace is the classic overachieving law student. She graduated with honors from Princeton and went straight to Harvard Law, where she made Law Review. When she graduates at the end of this month, she is supposed to clerk for the Chief Justice of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Alex Kozinski, the best kind of clerkship you can get straight out of law school.
While Professors Wilson and Herrnstein were attacked for published research, Miss Grace’s sins were limited to a one private e-mail. In November 2009, she had a heated conversation with two friends about affirmative action. She apparently didn’t mention racial differences, but later clarified her views by e-mail:
I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position. 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. . . .
In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. . . .
Miss Grace ended her message ominously: “Please don’t pull a Larry Summers on me,” but that is exactly what happened. Months later, one of her colleagues apparently took a dislike to her and sent the e-mail text to the Harvard Black Law Students Association. The BLSA then sent it to every other BLSA in the country, along with the following preface:
Today I was forwarded an email written by a 3L HLS student (fellow classmate, though I do not know her personally) in which she apologizes to one of her friends for backing off her racist stance at dinner. A recipient of this email has asked that it be shared. The author of the email will be clerking on the 9th Circuit next year, is a member of the Harvard Law Review, FedSoc, and is a graduate of Princeton. I am saddened that a current HLS student holds such antagonistic and archaic views about our people and that the potential impact of her ignorance is only strengthened by her prestigious affiliations and credentials. . . .
Miss Grace’s message ended up on the popular legal gossip blog, Above the Law, and before long was picked up by even more popular blogs, such as the Huffington Post and Gawker. The Harvard Crimson and Boston Globe took up the story. Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow then denounced Miss Grace in a message to everyone at Harvard Law School:
I am writing this morning to address an email message in which one of our students suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people.This sad and unfortunate incident prompts both reflection and reassertion of important community principles and ideals. We seek to encourage freedom of expression, but freedom of speech should be accompanied by responsibility. . . .
. . . I met with leaders of our Black Law Students Association to discuss how to address the hurt that this has brought to this community. . . . I share their wish to turn this moment into one that helps us make progress in a community dedicated to fairness and justice.
. . . As an educational institution, we are especially dedicated to exposing to the light of inquiry false views about individuals or groups. . . .
I would like to thank the faculty, administrators, and students who have already undertaken serious efforts to increase our chances for mutual understanding, confrontation of falsehoods, and deliberative engagement with difficult issues, and making this an ever better community.
The Associated Press picked up Dean Minow’s statement, which then made its way into the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Miami Herald, and dozens of other major newspapers.
Of course, Miss Grace apologized:
I am deeply sorry for the pain caused by my email. I never intended to cause any harm, and I am heartbroken and devastated by the harm that has ensued. I would give anything to take it back.
I emphatically do not believe that African Americans are genetically inferior in any way. I understand why my words expressing even a doubt in that regard were and are offensive.
I would be grateful to have an opportunity to share my thoughts and to apologize to you in person. . . .
There will be comparisons to Larry Summers and to James Watson (who quickly backed down when there was an uproar over his musings about blacks and IQ), but it is more instructive to consider how Miss Grace’s case is different. She is a student. She speculated in private correspondence to two friends. Dr. Summers and Professor Watson had established careers and reputations that were so strong that they could have pushed the debate forward if they had had enough guts. When eminent, powerful men are made to bow and scrape, what can we expect from Stephanie Grace?
Her apology is therefore much more forgivable, but it will do her no good. Who is going to believe that she “emphatically” does not believe something she considered quite possible a few months ago? The only result is that the anti-science ideologues have again demonstrated their tremendous power.
How do the lefties justify attacking a non-public figure because of private correspondence? They claim that if she gets a federal clerkship she will be in a position to oppress blacks. As The American Prospect‘s Tapped blog argued:
Grace is possibly about to launch a career in the public sector which, frankly, makes her an employee–and steward–of the general population. And I don’t want to hire her. I suppose it’s remotely possible that there’s such a thing as a government agency where issues of racial justice do not matter, but the federal justice system is definitely not that place.
