Posted on October 24, 2020

Philosophy Is Being Hijacked by Woke Twitter Mobs

Nathan Cofnas, Quillette, October 21, 2020

Philosophers tend to be highly influenced by their environment, and can often be found rationalizing instead of critically examining the conventional views of the people around them. But if anything warrants philosophical scrutiny, surely it is our national taboos. As a philosopher of biology, one taboo is of particular interest to me: the taboo on considering the possibility that genes play a role in group differences in psychological traits. So I wrote a paper arguing that, while nothing can be definitively proved, there is strongly suggestive evidence that genes are involved in group differences, and we should stop suppressing and censoring research into this topic.

I submitted the paper to Philosophical Psychology—a respected journal that publishes work on the connection between philosophy and psychology, which at the time was co-edited by Mitchell Herschbach (a philosopher) and ‪Cees van Leeuwen (a psychologist). To my pleasant surprise, I received two positive referee reports along with a request for revisions. After two rounds of review, the paper was accepted and published in the January 2020 issue of the journal.

The paper was accompanied by an Editors’ Note written by van Leeuwen and Herschbach, saying:

The decision to publish an article in Philosophical Psychology is based on criteria of philosophical and scientific merit, rather than ideological conformity… In sum, Cofnas’ paper certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ. However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence, and they deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.


It didn’t take long for the paper and Editors’ Note to come to the attention of the wokerati on Twitter. Macquarie University philosophy professor Mark Alfano deemed my paper “shit” and announced his plan to “ruin [my] reputation permanently and deservedly.” He started a petition on demanding an “apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three)” from the journal editors. A number of philosophers—many of whom did not even read the paper—joined the campaign to get it retracted and/or smear me. {snip}

But the editors of Philosophical Psychology stood firm. {snip}

A group of six philosophers and three anthropologists—including Mark Alfano and City University of New York philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci—submitted a comment on my paper to Philosophical Psychology, pedaling some familiar fallacies and strawmen. {snip}

Then they throw out the old canard that race can’t be real because humans share 99.9 percent of their DNA. They don’t mention that there are three billion base pairs in the human genome, and therefore three million base pairs where we are not identical, which could be the basis of race differences. {snip} In any case, crude comparisons of genetic similarity provide little information about the magnitude or significance of differences. We are 99.1 percent identical with chimpanzees in terms of functionally important DNA, but if that’s all you told a space alien about the difference between us and chimps it would be pretty misleading. {snip}

{snip}Many prominent scientists have said openly that it is immoral to study this topic. Scholars who are seen as supporting hereditarianism are regularly fired from their jobs. {snip}


Then, out of the blue, van Leeuwen released a statement announcing his resignation:

After 25 years at the journal, I am resigning as editor of Philosophical Psychology. The reason is the imminent publication of a commentary bypassing editor moderation. While my co-editor and part of the editorial board felt that a stream of insinuations and personal attacks on social media left them with no better choice, my resignation should be seen as taking a stand for an independent, non-partisan forum for philosophical debate.


The remaining editor-in-chief, Mitchell Herschbach, who previously coauthored two separate statements defending the review process and the decision to publish my paper, published a groveling apology. {snip}