The story starts as follows:
There’s evidence for greater variability in the distribution of men, compared to women, in various domains. Two math professors, Theodore Hill and Sergei Tabachnikov, wrote an article exploring a mathematical model for the evolution of this difference in variation, and send the article to the Mathematical Intelligencer, a magazine that welcomes “expository articles on all kinds of mathematics, and articles that portray the diversity of mathematical communities and mathematical thought, emergent mathematical communities around the world, new interdisciplinary trends, and relations between mathematics and other areas of culture.” (Tabachnikov is on the editorial board of this magazine, a fact I learned from this comment on our blog.) After some revision, the article was accepted for publication. But then there was pushback from activists within the academic community, and a few months later the editor of the magazine informed the authors that article would not be published; also one of the authors, Tabachnikov, removed himself from the paper out of fear of reprisals from his university. (There also seems to possibly have been a third author who also backed out of the paper, but there’s less detail on that part.) There was an online furor, and a month later, the remaining author, Hill was contacted by an editor of the online New York Journal of Mathematics and invited to submit the article there. (The NYJM, unlike the Intelligencer, seems to focus entirely or nearly entirely on pure math, at least that’s what I see here.) A month later, after a referee report and some revisions, the paper appeared online at NYJM. But then, three days later, the article was removed from that journal’s website and replaced by a completely different article on an unrelated topic. Currently the paper is available on Arxiv.
All the above happened in 2017. During the following months, Hill tried to find out what happened. He ended up with the impression that there had been a politically-motivated campaign against his paper, causing it to be yanked from the Intelligencer and the NYJM as the result of an intimidation campaign by academic activists. Then last week he wrote up the whole story as a blog entry or online article at the site Quillette. I first heard about the story when a couple people pointed me to Hill’s post.
The math paper in question
I was curious so I followed the link to the Arxiv paper, “An Evolutionary Theory for the Variability Hypothesis,” by Theodore Hill, dated 24 Aug 2018.
Hill’s article did not strike me as mathematically deep, not did it seem politically objectionable in any way. The math was accessible and related to an interesting general issue, so I could see how it would be of interest to a general-interest mathematics magazine such as the Intelligencer. In some ways it reminded me of my paper, “Forming voting blocs and coalitions as a prisoner’s dilemma: a possible theoretical explanation for political instability,” which I published in an econ journal back in 2003: My article, like Hill’s, contained some mathematical results that were inspired by a real phenomenon of interest, and although the connection between the math and anything in the real world was tenuous, I (and, correspondingly, Hill) thought the mathematical results were interesting enough, and the motivating applied problem compelling enough, that our efforts were worth sharing with the world. I later followed up that paper with work of more applied relevance, and I’m supportive of the general idea of working out mathematical models, as long as we recognize their limitations, as Hill does in his paper (“the contribution here is also merely a general theory intended to open the discussion to further mathematical modeling and analysis”). So I could see why the Intelligencer might want to publish the paper. I could also see why they might not want to publish it, as the mathematical argument in the paper is pretty simple, and the paper is also loaded down with what seem to me to be irrelevant claims regarding biology and society. I didn’t find these claims political or offensive; they just seemed beside the point in a math paper. I think it would be enough to just raise the issue (more variability among men than women in various traits), give some references, and move on from there, rather than attempt a review of the biology literature on the topic. Anyway, the paper seemed innocuous to me: not so exciting, but with some mathematical content; on an interesting topic even if with some difficulties linking the math to the biology; reasonable enough to publish in the Intelligencer.
Trying to make sense of the story
With this in mind, there were a few aspects of Hill’s blog entry that didn’t completely make sense to me.
First, the research article did not seem politically objectionable to me. I could see how people with strong views on the topic of sex differences would find things to criticize in his paper, and he could well be missing some important points of the biology, and if you really tried to apply his model to data I don’t think it would work at all, so, sure, the paper’s not perfect. But as a math paper that touches on an interesting topic, it is what it is, and I was surprised there’d be a campaign to suppress it.
Here’s the version time-stamped 19 Mar 2017, which mentions this Summers quote: “It does appear that on many, many different human attributes – height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability – there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means – which can be debated – there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.” [When writing the first version of the post, I hadn’t noticed the Summers quote in the Hill and Tabachnikov article, so I incorrectly wrote that we’re not actually getting to see the version of the paper that got all the controversy. — AG.] The other detail that I couldn’t quite follow was why the paper would’ve appeared in NYJM, which seems to only publish stuff like “A dyadic Gehring inequality in spaces of homogeneous type and applications” and “Off-diagonal sharp two-weight estimates for sparse operators.”
The thing I couldn’t quite figure out was why this paper bothered people so much. But, upon reflection, I think I have an idea. I’m a political scientist, and one thing that annoys the hell out of me is when people apply cute but wrong math arguments to real political questions. For example, there was that claim that the probability of casting a decisive vote is on the order of 10 to the −2,650th power, or misinformed but authoritative-sounding claims about the voting patterns of rich and poor. So I could see how someone who’s really studied sex differences could find Hill’s model to be annoying enough that they’d not want it spread around the world with the imprimateur of a serious journal. Sex differences isn’t my area of research so I was just considering Hill’s paper as expressing a simple and somewhat interesting mathematical model. If I saw the same kind of model applied to voting (for example, using the binomial probability model to compute the probability of a decisive vote), I’d be screaming. I wouldn’t want a journal to publish such a model, and if it were published, I’d want to run some article alongside explaining why the model doesn’t make sense. Not that the math is wrong but that it doesn’t apply here. I’m not prepared to make that judgment one way or another for the Hill and Tabachnikov paper, but my guess is that that’s where the critics are coming from. It’s not about suppressing a politically offensive idea; it would be more, from their perspective, about not spreading a mistaken idea. And it probably didn’t help that early versions of the paper said, “there has been no clear or compelling explanation offered for why there might be gender differences in variability,” which seems like a pretty strong claim regarding the biology literature. See this post and this from mathematician Timothy Gowers.
The big thing, though, was the paper getting accepted and then yanked—twice. Once from the Intelligencer and once from the NYJM. It’s hard to imagine a good reason for that.
The other thing that I noticed in Hill’s blog post was Lee Wilkinson, an influential statistician (among other things, author of The Grammar of Graphics, which motivated R’s ggplot package) and friend of mine, who was identified as the father of mathematician Amie Wilkinson, who in turn, according to Hill, “had successfully suppressed my variability hypothesis research and trampled on the principles of academic liberty.” Hill also wrote that Amie Wilkinson’s husband, Benson Farb, another math professor, “had written a furious email” to the NYJM editor demanding that Hill’s paper “be deleted at once.”
It was hard for me to put all the pieces together. I could see how the Intelligencer would want to publish the paper and I could see how others would think the paper not appropriate to publish (for scientific, not political, reasons). Both those views made sense to me, as they represented slightly different perspectives on the value of a work of applied mathematics. But I couldn’t see why there’d be a movement of the radical academic Left to suppress the paper—for one thing, there already have been lots and lots of papers published in reputable journals on sex differences in general and the greater-male-variability hypothesis in particular, so why would the Left focus such effort on a little math paper; and, for another, the article did not seem politically offensive.
Hill’s post appeared on 7 Sep. In the following days, the story was featured in a blog post at Reason magazine by law professor David Bernstein (“A Mathematics Paper Two Math Journals Were Mau-Maued into Suppressing”), tweets by psychology professors Jordan Peterson (“Here’s the offending paper. Please read and distribute as widely as possible”) and Steven Pinker (“Again the academic left loses its mind: Ties equality to sameness, erodes credibility of academia, & vindicates right-wing paranoia”), and various other places on the web, including lots of material too horrible to quote (you can google and look for it yourself if you’re interested).
Many of these comment and twitter threads, including the one attached Hill’s post on the Quillette site, featured personal attacks on Amie Wilkinson and Benson Farb. Some of the personal attacks are just horrible. I won’t quote them here—you can find these remarks yourself if you want—because they’re not directly relevant to what happened to Hill. After all, if Wilkinson and Farb really did behave badly and try to suppress an already-published paper (which is much different that the very routine action of recommended that a submitted paper not be accepted for publication, or recommending that a published or in-press paper be accompanied by a rebuttal), then such suppressive actions would not be justified after the fact by others’ bad behavior toward them. The attacks on Wilkinson and Farb bothered me because of their virulence, and they give me some sense of the kind of people who comment at the site where Hill posted, that’s all. In the context of some quarters of the internet, the criticisms that Hill made are like waving the proverbial red flag in front of the bull.
On 11 Sep—4 days after Hill posted his story—Amie Wilkinson and Benson Farb posted their sides of the story. Wilkinson wrote: “I first saw the publicly-available paper of Hill and Tabachnikov on 9/6/17, listed to appear in The Mathematical Intelligencer. . . . I sent an email, on 9/7/17, to the Editor-in-Chief . . . In it, I criticized the scientific merits of the paper and the decision to accept it for publication, but I never made the suggestion that the decision to publish it be reversed. Instead, I suggested that the journal publish a response rebuttal article by experts in the field to accompany the article. One day later, on 9/8/17, the editor wrote to me that she had decided not to publish the paper. . . . I had no involvement in any editorial decisions concerning Hill’s revised version of this paper in The New York Journal of Mathematics.”
Farb wrote: “This statement is meant to set the record straight on the unfounded accusations of Ted Hill regarding his submission to the New York Journal of Mathematics (NYJM), where I was one of 24 editors serving under an editor-in-chief. Hill’s paper raised several red flags to me and other editors, giving concern not just about the quality of the paper, but also the question of whether it underwent the usual rigorous review process. . . . At the request of several editors, the editor-in-chief pulled the paper temporarily on 11/9/17 so that the entire editorial board could discuss these concerns. . . . The editor who handled the paper was asked to share these reports with the entire board. . . . The reports themselves were not from experts on the topic of the paper. They did not address our concerns about the substantive merit of the paper. . . . Further, the evidence that the paper had undergone rigorous scrutiny before being accepted was scant. In light of this, the board voted (by a 2-to-1 ratio) to rescind the paper.”
Working out what really happened
OK, now we can put all the pieces together. This is not a “he-said, she-said” or “Rashomon” situation in which different people present us with incompatible stories, and we have no way to reconcile their stories. One thing that’s interesting about these stories is how consistent they are with each other.
Look back at Hill’s post and distinguish what he knows directly—what happened to him—and where he is speculating. What happened for sure is that his paper was accepted, then yanked, from two separate journals. The rest is second-hand. The academic Left, the attacks on the NYJM, the “the husband-wife team who had successfully suppressed my variability hypothesis research and trampled on the principles of academic liberty,” the claim that his paper was judged based on “desirability or political utility”—Hill has no direct evidence for that.
Indeed, the facts of Hill’s story are consistent with the facts of Wilkinson’s and Farb’s story. Here’s what happened. Or, at least, the following is consistent with what was recounted by Hill, Wilkinson, and Farb:
– Hill’s paper was accepted by the Intelligencer and posted online. Wilkinson felt the paper was flawed and suggested the paper be published with a rebuttal. Instead, the journal editor un-published the paper.
– Hill’s paper was accepted by the NYJM in an unusual fashion by one of the journal’s 24 editors. After a review of the editorial process, the full editorial board un-published the paper.
Hill is annoyed, and justifiably so. For a journal editor to accept his paper, then reject it, that’s not cool. It’s happened to me a couple of times, and it pisses me off, to put in all the work of writing an article, going through the review process, finally the paper appears or is scheduled to appear, and then, Bam! the journal pulls the rug out from under you.
The problem is that Hill is focusing his annoyance on the wrong people. And there’s a clue in Hill’s own post, where he writes, “My quarrel, the vice-provost [of the University of Chicago] concluded, was with the editors-in-chief who had spiked my papers . . .” That’s right! The problem is with the editors who broke the rules, it’s not with reviewers who raised concerns.
Can the rabble-rousers call off the online mob?
To me, the most unfortunate part of the story is the amplification of Hill’s post throughout Twitter, Quillette, 4chan, etc., abetted by thought leaders on Twitter, leading to noxious hatred spewed at Amie Wilkinson. I don’t blame Jordan Peterson, Steven Pinker, or the editors of Quillette for the behavior of Twitter commenters, or even for the behavior of commenters at Quillette. But now that more of the story is out, it’s time for all these people to explain what happened to their followers, and to apologize.
Theodore Hill and Amie Wilkinson clearly differ on the value of the Hill and Tabachnikov paper, both as mathematics and regarding its relevance to biology and the study of human institutions. For example, Wilkinson wrote, “Invoking purely mathematical arguments to explain scientific phenomena without serious engagement with science and data is an offense against both mathematics and science.”
But they agree on the value of open communication.
Here’s Wilkinson: “I believe that discussion of scientific merits of research should never be stifled. This is consistent with my original suggestion to bring in outside experts to rebut the Hill-Tabachnikov paper.” The fact that a journal editor pulled Hill’s paper, after Wilkinson recommended otherwise, reflects poorly on the editor, not on the other people involved in this story. But that’s not the story Hill, or the online mob, wanted to hear.
> the research article did not seem politically objectionable to me.
You are open-minded! Many of your faculty colleagues are not. Want proof? Try organizing a discussion at Columbia about sex differences and academic outcomes which includes a range of views.
> If I saw the same kind of model applied to voting . . . I’d be screaming.
You would engage in debate and discussion. You would not try to get an already-published paper erased from the literature. I hope!
This is the key issue. Moreover, who gets to decide what is “mistaken” as opposed to merely “politically offensive?” Are, for example, Trump’s ideas about immigration “mistaken,” and, if so, should Columbia try to avoid “spreading” them?
Again, I am proposing an empirical test. Let your readers help you design a discussion/forum/debate/whatever at Columbia. It will be easy to create an event which you feel is reasonable — at least which is not obviously “mistaken” — and which other members of the Columbia community will (try to) pressure you into cancelling.
> it’s time for all these people to explain what happened to their followers, and to apologize
What, precisely, should Pinker apologize for?
Perhaps the critical question is the base rate of these phenomenon. How often has NYJM, for example, rescinded an already-published paper? If this happens all the time — and it is very unclear if what has happened to you is like what happened to Hill! — then, fine. Hill has no case.
But Hill suggests, and I believe, that this is incredibly rare, that NYJM has (almost?) never done this before. I have certainly never heard of JASA or any stats journal doing this. And, if it is rare, then the cause is almost certainly political, and Pinker’s description — “academic left loses its mind” — becomes reasonable.
Per the post, the reason Andrew wants Pinker to apologize is all of the inappropriately harsh abuse that Wilkinson has taken after Pinker signal-boosted the story.
It’s a relief to know that mobs that attack one academic are not simply occurring in the ME or South Asia. Great polarization within the academic community here in US.
Just to clarify, I was being somewhat facetious in my last comment. I am astounded how nasty people can get.
Let me see if I understand this. Gelman’s only criticism of Hill is that he falsely accuses Amie Wilkinson and her husband, Benson Farb, of attempting to suppress his research. And Gelman’s only criticism of Pinker and Peterson is that they “signal-boosted” Hill’s article which contained this false claim.
This claim is false ONLY because there is no proof that Ms. Wilkinson expressly requested a journal to take down Hill’s paper. Expressly requesting that an accepted paper be un-accepted or de-published is the only thing that Gelman considers to be suppression of science. Notably, we have a ranting email from Farb that explicitly demands “this is a case where you need to pull this paper ASAP” and we have the editor-in-chief of that journal stating that Farb initiated a revolt whereby half the editors of the journal would resign if the article was not de-published, without any communication with Hill. Therefore, apparently Gelman’s criticism does NOT apply to Farb.
Therefore, Gelman must believe hat Farb’s position was not provoked by or instigated by Ms. Wilkinson. She asserts that she only asked the journal to include a rebuttal, not to de-accept it. She refuses to release communications to prove this. Meanwhile, we know that Ms. Wilkinson had her dad scurrilously attack the paper, we know her husband forced the paper to be taken down after publication, we know she went on a social media crusade against the paper, publishing libelous claims that it was an opinion piece that had not been through peer review, etc., falsely attacking the journals associated with it, has never produced any scientific criticism of the paper or been willing to correspond with the authors, we know the editor of the journal took the paper down in response to phone calls from unnamed parties threatening political repercussions.
But all of that must be excused because we do not have a piece of paper on which Ms. Wilkinson expressly requested that the paper be de-accepted or de-published (and because Gelman is friends with her?). In fact, it’s all just good old fashioned scientific debate which is desirable and admirable.
Do I have Gelman’s position correct here?
> Therefore, Gelman must believe that Farb’s position was not provoked by or instigated by Ms. Wilkinson.
I won’t speak for Gelman, but I personally don’t find it hard to believe. Is it really so implausible that Farb’s words and actions are correlated with Wikinson’s but not “instigated” by her?
You also seem fond of inserting value judgments such as “ranting”, “provoked”, “scurrilous”, “crusade”, “libelous” and ascribing the worst of motives. These do not seem to me to be factually grounded – and I say this without claiming that the Intelligencer was right to act the way it did. Suppose that similar negative words were appended to a narrative about Hill’s actions – how would you view that?
> publishing libelous claims it was an opinion piece that had not been through peer review
It is my view that the article did not undergo _proper_ peer review at the NYJM, if that is what you are referring to. I am aware the handling editor at the NYJM believes differently, but as comments on other blog threads by mathematicians such as Pak and Sapir indicate, I don’t think anyone can seriously claim that the NYJM-handling-editor’s views are universal and axiomatically true. (I have done quite a lot of refereeing work, and have never been given by the impression by any editors that such a light touch report would be sufficient evidence for recommending publication.)
Finally, you keep saying “we know that” when I think there is much that we _don’t_ know. Asserting these interpretations as fact, with all the loaded adjectives and adverbs, just adds to the noise. While I’m not sure I agre 100 percent with Gelman’s reading, I think his post is a valuable attempt to lay out a narrative with a more neutral tone.
This is of limited relevance, but yes I find it extremely hard to believe that Farb’s actions had nothing to do with his wife who was conducting a social media campaign against the paper to the point of publicly unfriending people on Facebook. Farb in his email specifically references his father-in-law’s attack on the paper and having to apologize for the situation.
I agree that, as in most every situation, there is much that we do not know. But thanks to published documents, there is also much that we do know, which I think I fairly referenced.
I do not believe that I ascribed any motives. Yes I made value judgments, but remove them and does the picture change any?
1. Here’s what happened. Theodore Hill wrote a paper and sent it to a magazine, the Mathematical Intelligencer. After some editing, the paper was accepted and scheduled to appear in the magazine. Then the editor un-accepted the paper. He was then contacted by an editor of the New York Journal of Mathematics and, shortly after, the paper appeared in that journal. Right after that, the full editorial board of the journal removed the paper. Awhile after that, Hill published the blog entry that got all this going.
There are some things about this story that didn’t go well:
– The Mathematical Intelligencer accepted, then un-accepted the paper. That’s not cool. As I wrote, this sort of thing has happened to me from time to time, and I don’t like it. Oddly enough, Hill in his blog does not seem to be mad at the editor who did this. But, reading the story, it seems to me that the editor didn’t behave well.
– The editor Igor Rivin inserted Hill’s paper into the NYJM. This is odd, given that it does not seem that NYJM typically publishes this sort of paper. The full editorial board then decided to remove the paper. Rivin’s judgment seems questionable here, as does the judgment of the board.
– One of the people who didn’t like Hill’s paper was Amie Wilkinson, a mathematician at the University of Chicago. Hill contacted the president of the university to complain about Wilkinson, and in his blog he characterized her and as having “suppressed” his research “and trampled on the principles of academic liberty.” Actually, though, Hill has no evidence that Wilkinson did anything to suppress his research. Indeed, Wilkinson’s statement that she “never made the suggestion that the decision to publish it be reversed. Instead, I suggested that the journal publish a response rebuttal article by experts in the field to accompany the article” is consistent with the factual information presented in Hill’s post.
I have no reason to think that Hill misrepresented Wilkinson’s activities on purpose; my guess is that he got trapped in a wrong narrative and was perhaps egged on by others who got trapped in that narrative too.
So I don’t see how this is a case of the “academic left losing its mind.” Rather, it seems like a case of bad behavior by a magazine editor (yes, this happens, magazines do change their minds about what pieces to run, and, yes, I think that when an editor does this, he or she should try to make it right with the author, which the Intelligencer didn’t seem to do here), followed by erratic behavior by a journal editor and overreaction by an editorial board.
And, along with that, some people’s names get dragged through the mud, in particular Wilkinson, who is attacked all over the internet by the online mob.
2. You ask what Steven Pinker should apologize for.
Looking back at this, I wouldn’t say that Pinker didn’t do anything obviously wrong. What happened was that he got triggered by an “outrage of the week” story that confirmed his preconceptions. That’s what outrage-of-the-week stories are all about. Sure, I wish Pinker had read the story more carefully and realized that Hill had offered no direct evidence of the academic left losing its mind, and I wish he’d realized that Hill was accusing Wilkinson of doing something there was no evidence she’d done. But, I understand that everyone’s busy. There’s no requirement that Pinker exercise due diligence for every outrage story that he tweets. Now that the full story has come out, though, I think it would be appropriate for Pinker and others who’d spread the story to apologize. It’s ok to apologize for a mistake, even if you didn’t do it on purpose.
