nyt comes out in favor of free expression

I’m encouraged to see that the New York Times Editorial Board published a fairly strong rebuke of the violent shouting down of Charles Murray (which resulted in a professor going to the hospital with neck injuries).

What’s most interesting to me about this case is the dogmatic self-assuredness of the students and professors who showed up to shut down his ability to practice his right to free expression.

The “his views are widely discredited, so he doesn’t deserve a platform” reasoning is, ironically, one of the strongest arguments in favor of free expression, since any basic understanding of all the evidence demonstrates that if Charles Murray is wrong, he is wrong only by degree. In other words, his conclusions are based on some of the most well documented empirical facts in the social sciences (that people differ widely in their ability to do well on IQ tests, that there are average group differences in scores of IQ tests, that intelligence is an important predictor of life outcomes, that all traits are heritable, etc).

Where there is disagreement, there is disagreement on what those facts mean (in other words, is IQ tied to class structure or not, does environment matter totally or only partially, do cultural barriers result in imperfect measurements that lead to average group differences, do genes contribute to intelligence, etc), not on whether those facts are in fact fact, because the empirical measurements are what they are, and the fundamental laws of behavioral genetics stipulate that literally all human traits (and intelligence is a trait), are at least partially heritable.

But there is hardly a consensus, among experts who know and understand the data, about who is more right, but rather there are opposing sides who assign varying degrees of weight to the validity of IQ test scores and the importance of genes in IQ test performance. Virtually nobody believes it’s only genes that matter, not even Mr Murray, but some are strong hereditarians and some are strong environmentalists (of the genes vs not genes variety). Charles Murray falls more closely on the side of 50/50 genes vs environment, which makes him a strong hereditarian, and he draws some startling conclusions based on his thesis, which makes some types of people very uncomfortable (liberals in particular).

But Charles Murray has not been “discredited”, as the protestors claim — unless you are an ideological dogmatist, as the protesters almost certainly are. Maybe he’s not totally right, but that’s far away from being discredited. Thus, Mr. Murray could still be offering some important insight that we would be missing out on if he were no longer allowed to air his ideas in the court of public opinion.

These students and their professors display their ignorance of the subject when they stand up and turn their backs on Mr. Murray, and demonstrate the importance of why we need more free and unencumbered speech, not why we need less. If I applaud them for anything, I applaud them for that.

Note I: if you look up Charles Murray on the internet, the top search shows he is listed as a racist “white nationalist” by the SPLC. Keep in mind these are the now fairly discredited people who have also listed Ayn Hirsi Ali and Majid Nawaz as “islamaphobes”. Ayn is an ex-Muslim refugee from Somalia, and Majid is a Muslim reformer who used to be a radical. Instead of taking the SPLC’s biased word for it, or by basing your opinion on the few select quotes they provide on their website, actually go research what Mr Murray has written and said on the subject, in his own words, without the stifling limiting of context that only a few quotes can ever provide

Note II: some people believe some questions should not be asked, and that we should dictate the answers based on moral presuppositions, not based on what is really true. There is no such thing as a world with human progress where we abide by such an embrace of ignorant bliss and anti-intellectualism. It’s the equivalent of denying the reality of cliffs because the thought of falling makes us uncomfortable. Those who deny the reality of cliffs may seek solace in an imaginary world where nobody ever falls, but they will do so in a reality where dying by splat is an unfortunately common, and preventable, occurrence.