Jake Ryan and Noah Carl, Daily Mail, September 28, 2019
An academic sacked by Cambridge over allegations he published racist research is taking the university to court for unfair dismissal, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Noah Carl, a social scientist, was dropped from a prestigious research fellowship at St Edmund’s College in part because he was said to have ‘collaborated’ with people ‘known to hold extremist views’.
The researcher’s writing on the link between IQ and genes caused 586 academics and 874 students to sign a letter to St Edmund’s accusing him of ‘racist pseudoscience’.
The letter sparked an investigation by the college, which sacked Mr Carl as a result of its findings.
But the academic, writing in today’s MoS, reveals he has now filed an employment tribunal claim against St Edmund’s for ‘unfair dismissal, discrimination because of religion or belief and breach of contract’. A crowd-funding campaign to fund the legal action, set up by a US software developer with links to the conservative Right, raised over $100,000 (£82,000) from more than 1,000 donors.
Mr Carl gave a speech after his sacking in which he set out evidence of over-representation of Left-wing views among British academics. He said studies in 1960 showed about a third of academics supported the Conservative Party and 45 per cent Labour, but by 2015 it was 11 per cent who supported the Tories and about 70 per cent Labour.
Cambridge University declined to comment due to the ongoing legal case but in a statement following Mr Carl’s sacking, Matthew Bullock, the master of St Edmund’s, said that Mr Carl’s appointment could have led to the ‘college being used as a platform to promote views that could incite racial or religious hatred’.
In March, Cambridge University rescinded its offer of a visiting fellowship to controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson after he was pictured next to a man in a T-shirt reading ‘I’m a proud Islamophobe’.
Why I’m fighting back against the academic mob killing our free speech on campuses
Most academics go their entire career without receiving much in the way of publicity. Hence media coverage of one’s work is usually something to celebrate. Not in my case.
At the end of last year, I found myself at the centre of a media storm after a censorious open letter accusing me of ‘racist pseudoscience’ was signed by several hundred academics. The open letter was addressed to St Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge, where I had been appointed to a research fellowship just two months earlier.
It repeated catchphrases such as ‘racist’ and ‘discredited’ – but offered no specific evidence for its slanderous accusations.
The letter mentioned that I had attended something called The London Conference on Intelligence (LCI) where, it alleged, ‘racist and pseudoscientific work has regularly been presented’.
The LCI was a meeting of researchers interested in topics related to psychometric intelligence, including some controversial ones such as the causes of population differences in intelligence. Contrary to the allegation that work presented there was ‘pseudoscientific’, around 50 per cent of talks were associated with publications in mainstream scientific journals, which is about average for conferences in the field of biomedical science.
The open letter against me was just the latest incident of what has become known as ‘academic mobbing’ – where tens or hundreds of scholars join forces to condemn one of their colleagues, typically via an open letter or online petition.
St Edmund’s College launched two investigations into the complaints they had received. One of these, led by a retired Court of Appeals judge, concluded that neither I nor the college had acted improperly during the appointment process.
However, the second investigation, which was undertaken by a panel of college fellows, concluded that some of my work was ‘problematic’, and that I had ‘collaborated’ with individuals who hold ‘extremist views’. The college terminated my fellowship.
In a public statement, the Master apologised for the ‘hurt’ that my appointment had caused.
Needless to say, I was extremely dissatisfied with the way St Edmund’s College treated me. And judging by the public reaction, so were many others.
Thanks to the more than 1,000 people who have generously supported my crowd-funding campaign, I can reveal that my lawyers have now filed a claim in my employment tribunal against the college.
Unfortunately, the attack on me was not an isolated incident. Back in 2017, the Oxford theology professor Nigel Biggar was subjected to two open letters, one of which casually traduced him as ‘a long-time apologist for colonialism’.
Such co-ordinated acts of public shaming not only allow signatories to virtue-signal their support for certain political causes but also serve as a warning to potential dissidents: tread carefully, or face mass denunciation. And indeed, other young scholars who might have considered looking into the same topics as me will now be less inclined to do so.
Letters denouncing academics serve another important function: they heap pressure on institutions to do the petitioners’ bidding. In my own case, the letter called for an ‘investigation into the appointment process that led to the award of this fellowship’.
They are part of a broader trend in which individuals who express dissident viewpoints are hectored, pilloried, shouted down, prevented from speaking, and sometimes even hounded out of their jobs. This trend, known variously as ‘cancel culture’ and ‘mob outrage’, seems to have undergone a worrying acceleration.
Indeed, there have been several prominent – and very troubling – cases in 2019 alone.
In January, the 78-year-old Catholic legal scholar Professor John Finnis found himself the subject of an online student petition, which called for his removal from the University of Oxford on the grounds that he is ‘known for being particularly homophobic and transphobic’. Then in March, the academic and free-speech activist Professor Jordan Peterson had his visiting fellowship at the University of Cambridge abruptly rescinded.
The official reason given was that Peterson had appeared in a photograph with a man wearing an offensive T-shirt. (According to the vice-chancellor, Peterson’s appearance in the photograph amounted to a ‘casual endorsement’ of the man’s T-shirt.)
In April this year, the 75-year-old conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton was sacked from a Government advisory role after a journalist from the New Statesman egregiously misquoted and mischaracterised comments he had made during an interview. (He was later re-hired, but perhaps only thanks to a concerted effort by the journalist Douglas Murray, who obtained a tape recording of the interview that vindicated Scruton.)
Finally, in June the feminist writer Julie Bindel was subjected to verbal abuse and an attempted violent attack by a trans activist, following a talk she gave at the University of Edinburgh. Ironically, the subject of her talk was violence against women.
In today’s frenzied social-media age, individuals whose opinions are not ‘woke’ enough cannot simply be criticised or debated – they must be made to suffer.
But how do the ideological activists – who have abandoned any commitment to free speech – achieve this aim?
A typical witch-hunt involves one or more of the following tactics: The first is to impute guilt by association. Even if the target himself has not said anything inflammatory, activists will protest that he has ‘links’ to more invidious actors (such as having merely been cited by them).
The second is to mischaracterise the target’s views, usually by cherry-picking quotations or relying on tendentious third- party criticism.
One especially common tactic is to conflate the target’s good-faith arguments or impartial statistical claims with ‘hatred’ of a particular group.
The third is to employ emotional blackmail. Activists have developed a bewildering array of slogans that allow them to portray those who might dismiss their plight as callous and unfeeling.
For example, they will accuse the target of ‘violating their safe space’, or complain that the target’s words ‘deny their right to exist’.
Why does this matter?
Well, universities are meant to be places where we can explore controversial ideas, challenge received wisdom, and debate conflicting perspectives.
Yet they are becoming, in the words of Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, ‘laughing stocks of intolerance’.
We already have plenty of institutions where people can ‘feel safe’ while engaging in political activism with their ideological bedfellows.
What purpose do universities serve if certain viewpoints cannot be discussed because they are deemed too controversial or too offensive?
Those of us who believe in free speech and open inquiry, regardless of our political leanings, need to take back control from the illiberal activists and re-establish universities as places where the search for truth takes centre stage.
Only then can we hope to achieve some degree of consensus on the many pressing issues that we face as a society.