It’s interesting in that this episode was a disaster (just look through the comments on Hill’s blog or, worse, slurs on Wilkinson in some of the uglier corners of the internet), but it’s not quite anybody’s fault:
Yes, Hill got some things wrong in his blog post, but he’d been treated badly and it was natural for him to look around for people to blame. Yes, the editor of the Intelligencer shouldn’t have un-accepted the paper, but that decision may have seemed like the path of least resistance. Yes, that editor of NYJM shouldn’t have inserted an inappropriate paper into the journal, but he could well have felt he was remedying the earlier injustice suffered by Hill. Yes, the editorial board of NYJM shouldn’t have yanked the paper, but you can see how they’d be annoyed at how the paper had been handled. Yes, Quillette shoudn’t have run Hill’s post without fact-checking its statements about Wilkinson, but the article was clearly presented as Hill’s personal account. Yes, Peterson and Pinker should not have tweeted that article with approval without first seeing what they were forwarding, but nobody expects twitter to be a venue for careful, considered judgments. But . . . put it all together, and you get an angry internet mob, attacking someone for something she never did. That’s too bad, and so I hope the people mentioned above will apologize for their actions, even if all these actions were understandable at the time.
Admirably honest. There isn’t much of that here on the internets.
“Rivin’s judgment seems questionable here, as does the judgment of the board.”
Indeed. Have you ever even heard of an article getting “rescinded?” I’ve never even heard of “rescinded” as a thing. You can retract a paper after an investigation, or not publish a paper that has gone through peer review, but rescind isn’t even a thing. And throwing out referee reports because they didn’t conform to the boards views, who in all likelihood are also not experts in this area?
What about the claim that Diane Henderson and Nate Brown went to the NSF to report on him. This seems outside the norms as well, and hardly the type of thing you’d do to a paper you saw as scientifically weak.
Also, what about the claim that the Wilkinsons did not reply to a polite letter asking for their criticisms and comments on the paper with no reply. If it is a scientific disagreement, then why wouldn’t they jump at the opportunity to engage the author.
Personally I think it is pretty clear that the backlash was massively stronger than anyone would see for a normal run of the mill weak paper. If you peruse the comments sections of the linked articles I think you can understand why. There is a large population of very angry, misogynist men who are just looking to tear women down (just try hanging out on reddit for a day).
Scientific ideas, even true ones, can be used as propaganda to advocate for the very worst policies. Wilkinson et. al. are likely much more worried about the social consequences of propaganda based on this than just the fact that a somewhat weak paper would have entered the literature.
Rescinded could be a thing, but then you’d need to change the publishing contract to accommodate this new thing that you’ve birthed. Have the publishers done that? I doubt it.
“But, I understand that everyone’s busy. There’s no requirement that Pinker exercise due diligence for every outrage story that he tweets.”
Especially Pinker who has been traveling around the world over the 20 months or so plugging his book
Will you be updating your article to indicate that Hill was correct re:Wilkinson waging a campaign against his article on a political basis now that Quillette has posted the receipts (emails from the people involved)?
I don’t know what you mean by “waging a campaign against his article on a political basis.” Wilkinson didn’t like Hill’s article for various reasons; she contacted the editor of the magazine where the paper was scheduled to appear and she told other people too. She never tried to suppress the article. She recommended that the article, already accepted for publication, have an expert rebuttal published alongside it. I don’t think there’s anything improper about someone criticizing an article that is scheduled to be published (and was already public on Arxiv).
Stepping back a moment: As I’ve said elsewhere in this thread, I understand Hill’s frustration, and I too would be angry if I were in his situation. But I don’t think it makes sense to paint Wilkinson, or anyone else in this story, as a villain. What I see is various people making sometimes imperfect decisions in a difficult situation.
I also want to comment on the “posted the receipts” thing.
I think there are two things going on here.
First, lots of unusual things were going on with this paper from the beginning. First, the paper was submitted to a magazine where one of the authors was on the editorial board. Second, the editor magazine encouraged the authors to add provocative political content. Third, there was reaction against the paper on political grounds. Fourth, the magazine editor un-accepted the paper. Fifth, a mathematician with vocal political views inserted the paper into a theoretical journal where it didn’t really fit in. Sixth, the editorial board of that journal ejected the paper after it had appeared. Between Hill’s article and emails, and the discussion by Lior Pachter at his blog, we can see how many odd things happened here, and there’s no doubt the entire experience was frustrating to Hill and Tabachnikov. They were jerked back and forth.
Second, Hill wrote a post that painted Wilkinson as a villain and left the impression that she had tried to suppress his paper. She never did this, but the result was a hatefest against her in the Quillette comment section, 4chan, and elsewhere. I have no reason to think that Hill or the editors of Quillette wanted this to happen; nonetheless it did.
It’s fine for Hill to post emails; in this case they don’t change the story. He and Tabachnikov were not treated well, the handling of the paper at both the Intelligencer and the NYJM was unusual, and Wilkinson did not try to suppress the article.
I think it’s a mistake to treat this story as some sort of zero-sum contest between Hill and Wilkinson. Hill was treated unfairly with his paper; that doesn’t mean that Wilkinson is the bad guy. Wilkinson was treated unfairly by internet commenters; that doesn’t mean that Hill is the bad guy. They have a legitimate difference of opinion regarding the value of Hill’s paper, and unfortunately this got swept up into an existing political battle.
“…the cause is almost certainly political”
There is a veritable practice of making overgeneralized claims regardless of how well supported they may be. Who is the ”left’ anyway. That’s why I prefer the terms ‘absolutist’ and ‘relativist’.
Wilkinson and Farb need to publish emails they sent regarding to the paper. Hill also should publish email exchanges. I don’t see why they can’t do it.
You absolutely can blame them for signal-boosting with full knowledge of how internet mobs respond to red meat.
+1. Andrew is assuming lots of good faith in behalf of certain actors. He needs to start updating his priors.
If someone wrote to the female prof who objected to the paper and voiced her opinion to the editor and told her to “delete your account” would you consider that an example of an “internet mob responding to red meat”?
That you Joseph? If so, DM me if you want to discuss it; I have no fucks to give for any other Anonymous.
blame Jordan Peterson,
He is a publicity hound and wants to keep his acolytes inflamed. He, also, from the few things I have seen about him, certainly does not have the knowledge to be able to evaluate the actual paper.
“He, also, from the few things I have seen about him, certainly does not have the knowledge to be able to evaluate the actual paper.”
He has an h-index of 51 (for comparison, Amie Wilkinson has an h-index of 23) and has mostly published on personality traits.
It seems to me that a) he is a pretty successful scientist and b) the paper in question falls squarely into his area of expertise.
Given his published literature, he was perhaps a respected scientist once. His modern ramblings are intellectually weak and a massive orgy of logical fallacies.
Im a bit confused. Why are we supposed to be sad for people who secretly spiked an academic paper and are facing repercussions now that their machinations were made public? It is correct to signal boost bad things people do. She has yet to actually address the “bad science.” It is all innuendo and smear.
Wilkinson didn’t “secretly spike” anything. She wrote a letter (an email, I guess) to a magazine editor expressing her dislike of an article that was scheduled for publication and suggested that the article be accompanied by a rebuttal from an outside expert. And, for this, she gets splashed all over the internet and personally attacked in the Quillette comment section, Twitter, and elsewhere. As I wrote elsewhere in this thread, I fully understand why Hill would be angry at what happened, and I fully understand why Peterson and Pinker would spread the story, given the information available to them and given they were too busy to check the story carefully, but the result is that a person was viciously attacked for something she didn’t do.
How is it that you ‘know’ what she did? All you know is what lies on the surface. Without publication of the correspondence you are as ignorant of what she did as everyone else. Or, perhaps, you have ‘special’ knowledge?
This is an odd comment of yours, in that you put ‘know’ in quotes, but I never stated that I ‘know” what she did. I wasn’t there, and neither, I suspect, were you.
Rather than repeat myself and others, I will point you to this comment by Yemon Choi, who specifically addresses the issue that we don’t know exactly what happened.
> and suggested that the article be accompanied by a rebuttal from an outside expert
why did not she wrote the rebuttal?
sometime ago someone (I do not remember the name) said “”Where books are burned, in the end, people will also be burned.”
removal of a published paper from an online journal is the modern day burning. i rest my case.
Wilkinson suggested that the article be accompanied by a rebuttal from an outside expert. She didn’t suggest herself as this expert. In any case, I agree with you that the article, once accepted to the journal, should’ve stayed published. Journals make mistakes in publishing articles all the time, but I think the right response to a publication mistake is to run a correction or rebuttal or whatever, not to just remove the paper from the published record.
I disagree with this conclusion. It is obvious that the Intelligencer pulled the article for fear of a political backlash — in fact, a backlash that was already building considerable momentum before the paper even appeared. Hill’s account is prima facie very credible on this point, and he does have direct evidence for it and gives numerous direct quotes to this effect. In particular, Hill alleges that Wilkinson waged an extensive and aggressive lobbying campaign against his paper on social media and in personal circles. In her statement, Wilkinson does not deny this. Hence we should probably accept it as true and therefore take Wilkinson’s statements of platitudes about academic freedom with this in mind.
So it’s not that ignorant mobs have misconstrued a purely academic affair between champions of intellectual rigour and open communication. Rather, aggressive political backlash against Hill’s paper is the reason it was pulled twice in the first place.
It is very understandable why people in the mathematical community would not want to see the paper appear because it would undermine diversity initiatives that have extremely strong support in the field at this time. The mathematical community is not very familiar or invested in literature on gender differences from other fields, but a paper in the Intelligencer would be a punch in the gut internally, a very different thing.
It also seems very likely to me that the paper was authored against this backdrop, as a kind of rebellion or counterpoint to aggressive diversity policies that are currently gaining a lot of momentum in the mathematical community. I suspect this, more than an objective concern with technical questions of evolutionary theory, was the underlying motivation for the paper.
The reason why the paper appeared in NYJM, where it doesn’t fit at all, is transparently that the editor Igor Rivin was incensed about the Intelligencer retraction and also sympathetic to the political dimensions of the paper.
I think it’s fine for Hill to have written a paper out of rebellion, and I also think it’s fine for Wilkinson and others to express their low opinion of the paper in online forums. You write that “Wilkinson waged an extensive and aggressive lobbying campaign against his paper on social media and in personal circles.” I don’t really know what that means. If someone doesn’t like a paper of mine, and they go around in social media and personal circles saying they don’t like it, saying that if my paper is published it should be accompanied by a rebuttal . . . yeah, sure, I’d be annoyed, and, depending on how the campaign is waged, I might consider it to be unprofessional behavior. But I don’t think it violates my academic freedom.
Yes, that’s all fine. What I disagree with is your dichotomy that construes Wilkinson et al. as very reasonable and rational people with a principled commitment to academic freedom and exchange of ideas, whereas later commentators are “echo chamber mobs”. I think there are very clear signs of mob-like behaviour behind the retractions. Perhaps it is technically true that Wilkinson did not demand retraction of the paper per se. But it seems that she and others went far beyond merely proposing that a rebuttal be published in the interest of science. It seems that they went to great lengths to discredit the paper and make sure than many people knew of their vehement disapproval of it. It also seems evident that it was precisely this kind of pressure that made the editor of the Intelligencer withdraw the paper. In light of this I think it is a bit ridiculous to try to pretend that Wilkinson et al. are blameless and to take their self-serving huff and puff about how committed they are to open inquiry at face value, as you do.
You write, “Perhaps it is technically true that Wilkinson did not demand retraction of the paper per se.” But Wilkinson did not “demand retraction” in any way, “technically” or otherwise. The paper had already been accepted for publication. She suggested that the journal publish a response rebuttal article by experts in the field to accompany the article.
Regarding “went to great lengths to discredit the paper and make sure than many people knew of their vehement disapproval of it”: Yes, Wilkinson and others disliked the paper a lot, and they let other people know it. That’s called criticism, or post-publication review, or whatever. Nothing wrong with this at all.
You write, “it was precisely this kind of pressure that made the editor of the Intelligencer withdraw the paper.” I don’t know what’s “precise” at all about this claim. Wilkinson suggested the journal publish a rebuttal, the journal editor instead decided to remove the paper. That’s on the journal editor.
Finally, if you want to see echo chamber mobs, see some of the commenters on Quillette, Twitter, and 4chan. These are really horrible, and I don’t think it helps one bit when Quillette publishes unfounded accusations of “suppression” and thought leaders such as Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker endorse this.
Sure, all valid points. I just think you go unreasonably far in the other direction when you try to make Wilkinson out to be a veritable saint. For example, you write that “a journal editor pulled Hill’s paper, after Wilkinson recommended otherwise” — as if Wilkinson actually actively recommended that the paper appear. Not even Wilkinson herself says this. It is also a bit odd how you seem to question and criticise the actions and assertions of everyone involved, yet Wilkinson’s boilerplate proclamation that she supports free and open discussion, which of course anyone would say in her position regardless of the facts, you take for gospel truth.
There are no saints here. Just people trying to do their jobs and making mistakes along the way. Based on everything I’ve heard about this case, it’s my impression that everyone in the story, including Hill, Tabachnikov, Wilkinson, Farb, Peterson, Pinker, and all the journal editors involved, all support free and open discussion. I don’t think that supporting free and open discussion makes anyone into a saint. All the people in this story did things that I wouldn’t have done in their place. And I’m no saint either.
Wow! That really seems disingenuous. Mistakes? Mistakes have causes. What were they? Were the mistakes the result of political hostility to ideas? Were those ideas argued on the basis of the ‘faults’ in the ideas or was there a smear campaign against Hill where the people with the ‘correct’ political views let it be known that they were unhappy with the paper without anyone producing an iota of critique on the actual problems in the paper?
You seem to desperately want to whitewash the role Wilkerson et al, in this. Again, to refer to ‘mistakes’ without expounding on the nature of the mistakes and their motives is strange. Somewhat like saying the money from the cash register that ended up in my pocket was a mistake, not a robbery.
Also, it seems like a breech of etiquette to rescind a paper that has been accepted without discussing the matter with the author(s) prior to the paper being rescinded. Only if the motives for rescinding the paper were questionable would that seem to be the order of the day. Otherwise, what the hell is going on in academia?
What bugs me is the constant (false) equivalency drawn between rejecting a paper and censoring (or “disappearing”) it.
Note: an accepted paper was withdrawn.
Nobody is equating rejecting a paper with censoring, if censoring is understood by some strict legal definition. The claim is this is part of a repeated tactic which tries to make certain ideas verboten in the public sphere. The goal is nothing short of winning debates before they’ve even been had.
This tactic has worked in this instance, even though it superficially it appears to have backfired. Anyone going anywhere near this topic knows they’ll be subjected to a fire storm and very likely have their career destroyed if not very senior (i.e. retired). The vast majority will simply never publish a paper on the topic. Practical censorship has been achieved without there ever having been a literal communist style “censor” who consigned the idea to oblivion.
But then I think you knew all this.
NB name is pseudonym.
Andrew – I remember the Larry Summers speech at MIT and do not recall him mentioning M/F distributions. Instead, he attributed shortage of women in mathematics and science to undeniable fact some women have to bring up children, which task inevitably takes away from the endless hours required for jobs of young researchers / junior professors. Separately, an online mob is letting a genie out of a bottle – once freed, it cannot be summoned back into the bottle. I think you’re too tough on Hill, who accurately reported what he knew first-hand.
I think Hill accurately reported what he knew first-hand, and he also said some things that he didn’t know first-hand. One such thing was the statement about Wilkinson, which led to her being attacked by the online mob.
Andrew – you write: ” It’s not about suppressing a politically offensive idea; it would be more, from their perspective, about not spreading a mistaken idea.”
Yes, it is. But please run a quick comparison among mobs which
1. went after Wilkinson
2. turned James Watson into an unperson
3. hounded Larry Summers out of the Harvard presidency
4. sent death threats to a publishing house for THINKING of publishing an article on colonialism
Who decides what is politically offensive vs what is merely a mistaken idea? This is not about adjudicating respective responsibilities of Hill, Wilkinson, journal editors, et al. It is about comparing actual mob-generated damages, and so far Wilkinson’s can’t compare to the vastly greater ones suffered by the other three. It’s to your credit that you would support your friend, but please get some perspective.
Without getting into the details, I don’t think whatever happened in your cases 2, 3, and 4 above represent any justification for the attacks on Wilkinson.
As I wrote above, I get it: a bad thing happened to Hill, he blamed it on Wilkinson and others, then the story was picked up by various people who had pre-existing views about the malignant behavior of the “academic Left.” The fact that someone else sent someone else a death threat, is not any reason to think some of those comments on Quillette or 4chan are anything close to OK or acceptable in a civilized society.
Larry Summers also defrauded $30m of University funds, and only that action spawned, half a year after the remarks, serious internal discussions on faculty meetings.
Summers resigned another half a year later after, a month after the press published investigative journalism about this and his ties with Russia. More than a year after the remarks.
Is there anything in Hill’s report that you find incorrect regarding Wilkinson? Apart from the “had successfully suppressed my variability hypothesis research and trampled on the principles of academic liberty” remark, I mean.
Her “Statement addressing unfounded allegations” is compatible with Hill’s story, as you noted. She does confirm some of the points mentioned by Hill and denies claims that were not made by Hill. According to his response (linked by Harry Crane below):
Allegations that Wilkinson does not deny in her statement:
1. Wilkinson asked her father to write to the Intelligencer criticizing the paper.
2. Wilkinson falsely blamed divulgence of her name on the Intelligencer.
3. Hill wrote a polite email (copied below) to Wilkinson that she never answered even though she claims she had “scientific criticisms” of the article.
4. Hill wrote a longer rebuttal to Wilkinson’s father asking for more discussion. He also did not reply to Hill.
5. Even after the Intelligencer article was rescinded, Wilkinson “continued to trash both the journal and the editor-in-chief on social media”.
6. Wilkinson falsely announced on Facebook that a substantially different paper had been accepted..
7. Even after the NYJM article was deleted, Wilkinson “was threatening Facebook friends with ‘unfriending’ unless they severed social media ties with” [Igor Rivin, the editor who had solicited the paper].
Wilkinson didn’t like Hill’s paper, and she shared this view with others. That is not the same as suppressing anything or trampling on any principles. I don’t really care if Wilkinson told people she’d unfriend them on social media. She also apparently didn’t respond to emails from someone who was contacting her employer and complaining about her. What does that have to do with anything? It’s ok by me if people don’t respond to emails or unfriend people on social media. But, sure, Hill is annoyed, and if he wants to share this information with the world, fine. Saying that Wilkinson “suppressed” and “trampled,” not so fine. Especially given the reaction that these statements had, in stimulating noxious reactions and personal attacks in the Quillette comment section, Twitter, and elsewhere on the internet.
Ok, it’s fair. But even if we don’t know the exact terms of her complaint we can imagine that Wilkinson wasn’t very displeased with the outcome (the supression of Hill’s paper from the MI) and the objective of Farb was apparently the supression of this “pseudo-science…piece of crap” and “ridiculous paper” from the NYJM so Hill’s reaction is understandable. Of course his research has not being completely supressed and he’s free to defend it elsewhere (even though he was not given much opportunity to defend it before being supressed from the MI and the NYJM).
> She also apparently didn’t respond to emails from someone who was contacting her employer and complaining about her.
Her “not responding to emails” happened several months before Hill contacted her employer to complain.
You should understand the context for “not responding to emails” in this situation.
1. Wilkinson writes a letter to the editor-in-chief of the Intelligencer, expressing concerns about the paper. She had every right to expect the editor-in-chief would hold her identity in confidence.
2. She receives an email from the author of the paper saying “It is my understanding based on the email below that you communicated with the Editor-in-Chief of the Mathematical Intelligencer …”
Put yourself in Wilkinson’s position. What would you think about the editor-in-chief in that situation? Would you feel obliged to respond to Hill?
On point 6, as far as I can tell, the issue is this. Wilkinson posted a link to the arXiv page for the Hill-Tabachnikov (later just Hill) paper. At this point, that page shows nine different versions of the paper. The link she posted was unversioned: https://arxiv.org/abs/1703.04184. The unversioned link simply brings up the most recent version of the paper, along with links to all previous versions. Based on the dates, I’m guessing the version accepted by the Intelligencer was version 2. Versions 3 and 4 were uploaded to the arXiv on September 9 and 18, respectively. By the time Wilkinson posted the link, the default version would have been version 4. In order to get a link pointing to the specific version of the paper accepted at the Intelligencer, she would have had to have added a v2 to the previous link: https://arxiv.org/abs/1703.04184v2. It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that she didn’t notice that two more versions had come out since the email exchange with Senechal.Hill seems to be calling versions 2 and 4 substantially different papers; I think most people would call them two versions of one paper. In my book, Hill is making a mountain out of a molehill here.
Farb wrote: “Hill’s paper raised several red flags to me and other editors, giving concern not just about the quality of the paper, but also the question of whether it underwent the usual rigorous review process …” How did Hill’s paper come to the attention of Farb and other editors though? Do editors regularly scan accepted manuscripts and intervene on the decision made by other editors? It just seemed highly irregular but maybe NYJM is thorough and rigorous like that.
As for Intelligencer, the editor was certainly at fault, but if Wilkinson truly did not want to suppress the paper, she would have at least made an attempt to clarify that to the editor after she informed her of the decision to not to publish it.
My impression is that everything about this paper was unusual for NYJM: It seems that they never, or just about never, publish papers of this sort, and the paper was on a topic that gets lots of attention, so it’s no surprise that the editors heard a lot about it.
It should be mentioned that one of the unusual things about this paper at NYJM is that it got much more careful vetting than usual. Apparently in math the usual thing is to have one referee; this paper had two. At NYJM the lower editors have authority to accept a paper on their own, but for this paper the lower editor (Igor Rivin) got the okay of the editor-in-chief too. It looks like he realized this was an unusual paper and wanted to be extra-careful with the editorial process. Much good did it do him!
The claim that it got more careful vetting than usual is in question in some respects. There are questions about the editorial process floating around on some of the mathematical blogs where Rivin has been commenting actively, but he hasn’t answered them yet. Here are a few.