At the same time, the Left is utterly unprincipled, and doesn’t hesitate to junk the rules when it comes to “racists.” The gossip blog Gawker, which first published Miss Grace’s identity, justified it this way:
We shouldn’t really be worried about the privacy of people who actually mull over the possibility, the mayyyybe, that on an unchangeable genetic level, black people are not as smart as white people. It’s the willingness to even entertain the conversation that smacks of ugly. . . . Why did your brain go there? Because you’re an eensy bit racist, is why. In 2010 these people’s rocks should be overturned, because they’re jerks and sometimes public shaming is just what the doctor ordered.
Another reason lefties decided to stomp on Miss Grace is that they are incredibly status conscious, and think they are smarter than conservatives, and especially “racists.” They are terrified to think that a young lady who is smarter and more accomplished than they are could be thinking “racist” thoughts. Alternet’s headline was “When Smart People Say Stupid Things.” The Boston Globe‘s Brainiac blog acknowledged that “Grace’s comments have drawn attention partly because she’s a Harvard Law Review editor and headed for an elite appeals-court clerkship.” In a piece entitled, “Ho Sit Down: Harvard Law Student Shames Obama’s Alma Mater With Ignorant Email,” the gossip blog Bossip said it was “worth mentioning that this student graduated from Princeton in 2007 with a degree in sociology.” It went on to marvel at her position on the Law Review and her post-grad plans to work for Judge Alex Kozinski.
Another major difference between what happened to Miss Grace and to Dr. Summers and Professor Watson is the role of the Internet. What prominent men do is news, and their remarks would have created the same storm 20 years ago. Miss Grace’s ordeal is different. There would have been no story about her prior to the proliferation of gossip and political blogs. The Boston Globe and Washington Post covered this non-story only after hundreds of self righteous liberal bloggers had vented their collective indignation. The Internet has been a great tool for race realists, but it is a double-edged sword.
Fortunately, Mss Grace is not without defenders. Many people have spoken up not only for her freedom of speech, but also for the proposition that racial differences may be genetic. Eugene Volokh who teaches law at UCLA and publishes the popular legal blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, wrote that he hoped there were no racial differences in IQ, but wondered:
[What if] scientists know that it’s likely professional suicide to argue that some evidence supports the racial differences hypothesis, or undermines the no racial differences hypothesis. Or say they are assured by their colleagues that it’s safe to go where they think the evidence might lead, but they see people across the quad in another university department being publicly excoriated for even accepting the possibility of the outcome that those scientists suspect might be worth testing for. Or say that journalists or outsiders who think there might be scientific groupthink undermining the soundness of the scientific process suspect that it’s likely professional suicide to challenge no-racial-difference arguments.
At that point, the very attempt to suppress the openness to the possibility that there might be racial differences will make it impossible to disprove that possibility. [emphasis in original]
David Lat, an Asian who founded Above the Law, wrote:
Let me play devil’s advocate for a second. . . .If we accept “race” as a biological concept–which I realize is questionable, becoming diluted through intermarriage, etc.–is it really so insane to suggest that some races might, ON AVERAGE, possess certain qualities to a greater or lesser degree than other races?
For example, would it be racist to say that, ON AVERAGE, African-Americans are taller than Asian-Americans? Or that Caucasians are more likely to have blond hair than Asian-Americans?
Above the Law, which appeals to students at elite law schools and associates at big law firms, asked its readers if they thought Miss Grace’s views were “racist.” Fifty-seven percent said they were not. When asked if her comments were offensive, 65 percent said they were somewhat or very offensive, but 12.5 percent replied, “not at all, in fact I AGREE with her.” This means one out of eight readers agreed with a proposition that would get them excoriated by their deans and the national media.
It is hard to gauge the effect that this controversy will have on the overall discussion about race differences. I suspect it will prompt many independent thinkers to take a look at the evidence. At the same time, this will make the great taboo even more off limits than before.
In the inaugural issue of American Renaissance, Jared Taylor recounted the furor over Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone comment that America had lost its competitive edge because of large numbers of blacks and Hispanics. Mr. Taylor asked, “How many Americans must have thought to themselves, ‘Mr. Nakasone is right’–and said nothing?”
More and more people are beginning to have heterodox thoughts, but they have more and more reason to say nothing.