One of the cruelest things about cancel mobs is that their victims generally suffer alone. Partially this is because the mob operates virtually (for the most part), such that most of one’s “real-life” friends and colleagues are only vaguely aware that anything is happening. But it’s more the case that the people who do know what’s going on are also — and rightfully — scared shitless of getting cancelled themselves. The mob operates in the classic “terrorist” mode — they achieve their political goals not by destroying specific enemies, but by creating spectacles that terrify their opponents into inaction. When Al-Qaeda crucifies a school teacher for collaborating with the Americans, nobody stands up against them even though they despise Al-Qaeda’s tactics and most of its beliefs; they’re too scared. Same with your academic colleagues when the mob comes from you. They privately, secretly express support, tell you how awful the cancellers are, but nobody wants to go through that shit.
Many of them are also in complete denial about how pervasive the problem is. People oppose the cancel mobs, but when they see a close friend or colleague subjected to one, they rationalize their inaction by telling themselves it’s a fluke, a local problem, and it will pass. But it’s not; it’s a system-wide plague. It also doesn’t just affect people on the right; even leftists who endorse positions considered heretical by the woke cathedral, such as feminists critical of the mob’s weird post-human transgender dogma, are at risk. This is obvious to those of us with a vested interest in following these trends due to our own heresies, but it has been unfortunately difficult to convince the broader public of the existence of the threat. The mob of course downplays everything; any one trying to call out their crimes is accused of being paranoid or spreading conspiracy theories. Rather like our ascendant Democrat commissars expressly deny the existence of the Antifa cells that do their wetwork for them — it’s all a figment of the right-wing imagination, and merely suggesting the existence of coordinated activity is probably evidence that you’re a white nationalist.
But all of that is hand-waving — “anecdata” as a scientist might scoff at a news article about some poorly sourced political hobby horse cause. My one experience with the mob, or even my knowledge of the handful of mob attacks that rise to sufficient prominence to be visible through the online noise, isn’t necessarily indicative of a real trend; I am admittedly subject to strong cognitive bias in favor of me being right and the mob being wrong, just as the mob and their head-in-the-sand facilitators have similar biases in the opposite direction. What is needed is actual data, systematically gathered, with an effort toward eliminating reporting bias. What percentage of academics, of various political self-identifications, have experienced discrimination, harassment, or violence from their peers because of their viewpoints?
Fortunately someone has done this study, and has recently published the results. Eric Kaufmann of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology used a survey-based study administered to thousands of academics in the US, Canada, and the UK, ranging from grad students to retired professors, to assess the prevalence of political abuse of academics. Dr. Kaufmann used an innovative list experiment design to mitigate the effects of social desirability bias. His sample is also strongly biased towards left-leaning individuals — obviously, he surveyed academics — although he did also include members of the National Association of Scholars, a right-leaning advocacy group for traditional liberal values in education. So you can’t wave his results away by saying he only sampled people on the right.
Kaufmann’s results are disturbing, but they confirm the intuitions of those of us who have argued for the existence of a hostile climate for even center-right individuals in the academy. You should at a minimum read Kaufmann’s summary of his findings or his recent Quillette essay on the implications of his research, but I will include a few of his key findings here as well, along with my interpretation:
- 40% of academics say they wouldn’t hire a Trump supporter (thus, 75 million Americans, including millions of people from underrepresented minorities, are immediately excluded from consideration for employment)
- Only 10% of academics actively support the cancel culture, but over 50% tacitly support it by not opposing it. In other words, cowardice is rife, and tolerated, in academia.
- 70% of conservative academics report a hostile climate in their department, and 90% of Trump-supporting academics say they wouldn’t feel comfortable “coming out” about their politics to colleagues. Importantly 80% of UK academics who supported Brexit expressed the same reluctance — thus, you can’t cop out and blame Donald Trump for all of this. It represents a generic prejudice against mainstream right-wing attitudes prevalent in both the US and the UK and extending far beyond one brash politician.
- “…between a fifth and a half of academics would discriminate against the Right in grants, papers, or promotion bids. On a four-person panel, this means that the likelihood of a conservative encountering at least one biased assessor is pushing toward certainty.” Thus, the single-blind peer review system is incapable of providing a fair hearing for political dissidents, even in fields where the research is not obviously itself political.