1. Hill mentions only one (“very positive”) referee report in his Quillette article, raising the question of whether the journal had both reports in hand when the decision to publish was made. If only one was in hand, it might explain why there was a three month gap between the time members of the board starting asking to see the reports and the time they finally received them (according to Farb’s account). The turnaround time between submission and publication was just over three weeks; it’s remarkable that the journal was able to get one referee to respond in that time frame, much less two!
2. Farb claims that the referees were not “experts in the topic of the paper.” The strongest thing I’ve seen Rivin claim is that “the referees were excellent mathematicians who had both published extensively in both pure and applied mathematics,” which doesn’t go quite far enough to contradict Farb’s claim. In cases where a referee feels a paper is outside their usual range, it’s not unusual for them to say so, and to suggest other referees. Did either referee say anything along those lines? Perhaps Hill’s document dump will contain the referee report he saw; that might help answer this question.
3. In his Quillette article, Hill quotes what he claims is an email from an editor to the editor-in-chief of NYJM. That’s not the kind of information an author would ordinarily be privy to, and suggests a significant breach in the confidentiality of editorial board discussions. How did Hill get access to this information?
1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Editor Rivin wanted to publish the paper and chose referees he thought would like it, etc. That’s normal. Editors get to do that. It’s one reason you become an editor– to publish papers you like. Of course, you still want referees, because yuo don’t want to publish papers with mistakes either. But Rivin went through MORE than the normal process.
2. THe paper should have had a biology referee, I agree. I wouldn’t be surprised if the paper wasn’t all that novel. But it’s not uncommon for journals to publish stuff outside of their main area and miss relevant cites.
3. This isn’t an ordinary situation. It’s not at all improper for the editor to disclose things like that to the author, so long as nobody in the process objects. In fact, i think we should have more thanking of referees by name for the improvement they give to papers, with their consent of course.
1. You seem to be missing my point. If Rivin only had one report in hand when he made the decision to publish, then he only “went through MORE than the normal process” after other members of the board started asking questions and the paper was pulled.
3. We’re not talking about some carefully considered communication from the editors to the author here. Let me remind you of description of the email from Quillette:
“Upon discovering that the journal had published my paper, Professor Farb had written a furious email to Steinberger demanding that it be deleted at once. ‘Rivin,’ he complained, ‘is well-known as a person with extremist views who likes to pick fights with people via inflammatory statements.’ Farb’s ‘father-in law…a famous statistician,’ he went on, had ‘already poked many holes in the ridiculous paper.’ My paper was ‘politically charged’ and ‘pseudoscience’ and ‘a piece of crap’ and, by encouraging the NYJM to accept it, Rivin had ‘violat[ed] a scientific duty for purely political ends.'”
Do you imagine Farb agreed to have an email like that forwarded to the author? Do you imagine any editor would see a constructive reason for forwarding that email to an author? If you can answer yes to either of those questions with a straight face, then you must work in a very different field from mine.
It is pretty bad for Hill though, he surely put tons and tons of hours of his life into getting a paper published, and in academia your entire career is 100% relying on whether you can get published, and now he has this paper he has researched, come up with all the math, and written and reviewed and rewritten as all academic papers are, and now its never going to be published, and he 100% wasted all his time, all that precious time from your career, and he could have spent all that time on another boring paper surely to be published somewhere, but instead he clearly thought this hypothesis was interesting, and wanted to connect his mathematical ideas to something he found interesting, and it is interesting, if this phenomenon does exist then trying to figure out how and why will be very interesting to anyone who like science and math. The worst part, is career is likely irreparably damaged now that this massive media drama and online craziness has happened and he will likely be black balled from literally everywhere that is not a right wing crazy nut house, and he will be a lightning rod for controversy and the culture war at large, hell just be a proxy for this larger ridiculous culture war with people who hate each other taking out their support or abuse on him. He is pretty screwed, writing that Quilette piece was a big mistake. I think you might be down playing what is in store for his future and the damage this does to him professionally and personally, and down playing the significance of having all that hard work and countless hours PUBLISHED twice, only to have it totally nuked in front of your face forever, with the exception of fringe journals that provide on legitimacy to ones paper anyway, or rightwing publications. You seem to describe it as annoying, and you say you would be pissed, and you say its a crappy thing yes yes, but it all is “but” statements that make it sound like lip service or mandatory weak caveats, I think we should acknowledge this guy did not do anything warranting what HE is getting online either which you did not even mention, which is every bit as bad a what Wilkinson has received, and include very bit of hate and vitriol, while also coming form the side of the culture war that is the correct side in all our estimations and who has power in the culture, aka they are winning. He has gotten the same thing and it will be much worse for him because Wilkinson will be endlessly defended as a victim in academia while Hill will be demonized, and hated, and in the larger culture he will stamped as a straight up nazi, gender essentialist, alt right asshole who deserves hate. Furthermore due to the fact that Wilkinson is a female it is just a fact that a long pattern has emerged where the culture and academia will rise up to defend a female from abuse online to a larger degree than they would for a male, this is just a fact in our culture we view women as something needing extra protection and coddling, its a kind of benevolent sexism but Hill we be the person on the other side of that barrel as everyone scrambles to be the white knight and to demonstrate their virtue to others online.
In the middle of this breathlessly melodramatic take, did you actually bother to look up Theodore Hill’s career details and history? Your lurid descriptions seem to indicate that you view him as a much younger and less established researcher than he actually is.
But there are several direct quotes in the blog post (taken from emails that came from some of the people involved, including NSF officials [and you have to admit having NSF request that the funding statement be pulled is really, really unusual and difficult to explain on the basis of overall research quality]) that attest directly to the idea that the primary reason why these people got involved is that they had political objections to the paper.
The reality is that most published papers aren’t very good. You could probably make a good case that most of them should never have been published, and if you look closely you can give good reasons. But that just isn’t the standard that is usually applied to forced retraction. Why is it so hard to believe that the underlying reasons in this case were political, given all the evidence in the blog post?
I agree that it does seem that some people in this story were motivated by a fear of political backlash, and I agree that’s not a good thing. The Hill and Tabachnikov article itself some political content (see here, section 2) that doesn’t seem to fit in so wall to a math paper, and the whole event could be seen as a series of provocations: Hill and Tabachnikov write a provocative paper, which provokes people to get angry; this provokes the Intelligencer editor and people at NSF to back away from the paper; this provokes Rivin to insert the paper in NYJM; this provokes the editorial board to pull the paper; this provokes Hill to contact Wilkinson’s employer; etc., all leading to a blog post with lots of political content provoking lots of people on the internet to attack. In retrospect, dialing it down at all stages would’ve been good. But each reaction to the provocation is understandable given people’s attitudes at the time.
How about Bob D’s point that Hill actually mentions a lot of documentary evidence of what happened with Wilkinson? He’s posted his own emails at http://www.tphill.net/DOCUMENTS/Hill_Statement.html, and addressed their disagrements point by point. I suppose he’s not posted her emails because he’s concerned about copyright violation— I don’t know what the law is on that. She can publish them, of course.
It is also notable that the statements of Wilkinson and Farb don’t mention that they’re married to each other, a crucial fact because it implies they talked about Hill’s paper together and knew what each other was doing. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.
I would imagine that Wilkinson and Farb thought it was obvious to everyone that they were married, and they didn’t think it was necessary to mention it. The fact that they are married does not on its own imply “they talked about Hill’s paper together and knew what each other was doing.” The only direct evidence we have is the quote from the email of Farb in which he refers to his father-in-law’s letter to the Intelligencer. Everything beyond that is speculation. You (and lots of other people) seem to be getting lots of mileage from that one data point.
Don’t forget the author that removed his name from the paper.
Ted Hill has responded with further details here http://www.tphill.net/DOCUMENTS/Hill_Statement.html and he promises to provide even more documentation soon.
The issue here seems to have little to do with the merits of Hill’s actual model. Andrew gives a fair assessment of the paper’s content. That the model is mathematically straightforward does not make the paper bad, as some (including Gowers) have claimed. Simplicity is usually a positive. As with any “toy model”, there are substantive parts of the paper that can and should be criticized, but these should not be happening in private to editors (as Wilkinson did), or even on this blog.
Ted Hill should be able to publish his paper (no questions asked), and anyone with something to say about it, positive or negative, could post their critique in the same location as the published paper. This would provide proper context when other people come across this paper later on. This, as I understand it, is one of the selling points of post-publication peer review.
This is one of the main objectives behind the researchers.one platform that was recently launched and which Andrew wrote about recently http://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2018/09/10/reseachers-one-a-souped-up-arxiv-with-pre-and-post-pubication-review/
No matter the reason, there was a move to suppress Hill’s work. Ultimately it backfired in this case because the paper has gotten way more attention than it ever would have in the NY Journal of Math. (I’ve read the paper 2-3 times, but would never have even heard of it before. Similarly, Andrew has also read it but may not have known about it otherwise.) So many other papers are quietly dismissed from the literature on a regular basis, through standard accept/reject filtering. This presents opportunities to suppress ideas which should not exist.
Why is it inappropriate to discuss the merits of the paper on this blog? That kind of thing is the main point of this blog.
I’m not saying it’s inappropriate that we are discussing the paper on this blog. I am saying that there should be a more systematic way to discuss the merits/demerits of the paper than on blogs that are dispersed throughout the internet.
I agree that ideally all criticism should be public. But I don’t think it was bad for Wilkinson to criticize the paper in private to the editor. I also don’t think it was a good idea for the editor to pull the paper, but I can see how that decision was made as a way to minimize hassle for the editor.
“But I don’t think it was bad for Wilkinson to criticize the paper in private to the editor.”
Andrew, I think this is exactly where you are wrong and from which all contention arises. While I am not a mathematician, in my field of biomedical research it would be unheard of for a researcher to contact the editor of a journal prepublication to demand the paper of another investigator be rescinded. What is also unheard of is to revoke the decision to publish a paper after interference of third parties. Now of course, you will claim that Wilkinson merely requested the simultaneous publication of a rebuttal, but we don’t know that and we have every reason to doubt it, considering that Wilkinson refuses to disclose her communication with the editor. There are several transparent ways to render scientific criticism, rebuking paper, published letter to the editor, response in a different journal etc. None of these avenues were chosen by Wilkinson, which would have been perfectly acceptable and best scientific practice and most importantly would have avoided all the backlash Wilkinson and you are complaining about.
Wilkinson did not “contact the editor of a journal prepublication to demand the paper of another investigator be rescinded.” So you’re criticizing her for something she didn’t do.
You also seem to think Wilkinson is lying when she wrote, “I criticized the scientific merits of the paper and the decision to accept it for publication, but I never made the suggestion that the decision to publish it be reversed. Instead, I suggested that the journal publish a response rebuttal article by experts in the field to accompany the article.” I guess you can feel free to think whatever you want.
Andrew, the paper was scheduled to appear on the Mathematical Intelligencere’s first issue of 2018. acceptance was issued in April 2017 and revoked in September 2017, after Wilkinson’s involvement. Thus, I assume she acted prepublication exactly as described by me. Please explain where I am wrong on this.
Also, I feel free to think what is corroborated by the results of Wilkinson’s actions. The paper was not published accompanied by a rebuttal, but rescinded altogether, thus rendering her account of the communication with the editor implausible.
We know from a later email that Professor Hill somehow obtained (FOIA? p.29) that Wilkinson did approve of the rescinding of the Hill article, since she wrote, “It was an opinion article and not refereed at all. When I found out (a few weeks ago), I wrote to the editor-in-chief (Marjorie Senechal) complaining, as did many others, apparently. She ended up rescinding the acceptance (good, although why did she accept in the first place?).” So we know that (a) Wilkinson wrote to the journal after the article was accepted, complaining, and (b) Wilkinson thought rescinding was “good”. It’s not a big step to concluding that Wilkinson pushed to have the article rescinded. It’s noteworthy that Wilkinson, unlike Hill, hasn’t released any actual emails. She is somewhat vague about what she actually did tell the editor.
It is a big step to conclude that Wilkinson pushed to have the article rescinded. And not the only one I’ve seen you take.
It’s much simpler than you’re making it out to be. No sleuthing is required. Wilkinson heard about the paper being scheduled to be published, she took a look at it, and she thought it was a low-quality paper that, if published, should be run with a rebuttal. It was already scheduled to be published and she did not recommend that the publication be rescinded.
You write, “It’s not a big step to concluding that Wilkinson pushed to have the article rescinded.” This is a big step because now you’re saying she lied.
Finally, regarding “It’s noteworthy that Wilkinson, unlike Hill, hasn’t released any actual emails”: Wilkinson has been attacked viciously on social media. Some of the comments on Quillette and Twitter are pretty rude and stupid, and you can much much worse stuff elsewhere. When you’re gets attacked in that way, a reasonable strategy is to stop responding to the attacks and just lie low until they go away. I don’t think you can take nonresponse as an indication of much of anything at all. Hill doesn’t mind this confrontation (again, I agree he has lots of reasons to be angry, even if I think he’s misplacing the targets of his anger) so, sure, he’ll release emails or whatever, as he’s happy for people to keep talking about this. I completely understand why Wilkinson would not want to add any fuel to the flames by responding any more. Indeed, I thought twice about responding to these comments because I’d rather not keep this discussion going. But the points were specific enough that I decided to do so.
All your assertions about what transpired between Wilkinson and the editor are based on Wilkinson’s account without any evidence provided. I don’t know Wilkinson, personally, professionally or in any other capacity and consequently have no reason to believe her, considering that she has every reason to lie. She complained in private to the editor about a colleague’s accepted paper to force effectively its dismissal by the journal. That she doesn’t want to release any of this communication makes the view that she lies about it highly plausible. All of this, apparently based entirely on political misgivings and not on scientific ones, as neither her, nor her father or husband, which she enlisted in her campaign, ever produced any scientific grounds on which this paper should be revoked. This despicable process that undermines academic freedom to its very core to a degree rarely seen has unsurprisingly caused some justified backlash (excesses discounted). What is so disheartening about this affair is that the attack on academic freedom came from the ranks of scientists themselves and unfortunately, is supported by other scientists, which is the principal reason I felt compelled on commenting on your blog. I understand that you are not an impartial actor to this as the Wilkinson’s are your friends, but personal relationships shouldn’t go as far as provide cover to the enemies of free scientific inquiry, the very foundation of our profession.
I find it depressing that you would be attacking someone personally and calling her a liar based on a hit piece you read on the internet. There is no need for us to continue this discussion further.
I wish you, and the other commenters at Quillette, 4chan, etc., would think twice about making things up and calling people liars based on second and third-hand information, calling things “despicable,” talking about “the enemies of free scientific inquiry,” etc.
This is not an episode of Scooby-Doo or Encyclopedia Brown where the bad guy gets unmasked. Real people are involved, and, as I wrote in my post above, everything I have read about this series of events is consistent with Hill and Wilkinson accurately describing their behavior. If you want to call either Hill or Wilkinson a liar, there are lots of places on the internet for you to do that, other than here.
Amie Wilkinson wrote, in the published statement on which Professor Gelman relies:
“I sent an email, on 9/7/17, to the Editor-in-Chief of The Mathematical Intelligencer, about the paper of Hill and Tabachnikov. In it, I criticized the scientific merits of the paper and the decision to accept it for publication, but I never made the suggestion that the decision to publish it be reversed. Instead, I suggested that the journal publish a response rebuttal article by experts in the field to accompany the article. One day later, on 9/8/17, the editor wrote to me that she had decided not to publish the paper.” https://math.uchicago.edu/~wilkinso/Statement.html
Professor Senechal wrote in an email to Hill,
“Amie Wilkinson is one of the women who wrote to me about your article, and we corresponded back and forth a few times.” https://www.dropbox.com/s/lnm3csfna4seavr/hill_redacted.pdf?dl=0
Doesn’t this suggest that Professor Wilkinson’s statement is incomplete, and not trustworthy? It implies to me that she wrote one email, and heard back the next day. Professor Senechal says it was “corresponded back and forth a few times”. It really makes no sense to give Amie Wilkinson the benefit of every doubt. She says she didn’t ask for retraction in that email; how about her other emails?
P.S. I took a look at Hill’s latest statement. I do not think it contradicts anything I wrote above and, in particular, it offers no evidence that Wilkinson had “suppressed” his research or “trampled on the principles of academic liberty.” Wilkinson and Farb didn’t like Hill’s paper—I get that—and Hill is annoyed at them. But, again, I think he’s focusing his anger on the wrong people.
Given the way editorial decisions are currently made, it may not be out of the ordinary for Wilkinson to complain to the editor. But I think it’s worth asking why this kind of backroom dealing is the preferred way that these kind of things are handled. I think you and I agree that airing these things out in public leads to a more constructive and informative discourse. It isn’t the current norm, but we can hope one day that it will be, so that this kind of episode is no longer possible.
I think there is a bit of misconception in these comments regarding Hill’s accusation of “suppression”. Hill’s article describes Wilkinson and Farb (together) as the “husband-wife team who had successfully suppressed my variability hypothesis research”.
As far as I can tell, it seems accurate to say that Farb played a role in suppressing his research at NYJM. Farb was on the editorial board, involved in the discussion of whether to unpublish the paper, and doesn’t seem to disagree with the decision.
So Hill is not singling out Wilkinson for suppression, and I don’t believe his statement is nearly as inaccurate as being portrayed in some of these comments.
Hill and Tabachnikov’s paper had lots of problems, and for reasons discussed elsewhere in this thread I think it was a mistake for the editor of the Mathematical Intelligencer to try to publish it as is. Then when the problems with the paper had been pointed out, it was an even larger mistake for the editor to decide not to publish it, given that it had already been accepted. I agree with Wilkinson that it would’ve been better, once the paper was going to appear in the magazine, to publish it with rebuttal.
Wilkinson, Farb, and others vocally expressed their view that the paper was low quality: the mathematics was not very interesting, the connection to biology was not clear, there was little engagement with the literature on mathematical models for biological variability, and the paper contained extraneous arguments. That was their take on the paper. Others may feel that the key idea of the paper is valuable despite its flaws. My take on it was that it could make sense to publish the paper in the Intelligencer, despite its flaws, because it demonstrates, even in a flawed way, the application of mathematics to an important problem. To go around saying you don’t like a paper, even to unfriend people on Facebook or not respond to emails, is not an act of suppression. It is free speech, and it is academic criticism. I think Wilkinson and others are being attacked, viciously, for being a critic. Science requires criticism, and she is being attacked for being a critic. In addition, the sexist and racist attacks make everything so much worse. I agree with you that Hill is not singling out Wilkinson: he’s against the entire leftist academic establishment. It just happens that, the way his post was received, the personal attacks ended up focusing on Wilkinson.
The NYJM episode is another story: What seems to have happened is that a boring math journal was hijacked for political purposes: an editorial board member with strong political views inserted a paper with political content into the journal, and then the editorial board as a whole was angry about it. Is this “suppression of HIll’s research”? I don’t know. I agree with you completely that, once they published the paper, they should’ve kept it published: in the world of publishing, you don’t try to fix a mistake by undoing it in this way. And I can see how, from Hill’s point of view, this could look like they had “trampled on the principles of academic liberty.” To me it simply looks like this was a paper they didn’t want to be publishing.
As I wrote elsewhere in this thread:
his story were motivated by a fear of political backlash, and I agree that’s not a good thing. The Hill and Tabachnikov article itself some political content (see here, section 2) that doesn’t seem to fit in so wall to a math paper, and the whole event could be seen as a series of provocations: Hill and Tabachnikov write a provocative paper, which provokes people to get angry; this provokes the Intelligencer editor and people at NSF to back away from the paper; this provokes Rivin to insert the paper in NYJM; this provokes the editorial board to pull the paper; this provokes Hill to contact Wilkinson’s employer; etc., all leading to a blog post with lots of political content provoking lots of people on the internet to attack. In retrospect, dialing it down at all stages would’ve been good. But each reaction to the provocation is understandable given people’s attitudes at the time.
“an editorial board member with strong political views inserted a paper with political content into the journal”
This seems to be a more unfounded accusation than any in Hill’s blog post. It went through both peer review and the approval of two editors. It may have been inappropriate for the journal, but it was not a rogue action.
It may not be substantiated by Farb’s account, but it is not at all an implausible claim. Anyone who has witnessed peer review from behind the scenes knows that approval of referees and editors can be easily rigged, either to accept or reject. Whether or not that happened here is beside the point. Either way this case shows the severe flaws with the journal hierarchy: either editors published a paper for political reasons, unpublished a paper for political reasons, or both. As Larry Wasserman said, “current peer review is an authoritarian system resembling a priesthood or a guild.”
Obviously I’m a fan. But sometimes I think you underestimate the anger out there. People who have lost loved ones because of fashionable nonsense / non-science perpetrated merely because generating it happens to keep some academic somewhere employed irrespective of the ensuing body count, are well past the point of simply being annoyed by the carnage: https://www.jclinepi.com/article/S0895-4356(17)31375-6/pdf
Setting aside disagreements about suppression, I think there is a larger point here, where you and I completely agree, which is the problematic role of journals in conferring legitimacy to scientific papers.
If all we want to do is get our paper “out there,” we could just put everything on Arxiv and promote it on twitter. But publishing in a magazine or journal can be seen to legitimize a paper.
In the example at hand, Hill and Tabachnikov wrote a paper with some math that was somewhat applicable to a real-world problem in biology. They first sent it to a magazine which had Tabachnikov on the editorial board. The magazine published, then un-published the paper. Then they got it published in a different journal, through Rivin, who was sympathetic to their ideas, or maybe just annoyed that the earlier magazine had un-published the paper. The full editorial board then overruled Rivin and removed the paper from their journal.
