Posted on February 21, 2023

Four Reasons Why Heterodox Academy Failed

Nathan Cofnas, National Association of Scholars, Winter 2022

The purge of heretical scholars and ideas in academia is intensifying.1 Many job applications now require loyalty oaths to woke orthodoxy in the form of “diversity statements.”2 In the humanities and social sciences, large numbers of faculty are being hired to engage in what is effectively leftist activism.3 Simply ranting about how much you hate conservatives, Christians, or straight white men can be considered “scholarship” and the basis for a distinguished career. Entire departments devoted to ideology-driven fields like gender studies have been established to promote “social justice” and provide sinecures to activists.4 Academic papers that undermine the woke narrative are being retracted,5 and journals are adopting implicit or explicit polices to ensure that crimethink is never published again.6 Many undergraduate and graduate programs have stopped asking for standardized test scores and are increasingly making admissions decisions based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and ideological conformity.

Seven years ago, Heterodox Academy (HxA) came on the scene to promote “ideological diversity” in academia. Cofounder Jonathan Haidt—a prominent social psychologist who is now chair of the board of directors and the person most associated with the organization—spoke forcefully about the scholarship-corrupting effects of liberal groupthink. The leaders of HxA led people to believe that they were going to organize a meaningful resistance.

Seven years later, you can count HxA’s accomplishments in promoting heterodoxy on the fingers of zero hands. It has focused mainly on aggrandizing celebrity academics who hold conventional leftist views, and giving a platform to liberals to engage in empty virtue signaling about their alleged commitment to free inquiry. Scholars whose work is genuinely heterodox have been systematically marginalized. In at least one instance, a psychologist known for his work on race differences (Helmuth Nyborg) was denied membership.

The situation at universities is part of a larger cultural phenomenon; namely, the triumph of wokeism as the religion of the ruling class, and the purge of dissenters from every mainstream institution. {snip}


Like traditional religions, wokeism teaches a sacred narrative to make sense of the world. The woke narrative is primarily concerned with explaining inequality—the great evil against which wokesters are enjoined to wage an all-consuming crusade. It is an empirical fact that different groups of people—races, genders, sexual orientations—have different outcomes with respect to virtually everything that can be measured: educational attainment, income, incarceration rate, IQ, blood pressure, life expectancy, and so on. According to the woke narrative, all differences favoring whites or men are a consequence of forces such as white privilege and the patriarchy. In most cases it is not possible to explain in naturalistic terms how these forces produce the disparate outcomes in question, but to consider alternative explanations is an act of unspeakable wickedness. The penalty for asking critical questions about the narrative is what used to be called “excommunication” and is now called “cancelation.”


{snip} The regression that we are undergoing could potentially be stopped if we fought back effectively. We can look to the current heterodox movement in academia led by HxA for lessons about what not to do. I highlight four reasons why HxA failed.

Reason 1: It Became Another Club for Leftists


Reason 2: It Refuses to Leverage Political Power


Reason 3: HxA Leaders Are Trying to Make a Big-Tent Movement


Reason 4: HxA Won’t Support Heterodoxy on the Most Important Topic

Wokeism is built upon an ideological certitude about the origins of inequality: all groups have the same distribution of innate potential, and all differences favoring whites or men are due to past or present white racism or sexism. The whole ideology stands or falls on this empirical claim. Therefore, the greatest taboo in our society is to consider alternative explanations for inequality, particularly those that implicate natural differences in the distribution of traits among racial groups.27

The ideological precept underlying wokeism has to be protected from scrutiny by a taboo for one simple reason: it is not scientifically supported.28 No matter how much people are punished for telling the truth—denied jobs, kicked off social media, or called names—and no matter how much honor is bestowed on those who defend woke lies, the facts will not change. Different ancestral populations—call them “races,” “ethnicities,” or whatever you want—are genetically distinguishable.29 They have different distributions of traits, including measured IQ30 and athletic abilities,31 likely in part because they were subject to different selection pressures in recent history. It is possible these differences play a nontrivial role in social outcomes. Almost every remotely plausible environmental explanation for these differences has been repeatedly tested in both natural and controlled experiments, and the same patterns of differences appear every time. As of yet, there is nothing that seriously casts doubt on the hereditarian explanation, and if it weren’t for the political implications this wouldn’t be controversial.