- Younger academics are more likely to support defenestrating dissident academics, as I have observed elsewhere. Thus, the problem will only get worse as time goes by, unless we do something to correct course. Which is highly unlikely to occur given that:
- “A hostile climate plays a part in deterring conservative graduate students from pursuing careers in academia. Conservative and liberal graduate students differ far more in their perceptions of whether their politics fit academia than they do on questions related to how well academia pays, the isolating nature of the work, and other aspects of the profession.” I mean, duh, if I could have foreseen 2016 in 2010, I would be happily working for Monsanto right now. But more importantly, this finding show that all the efforts expended toward “diversity, inclusion and equity” have the opposite effect from what is advertised; DIE efforts are sold as beneficial because they theoretically increase the range of viewpoints and perspectives brought to the table, but in reality the offices that execute DIE policies restrict the range of viewpoints and perspectives. Remember that conservatives come in all colors, but none are welcome in the academy.
Hard numbers, supporting the worst conclusions of the dissident right. Somehow, this course of events has to be arrested. Imagine a world where science has become a tool of political advocacy — its output will no longer be trustworthy. Progress will grind to a halt. In all likelihood the corpus of accumulated knowledge will be corrupted as the literature is purged of wrongthink; and as everything must be political in a totalitarian state, no discipline will be immune from the “little men with big erasers, changing history”:
I agree with some of your recommendations:
1. Definitely; Peer review should be double-blind.
2. Certain media platforms breed a mob mentality, Thier metric of ‘user engagement’ means stoking outrage. Even the left acknowledges that Twitter is a terrible place for nuanced debate. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/shame-safety-and-moving-beyond-cancel-culture/id1548604447?i=1000518802928
(Blogs are far better for substantive discussions, so good on you for creating one!)
Where I disagree with you: (which, thanks to the internet and–human impulse–is 100% of what the downstream conversation will be about):
I would not discriminate against a self-described Republican. But I WOULD discriminate against a self-described Trump supporter.
[Disclaimer: I’ve recently left academia for an NGO, and am_not/have_never_been_in a hiring position].
*Why it’s unfair to discriminate against conservatives write large*
Concepts like ‘Republican,’ ‘conservative,’ and ‘right’ are so broad that I could never presume to know their values and beliefs based on label alone. Maybe they’re corporatists who dislike taxation; maybe they’re libertarians who want to minimize govt. interference; maybe they’re white nationalists; maybe they’re pro-life or pro-gun. Frankly it’s irrelevant because my job as a scientist is to deal with objective a.k.a. evidence-based problems. These are matters of personal value–to which we’re all entitled as Americans.
Indeed; most former presidents did not impose their will on objective facts. Nixon/Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama had no opinion on the state of the ozone layer, no opinion on the state of the climate; or on vaccination policies–they understood the limitations of the executive branch and their own expertise. These are evidence-based matters; not partisan positions. President Trump turned that on its head, and decided that every matter (subjective or objective) was within executive reach.
Without evidence, he asserted that climate change was a ‘Chinese hoax’, that the sound of wind turbines causes cancer, and that Covid19 would simply ‘go away.’ None of these scientific predictions have gone well for him. To be clear; Trump’s stances on election day 2016 were far from clear; but in 2021, those who still identify as Trump supporters agree with or at least excuse the majority of his stances (regarding both values and objective facts).
*Why open Trump support is indicative of a willingness to sacrifice scientific integrety*
So, in 2021 self-identification as a ‘Trump supporter’ is about more than values; it is a stance on how much one values evidence/objective facts. Don’t get me wrong–I doubt anyone completely agrees with their own political platform (e.g. I’m a liberal democrat who thinks ‘political correctness’ is idiotic–but fortunately that’s not on the ballot; while a livable minimum wage is.) In a two-party system, those are the compromises we make. But Trump has been uncompromising in his insistence that climate change is false, that covid is stunt, and that trickle-down economics works. Based on the evidence gathered across numerous sources, these stances are simply false. For fairness, I will bind myself to the same proclamations of Barack Obama–so that I also have some skin the game (and Biden too if you want.)
TLDR: People who still proudly/openly identify as Trump supporters have shown that they are willing to sacrifice their scientific integrity for….something else. What that is (other than tribalism of some sort?)
I only wish I knew.