In both cases, the authors were using insider connections as a way to publish, and thus confer legitimacy, on their work.
From the other side, a bunch of people did not want Hill and Tabachnikov’s work to be legitimized, and they didn’t want the paper to appear unrebutted in a magazine or journal in a way that would seem to confirm legitimacy. They used insider connections with that goal.
Anyway, my point in this comment here is not to justify or criticize anyone’s behavior here, but just to emphasize that the fight was not so much about suppression or freedom of information, but more about granting or denial of legitimacy or an official seal of approval. I think there are some problems with magazines and journals playing the two roles of publication and conferring legitimacy. One problem is that a paper is considered by many to be correct or relevant, just because it’s published. The converse problem is that people will try to stop a paper from being published, because they don’t want to confer legitimacy on it.
Yes, we agree 100% on this and I believe that’s at the heart of the issue. The legitimacy-conferral role of journals brings into play political maneuvering of the kind we saw here on both sides.
In fact, I believe this corrupted role of peer review — as a way of signaling “credibility” instead of as a process by which research is improved — does much more harm than good, as I discuss in this short paper just released yesterday https://www.researchers.one/article/2018-09-17
Thanks for that insider look into the infantile world of scientific journal publication.
I think it’s called the Barbara Streisand effect.
It is worth noting that Gowers retracted almost all of his criticisms about the paper’s content.. He has another post up about the mistake he made when first evaluating the paper.
This is the penultimate paragraph of Gowers’ second post:
“Thus, what I object to is not the very idea of a toy model, but more that with this particular toy model I have to make a number of what seem to me to be highly implausible assumptions to get it to work. And I don’t mean the usual kind of entirely legitimate simplifying assumptions. Rather, I’m talking about artificial assumptions that seem to be there only to get the model to do what Hill wants it to do. If some of the hypotheses above that seem implausible to me have in fact been observed by biologists, it seems to me that Hill should have included references to the relevant literature in his copious bibliography.”
Thanks for delving into the details of this case–it keeps cropping up on twitter. I’m guessing that the reason this paper bothered people is that the “variability hypothesis” has been used, or thought to have been used, to explain or show female inferiority–why we might expect fewer females in the top groups on various factors. Empirical evidence for the hypothesis has been questioned, as noted at the end of the paper. (I have no expertise on the topic, but I’m guessing the explanation invoked in the mathematical model doesn’t help.)
“…to explain or show female inferiority – why we might expect fewer females in the top groups on various factors.”
Yes, the hypothesis is used to explain why we might expect fewer women in top groups, although “to show female inferiority” is simply charged language that spoils the discussion. The variability hypothesis also attempts to explain why we should expect to find fewer females in bottom groups and could just as easily be used to describe female “superiority”.
I notice it’s usually bad actors in the alt-right “manosphere” (simple ignoramouses) and, ironically, also ignorant followers of reactionary feminism who latch onto the offensive interpretation of the theory. We can’t allow the boundaries of scientific inquiry to be drawn by them.
Sorry I was referring to late 19th/early 20th century psychologists who linked common views, at the time, of female intellectual inferiority (linked to biology) to hypotheses about male variability. A name that comes to mind is G. Stanley Hall (and Thorndike) because I taught a class at a college with a building named after him. Interestingly, Karl Pearson data analysis found women more variable than men, but Hall criticized his analysis. I realize all this is rather beside the point of the current concern, but I’m guessing the history of the thesis isn’t utterly irrelevant to some reactions.
– “the “variability hypothesis” has been used, or thought to have been used, to explain or show female inferiority–why we might expect fewer females in the top groups on various factors”
As far as i understand “why we might expect fewer females in the top groups on various factors” is not the same as “explain or show female inferiority”. Do you also think that explanations of female prevalence in many fields show “male inferiority”?
– “Empirical evidence for the hypothesis has been questioned”
Empirical evidence for the more feminism-friendly hypotheses “has been questioned” as well, and so far no one presented the overview of the balance of evidence. It does not look like the explanations you might favor (I am guessing, not mind-reading) are backed by less “questionable” evidence.
Objective differences can be socially reinforced, and often used to “abuse” and discriminate, especially when resources are scarce and social “trial and error” is costly. When resources are abundant (e.g. after men invented all that science ), more of them can be wasted on social trial and error; whether it leads to greater benefits “in the long run” is a question that can be answered only empirically.
The NYJM paper is available here: http://www.emis.ams.org/journals/NYJM/j/2017/23-72p.pdf
http://www.emis.ams.org/journals/NYJM/j/2017/23-72.html is about the “replacement” paper, but links to the “replaced” one.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the third paragraph in the NYJM paper you linked is all about james damore and larry summers, where as the arxiv link that Andrew provided has no mention of them at all (although it does mention them in previous iterations). I think its fair to say that the NYJM version is a bit more politically charged than the current arxiv version.
Papers about heavily mathematical mechanisms for evolutionary outcomes appear regularly in the evolutionary literature and I don’t think there’s any doubt that they make good contributions to the field. …this paper tries to ignore that literature and supposedly suggests a novel path. It references no literature in the field, references none of the alternative mechanisms for the outcome, proposes no way to test how relevant this hypothesis is compared to any others. Yet the author still carries on about possible extensions. So yes the paper is at best irritating.
The question I have is why would a math journal even want to publish it with human differences in trait variance as the motivating example? Are we supposed to be motivated to think this is somehow relevant to differences in humans? Without any comparison to alternative hypotheses and with zero data? No thanks, evolutionary analysis is a garden of forking paths and if you don’t account for that somehow then you’re just telling yourself stories.
I don’t see the paper as of interest to a math research journal (and, indeed, it seems that it only got into NYJM via an unusual route), but I could see it as of interest to a general-interest magazine for mathematicians. The paper has flaws, but editors can’t always be choosy. The article had some math and it was on a compelling topic. I think Wilkinson’s suggestion was a good idea, that if the paper was published, it could be accompanied by a rebuttal. It would’ve been even better for the problems with the paper to have been caught in the review process, but that doesn’t always happen.
I believe a general-interest magazine for mathematicians genuinely interested in the topic should’ve gotten in touch with any number of people who are actually actively contributing to mathematical perspectives on evolutionary theory. In evo. there’s a fair bit of interest in outreach and it would be seen as a solid opportunity by plenty of people. The current theory _does_ rely on interesting math.. this just isn’t it. The “compelling topic” portion of this article was not actually compelling.
Yes, I agree. The difficulty is that, if you’re a magazine editor, it can be a continuing challenge to get enough good submissions. So you can’t compare a paper you received to an ideal version of that paper, you have to compare it to whatever else you have on your plate. It could well be that the Intelligencer didn’t have lots of exciting material coming in right then, so the editor decided this article by Hill and Tabachnikov would be a good choice. In retrospect, it would’ve been better to get a more interesting paper on the same topic—but it can be really hard to get submissions.
It’s a funny thing. If you write an article, it can be very difficult to get it published, and it seems that publication is a very competitive thing, not just in the very top journals but in lower-ranked journals too. I’ve had some recent papers that I’ve really liked, that I’ve submitted to mid-ranked journals and gotten rejected—not revise-and-resubmit, but flat-out rejection. It happens all the time. But, from the other direction, if you’re ever on the editorial board of a journal, you’ll know that it’s really really hard to get a continuing flow of acceptable submissions. You can get lots of crap—that’s no problem. But good stuff is hard to find, and you’re always having to figure out how to fill up the latest issue.
Again, none of this is a justification of the editor’s behavior; I’m just trying to give some context.
There doesn’t seem to be all that much disagreement here.
Hill blames Wilkinson for being part of the suppression of the paper. Perhaps Hill overblames Wilkinson, perhaps he doesn’t (we need to know more about Wilkinson’s “campaign” against the paper). Perhaps some people should apologize to Wilkinson. Personally, I’m not sure what the truth is because I can imagine that Wilkinson may be intentionally minimizing his role. Or maybe not.)
With regard to the bigger picture, there seems to be general agreement that the left regularly goes berserk about the smallest of thought crimes about male/female differences. Ask Larry Summers and James Damore.
I attribute this to the screaming-left having to defend to the death preposterous positions about male/female differences. Thousands of people’s jobs depend on it. There can be no room for heresy because so much depends on an absolute denial of biological or other, non-evil, reasons for differences. If the differences are significantly due to non-evil forces, then we have to discuss and estimate these non-evil forces and once we allow that discussion, the screaming left is doomed — common sense will be everywhere.
I used to see the world from the left’s perspective on this issue (I have been, and remain, a life-long feminist). But years of simply observing men and women has made it obvious that there are very real biological differences (on average) and that these grew from obvious evolutionary pressures due to the evolutionary division of labor between men and women. There is just too much evidence walking around (literally!) to not recognize this.
The original post raises a very good question: Why did people get so excited over Hill’s article, when it was just a not-very-original math-evolution model of a well-established phenomenon published in an obscure journal by a retired professor? I, and no doubt Professor Gelman, would benefit from comment by anyone who understands why the paper aroused such an emotional response.
My guess, as in my earlier comment, is its because the “variability hypothesis” has been used, or thought to have been used, to explain or show female inferiority–why we might expect fewer females in the top groups on various factors–on biological grounds. Unclear how it purports to explain why there are more males at the bottom.
It explains more males at the bottom because in its model, males have a gene that produces more variable results— which means either good OR bad. And that’s the empirical pattern to be explained. There are lots more males with birth defects, for example.
Though grateful for the additional context I doubt that these new explications will do anything to undermine the underlying narrative of a vigilant academic priest-/priestess-hood always on the lookout for heretics within the order.
I just went to PubMed and spent a few minutes searching for new papers on diseases of interest to me. Those on the first page last week have now scrolled to the second page and yet it’s as if nothing has changed. Apart from the authors’ names and their institutions the papers can all be summarized thus: “We hypothesized that a mechanism that some people think up-/down- regulates a molecule that some other people think has something to do with inducing/promoting/enhancing/protecting some disease process would be altered by introducing some other molecule that a third bunch of people think might somehow or another have something to do with the mechanism. That H1 was tested against H0=no change. H0 was rejected because p-less than whatever. This discovery of H1, if confirmed, may lead to valuable blah, blah, blah.” Mountains and mountains of such nonsense are published every day and yet nobody in the academy seems to get nearly as exorcised as those who went after the M/F variability paper at issue here. The allegation then that the paper was singled out for vigilante justice because it touched upon a theory at odds with that promoted by an advocacy organization of which one or more of the alleged vigilantes was a member does not seem unreasonable.
Or you can contrast how it all unfolded with that of the power pose brouhaha. Was that paper withdrawn? Was a different one sneaked into its place at the same url? Or ask yourself why does the NSF happily allow its funding contribution to be referenced on breast cancer studies in which the researchers, too whatever to verify their cell lines, used melanoma cells from a man. If I was at the NSF I’d be at least a little embarrassed to have it known that I was handing out money for research on cell lines suspected of being contaminated for over a decade and to have continued to do so many months after the contamination was confirmed. But where does NSF get its money? And what is the profession of the congressmen who determine how much they’ll get next year? Bad science won’t get you a calendar item from Senator X but bad politics sure will.
P.S. Another parallel narrative is likely in play here and that’s the growing distrust and outright hostility toward the academy. Have you seen Marcia Angell’s Op-Ed in today’s NYTimes? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/14/opinion/jose-baselga-research-disclosure-bias.html Whatever the truth of the matter in the M/F variability paper withdrawal academics should at the least come away from all this understanding that like it or not, fair or not, they’re now the ones under the microscope.
This seems to be the heart of Andrew’s concern: the nastiness of some of the commenting hordes on the internet. I agree that these comments can be pretty shocking when you first encounter them.
But, there are enormous amounts of over-the-top comments EVERYWHERE. Most comment threads on the internet are a complete waste of time. (That is why this blog is a rarity: the comments are actually worth reading). Over-the-top comments used to begin and end in pubs and dorm rooms. Now they roam the countryside wreaking havoc. It is a different world now.
But, as D Kane points out above, there is asymmetry here. Rosanne had her career destroyed by a mob while Sarah Jeong only had to tell a few fibs to keep her job at the NYT.
Indeed, the heart of my concern is the nastiness of the attacks on Wilkinson. Now, had Hill, Pinker, etc., been correct in their statements regarding Wilkinson suppressing the paper, and there had still been all these nasty comments, then the comments would still be upsetting, but you could hardly blame Hill, Pinker, etc. for that. But given that Hill got that wrong (and Pinker, etc., unwittingly forwarded these misconceptions), that was really a bad outcome.
Consider, for example, these comment on the Quillette site: “This Amie Wilkinson has no credibility as a mathematician and researcher if she can’t adjust her worldview based on evidence. Based on the story it sounds like her daddy likely helped push her up through the ranks, and she is now using that power to snuff out the work of real professors.” And “The worst thing about Prof. Wilkinson’s behavior is that it seems to support the most simplistic stereotypes about women’s emotionality/irrationality.” These rude remarks are seemingly supported by Hill’s post, but they’re not supported by what Wilkinson actually did.
I can accept that Hill was upset by what happened to him and is not particularly interested in distinguishing between criticism of his work (which is what Wilkinson did) and the un-publishing of his paper (which is what was done by the journal editor), and I can accept that Peterson, Pinker, and the editors of Quillette are too busy to check every story that comes in . . . but once it becomes clear that it didn’t happen that way, it’s time to run the correction and call off the hounds.
That is one way to respond, to decry the incivility of the ignorant rabble. But it is a lot to ask that every incivility be silenced and all ignorance chased from the internet.
Perhaps another way is to agree that they are, indeed, ignorant rabble and so should be ignored. I agree that we are not there yet and many reputations have been destroyed because the ignorant rabble has been taken seriously. But perhaps that is where we should be headed. The first step would be to have employers ignore twitter hordes calling for employee scalps. There should be a cooling off period where actual facts can be collected.
In a baseball stadium, thousands of spectators shout rude things. We know we can’t make every one of those fans civil, so we have learned to ignore them.
I think a better analogy is not a baseball game but a pro wrestling match. The editors of Quillette have staged, and Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker have promoted, a wrestling match in which Theodore Hill is the hero and Amie Wilkinson is the heel. They’ve advertised this match to many thousands of people, knowing full well that many of these spectators will enjoy throwing sexist and racist epithets at the heel. But, unlike a pro wrestling match, the designated heel never agreed to play in this game. It’s easy to say to ignore the ignorant rabble, but not so easy when it’s happening to you, or when they’re contacting your employer, sending you emails, etc.
My point here is that Quillette, Peterson, Pinker, etc., made a mistake. An understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.
The wrestling term for Theodore Hill would be babyface.
I am not sure who comprises the online truth mob.
” I agree that we are not there yet and many reputations have been destroyed because the ignorant rabble has been taken seriously.”
Seriously, then shame on those who take them seriously. They are no better than the ‘ignorant rabble’ if they do. This pearl clutching, fear laden response to nasty words is ludicrous, ridiculous and cowardly! People who allow themselves to be moved by nasty comments on social media are a special class of moral coward.
That they hold high positions in government and google and other high places is a disaster. Focusing on how to stop the nasty comments is absurd. Growing a pair would do a lot to snuff out the comments or at the very least blunt the impact they have. It isn’t the mob that fires people or destroys a reputation…it’s those that allow themselves to be persuaded by the mob!
Andrew, I disagree with you that Pinker et al. should apologize for signal boosting. I see no proof that Hill’s accusations were substantially off base; he put things rather aggressively, but it’s hard to explain what happened otherwise. Wilkinson and Farb did not literally call for the article not to be published, but we rarely have perfect information. Hill’s reading of their intent is a strong one given the evidence (and Wilkinson and Farb’s statements don’t materially disagree as far as I can tell) and it appears they got what they wanted… until it all blew up in their face.
Hill was left with little recourse but to make accusations in a public forum.
Consider that your own criticisms (I think justified!) of Cuddy, etc. undoubtedly led to internet abuse of Cuddy, etc. I haven’t seen you apologize for that, although I could have easily missed it. I don’t think whether you make the criticism or signal boost it is a difference of much ethical significance.
On the paper itself, I don’t think the model fits humans, but the the criticisms I’ve seen by mathematicians have mostly left me with the impression that the mathematicians involved either don’t care too much about the empirical details or they have little understanding of biology because they either say little about it or get many points about evolution or biology wrong. I’m sure some mathematicians do have the knowledge, but that doesn’t describe the subset I’ve seen opining on the topic. I think review by someone closer to the field could have made for a much better paper. Perhaps an organism which more closely suits the models assumptions exists; or the model could have been changed. I think the combination of two ideas in the paper is at least interesting: selection on variation due to genetic causes (not due to variation in alleles across the population but rather variation due to an allele itself roughly speaking) and sexual selection. Whether the idea would go anywhere? Probably not much maybe it’s only good for one paper, but I think most ideas don’t have far-reaching results.
“Indeed, the heart of my concern is the nastiness of the attacks on Wilkinson.” Could you explain this to me?
If someone is in my face, screaming epithets at me, they are liable to walk away with fewer teeth. But a twitter comment, no matter how nasty, is worth noting because…??? I’ve spent a lot of time on twitter getting really nasty comments and I take them as an opportunity to sharpen my humor skills and skewer the commenter. Or I ignore them. Or I block them. But I never get upset by them. Mostly because I view the nasty comments as written by idiots. Which means, ipso facto, they are not to be taken seriously.
The two comments you point out as being horribly offensive are either true or false. If they are true, I can understand you and Wilkinson being upset. Who wants the world to know about our dirty linen? But if the are false then they are just so much blah blah blah and to be entirely ignored.
What am I missing here?
Different people act in different ways. You’re bothered by in-person screaming. Other people are bothered by abusive rhetoric online. Personally, I am scared by anonymous strangers who use aggressive, racist, and sexist language, as you never know if one of these people might be unhinged enough to do something dangerous. Also, setting danger aside, I find it upsetting when complete strangers are angry at me about something I’ve never done. I understand the don’t-feed-the-trolls principle, and I understand the logic that, if someone is so clueless as to be angry at me based on some third-hand information presented by someone with an axe to grind and forwarded by irresponsible rabble-rousers on the internet, that such people should be ignored. This sort of thing bothers me nonetheless. I don’t like it when it happens to me, and I don’t like it when it happens to other people either.
This is what I refer as the prevalence of ’emotional blackmail’ culture. Some people addicted on pulling a power trip on others.
The thing that bothers me about this whole thing is that the editors just retracted the paper, rather than publishing a rebuttal as recommended by Wilkinson. It’s been my experience that editors do not want to publish negative responses to published papers. So it’s incredibly hard to actually criticize published work anywhere EXCEPT for social media.
The one time I tried to criticize a published article (also an evolutionary psychology paper, coincidentally) with a rebuttal, I was told the journal did not publish response letters. If the data and/or logic of a paper is found to be poor post-publication, what mechanism does anyone actually have to actually criticize it through official channels outside of conducting an entirely new study? Some claims can be rebutted with logic, rather than data.
Bad / mediocre research gets published all the time, it’s fine. But there are no good self-correcting mechanisms within the actual publishing system. Like Andrew, I see the responsibility for this whole situation falling with the editors. If they published the paper AND a moderated/reviewed rebuttal, everything would be fine, science would be operating as it should.
Evolutionary psychology (and a few other areas, like intelligence research) does, in fairness, probably receive more scrutiny and vociferous criticism than many areas. But a big problem is that editors don’t seem willing to let people debate the issues in a fair, moderated way in the pages of their journals. So it goes to social media, where there are no rules and attacks are vicious.
In my teaching, I found a fatal flaw in the key proof in the classic paper in economics, Rothschild and Stiglitz (1976) on the equivalence of risk aversion, concave utility, adding noise, and mean preserving spreads. It was just a weak/strong inequality mistake, but it invalidated the entire proof approach. The theorem was correct, though, and we found a way to prove it. The Journal of Economic Theory didn’t think it was important enough to merit publication. Rothschild himself admitted the mistake, but didn’t think it was important (tho he thanked me for helping him understand modern game theory with my book). Stiglitz didn’t reply.
So, yes, editors don’t like to publish comments finding errors.
Actually, later someone from Macao told me to look at the latest JET. It had a paper on how RS 1976 had an error, by 3 Israelis. Not my error, a different one. I emailed hte editor, and he said they still wouldn’t publish mine— because publishing hte Israeli paper was a bad editorial decision too.
What is the title of your rejected paper? Did you publish it in axiv ? Is it on your personal web page?
Here it is. It did get published, but obscurely. Another fun thing about the paper is that I wanted to prove the equivalence of the 3pt and 4pt definitions, but couldn’t, so I advertised that anyone who could prove it could be a co-author, and grad student Emmanuel Petrakis did it.
“Defining the Mean-Preserving Spread: 3-pt versus 4-pt,” Decision Making Under Risk and Uncertainty: New Models and Empirical Findings , edited by John Geweke. Amsterdam: Kluwer, 1992 (with Emmanuel Petrakis ). ISBN: 0-7923-1904-4. The standard way to define a mean-preserving spread is in terms of changes in the probability at four points of a distribution (Rothschild and Stiglitz ). Our alternative definition is in terms of changes in the probability at just three points. Any 4-pt mean- preserving spread can be constructed from two 3-pt mean-preserving spreads, and any 3-pt mean-preserving spread can be constructed from two 4-pt mean- preserving spreads. The 3-pt definition is simpler and more often applicable. It also permits easy rectification of a mistake in the Rothschild-Stiglitz proof that adding a mean- preserving spread is equivalent to other measures of increasing risk. In tex (13K) or pdf (http://rasmusen.org/published/Rasmusen_92BOOK.mps.pdf) .
