Sunday, May 2, 2010
Opinions galore can be reached via here. The gist of it seems to be that a HLS student expressed in a private email to another student, who then helpfully made the email public, that she thought it was a scientific possibility that African-Americans were genetically disposed to be less intelligent than whites. And shortly thereafter TSHTF. And so, as academics rather irritatingly say, what are we to make of this?
I think it's rather an instructive episode. It does seem a pretty good example of a thought crime. The young woman expresses a view that X is a scientific possibility, where X is a thing on the list of things that are not allowed to be the case, and the young woman is then exposed to what must be a traumatic degree of institutional opprobrium. Surely this establishes that there is a list of things at Harvard Law School anyway of things that may not be thought, except utterly privately, and in no event expressed, not even privately, or at least not without plausible deniability, which email makes difficult. While I can see difficulties with such a policy, it would seem only fair, and consistent with the rule of law, to make this list public in advance, so students, staff and faculty know what things they should not think. Had the student in question known in advance that X was a thought crime, she could have taken steps not to think it, and if she were to, she could have at least done so in a way so that she could claim she had not. This latter especially is a good skill for a lawyer to develop.
Professor Volokh has elaborated his view (follow the links above) that a university is the sort of place where truth is the highest value and people should pursue it without fear or favor. I agree with this insofar as I think it would be an interesting experiment to set up such an institution and see how it worked. But I don't think it's wise to pretend this is what we have now. I confess I wonder if such a thing is even possible, though in saying this, I might just be kidding. At a minimum, before I come out as a hero of free speech and academic freedom, I would at least like to know what the costs and benefits are.
I fear I find the older I get, the skepticaler I get. I guess I am a person of skepticaler. I have my doubts that there really is a "g" or general cognitive ability, the thing that intelligence experts measure, or think they measure. I doubt the ontological status of African-Americans, a group that I suspect would be hard to define scientifically. I suspect that compared to the complexity of phenomena to be studied, assuming this is permitted, our current science is pretty primitive.