Like all informed people, Jonathan Haidt is aware of this. In 2009, he noted that “[r]ecent ‘sweeps’ of the genome across human populations show that hundreds of genes have been changing during the last five to ten millennia in response to local selection pressures.” He predicted that “dozens or hundreds of ethnic differences will be found” in “traits such as collectivism, clannishness, aggressiveness, docility, or the ability to delay gratification.”32 But since the founding of HxA he has changed his tune. In 2018 he said only that we should be “willing to entertain the possibility that . . . people from different cultures may have different preferences.”33

More recently—and despite his highly publicized resignation from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology over required DEI statements—Haidt said he “open[ed] [his] heart” to the woke narrative on race. His “transformation” occurred when he went on a “civil rights pilgrimage” with the late Congressman John Lewis. Someone “helped [him] understand [that] it’s not that slavery ended, it changed form. It’s not that Jim Crow ended, it changes form.” While the ideal of a “colorblind” society in which we “treat everybody the same” may be appealing to “twentieth-century white guys” like himself, he’s “now much more open to the idea that . . . for now, we do have to pay attention to race. We do have to change things about our society that lead to different outcomes.”34

HxA has not welcomed or given a platform to scholars who talk about race differences. At the 2018 HxA conference, John McWhorter argued—without receiving any pushback—that race differences shouldn’t be discussed on campus,35 and another panelist said that someone known for talking about differences shouldn’t be invited to speak.36 McWhorter went on to win HxA’s 2020 Leadership Award for his “exceptional leadership in championing open inquiry.”37 But the reality of race differences is a stake in the heart of wokeism. {snip}

The Future of Free Thought


There is an epidemic of cowardice among opponents of wokeism, and not only in academia. While SJWs fight tooth and nail to defend their lies and delusions, very few people on the other side are willing to defend their position with the same intensity.40 This is why SJWs almost always win despite the fact that most people are unhappy about political correctness;41 even a majority of college students say they “often feel intimidated sharing their ideas, opinions or beliefs in class.”42

When SJWs decided to get Noah Carl fired from his postdoc at St. Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge,43 they picketed, they rewrote the lyrics to popular songs to make them about how Carl is a racist, and they mobilized hundreds of academics to advance their cause. There were zero counterprotests. No prominent academics threatened to boycott St. Edmund’s College if Carl was mistreated. He was fired, and then not much happened.

In 2013, SJWs discovered that Jason Richwine’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard mentioned some facts they didn’t like about race differences.44 Twenty-three student groups at Harvard released a statement declaring that “[e]ven if [Richwine’s] claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse.”45 His employer, the Heritage Foundation, which is a supposedly conservative think tank, forced him to resign.

In 2020 Bo Winegard was fired from Marietta College46 for crimethink about race,47 and there was virtually no response other than a few complaints on Twitter.

For four years University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax has been barred from teaching required courses because SJWs don’t like something she said about race differences, and no one is doing anything about it.48 In fact, one panelist at the 2018 HxA conference suggested that Wax’s treatment “may be appropriate” while the other panelists nodded in apparent agreement.49 Recently the dean of Penn’s law school asked the Faculty Senate to impose “major sanctions” against Wax as a step toward revoking her tenure. Silence from HxA.

Last year, two Georgetown University adjunct law professors—Sandra Sellers and David Batson—were caught having (what they thought was) a private Zoom conversation in which Sellers lamented that many of their lower-performing students are black. According to Slate, fifty-one student organizations at Georgetown, seventy-four black law student associations across the country, and almost 800 current Georgetown law students and 700 alumni (including the Slate journalist himself) united to attack Sellers and Batson.50 On the heterodox side, only one organization—the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—even offered to help.51 HxA didn’t say a word. Sellers was fired. Batson was placed on administrative leave and resigned under pressure.