But why this paper?
There is a ton of research about male/female differences. Why was this paper singled out for disappearance?
Perhaps Wilkinson had a legitimate complaint, raised it, and the editors, naturally gun shy about the topic over-reacted and pulled it? (Pure speculation on my part.)
I took a look at the Hill paper. It is a basic application of option theory. A basic insight of option theory is that the value of a call increases when volatility increases. Therefore if males hold an evolutionary call option, higher variability is beneficial.
So this isn’t far fetched. I had always assumed higher male variability, if it exists, was due to this.
FWIW, I looked at an interview with Wilkinson, and she does not appear to be a crazy feminist. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/roots-of-unity/mathematics-live-demarco-wilkinson/
So what prompted her to attack this particular paper in this particular way? Does she do this regularly? Do other math professor do this regularly?
It explains more males at the bottom because in its model, males have a gene that produces more variable results— which means either good OR bad. And that’s the empirical pattern to be explained. There are lots more males with birth defects, for example.
To an outsider, it looks like the people commenting here are either engaging in a calculated campaign of distraction or have completely overlooked the stakes in play here. Academics are entrusted with a large amount of funding and with the supervision of their students. They demand, and to some extent receive, a great deal of influence – I believe that Trump’s mercantilism is insane because a chorus of academic economists says so. Outsiders can already observe a large and well-funded diversity industry which looks a lot like a political campaign. If it now appears that academics are suppressing research which conflicts with their political views then all of this money and resources is simply a political donation to a group unrepresentative of the people funding it. What has been said here that can reassure people that there is no such problem or that the problem is being addressed?
Hey A.G. – and everyone else :)
It is virtually impossible to show that found differences are biological or due to socialization. Given the potentially enormous consequences of the findings of the field, scientist have to be extremely careful about what they claim about gender differences. The evidence for meaningful differences between men and women on cognitive abilities due to biology differences is missing.
The problems of research into gender difference are rather enormous. Of course no reasonable person is denying the obvious physical differences between the sexes, however, these are not the big issue in the debate when compared to differences in cognitive abilities. The big problem for research in the field is that it is pretty much impossible to find un-socialized humans. Every boy gets exposed to what their culture thinks about men and every girl gets exposed to what their culture thinks about women. We have no idea how women and men would behave in a society that would treat them both equally in every aspect, it just doesn’t exist. Obviously this is not, and should not, stop people from doing research in the field. Just because we cannot answer something definitively does not mean we cannot find meaningful answers.
However, the problem is that you cannot reliably know how much of the differences that are reported with significant p-values are due to socialization and how much is due to biology. My personal opinion on this is, that I cannot any position on this question (except from: its all biology, which has been shown to be false)! I have not seen any scientific evidence convincing me of any reasonable estimate of the percentage of difference due to biology on any category.
Its virtually impossible to actually provide the evidence AND on top it is a highly politicized field. Some people will only accept perfect equality, no matter the data, some people are more conservative, believing in traditional male and female roles, (again no matter the data). I do not know any of the researchers involved, or people posting here, so I do not want to make assumptions about their motives. I also do not know how many people working on the topic in general are from either extreme, I hope the vast majority has primarily the evidence at heart.
My issue with publishing research in the field is the outside consequence:
If only academics (without an agenda) read the work, discuss it and work in the field, then their would not be a problem. There have been many wrong ideas in science, and still are. Only working on them will find that out.
However, this work does NOT stay in academic circles but gets politicized and taken out of context very quickly and this has real life consequences for literally billions of people. “Could it be that there are just more male geniuses and thus there should be more male professors?” Yes, that COULD be. Do we have sufficient evidence to use this argument to say: “We should not do much about the differences in gender representation in higher education, because its biological.” No! We do not have evidence supporting this. So using this argument has detrimental effects on thousands of qualified women. People use papers finding significant p-values to claim that there are fundamental differences between the sexes. But the actual evidence is missing.
And as you (A.G.) pointed out, academics (can) have a great deal of influence. Their statements get picked up by news papers, taken out of the limited context of the study and influence the opinions of the public (Andrew has listed enough examples on the blog). Sometimes in positive ways, but, alas, sometimes in less desired ways.
Good science is slow, and hard, and difficult, and a lot of work, and requires great care. And the self-correcting nature of science takes even longer and requires even more work and care.
That is why I think the research in this particular field should be heavily scrutinized and papers promoting a certain view (no matter which one!) should always be accompanied with a rebuttal, or letter exchange (or any other meaningful format), by a scientist with a different view, optimally with a counter study. The ideal would be that people from all sides work together in designing studies and collecting data. (I know, I am naive, believing that at heart we have scientists here that primarily care about the “truth”, and not any ideological affiliation.)
Again, I do not know the people involved, I do not know if the paper in question is of high or low quality. If pressed I would say, yes a certain percentage is probably biological, but not of any meaningful effect size to be of use in any real life decision. I also have seen the negative repercussions of “scientifically” promoted gender stereotypes on the people around me (mostly seen, and not felt, as I am a cis-gender, white, blond, tall blue-eyed, northern European male…). Thus I am highly against fueling these stereotypes without hard evidence. (Again, show me the evidence and I will follow where it goes!) It seems to me that some readers here forget that we are not talking about something abstract like M-theory or multiverse hypothesis or uninformative vs weakly informative priors, but something with enormous real life consequences on a global scale. It really touches peoples lives in fundamental ways.
Lastly, thanks Andrew for an evidenced focused analyses of the situation.
And to wrap it up: Angela Saini wrote a highly recommended book (Inferior) presenting quite some evidence for how many common, and still taught, gender-stereotypes are based on highly biased data, over generalized contexts and often, yes, sheer out-right sexism. It is not the most neutral book, but comes with all the sources so you can form your own opinion, when you disagree with her interpretation.
Sorry for the long post, here is a cat that is sorry (sorry for not using a proper hyperlink):
Andrew: You write:
> I don’t think it violates my academic freedom.
> no evidence that Wilkinson had “suppressed” his research or “trampled on the principles of academic liberty.”
I am concerned that we don’t understand what you mean with these words. Precisely what would Wilkinson (or any of the other folks involved in this fracas) have to have done to violate or suppress or trample on Hill’s academic freedom/liberty?
It seems like (corrections welcome!) that you went to set a very high bar for what it means to trample. I assume (hope!) that if Wilkinson had physically assaulted Hill or destroyed copies of his work in the library, you would agree that she had “suppressed” his research. But what, precisely, short of that would Wilkinson have to do to be guilty?
Andrew: You claim that Wilkinson is not guilty of “suppressing the paper.” Here is my definition.
Benefits of this definition:
1) The behavior is, I believe, incredibly rare. And that is good! We want a definition of “suppress” or “violate academic freedom” which is not triggered by every spat.
2) This clearly leaves out the most bogus claims of infringement. Desk rejected by the editor of Journal X? Not suppression! Rejected after lousy peer reviews. Not suppression! Can’t find any journal to publish your nonsense? No one has violated your academic freedom.
If you (or any of your readers) have a better definition, I would like to read it.
By this definition, Wilkinson (and many others) are obviously guilty of “suppressing the paper,” thus justifying Pinker’s claim about the academic left losing its mind.
Don’t forget that Wilkinson contacted the Intelligencer editor after the paper had been accepted. I don’t think there’s anything improper about contacting an editor, criticizing a decision, and recommending the paper be run with a rebuttal. The NYJM story is different in that it was all happening on the inside: it was a dispute within the editorial board. The end result was that Hill was not treated in a fair or professional manner, but I don’t see this as Wilkinson doing any suppression.
The other complicating factor is the way discussions can devolve on the internet. Imagine the following alternative scenario:
– Hill writes his post
– Wilkinson responds with “I sent an email, on 9/7/17, to the Editor-in-Chief . . . In it, I criticized the scientific merits of the paper and the decision to accept it for publication, but I never made the suggestion that the decision to publish it be reversed. Instead, I suggested that the journal publish a response rebuttal article by experts in the field to accompany the article.”
– You reply that these actions by Wilkinson still constitute suppression, in that she’s interfered with the usual editorial process.
– I disagree with you, etc.
That would all be fine.
You and I have a legitimate difference of opinion here. I wish we could have this discussion, without the involvement of the commenters on Quillette, Twitter, 4chan, etc., treating this as a wrestling match where Wilkinson is the heel. The editors at Quillette could help here by calling out these commenters and separating legitimate discussion from stupid and offensive statements such as “This Amie Wilkinson has no credibility as a mathematician and researcher if she can’t adjust her worldview based on evidence. Based on the story it sounds like her daddy likely helped push her up through the ranks, and she is now using that power to snuff out the work of real professors.”
Would it not have been more appropriate for Prof. Wilkinson, as a first step at least, to have communicated her concerns directly to Hill & Tabachnikov?
There are lots of things you can do if you don’t like a paper. Contacting the authors is one possibility, contacting the editor is another. Don’t forget that everyone involved here was an insider: Tabachnikov is an editor of the magazine, Wilkinson is a well-known mathematician. Anyway, if Wilkinson had wanted to contact the authors, that would’ve been fine, but I think it’s hardly necessary.
Am I to read this to mean that it is more appropriate for a well-known mathematician to inject herself into the editorial process than for a not-so-well-known mathematician? (As for Tabachnikov’s insider status, it probably played a roles in the authors’ decision to submit the paper to MI, but the stated MI editorial policy concerning submissions to its Viewpoint column indicate that such submissions are handled by the Editor-in-Chief.)
You write, “Am I to read this to mean that it is more appropriate for a well-known mathematician to inject herself into the editorial process than for a not-so-well-known mathematician?”
No, not at all!! I was just saying this to indicate that all the people involved in the episode were insiders, one way or another.
There are a lot of ways for authors and editors to blow smoke so as to deflect opprobrium towards the whistle-blower. Such tactics are more successful when deployed against adversaries of lower status than the superstars enumuerated above. If you’re actually interested in peer review abuse, and not simply grinding a political axe in one direction or another, you might be interested in some materials I’ve been collecting.
I don’t think that Hill is a whistle-blower. I think he has strong views and is justifiably annoyed about what happened with his paper. I don’t think Wilkinson is a whistle-blower either. I think she has strong views and is being attacked on social media for expressing her views. I have a lot of sympathy for both of them in this situation.
Here is an interesting fact regarding the Mathematical Intelligencer: Tabachnikov is on the editorial board since 2013 and an associate editor since 2016.
Thanks. I added this relevant fact to the above post.
I skimmed the paper. Pretty interesting to me actually, and it contains testable predictions.
Then I tried to ascertain how much expertise Amie Wilkinson has in this particular corner of mathematics. I found absolutely nothing. She is obsessed with stable ergodicity and all her Google Scholar citations are in purest math. So when Andrew wrote:
“But then there was pushback from activists within the academic community.”
I guess “activist” is the right moniker because “expert” certainly would not work in there. It does beg the question to me: why did Amie Wilkinson, in particular, come out of the woodwork to attack this paper? Did Wilkinson ever make any of her “criticisms of the scientific merits” available to the public?
1. If someone does a lot of research in a topic (in this case, stable ergodicity), that does does not imply that they are “obsessed” with it. In academia (and in many other jobs), it’s considered a good thing to immerse oneself in a problem.
2. None of the people discussed above are experts on this corner of mathematics. Not Hill, not Tabachnikov, not Wilkinson, not Farb, not the editor of the Mathematical Intelligencer, not the editorial board of the New York Journal of Mathematics, not Gowers, not the editors of Quillette, not Peterson or Pinker or me either. Wilkinson did not claim to be an expert in the area. What she suggested was “the journal publish a response rebuttal article by experts in the field to accompany the article.” She did not identify herself as an expert. Just as it did not require special expertise for Hill to write the paper, or for Jordan Peterson to recommend that people read the paper, it did not require special expertise for various people to see flaws in the paper. To some extent, expertise is fungible. Expertise in mathematics can allow one to realize that the mathematical arguments in the paper are not deep (that’s fine! No requirement that the Intelligencer only publish deep papers), which then puts more of the burden on the biological and social content of the paper. Etc.
Based on discussions of this paper I saw elsewhere, it seems that the way the NYJM handled the paper is extremely unusual. The term “Orwellian” was used, as the paper was allegedly just overwritten with another paper, with no notice given to the author. It was not at all the standard retraction process, e.g. for something like plagiarism or falsified data. Apparently this left it in kind of a limbo, where he can’t even try to publish it elsewhere, because it’s already been published.
I believe Hill also claimed that the editorial board of NYJM threatened to quit all at once, basically destroying the journal, which seems like a rather extreme response to publishing a single paper that is overly simplistic. I haven’t heard of such a thing for even journals which published multiple papers full of fabricated data.
I don’t know. My guess is they were angry at Rivin for inserting the inappropriate paper into the journal. This was a political act on Rivin’s part (arguably justified by earlier political act of criticisms of the paper), and the other members of the editorial board didn’t like their journal to be used in this way.
I agree that it was inappropriate for the journal to remove it in this way. Better to leave it in. And, if they had concerns about the review process, to append a note to the article explaining these issues.
> I agree that it was inappropriate for the journal to remove it in this way.
Would you agree that this action constitutes “suppression” of the paper and an attack on Hill’s “academic freedom?” Again, I just want to make sure we understand your definitions.
I think that this act does constitute “suppression.” Once (if?) we agree on that, we can discuss who caused this “suppression.”
Let’s imagine that Hill’s piece didn’t include the suppression and trampling claims and was limited to the factual description that nobody seems to dispute. Do you think that the online mobs would have spared Wilkinson in that case? Otherwise, would Hill (and Pinker and Peterson) still be responsible for the attacks?
Had he focused his annoyance on the right people — if I understand your position, the fault lies mostly on the journal editor for not resisting the pressure from outsiders — would Hill (and Pinker and Peterson) also be responsible if the online mobs had attacked Marjorie Senechal?
I should not have used the word “obsess.” It was meant in a light-hearted way but was a bad choice given the otherwise terse tone of the comment.
I’m afraid that you have spun yourself into a hole on the second point.
1. In a published pdf giving her side of the story and readily available on the web, Wilkinson wrote: “I sent an email, on 9/7/17, to the Editor-in-Chief of The Mathematical Intelligencer, about the paper of Hill and Tabachnikov. In it, I criticized the scientific merits of the paper…”
2. In his blog write-up, Ted Hill wrote: “And so I emailed Professor [Editor-in-Chief] Senechal. She replied that she had received no criticisms on scientific grounds and that her decision to rescind was entirely about the reaction she feared our paper would elicit.”
Somebody is not telling the truth. If Wilkinson was being truthful, she should be able to publish out the scientific criticism she made, but nothing of the sort has happened. Your statements about expertise are tangential. Did she have enough expertise to criticize the science, and did she do so to the Editor-in-Chief? Just because a model is simple does not mean it is easy to criticize. Quite the opposite, you have to determine whether the factors that are missing actually matter.
This blog thread raises some very interesting suspicions about Wilkinson’s intentions -especially Carlos’ list – and you are steamrolling over all of them for some reason.
You write that my statements about expertise are “tangential.” Fine. I only brought up expertise because you brought it up: “I tried to ascertain how much expertise Amie Wilkinson has in this particular corner of mathematics.” There are no experts here. I’m pretty sure that any experts here would consider the whole subject pretty boring: the value of Hill and Tabachnikov’s paper was as an interesting math example, not as a contribution to the field.
Regarding your points 1 and 2: Yes, I agree, that either someone is not telling the truth here, or else there are disagreements about what constitutes a criticism on scientific merits. Again, since you bring up expertise again, yes, Wilkinson has as much expertise to criticize the paper as Hill and Tabachnikov had to write it. And vice-versa: if Wilkinson had written a similar sort of paper on this topic and Hill and Tabachnikov had expressed similar concerns, I’d say they have enough expertise to criticize it. And all three of these people had about as much expertise as the editor-in-chief in this area. As I wrote in my above post, “The math was accessible and related to an interesting general issue, so I could see how it would be of interest to a general-interest mathematics magazine such as the Intelligencer. . . . So I could see why the Intelligencer might want to publish the paper. I could also see why they might not want to publish it, as the mathematical argument in the paper is pretty simple, and the paper is also loaded down with what seem to me to be irrelevant claims regarding biology and society. . . . Anyway, the paper seemed innocuous to me: not so exciting, but with some mathematical content; on an interesting topic even if with some difficulties linking the math to the biology; reasonable enough to publish in the Intelligencer.” No special expertise was required for me to make that judgment.
“No special expertise was required for me to make that judgment.”
I’m glad you made that point. The landmarks in evolutionary thought since Darwin are mostly simple math models under the unifying concept of survival of the fittest. Speciation and the mechanisms of natural selection remain a frontier of science. Unlike most other fields of endeavor, a researcher can still make a meaningful contribution with a simple model.
When you write “the paper seemed innocuous to me: not so exciting” I feel that you should get a basic understanding of the current status of evolutionary thought on the topic before writing things like that. In other words, you should have a little expertise in the primary subject area, which is not math. I would imagine that if your read Sewall Wright’s landmark paper on Shifting Balance Theory, you would describe his math model as not so exciting. But the experts did not consider it boring.
When I look at Wilkinson’s cv, I see nothing about evolutionary thought. So what was she doing? When we criticize a simple math model, we can do it in a few ways. We can point out an error in the math. We can point out that the basic structure of the approach is wrong. Or we can claim that the model is too simple because it leaves out important factors. The last one is the most popular. Wilkinson could have found flaws using her math knowledge, but if she did, she won’t tell us what they were. Her lack of expertise would preclude the easy attack, there is just no way she could meaningfully talk about missing factors unless she immersed herself in the natural selection literature for awhile, and she sure wasn’t going to do that. I don’t think she made any kind of scientific criticism at all, but she realizes how bad her position looks now, and is trying to rewrite the past. I would like to see her prove me wrong.
I do have my suspicions about Ted Hill as well. Based upon what was written about generating controversy, and also the inclusion of the social stuff (which you also questioned), I suspect that his paper was meant as a salvo across the bow of feminism, prompting Wilkinson to marshal her forces and fire back. Part of the Gender Wars and not part of science. But those of us who don’t keep up with the evolutionary literature are not qualified to make that judgement because Hill’s model may very well be quite clever in what it tells us about variation via natural selection.
Like Mayo, I appreciate reading this (rare) even-handed treatment of this issue, without any (obvious) “motivations” to advance an agenda. Reading your take is useful and educational.
“I could also see why they might not want to publish it, as the mathematical argument in the paper is pretty simple, and the paper is also loaded down with what seem to me to be irrelevant claims regarding biology and society. I didn’t find these claims political or offensive; they just seemed beside the point in a math paper.”
I find that comment interesting. For the sake of argument, taking your assessment w/r/t the relevancy of particular sections at face value (and as equivalent of an objective assessment of fact)…
What would lead a group of authors to include in their paper, irrelevant claims made about material from outside their field, within a mathematical paper? Why wouldn’t at least one of the authors, if not all of them, cut that material out? Further, why would the reviewers allow irrelevant material to remain in the published version?
It seems to me that one possibility is that from the perspective of the authors, the material wasn’t relevant – in that their intent was actually, at least to some extent, to derive certain implications directly relevant to the social and political context (and not simply to produce a mathematical analysis). Perhaps that is true of the reviewers as well, or perhaps their failure to excise irrelevant material (isn’t that something a reviewer should do?) was due to some sloppy reviewing.
As such, it seems to me that the way that this whole kerfuffle fits into the narrative that conservatives are the victims of left-wing academic intolerance and authoritarianism takes on an overwrought, disingenuous, and self-victimizing tone.
That isn’t to offer an excuse for what could be reflective of intolerance and authoritarianism from the “academic left,” but to ask that such arguments be placed in full context.
Likewise, I think that it is problematic to accept simplistic narratives about the Summers at Harvard kerfuffle at face value. Simplistic narratives that reduce that whole incident to nothing more than Summers’ being a victim don’t do much to advance a productive discussion about what took place within the full context, IMO.
All this could be solves if PNAS would just publish the paper. :)
There’s probably more to the story than has come out so far. I don’t mean that Theodore Hill or anyone else distorted the story; it’s just that there could be some additional pieces. (I don’t have any inside knowledge, by the way; my mom and I discussed the situation a couple of times, but not in great detail and not recently.)
For instance, we know that there are multiple versions of the paper. It could be enlightening to compare the following four (and possibly others): (a) the version accepted for publication by the Intelligencer, (b) the version initially posted online, (c) the version accepted for publication by the NYJM, and (d) the most recent version on Arxiv.
Also, rescinding a paper is a decision that an editor does not take lightly. I imagine that in both cases more deliberation and considerations went into the decision than the accounts so far have captured. I don’t mean that they were the right decisions, only that there was more to them than we know.
One problem with online discussion of such incidents (and with the accompanying online vitriol) is that the online versions become, for many, the full story. Social media can create an illusion of completeness; people often fancy that they are in on the discussion and privy to the latest. But not all of reality appears online–and of the pieces that do appear online, not all are regarded with equal attention and care.
What bothers me here is not so much the incompleteness of the story or even the illusion of completeness—this will happen in any medium—but the pivot to personal attacks, as we can see in the comment section of Quillette, on Twitter, and in worse places on the internet. Part of this is the existence of some pool of hateful people just looking for a place to vent their fury, and then on top of that there are the trolls who think that sexist and racist attacks (and the reactions they elicit) are funny, and then on top of all that there are people with political agendas who don’t seem to mind having this online army of racists backing them up. In this particular episode, the result is that Wilkinson is being bullied for speaking out and expressing her views on a published paper, and I think that’s wrong.
Had this whole thing just been Hill explaining how he’d been wronged, and expressing his view that Wilkinson and others didn’t give his work a fair shake, and Quillette publishing this and Peterson and Pinker endorsing this as an example of political correctness run amok, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I might disagree with some of the statements being made, but I’d respect that this is Hill’s opinion. It’s the connection of the internet mob that changes the equation for me. As I think I wrote elsewhere in this thread, it’s my impression that all the people in this story—Hill and Tabachnikov included—were in difficult positions. Just about everyone’s decisions in this case could be second-guessed, but that doesn’t make anyone out to be a villain.
It helps to know something about Ted Hill’s personality. He’s a West Pointer from the Vietnam era. He loves an argument and relishes a fight. His reaction to adversity is to attack. He is fearless to a fault, and unrelenting once triggered. If he feels wronged …
Given previous incidents of leftist outrage mobs ruining careers of political opponents in academia such as those Ecoute Sauvage listed, it seems overly charitable to just assume Wilkinson was innocently expressing her opinion rather than engaging in rabble-rousing herself and knowingly wielding the (not unwarranted) fear of a public witch-hunt against prominent targets to achieve her political goals. I haven’t seen what her campaign looked like, but she couldn’t have been unaware of the fear of political backlash these campaigns bring and the fact that she threatened with unfriending and so indicates that the discussion was emotionally charged and likely building towards an outpour of public outrage. Being personally attacked by an Internet mob is unfortunate, but if this is the only way for her behaviour to be penalized, I’ll take it.
I can’t blame you for not seeing it this way as I understand her father is a personal friend of yours, and I would prefer you to keep your struggle for a scientific revolution apolitical, but I cannot but speak out against this incident as censorship.
I honestly don’t see what Pinker has to apologize for. His tweet correctly states that Hill’s paper was censored. He implies, correctly in my view, that the motivation for the censoring was leftist academic politics, which is consistent with everything we know about this case in particular and US academics in general. Pinker doesn’t finger Wilkinson or any other specific person. In fact, given that Pinker is a linguist, it might not be too much of a stretch to believe that his choice of the word “censored” was to deliberately call out, not Wilkinson’s or others’ informal actions, but instead the *official* suppression of this paper, i.e., the editors’ decisions, which you (Andrew) agree were wrong. Finally, he suggests, and I agree, that these types of incidents are going to erode the public’s trust in science.
Since you have devoted a huge amount of effort to help rescue science from the replication crisis, a still-brewing storm that will also erode the public’s trust in science, it seems like you guys are on the same team.
My two cents.
If Wilkinson hadn’t been viciously attacked on the internet, I’d agree with you. Hill and Tabachnikov wrote a politically provocative math article which, if it wasn’t quite censored, was certainly handled badly, so I can understand Peterson and Pinker’s sympathy with Hill. But given what was said in the comment section of Quillette and elsewhere, something else happened, which is that Wilkinson was attacked and bullied for criticizing a published paper. I fear that by endorsing Hill’s article on Twitter, Peterson and Pinker (involuntarily) contributed to this bullying. As I wrote above, I think it’s ok to apologize for something you did, even if the consequences were unintended and you meant no harm.
Almost half a million people have subscribed to Pinker’s twitter feed. If he had to apologize for the bad behavior of some of his subscribers in response to tweets on controversial topics he would be apologizing for every one.
Amy Cuddy and Susan Fiske have both claimed that they have been viciously attacked for their professional work, and your blog has undoubtedly played an important, albeit unintended, role in those attacks. Should you apologize to them? Or do we all need to learn to ignore anonymous trolls and instead grapple with the substantive critiques?
I’m not sure what to think. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:
– The attacks I’ve seen on Amie Wilkinson on the Quillette comment thread, and much worse stuff elsewhere on the internet, are all worse then any public attacks I’ve seen on Amy Cuddy, Susan Fiske, or for that matter, me. So I’d say that Wilkinson’s had it worse. But it could well be that there are attacks on Cuddy and Fiske that are just as bad out there, and I haven’t seen them. Also, from my own experience, I know that even mild attacks can be very painful, and I do think that all of us should call out such attacks when they happen.
– The attacks on Wilkinson in the Quillette comment thread are not the worst thing out there, but some of them are pretty bad, and I do think it would be appropriate for the editors of Quillette to either moderate these comments, or respond to them in the thread, or make a separate post criticizing this sort of thing. It’s their garden and I think it would be good for them to exercise some control over it. This is not an obligation, but I think if they’re going to run a post that inaccurately criticizes someone in a personal way, they should do their part to minimize the damage.
– With Peterson and Pinker it’s more indirect. But they did forward a post that had some inaccuracies and led to personal attacks. To the extent that Peterson and Pinker have the respect of some of the people on the internet who do the attacks, I think that, yes, they should use the same influence they use to inflame these people, to encourage them to dial it down when mistakes have been made.
– A key point here is accuracy. Wilkinson’s involvement in this came from her contacting a magazine editor and suggesting that an accepted article be accompanied by a rebuttal. I don’t think this was clear in Hill’s article, that Wilkinson did not want the paper by Hill and Tabachnikov to be suppressed; she just didn’t want it appearing on its own with the implicit endorsement of the magazine. Wilkinson later expressed her disapproval of the paper on social media. I can see how this would annoy Hill—it would annoy me if I were in his place! But I think certain aspects his post was misleading, and these misleading aspects were amplified by the readers of Quillette, the forwarding by Peterson and Pinker, etc.
– I think we should all grapple with substantive critiques. The substantive issues of the Hill story are important. I respect Peterson and Pinker’s concern for the politicization of academia, and I sympathize both with Hill’s unpleasant experience with his article becoming a political football, and with the editorial board of the NYJM for their journal being used as a playing field in a political game. Everybody’s angry at everybody else here, with justification on all sides.
– I’d like to ignore anonymous trolls but sometimes they’re so loud they can’t be ignored. And it’s also not clear they’re all “trolls.” Some of them may be truly violent. Put yourself in the position of Wilkinson reading the Quillette comments, or the far worse stuff elsewhere on the internet. As I said, I was upset at much milder things said about me. I’m sure I haven’t seen the worst stuff said about Cuddy or Fiske, and, for that matter, celebrities such as Paul Krugman who must get piles of hate mail every day.
For Hill’s story, the trolls were very loud, and that drove my response to the story. In the case of Krugman, I suppose the trolls are just part of the bargain of his being a public, political figure, so I feel that most of the time we can evaluate his arguments without thinking about the background noise level of hatred. Cuddy, Fiske, and I are somewhere in between: we’re public figures in the sense that we have things to say and we reach large, or relatively large, audiences, but we’re not political figures, either.
The New York Times article about Cuddy gave the false impression I don’t help social psychologists. Cuddy was quoted as saying, “Why not help social psychologists instead of attacking them on your blog?” and the journalist did not rebut this false implication directly (in reality, I have done a lot to help social psychologists, on my blog and elsewhere) or even provide a quote from me or anyone else to rebut it. As a result of this and other misleading statements, I got attacked on social media. Is this Cuddy’s fault? Maybe not; maybe she figured the NYT reporter would present my side of this particular claim. What about the NYT reporter—should she apologize? I don’t know. Reporters just about never apologize for anything.
Should Susan Fiske apologize for publishing a false statement about me, that makes me look bad? Yes, I think sos. But scientists don’t do a lot of apologizing either.
I don’t recall writing anything false about Cuddy or Fiske, but (a) maybe I did, and I just don’t remember, and (b) even if everything I wrote was factually true, perhaps I strung these statements together in a way that inspired others to attack them. If so, should I apologize? Maybe. I guess I’d have to see what those statements are. If the attacks are harsh enough, maybe so.
– I guess it all depends on the connection between the statements and the attacks. Let’s take a hypothetical scenario where I’m purposely raising the stakes. Author X writes a bestselling work of nonfiction, reporting on the lives of people living in a certain small town. Reporter Y goes to the town and discovers that author X made it all up. Reporter Y publishes this factual story in the newspaper. This inspires thousands of people to attack author X on the internet. Someone with more firepower than sense is swept up in the enthusiasm of these attacks and goes and murders author X. Should reporter Y feel bad about this? In this setting, probably yes: had the reporter not written the story, a murder probably wouldn’t have happened. On the other hand, the reporter did nothing wrong; you don’t in general want to hide the truth just because someone might fly off the handle.
I guess what I’m saying is I’m not sure what anyone should be doing in general in these settings. In the particular case of the Hill and Tabachnikov paper, I feel that the internet attacks are way disproportionate to whatever, if anything, Wilkinson did wrong; I feel that Hill’s post was misleading (even if that misleadingness was unintentional and completely understandable, given what happened to Hill); and I feel that Peterson, Pinker, and the editors of Quillette magnified the harm without doing due diligence to the way in which Wilkinson was painted as the villain; so I think they should do what they can to make things right.
It may also be true that I should apologize and try to mitigate the harm done to Cuddy and Fiske as indirect results of my actions, and that Cuddy and Fiske should apologize and try to mitigate the harm done to me as indirect results of their actions. Those are all separate questions, worth asking on their own terms.
I don’t know about with Pinker, but this is hardly a one off with Peterson. It is easy to anticipate how his involvement in an issue such as this one will associate with personally focused hostility. Peterson can’t control the actions of all of his supporters, nor is he responsible for the actions of all of his supporters, but he could take steps to mitigate the antipathy in the hope he could have some influence. Whether or not to try is his choice – entirely within his rights. It is what it is. He’s not obligated to choose to take the high road, but neither is he entitled to be above criticism when he chooses not to.
Andrew, thanks for your detailed and thoughtful reply. I obviously don’t have any magic solution to the problem either. I agree that Pinker could help by pointing to the new info that has come out since his original tweet. Quillette should do that too, and also consider moderating its forums.
The threat of violence is very real. A co-author of mine received highly threatening voice messages for writing about, yes, the biology of sex. His co-author needed the police to check his car every morning for bombs. If you haven’t read it I recommend “Galileo’s middle finger” by Alice Dreger. It’s an entertaining and enlightening read on academic disputes that spun out of control, most of them about sex.
Thanks for taking the time to explain this at such length. It is fascinating.
I don’t follow the logic very well, and I find the emphases odd, but it is undeniably real and sincere, and that is a rarity on the internet.
I’m guessing this explains a lot, but I’m not a mind-reader, and I’m often wrong.
Oh, and I would be very interested in Pinker’s response. Maybe you could invite a response.
How much time have you spent looking for such “attacks?” I suspect zero minutes. If you had looked, the first thing you would have found was this YouTube video with 14 millions views and comments like:
Et cetera. This took me 30 seconds to find. Do I — do any of your many fans — blame you for this? No! We think that you were spot on in your criticisms of Cuddy! It is unfortunate that trolls live on the internet — and doubly unfortunate if reasonable commentary from folks like you (and Pinker!) has a causal effect on the amount/intensity of trolling — but there is nothing to be done about it, at least today.
My point is that Pinker:Wilkinson as Gelman:Cuddy. I think that your personal relationship to the Wilkinson family is, perhaps, blinding you to the analogy.
Because you care about people saying mean things about Amie Wilkinson on the internet. You don’t care much (at all?) about people saying mean things about Amy Cuddy. Would you have written everything you wrote about Cuddy if you had the same relationship with Cuddy’s father as you have with Wilkinson’s?
If you really believe that such (true!) considerations matter, then you need to stop writing on the internet. There is certainly no reason for you to believe that violence would be more common among Wilkinson’s critics than among Cuddy’s.
That’s your standard? By this logic, you should stop posting since a) You can be certain that, try as hard as you might, you will make mistakes and b) Your reach is such that you cause, indirectly at least, personal attacks.
Are you claiming that, every time you link to something on the internet, you have thoroughly vetted it for inaccuracies? Of course not! So why is Pinker misbehaving to do the same?
Those attacks on Cuddy are horrible, now I do feel bad about this, and I do see how this could’ve driven many people’s response to the story. The attacks don’t retroactively justify all of Cuddy’s earlier actions, but they do cast new light to me on the consequences of my own actions. I won’t stop writing on the internet but I do want to address those horrible and inappropriate attacks on Cuddy.
Regarding your second point: no, I don’t throughly vet what I say for inaccuracies. But I do correct my mistakes when they’re pointed out to me. I don’t think that what Peterson and Pinker did was evil; I just think in retrospect that they contributed to an inappropriate demonization of Wilkinson.
> Those attacks on Cuddy are horrible
I apologize for bringing them to your attention.
Fortunately, I think we are in agreement on the facts.
Pinker “contributed to an inappropriate demonization of Wilkinson” — meaning that the causal effect of his tweet was to increase the amount/intensity of trollish attacks.
Alas, you also “contributed to an inappropriate demonization of” Cuddy — meaning that the causal effect of your (accurate!) criticism of her work was to increase the amount/intensity of trollish attacks.
My position is to defend both you and Pinker equally. Tenured academics should speak the truth as they see it, honestly and reasonably. They are not responsible when others act trollishly and should not be blamed for that trollish behavior.
To reiterate, on the internet, abuse, garbage, foulness, execrability, etc., are UBIQUITOUS. There is no way we can get rid of a tenth of a tenth of it.
The solution is not to fault ourselves for not controlling it, but to establish norms among civilized people that we ignore it, the same way we ignore the things drunk sailors and young children say.
“… but I do want to address those horrible and inappropriate attacks on Cuddy.”
These types of comments are ubiquitous. Here is a random comment to a Krugman column at the NYT:
Krugman feels no qualms about inspiring such comments.
Ann Althouse has a post on her blog about how an interaction on Facebook makes her want to never go on Facebook again.
The only way to minimize triggering obnoxious comments on the internet is to never put anything on the internet.
BTW, excellent job D Kane (can I call you “D”?).
Very clear and compelling posts.
Thanks! And kudos to Andrew for creating and nurturing the best location (by far!) for statistical discussion on the internet.
No doubt there are some trenchant comments made on Twitter. In these cases, I would have no problem taking bullies on. People recede from engaging them. Of course it helps to keep oen’s cool. I succeeded in that effort on Linkedin.
I would never write such paper as Hill’s. I know about the state of things in universities, the politicization and polarization, and I need my job. What happened is outraging, I think, but not surprising. It is like I have a hypothesis and I act on it by keeping myself away from these subject matters, and whenever this sort of thing happens I see a p < 0.05, one that does not come from forking paths, one I totally believe. A very rare event that agrees with the hypothesis that certain subjects are minefields…
So, it is totally political. I despise what Wilkinson did and I think we have more evidence than needed to say it was not about math. Where is the criticism of the math by Wilkinson? That would be so easy thing to do, so efficient for her in that she would go right to the point… So, I dont buy it. She is not a criminal, though, or an evil person, so no need to be nasty at her. But Pinker has a good argument on his side, which is that the internet mobs should not prevent him from pointing to this kind of thing. He could apologize, I guess that is up to him, but these kind of thing need to be put out there, like we do with p-hacking. To me it is the same kind of thing, a disgrace to science, it prevents, for example, people like me to write on these matters for fear. There is a huge amount of fear in universities on certain topics, most people just keep silent and anonymous, and that is terrible…
You can get 99.999% the way to optimal, with zero effort, if you reflexively and without examining the evidence or their viewpoints, stand against the mobs and stand for free speech (very broadly defined).
It’s tricky, though. Here are two framings:
1. Hill and Tabachnikov tried to exercise their free speech by publishing their paper and were attacked by an online mob.
2. Wilkinson tried to exercise her free speech by criticizing a published paper (not by trying to get it un-published) and was attacked by an online mob.
Both these stories appear to be true. So I support Hill/Tabachnikov and also Wilkinson. My support is positive, not negative. I can and do support Hill/Tabachnikov without feeling the need to support any mob attacking Wilkinson. And I can and do support Wilkinson without feeling the need to support any mob attacking Hill and Tabachnikov.
It’s not that tricky once you realize you needn’t bother figuring out why the mob is angry or why people want to limit speech.
It could be the mob is angry about censorship, and it could be free speech is used to goad the mobs. Whatever. I still don’t care. Always against the mob, always for free speech. It probably sounds better in the latin. Google translate gives it as:
cum omni vulgi semper libertatem
Sure, that’s fine. My point is that I support Hill and Tabachnikov in their attempt to speak freely while they are being attacked by a mob, and I support Wilkinson in her attempt to speak freely while she is being attacked by a mob. I can support H&T without attacking W; and I can support W without attacking H&T. I have a problem with those people at Quillette, Twitter, 4chan, etc., who seem to think that a good way Hill and Tabachnikov’s free speech is to support personal attacks on Wilkinson for exercising her free speech.
> criticizing a published paper
Wasn’t it an accepted-for-publication-but-yet-to-be-published paper?
A paper that was published on Arxiv and scheduled for publication in a magazine.
Ok. By the way, Mark Steinberger — the editor-in-chief in the NJYM at the time of the events, later on leave for health reasons— passed away a couple of days ago:
The idea of this paper being “innocuous” is so strange to me.
If I worked at it, I might be able to come up with a toy model in which reduced gravity (including, just as an example of course, at the equator) results in lower intelligence.
Would you really say that we should just approach this as an exercise of model building/analysis and ignore the obvious larger context?
Thanks. This link gives lots of relevant background information. But I disagree with your characterization of the Hill and Tabachnikov paper as “not a mathematics or biology paper but rather a sexist opinion piece.” Yes, it has opinions, but I think it’s a math paper more than it is anything else.
The paper cites 20+ articles on first page that have been written with supporting evidence of VH, a number of others with evidence against VH, and states clearly “The selectivity-variability principle introduced above is gender neutral”.
At a basic level the main result of the paper boils down to two-sided version of stochastic dominance, and a calculation that the tails of one distribution are heavier than another. Which sex is this mathematical fact sexist against?
Yes, they stated quite clearly that it was gender neutral. Similarly, my proposed theory on the connection between gravity and intelligence I discussed in the comment above is entirely race neutral.
It would apply to any group of people who happened to live near the equator.
hmm, don’t understand. If there is any chance your hypothesis could be true, wouldn’t public good _require_ you to publish it? similar to a model showing lead in water reduces intelligence? like maybe we should encourage migration to the poles?
Joke aside, if you chanced on real proof that say men are truly smarter than women, or women than men, and the difference is significant, do you believe that that proof should be suppressed in the name of social harmony? If yes fine. if no then what’s the difference with throwing out a theory like Hill so it can be challenged and debated and proven wrong if necessary?
If it isn’t an a exist opinion piece, then why is it “loaded down with what seem to [you] to be irrelevant claims regarding biology and society.”
Not necessarilily a binary choice, and the descriptor of “sexist” is subjective, but loading with irrelevant material on subjects beyond the authors’ expertise does seem consistent with an opinion piece.
It’s been said elsewhere, but it seems that the author may have been pressured to put that in by the journal!
Could you elaborate? How do you envision that would take place? I find it hard to imagine a reviewer for a math journal saying, “This article is too focused on math, could you add a lot of speculatjon about a bunch of material for which neither you nor I have any expertise?”
I’m being hyperbolic/strawmanish, of course, but I really can’t see how your suggested scenario would unfold.
I see below that Andrew also says that the editor asked that political content be added. So it looks like my hyperbole was misplaced…can you point me to where that has been established.
You may be interested in this:
In particular, your claim that the paper was unpublished after “a review of THE EDITORIAL PROCESS” (emphasis mine) seems misleading in light of this new information. It was not only the editorial process that was reviewed. That entire thread is also of interest.
Some discussion of the editorial process is given at Lior Pachter’s recent post and some of the comments there. I don’t agree with everything that Pachter writes there—just in general, I’m getting tired of zero-sum framings and all the put-downs we’re seeing on all sides here—but I think Pachter and his commenters cover some of the relevant issues regarding that journal.
The comment thread here is getting kinda tangled so I’ll just point you to something I wrote a few minutes ago elsewhere. In short: Hill and Tabachnikov were not treated well. It was unfortunate that the editor of the Intelligencer made the suggestion, well-meaning as it may have been, that they make the paper more political and controversial, and it was unfair to them that then their paper got yanked after acceptance, it was too bad it got tangled in a fight at NYJM. In addition, Wilkinson has not been treated well. She never tried to suppress the article. She recommended that the article, already accepted for publication, have an expert rebuttal published alongside it. But she’s been viciously attacked on the Quillette comment section and elsewhere. I’m really down on this zero-sum thing: It should be possible to be angry at what happened to Hill and Tabachnikov without painting Wilkinson as a villain, and it should be possible to be angry at what happened to Wilkinson without denigrating Hill and Tabachnikov. It should be possible to have a legitimate difference of opinion regarding the value of that paper, without making someone into the bad guy.
The supporting documentation has been released. It seems very, very, very clear that the paper was pulled due to straight-up political interference by well-connected ideologues. Does this change your view in any way?
https://twitter.com/clairlemon/status/1041847268792385536 (note that the first dropbox link is broken, the one later in the thread works)
These documents and the discussion at Lior Pachter’s blog add lots of detail and are consistent with my existing impression that both the support and the opposition to the paper had both scientific and political aspects, that Hill and Tabachnikov were treated badly in having their paper un-accepted, that Wilkinson was treated badly by commenters at Qullette and elsewhere, and that Hill and Wilkinson had much different views about the merits of the paper.
As I wrote elsewhere in this thread, I’m really down on zero-sum framings of this story: It should be possible to be angry at what happened to Hill and Tabachnikov without painting Wilkinson as a villain, and it should be possible to be angry at what happened to Wilkinson without denigrating Hill and Tabachnikov. It should be possible to have a legitimate difference of opinion regarding the value of that paper, without making someone into the bad guy.
More supporting emails and documents have been published at Retraction Watch: https://retractionwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Hill_RetractionWatchAppendix_Sep14.pdf
Not much from Wilkinson herself (one of the many characters in this drama), apart from some (Facebook?) messages (page 29 of the pdf):
“Don’t bother submitting to Math Intelligencer. That place is a mess.”
“Briefly, this article was accepted in MI and to appear: (…) It was an ‘opinion’ article and was not refereed at all. When I found out (a few weeks ago), I wrote to the editor-in-chief (Marjorie Senechal) complaining, as did many others, apparently. She ended up rescinding the acceptance (good, although why did she accept in the first place) and revealing my identity to the authors without my consent (bad). I received an obnoxious email from one of the authors, which is how I found out. No apology from editor. Shabby.”
“Invoking purely mathematical arguments to explain scientific phenomena without serious engagement with science and data is an offense against both mathematics and science.”
Can we get Ken Arrow’s Nobel Prize withdrawn too.
I think it’s fine to invoke a purely mathematical argument in this way, and I did not find the Hill and Tabachnikov paper to be politically objectionable. Even in the paper’s most political version (the result, I assume, of the Intelligencer’s suggestion to add political content and make it more controversial), the paper did not bother me in that way. I can see how people would be annoyed at the paper—I have felt the same way about mathematical models in my area of expertise (political science) that might have a logical internal structure but are obviously inappropriate to the problem at hand (in the above post, see the passage beginning, “In some ways it reminded me”—but the objection is somewhat subtle. The paper did have a bunch of extraneous material, but one can hardly blame Hill and Tabachnikov for that, given that they were encouraged by the magazine editor to go in that direction. I think it’s all about the framing. I think it would’ve been fine for that paper to have been published in the Intelligencer as is, and I think it would’ve been fine to publish it along with a rebuttal. I don’t think the paper was anything like an “offense against mathematics and science.” There’s been a lot of hyperbole floating around. I understand this—there are many injured parties in this story—but the hyperbole doesn’t help.
Quillette has posted more emails. Your conclusions probably need to be reassessed. https://www.dropbox.com/s/lnm3csfna4seavr/hill_redacted.pdf?dl=0
See my recent comments here, here, and here.
I think you’re doubling down on the theory of what happened that you’ve already built, even if some facts previously known and the newly posted emails aren’t fully compatible with it. Let me be clear that I appreciate your insisting that there doesn’t have to be a “bad guy” explanation, that it’s possible to say both that Hill & Tabachnikov were mistreated, and that Wilkinson was mistreated (by an online mob) and no one acted as a villain.
It’s conspicuous, however, that you focus on Wilkinson and not on Farb. Your story is very weak on Farb, in terms of what you know. In the original post, in the explanation of what happened, you reduce the NYJM episode to “Hill’s paper was accepted by the NYJM in an unusual fashion by one of the journal’s 24 editors. After a review of the editorial process, the full editorial board un-published the paper.” This is very misleading, because the “unpublishing” of the paper from NYJM, which happened in November, was _not_ the decision of the full board, and seems to have been due to pressure put on the editor-in-chief specifically by Farb (and possibly others; see quotes from Farb’s email in Hill’s article). That 3 months later the full board decided that the paper that had been replaced by another 3 months ago should stay unpublished – that may be true, but the scandalous episode from Hill’s point of view is the “unpublishing” in November.
More background on the NYJM episode is provided by Lior Pachter in his post linked here.
Andrew, Lior Pachter’s post doesn’t include the name “Farb”. The way he phrases the NYJM episode is to say that the paper was “rejected” after the editorial process was “hijacked”. He doesn’t mention the facts that tend to worry mathematicians the most about this story, in discussions that I’ve seen – that the paper was “disappeared” *after it was already published*, and that it is at least plausible that this happened due to an attack of it that was motivated by politics rather than its mathematical quality. It’s also important that this (apparently unprecedented or nearly so) “unpublishing” was not a decision of the full board, but merely (according to Farb) was given the full board’s imprimatur months later.
These points are smoothed over in your account and are completely ignored in Pachter’s. But they are what tends to get people worried, they are what give the whole story its especially scandalous appearance, and I think they are what got illustrious mathematicians like Gowers and Tao to blog about the affair. The strong cultural norm, in mathematics at least, is to retract or rescind bad, fraudulent or crank papers by publishing a correction or a retraction or by adding an editorial note. Note this recent case where a paper that’s actual garbage, mathematically, (unlike Hill’s math, which some argued was too simple for a serious journal article, but is obviously correct), was published in a serious journal; in the aftermath both editors-in-chief resigned, but the article was not “disappeared” and remains accessible.
Amie Wilkinson said in her statement that in her letter to Senechal, the editor of The Mathematical Intelligencer, she “criticized the scientific merits of the paper and the decision to accept it for publication, but I never made the suggestion that the decision to publish it be reversed.” Her correspondence with Senechal has not been made public, so what she actually wrote cannot be ascertained. It should be noted though that Leland Wilkinson’s (who is Amie’s father) letter to Senechal has been published and he wrote that “I’m afraid I have to agree with Amie that a mathemetical journal could risk harming its reputation by publishing an article like this.” Amie Wilkinson also wrote on Facebook that is was “good” that the paper was rescinded.
It seems not improbable that Amie Wilkinson is one of the people whose advocacy against Hill’s paper caused Senechal to depublish it. I would not be surprised if the actual contents of her correspondence with Senechal are substantially different, at least in tone, from her published statement.
Has Farb bothered to release his emails to show what he says is, in fact, true?
Retraction watch has published the emails that form the basis of Hill’s story.
I would think this take might be of interest:
In general, I agree with your post here, Andrew. However, I can’t go along with one claim: “But now that more of the story is out, it’s time for all these people to explain what happened to their followers, and to apologize.”
Pinker didn’t make his followers go bonkers. They are sentient beings in their own right. If an apology is needed, you should be asking them, not Pinker.
Fair enough. Still, I think it might help the situation slightly—not a lot, maybe, but a little—if Peterson, Pinker, and the editors of Quillette would write something like the following:
The last sentence above does not represent my views, but on the whole here I’m trying to write a paragraph that expresses, as best I understand it, the general view of Peterson, Pinker, and the Quillette editors that Hill’s story is representative of a serious problem in our culture. I wouldn’t want them to change their view on this! I just think it would be good for them to clarify this one point, and also I think it would be good for them to express to their followers that, no, the personal attacks are not OK.
As I wrote elsewhere in this thread, had this whole thing just been Hill explaining how he’d been wronged, and expressing his view that Wilkinson and others didn’t give his work a fair shake, and Quillette publishing this and Peterson and Pinker endorsing this as an example of political correctness run amok, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I might disagree with some of the statements being made, but I’d respect that this is Hill’s opinion. It’s the connection of the internet mob that changes the equation for me. As I think I wrote elsewhere in this thread, it’s my impression that all the people in this story—Hill and Tabachnikov included—were in difficult positions. Just about everyone’s decisions in this case could be second-guessed, but that doesn’t make anyone out to be a villain.
I support Hill and Tabachnikov in their attempt to speak freely while they are being attacked by a mob, and I support Wilkinson in her attempt to speak freely while she is being attacked by a mob. I can support H&T without attacking W; and I can support W without attacking H&T. I have a problem with people such as some of the commenters at Quillette and elsewhere on the internet who seem to think that a good way Hill and Tabachnikov’s free speech is to support personal attacks on Wilkinson for exercising her free speech.
Anyway, these are just my thoughts. I’m not trying to say that Peterson, Pinker, and the editors of Quillette have the obligation to do anything here, nor is it my place to give them instructions. I just think that if they were to try their best to call off the personal attacks that were inspired by this story, they could do so in a way that is fully consistent with their principles and would not require them backing down from any of the important issues they are raising.
Do you really think it was ok for Amie Wilkinson to tell all her facebook friends that she would unfriend them unless they unfriended Igor Rivin, the editor at the NY journal? See p. 30 of
Was it OK of Amie to falsely accuse the Intelligencer editor of telling Hill that she was one of the people attacking Hill (and in any case, why should Amie think that if she tries to interfere in the editorial process her identity is confidential?) See p. 29 for Amie’s email. Note, too, how she describes as an “obnoxious email” Hill’s polite email asking her to please let him know of her critcisms directly so he can address them in his paper.
Note, too, Amie’s unwillingness to release her own emails, Facebook posts, etc. like Hill has done. And note the aggressive, rude, and unscholarly tone of her father and her husband’s emails in the document Hill has released.
Andrew, how can you defend her in light of what’s come out?
>Do you really think it was ok for Amie Wilkinson to tell all her facebook friends that she would unfriend them unless they unfriended Igor Rivin, the editor at the NY journal?
yes. the same way i’d tell my friends that their association with any given clod would tar my view of them.
The accusation that the editor-in-chief of MI revealed her name to Hill is not false. Senechal asked Leland Wilkinson if she could forward his email, but did not ask Amie for permission as well. In forwarding it to Hill, Senechal prefaces it with the explanation that “Leland Wilkinson, Amie’s father, has given me permission…,” so it was done consciously. That was, at best, a misstep on Senechal’s part. Senechal explicitly declined to forward names and messages of others who wrote (which were the ones which “persuaded [her] to take the action [she] did”) and hadn’t given permission for their names or emails to be forwarded. Apparently, in your eyes, everyone but Amie was due the courtesy of giving permission before their names were forwarded to Hill.
Rivin has provoked many people to unfriend or block him on Facebook over the years. Wilkinson, Farb and Rivin have known each other for years. Two messages to Igor indicate that the unfriending was due to something she felt hurt by. There’s no evidence (in the public domain, at least) connecting this to the NYJM paper.
Somehow, though, I wouldn’t bet that anything is going to dim your enthusiasm for this particular conspiracy theory.
I actually think it’s totally outrageous that Senechal refused to tell Hill the names of the people who spiked his paper— not just Amie Wilkinson, but all of them. If you write behind the author’s back to a journal criticizing his paper, you aren’t entitled to anonymity the way a referee is. Can you make any argument for why such people deserve anonymity? Why would they even want it, unless they were doing something unethical? There was zero chance of reprisal from Hill, aside from his just letting the world know what they had done.
Indeed, I think Senechal should have shown him all the emails too. Copyright law may make it tricky to publish them, but I wonder about even that. I would think Pennsylvania would have a Freedom of Information Act that would require documents used in public institutions— such as those emails—- to be publicly available.
As for Amie’s name being in her father’s email: it was her father who gave permission to publish his email, and her father had every right to disclose such information.
Lots of people say things in email that they don’t want to be public. People send me emails all the time with the expectation that I won’t share them with others. This happens all the time, it has nothing to do with people doing something unethical. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to not write anything in an email that you would not want shared with the world; and I’m sure you’re also aware that people don’t always follow this advice! I’m not saying it was right or wrong for these particular emails to be shared; I’m just saying that people often have the expectation that an email will be private.
Also, no, Wilkinson did not “spike” the paper; she sent an email to the editor of the magazine suggesting that the paper be accompanied by a rebuttal. Wilkinson did not like the paper and she did not seem to mind that the paper was removed from the journal; this is not the same as spiking it.
And you write, “There was zero chance of reprisal from Hill, aside from his just letting the world know what they had done.” This is not true. First, Hill contacted Wilkinson’s employer in an attempt to get her reprimanded; second, Wilkinson wrote a blog post inaccurately characterizing Wilkinson’s actions, a post that resulted in lots of hate comments directed at her.
Thanks for replying, Andrew. Some thoughts:
(1) Yes, sometimes there is an expectation that an email will be kept confidential. Usually there’s not, and the author should say so if he wants it kept confidential, but not always— for example, deliberation emails on hiring A very interesting question is what the recipient should do with an unsolicited accusatory emai r that the author wants to be kept confidential.
In law, the principle that the accused has the right to face his accuser is fundamental. If the accuser won’t face the accused, the court won’t listen to the accuser. Actually, it goes even further— the court will subpoena the accuser and force him to testify publicly or go to jail, unless there are extremely good reasons for anonymity, and even then what it will do is just not allow the accuser to testify. Note that in law, “extremely good reasons for anonymity” does not include “the accused is a mafia boss who will do his best to kill me has done that to past witnesses”.
Suppose someone emails the editor of a journal he knows I’ve submitted a paper to, and trashes my article. It’s totally improper for the editor to tell me, ”I’m rejecting your paper because of an email I got, but I won’t tell you what it said or who wrote it.” At the very least, if the accuser has a good reason for anonymity (he is up for tenure in my department), the editor should show me the email and ask me to refute it, as editors do with referee reports. Usually, the editor should refuse to take the email into account unless the accuser is willing to make his name public. If the accuser is actually far more powerful than me, a noted scholar, with perfect connections, at a top university, the case for revealing his identity is even stronger.
(2) As philosopher Michael Schmitz notes, at https://twitter.com/Modemichael/status/1040353929136156672, Amie Wilkinson says that “numerous false statements” were made, denies that she had any “involvement in editorial decisions”, and says she “never made the suggestion that the decision to publish it be reversed.” https://math.uchicago.edu/~wilkinso/Statement.html . But Hill never claimed she did. He said she had “written to the journal to complain. A back-and-forth had ensued. Wilkinson then enlisted the support of her father—a psychometrician and statistician—who wrote to the Intelligencer at his daughter’s request to express his own misgivings,” and “continued to trash both the journal and its editor-in-chief on social media, inciting her Facebook friends with the erroneous allegation that an entirely different (and more contentious) article had been accepted.” https://quillette.com/2018/09/07/academic-activists-send-a-published-paper-down-the-memory-hole/ Wilkinson doesn’t deny any of that. She of course had no “involvement in editorial decisions,” since she isn’t an editor at those journals. She admits she complained to the journal. Did she enlist the support of her father, trash the editor on social media, and confuse article versions?
(3) You say that Hill “wrote a blog post inaccurately characterizing Wilkinson’s actions,” but as I note in point (2), Wilkinson hasn’t pointed to anything Hill actually said and denied its truth. He has provided 41 pages of back-up documentation—emails and such—which clarify the Quillette post statements about her that I quote above. Wilkinson hasn’t provided her emails or Facebook posts, which she could easily do.
As for reprisal by Hill against Wilkinson, the idea is ludicrous. I don’t include Hill complaining about her actions in this situation, which is what he did with his Quillette post and his charges to the University of Chicago. It’s not reprisal if a victim tells his story to other people and asks them to take action. Information dissemination is not reprisal. Reprisal is the use of punishments. If Hill were a journal editor and started rejecting all of Wilkinson’s articles, that would be reprisal, or if he killed her cat, or if he voted against her tenure, or if he told all his Facebook friends he’d unfriend them if they didn’t unfriend her. And if Hill and Wilkinson did get into an all-out war, the power disparity is enormous. Wilkinson is a University of Chicago professor on the editorial boards of Chaos (2002–), Transactions of the AMS (2006–2007), Journal of Modern Dynamics (2006–2014), Algebraic and Geometric Topology (2007–2014), Ergodic Theory and Dynamical Systems (2007–), Commentarii Math Helvetici (2014 –), Journal of the European Math Society (2016 –), and Compositio Mathematica (2017 — ). Hill is a retired Georgia Tech professor, currently a visiting scholar at California Polytechnic. His CV notes that he has done a lot of refereeing. No editorial boards are listed. https://math.uchicago.edu/~wilkinso/
This is long, but I do get heated up when I see powerful people at top universities bullying powerless people further down, and that is what I think Wilkinson is doing. The only resource the powerless people have— though it is good weapon, as we know from game theory— is credible information.
Again, Wilkinson wrote an email to the magazine editor suggesting the paper be accompanied by a rebuttal. She didn’t like the paper. This is not the same as “spiking it.”
More generally, I don’t think your “accuser”/”accusee” framework is helpful. Hill and Tabachnikov were not being accused of anything. This was a scientific dispute, first about the quality of their paper and whether or how it should be published in the Intelligencer, and second about its quality and appropriateness for the NYJM. In both cases there were, and are, legitimate differences of opinion. And, in both cases, once the paper was accepted, I think it was wrong for them to be un-accepted. And all this was about the article. Neither Hill or Tabachnikov were being accused of anything.
Contacting someone’s employer and trying to get them reprimanded is a form of escalation. Posting something on a site that attracts hate commenters is a form of escalation. I can understand that Hill feels justified in these actions, but they bother me. I would much rather that all the discussion be at the professional level and be about the papers, not about the people. If the discussion is about the papers, not the people, then Wilkinson’s experience on the editorial boards of various mathematics journals, Hill’s military experience, etc., become irrelevant, as I think these should be. As someone who’s been involved in science, and science criticism, for many years, I feel strongly that the focus on personalities is a distraction and can do real damage.
I think we can both agree that it would’ve been much better had all actions regarding the paper had been done more openly, including how the paper was submitted and accepted at the journals and how the paper was criticized. One place where I strongly agree with Jordan Peterson, Steven Pinker, and the editors of Quillette is that the story of the Hill and Tabachnikov paper is representative of a general problem with the current system of publication. There’s a big problem that so much of it occurs in secret: Papers are submitted to journals in secret, reviews are all secret, when a paper is published you’re not told where else it’s been submitted, and there are very few venues for post-publication review.
> Wilkinson wrote an email to the magazine editor suggesting the paper be accompanied by a rebuttal.
Are you sure that this is all she said? I don’t think, corrections welcome, that we have seen this e-mail. I bet that she said more than this. I bet it was more along the lines of “You should not publish this paper but, if you insist on publishing it, then you ought to include a rebuttal.”
> Posting something on a site that attracts hate commenters is a form of escalation.
“attracts hate commenters” is a weird formulation. YouTube attracts lots of hateful comments. Am I guilty of “escalation” if I post something on YouTube? On Facebook? Even this blog, on rare occasion, attracts “hate commentaters.” Should I stop commenting here?
Are you really suggesting that no one should write an article for Quillette which is critical of someone else’s actions? If I wrote an article about Wansink for Quilette, would you accuse me of “escalation?” Or is “escalation” something which only the critics of people you like/know can be guilty of?
1. I have no reason whatsoever to think that Wilkinson wrote anything like what you “bet” she said. That is pure speculation on your part.
2. The problem of the hate commenters is an interaction of two factors. First, I believe that Hill’s post is misleading. Second, this interacts with the sexist and racist commenters at Quillette. The result is, as I wrote in some comment above, like a wrestling match in which Wilkinson plays the role of the “heel” and a crowd of people are out there booing her. I would not be so bothered if only one of these two factors were in play.
Andrew, this is just to let you know I read and appreciate your reply. I’m thinking of writing something on this for Quillette or just rasmusen.org, and if I do I’ll let you know. But I’ll ask my wife and pastor first, since this is dangerous ground to tread.
> That is pure speculation on your part.
Warning: More pure speculation ahead.
We don’t know what she wrote, but we know what her father wrote:
“In any case, I’m afraid I have to agree with Amie that a mathematical journal could risk harming its reputation by publishing an article like this.”
These seems to entertain the possibility of the journal not publishing the article?
“Good luck with your decision. I understand it’s not an easy one. And if you decide to go with this article plus commentaries.”
Is the hard decision the one between publishing the article alone and publishing the article plus commentaries? Or was the “not publishing the article” option also on the table?
For someone with your interests ( https://twitter.com/erasmuse/status/1042611675109711873 ), Hill’s article seems an interesting case study.
Here’s one example where Hill conveys a false impression with only minor lies.
Hill gives an account of what Senechal told him were the reasons for her decision to rescind acceptance of his article with Tabachnikov. “‘Several colleagues,’ she wrote, had warned her that publication would provoke ‘extremely strong reactions’ and there existed a ‘very real possibility that the right-wing media may pick this up and hype it internationally.'” And: “I emailed Professor Senechal. She replied that she had received no criticisms on scientific grounds and that her decision to rescind was entirely about the reaction she feared our paper would elicit.” Note: this last statement is false. Senechal did not say she did not receive any criticisms on scientific grounds; she explicitly pointed to Leland Wilkinson’s message as one which did raise scientific considerations. What she did say was that the messages which convinced her not to publish had no scientific criticisms.
Hill goes on to ask: “So what in the world had happened at the Intelligencer?” He then recounts what he knows about the emails from Amie and Leland Wilkinson. What he recounts here seems reasonably accurate, but what connection does he establish between the events involving the Wilkinsons and Senechal’s decision not to publish? None at all.
The pattern of this section of his article is this: “X happened at the Intelligencer. What had really happened at the Intelligencer? Y happened at the Intelligencer.” Hill gets his readers riled up by reporting X, and then has them ready to blame it all on Y, without establishing that Y had anything to do with X. (D Kane’s willingness to bet on what Wilkinson really said in her email shows how effective this strategy can be.)
Here is a reason to believe that Y had nothing to do with X in this case.
Senechal says the following about the emails which convinced her not to publish the article: “I’m sorry, but I will not send Ted the messages that persuaded me to take the action I did*, or the names of their authors. These messages were private. They concerned not the substance of your article but the very real possibility of extremely damaging fallout.” “She sets these emails apart from those from the Wilkinsons, explicitly in the case of Leland (which she says did address the substance), and implicitly in the case of Amie (since she did identify Amie as one of the people who wrote to her).
Hill is more explicit in his claims in his letter to the University of Chicago. There, he accused Amie Wilkinson of conspiring with the unnamed email writers who raised concerns about hype in the right-wing media. What evidence is there of this? Again, none. In fact, in what seems to be a relatively unguarded comment on Facebook, Wilkinson said that “apparently” others had written to Senechal as well. If she had conspired with others, why would she have qualified her comment that way?
For calibration purposes, these are my general reactions to this episode:
1. The events at Penn State, if accurately described by Hill, are disturbing. But I don’t take it for granted that he has conveyed them accurately.
2. The article was initially submitted as an opinion piece to the Intelligencer. The Intelligencer is not a research journal (Hill himself says this). It was made known to the public that the Hill-Tabachnikov article was going to appear. Under those circumstances, I see nothing wrong with anyone writing to the editor-in-chief and asking her to rescind acceptance, or publish a rebuttal, on any grounds whatsoever. The standards for publication are not those of a research article.
3. The article submitted to NYJM was well outside its usual editorial range, and was unlike other articles published there in many ways. The single referee’s report we’ve seen was likely the only one the handling editor had in hand at the time of publication. That report was inadequate, as the referee vouches only for the correctness of mathematical piece, and explicitly says s/he does not have the expertise to evaluate its usefulness as a model. It is the latter which would be the source of interest in the paper.
4. The unease of members of the editorial board with the publication of the paper is understandable. It is also understandable that the delay in providing referee’s reports to members of the board who had asked for them deepened doubts about the rigor of the editorial process for this paper. There were good scientific reasons to think the paper was inappropriate for NYJM. There are also reasons to suspect that the decision by NYJM to publish the paper was politically motivated, as well as to suspect that many of the editors who objected to its publication found the paper distasteful for political reasons. I’m not inclined to believe that the decision to pull the paper was based entirely, or even largely, on political considerations.
5. The disappearance of the paper at NYJM was unacceptable. A better outcome would have been to leave the paper as it was, and to publish a statement from the editorial board that it lacked confidence in the process which led to publication. NYJM should also consider reforms in its editorial process.
6. It’s perfectly ok for an academic to post about a bad experience with a journal or an editor on Facebook. It’s also perfectly ok to express an opinion about the quality of a journal, or an opinion on whether others should submit articles to it. But what does this have to do with the paper? Does it help explain how it got sent “down the memory hole?” No, it doesn’t.
7. Posting a link to an arxiv page which has links to all publicly available versions of a paper cannot be accurately described as “inciting … Facebook friends with the erroneous allegation that an entirely different (and more contentious) article had been accepted.”
8. Threatening Facebook friends with unfriending unless they unfriend a third party is generally somewhat over the top. The degree to which it is over the top is dependent on how over the top the third party is in attacks on others.
Thank you for your hard work. Sorry that it is needed.
“Do you really think it was ok for Amie Wilkinson to tell all her facebook friends that she would unfriend them unless they unfriended Igor Rivin, the editor at the NY journal?”
Of course it is. I personally have no interest in being associated with anyone who would associate with a loathsome person like him and I’m under no obligation to do so.
I’m amazed that you had a paper rejected after being accepted a couple of times. I’d never heard of that before, but perhaps its more common than I realized.
Can you explain the circumstances when it happened to you?
It would help us all better understand how much of an outlier, or not, the Hill story is.
It’s happened a few times to me, never in the exact way of Hill and Tabachnikov. Once a journal asked me to write a comment on a published article, then they didn’t run my comment, not because it was rejected in the review process but because they just decided not to run any discussions of that article. Another time, a colleague was invited to write an article for a journal, then I was added as a coauthor and the journal rejected the article. This could’ve been because the article didn’t fit the journal, but I suspect it was academic politics, that the journal editor didn’t like me and so rejected the submission once I was involved. Also, I think once or twice there have been accepted articles that haven’t appeared, but I can’t quite remember. The thing is that journals and magazines can be pretty disorganized. The Hill and Tabachnikov story does seem unusual to me, starting with the fact they were encouraged by the magazine editor to add political content that then made the paper too hot to handle, and continuing with the insertion of the paper into a pure-math journal where it didn’t belong. I’ve had some bad experiences with journals, but nothing like what happened to Hill.
Don’t want to overnitpick here, but the couple examples you give actually sound to me like very much different (and lesser) occurrences than your original description of “For a journal editor to accept his paper, then reject it, that’s not cool. It’s happened to me a couple of times”. Not incidents of comparable magnitude to Hill’s (“never in the exact way of”), but much weaker varieties that don’t seem particularly controversial.
That’s fine for you to say, but these cases really bothered me when they happened! Another one that really annoyed me was when the American Statistical Association published this article on p-values a couple years ago. I was on the committee that wrote the article, and when the final version was sent to us, there was a lot of pressure to sign on. Overall I liked the article but there were a couple things in it that I thought were really wrong. I was persuaded to approve the article as is, with the understanding that my objections (along with others) would be published alongside. As it was, the publication was such that it was easy for people to access the main article and much more difficult to find the discussions. It seemed to me that, for whatever reasons, an inappropriate sense of unanimity was created.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere in the thread, a big problem in general is that publication in a journal or magazine represents dissemination of an idea and also some sort of endorsement of the idea. So you get people un-publishing an article because they don’t want it to get that stamp of approval, and you get other people trying to publish an article in an inappropriate place as a way of giving it that endorsement. In completely different contexts, we’ve seen that with weak articles that were published in PNAS—another journal where a single member of the editorial board can get an article published without much oversight.
Oh yeah, I remember two other recent cases.
One was where a journal asked me to write a book review. I send in my review, they were set to publish it, then I looked at the version they were about to publish—and I noticed that they’d added a paragraph at the beginning full of empty cliches. Annoyed, I shot off an email that I didn’t appreciate them writing stuff and putting it under my name. Then it was the editors’ presumption to be annoyed that I was annoyed . . . it ended inconclusively, but it seems that my review will never be published. Which is kinda too bad, because I don’t really have any use for this review except for publishing it in the journal that requested it.
The other case was a journal that asked me to write, for publication, a commentary on an article they were publishing. I was like, fine, why not, so I wrote something, sent it in, and didn’t think any further about it . . . until I received an email from the journal asking me to pay a $300 publication fee! I was like, what! Sometimes I will pay a publication fee: I want to support the journal, it’s less effort to pay the fee than to publish my article somewhere else, etc.—but this case was ridiculous, as they had been the one to ask me to write the article. To do them a favor, then get stuck with a bill . . . no way. So the article, accepted and scheduled for publication, never appeared.
The common theme was there was some sort of confusion.
I would have loved to have read the discussion on p-values. Must still be on the Website.
The discussion that never ran in the sociology journal is here:
The article where I was added as a coauthor and then the journal decided they didn’t want it . . . That one was pretty recent, but I can’t remember exactly which one that was.
The discussion which the ASA made hard to find is here:
The book review is here: http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/published/ExplorationsIR.pdf
(I guess I should move it to my “unpublished papers” page.
The $300 commentary is here:
Thank you very much. I look forward to it.
> rather to move toward a greater acceptance of uncertainty and embracing of variation.
Definitely what is needed, but the lack of closure it implies likely will be too scary for most.
Andrew wrote: “Another time, a colleague was invited to write an article for a journal, then I was added as a coauthor and the journal rejected the article. This could’ve been because the article didn’t fit the journal, but I suspect it was academic politics, that the journal editor didn’t like me and so rejected the submission once I was involved.”
Also the editors of the society journal Limosa http://www.nou.nu/limosa/index.php?language=UK
don’t like me anymore. They are therefore currently automatically rejecting my manuscripts. Scientist Ingrid Tulp was one of the editors of this journal who was responsible for this policy. Scientist Ingrid Tulp was therefore lateron by her employer forced to step down as editor of this journal.
Andrew wrote: “I’ve had some bad experiences with journals, but nothing like what happened to Hill.”
The journal ‘Zoology in the Middle East’ has published in April 2016 a Statement at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09397140.2016.1172405 about my efforts to retract a fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in this journal. I was not informed that the journal was preparing this Statement. I was also not informed when this Statement was published. Several potential authors of this Statement have never rebutted / refuted that they are (one of the) author(s) of this anonymous Statement. These potential authors, and as well their allies, do not communicate with me. So they do not rebut / refute that they are author of this Statement.
Unnoticed changes in the Version of Record (VoR) in articles is also no problem for this journal, and seemingly as well for publisher Taylor & Francis. The unnoticed changes in the VoR are also related to our efforts to retract the fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in this journals. These unnoticed changed in the VoR are documented at https://osf.io/cvu5b/
This echos a number of such cases where editors have jackhorned questionable stuff whose politics they agree with into reputable journals with made to order referees..
When I first heard of “Male Intelligence Variability” hypothesis, I thought it is super progressive compared to “Males are outright more clever” paradigm I was nurtured with.
Here’s a paper that claims men are more creative than women “at the highest levels.” Sample quote:
This paper was published in 2012 in . . . the Mathematical Intelligencer.
Well, aren’t they disproving their hypothesis right there? I think that article is absolutely hilarious–and it was co-authored by a woman! That level of hilariousness has to indicate some level of creativity.
That’s the Intelligencer for ya: Come for the maths, stay for the laffs.
The paper’s hypothesis may be incorrect and its take on humor offputting, but its recommendations–that women as well as men be given opportunities to play with ideas, make mistakes, etc.–seems reasonable to me, or at least worth considering. I don’t think the paper is saying that women are inherently less creative than men–rather, that they are in many ways conditioned toward greater safety and reliability of thought. While this may not be true any longer (or as true as it once was), it still forms part of public perception, which in turn influences reality.
I cannot count the times that I have heard people say that girls are more organized and studious than boys. School systems tend to reward those who fulfill all the requirements, doing things just so. Whether it’s true or not, many believe that girls do better (overall) than boys in school but that boys take more risks. This perception easily becomes an expectation and is well worth countering.
I do not agree with the authors’ take on humor or with the specifics of their recommendations. Still, I like the idea that girls be encouraged to play with ideas (and given places to do so). This is not completely at odds with Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
> This perception easily becomes an expectation
Also (and more importantly) habits increase towards perceived rewards/approval and practice strengthens the skills involved in the habits.
(Was listen to the CBC radio this morning about racial views of kindergarten students with many socialized into views (ugly duckling story/cartoon with the underlying message of stick with your own?)that unfortunately will be hard to undue.
>>” perception easily becomes an expectation
>>Also (and more importantly) habits increase towards perceived rewards/approval and practice strengthens the skills involved in the habits.”
These explanations look very convincing in retrospect, when perceptions already reflect reality. There was no expectation of Blacks being better at basketball than they are at math, or women being better at psychology than they are at music composition – yet after decades performance is markedly different.
If “perception easily becomes an expectation” is a suggestion of a causal story, let’s ask Gelman to tell us something about that theory’s empirical support
First, yours is the most sensible and measured approach to this affair I’ve seen so far, thank you for your time and effort.
I was wondering why nobody mentioned the fact that Senechal offered to have a special round table and a special issue of the MI, devoted to this topic. I totally understand a wish to discuss a controversial topic from several sides at once instead of just publishing one side. It’s not the same as repressing the article altogether. As I understood the published emails, Hill then put out conditions that made this round table hard to organize, and the discussion didn’t go any further before Rivin interfered. I may be wrong.
Your comment, Julie, makes me realize something: it’s by no means too late for the Intelligencer to publish such a round table, and, indeed, it is an even better time, now that everyone in math has become aware of the issue. It seemed then that both sides welcomed such a round table (though Hill wanted it *in addition* to publishing his article, and his enemies wanted it *instead* of his article, if I remember correctly). This would help rescue the Intelligencer’s damaged reputation, and would attract a lot of readers.
Thank you for this careful analysis of the situation.
I just want to point out that Quilette in itself is a publication dedicated to such conservative conspiracy theories disguised as well-written and well-presented articles. I gave many of their articles a read after finding them on news.ycombinator.com, and everytime it turned out to be a rant about political correctness and how a pretend left-wing-LGBT-pro-immigration plot wants to silence dissenting voices.
These people are so entrenched in their fancy academic/journalistic lives that they don’t realize that the balance of power in th world (including in the US) is still on the side of racist & misogynist conceptions. They claim to be an oppressed truth-speaking minority while in fact they’re active members of institutions of power (academia/journalism) using their power as a means of furthering oppression.
This reverse view of domination schemes is very common among masculinists and white-supremacists. They’re so used to being able to exert their hatred and misconceptions, that they see the past century’s VERY MODEST progress as oppression against conservative views. Yet women & race/gender minorities are still the ones being raped and murdered for their views or simply for daring to exist. In comparison, a few papers withdrawn, booing at a conference, a few slurs here and there… that’s nothing i would place anywhere on the scale of oppression.
Commenting, there exists an alternative picture of what’s going on. You seem to feel like you are a David “resisting” the conservative Goliath, even though in the real world majority of fancy academics and journalists, not to mention super-rich corporations, promote your, “progressive”, view of the world. You illustrate This reverse view of domination schemes is very common among American leftists.
The absurd talk about the “problems minorities have” deceptively suggests that the Indians – the richest ethnic group in America struggles with the same problems as Blacks. They don’t. However t is true that Black and many Hispanic lives in America suck, but it’s not the “whites” or “men” who are responsible for that.
Here are some sources.
“Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016”
Bunch of articles by Heather MacDonald ( woman who was physically assaulted for her views. Claire Lehmann, the creator of Quillette,
Heather is living the “empowered” life)
“Statistical Evidence Not Required”
The conclusions of the Justice Department’s damning report on the Chicago Police Department were probably foreordained.
“Is the Criminal-Justice System Racist?”
“Champion of Law and Order” (this one is about Comey, fun to read in light of what happened later)
And a study relevant to what constitutes “progress” with respect to gender:
“Sex differences in personality are larger in gender equal countries: Replicating and extending a surprising finding”
I believe this comment is the crux of the disagreement between the group you argue in defense of and the group you whose arguments you challenge:
“However [i]t is true that Black and many Hispanic lives in America suck, but it’s not the “whites” or “men” who are responsible for that.”
Your position is that there is no current individual level responsibility for members of groups that historically engaged in oppression of the different others. Because most laws explicitly grounded in bigotry have been changed (though certainly not all), the argument then assumes that the field has been made level and thus whatever differences that remain are explainable by individual level differences that may be described in terms of character, beliefs, or genetics.
From the other side it is difficult to understand which group would currently hold responsibility for the long term effects of long term oppression than those who currently possess the vast majority of governmental power and private wealth that was created and sustained under this system of oppression.
>>”group would currently hold responsibility for the long term effects of long term oppression ”
I dont know what LittleStar is going to respond to you, but I think she could simply say that your (or other side’s) position is an example of petitio principii. “The other side” precisely needs to show that the magnitude of Black disadvantage when it comes to cognitive tasks is caused by the “past oppression”.
>>”private wealth that was created and sustained under this system of oppression”
“Under the system” is not the same as “due to the system”. There is no reason to believe that immigrants to the US needed Blacks to be around in order to be successful.
>>”assumes that the field has been made level”
Field was never made “level” for anyone, but even under Jim Crow US Blacks have had access to more material resources than most of the world outside of the US – yet Blacks still manage to do worse on cognitive tasks than starving Koreans.
You’d need to believe that it is a coincidence that out of all former Western colonies, majority black ones are doing the worst, both in terms of homicide rates and in terms of cognitive skills. Given their economic/cognitive/criminal performance, you’d need to argue that their oppression was the most severe. Alas, so far there are no standards for “comparative oppressology”. What are you comparing when you are comparing oppressions? Avg. nutrient intake? Avg. body mass? Mortality? Warfare? Nobody knows. You’d also need to explain why African countries were behind Asian ones developmentally way before European colonization – and “white oppression” – started
You have this exactly backwards. To defend my position, I am under no obligation to demonstrate that crude between group comparisons are indicators of small variations in genetic differences that must be related to small variations in cognitive ability. I am arguing that this is highly unlikely and that any observed variations between crudely categorized groups are likely due to variation in the environment or simply noise in the measure itself relative to the crudeness of the construct.
It is you who is making this absurd claim that racial genetics must be causally related to cognitive ability given the observed variation and thus it is you who must show that the same small variations in genetic material that are related to differences in race are also the same variation in genetic material that is causally related to variation in the crude concept of cognitive ability. Otherwise, what we are observing is very likely spurious and more likely related to the noise in the measurement generated by a plethora of unmeasured causal variables that don’t happen to balance out in a Gaussian fashion.
I think it is absurd because I cannot imagine any precisely measured variation in genetics would be predictive of fine variations in such a crude construct after all of the relevant environmental variants were causally accounted for.
You have this exactly backwards. To defend my position, I am under no obligation to demonstrate that crude between group comparisons are explained by coincidence rather than indicators of small variations in genetic differences that must be related to small variations in cognitive ability. I am arguing that this is highly unlikely and that any observed variations between crudely categorized groups are likely due to variation in the environment or simply noise in the measure itself relative to the crudeness of the construct.
It is you who is making this absurd claim that racial genetics must be causally related to cognitive ability given the observed variation and thus it is you who must show that the same small variations in genetic material that are related to differences in race are also the same variation in genetic material that is causally related to variation in the crude concept of cognitive ability. Otherwise, what we are observing is very likely spurious and more likely related to the noise in the measurement generated by a plethora of unmeasured causal variables that don’t happen to balance out in a Gaussian fashion.
I think it is absurd because I cannot imagine any precisely measured variation in genetics would be predictive of fine variations in such a crude construct after all of the relevant environmental variants were causally accounted for.
“absurd claim that racial genetics must be causally related to cognitive ability given the observed variation and thus it is you who must show that the same small variations in genetic material that are related to differences in race are also the same variation in genetic material that is causally related to variation in the crude concept of cognitive ability”
I never made such a claim. For all I know it’s a combination of cultural heritage and genetic factors. You, however are committing yourself to a much more difficult to ascertain and extremely vague claim : you attempt explain well-known differences in cognitive ability that extends far beyond United States using slight variation of mysterious “oppression” , a magical quantity that somehow has devastating effects on Blacks, but not on Chinese or Koreans. Good luck with that. May be begin with actually formulating your explanans in falsifiable terms.
Consider this: genocide is “oppression”, if anything is. If you were to murder every Black person with IQ below 110 or income below 100k, you would increase the “oppression”, but improved group’s outcomes. “Oppression” and “group success” interact in counterintuitive ways.
My broader point is that we don’t know enough about what makes groups perform better in some areas and fail in others to confidently blame other groups for their plight.
Concerning what can correlate with “race”, here is David Reich in recent NYT article on “how same small variations in genetic material that are related to differences in race are also the same variation in genetic material that is causally related to variation in the crude concept” of kidney disease. Ask him why he is making “absurd” claims like that:
” Recent genetic studies have demonstrated differences across populations not just in the genetic determinants of simple traits such as skin color, but also in more complex traits like bodily dimensions and susceptibility to diseases. For example, we now know that genetic factors help explain why northern Europeans are taller on average than southern Europeans, why multiple sclerosis is more common in European-Americans than in African-Americans, and why the reverse is true for end-stage kidney disease”
You wrote, “You’d need to believe that it is a coincidence that out of all former Western colonies, majority black ones are doing the worst, both in terms of homicide rates and in terms of cognitive skills.”
Implicit in your statement is the idea that race in some way causes the homicide rates and the cognitive skills. I am arguing that the confounds in this data are so great as to be very difficult to disentangle causality and certainly the measures being used on both the predictor side — racial variation across countries — is every bit as crude as the measures on the outcome side — cognitive performance. I am further arguing that such data, even if demonstrative of group differences would not be evidence for causal differences based on race.
Contrary to your claim, we do know the effects oppression has on people. Pathological levels of anxiety and depression can be easily induced in animals and in humans. We know that prolonged effects can be passed between generations. We know the effects of combat on participants. We know the effects of abuse on victims.
David Reich’s article was on solid ground until this substantial over-inference that took it off the rails: This study has been joined by others finding genetic predictors of behavior. One of these, led by the geneticist Danielle Posthuma, studied more than 70,000 people and found genetic variations in more than 20 genes that were predictive of performance on intelligence tests.
“Is performance on an intelligence test or the number of years of school a person attends shaped by the way a person is brought up? Of course. But does it measure something having to do with some aspect of behavior or cognition? Almost certainly. And since all traits influenced by genetics are expected to differ across populations (because the frequencies of genetic variations are rarely exactly the same across populations), the genetic influences on behavior and cognition will differ across populations, too.”
This “and since” cognition is influenced by genetics there will be differences across populations is a bridge to far given the data. He references an article by Danielle Posthuma, who is far more careful with her claims about her own research:
It’s important to note that Posthuma’s study was only on people of European ancestry. “Whatever we find for Europeans doesn’t necessarily [extrapolate] for Asians or South Americans, [or any other group]” she says. “Those things are often misused.”
And though she is careful in her statements about group differences, in an article by Brian Resnick at Vox (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/6/6/15739590/genome-wide-studies) she does make a statement about IQ and IQ tests that suggests a belief that they are far more precise measures of cognitive abilities than they could possibly be: “If you have the bad variant of one gene for IQ, maybe your IQ score … is 0.001 percent lower than it would have been,”
If we think about the error of measures of IQ, this is like saying that a genetic variant will result in eating 0.001 percent more cookies over your lifetime. It is an essentially meaningless statement. It is this assumption that IQ tests measure something precise, when what we know is that they measure the result of an IQ test (Van der Maas, H.L.J., Kan, K. -J., & Borsboom, D. (2014). Intelligence is what the intelligence test measures. Seriously. Journal of Intelligence, 2, 12–15.) that creates much misunderstanding and even much incomprehensible research resting on flimsy assumptions about crude constructs and crude measures.
Simply because there is genetic variation based on where one’s ancestors came from does mean it makes sense to use crude signals for such variation, such as skin color, to argue for racial differences in a test that measures what the test measures. You seem not to like my use of the word absurd, but I find this logic to be utterly absurd.
We know humans learn. All humans learn except those born with true genetic abnormalities. Teasing apart the true causes of this variation in such learning by correlating them with genetic variants without attempting to control for the plethora of causal pathways that may confound any observed group level differences is irresponsible.
>They’re so used to being able to exert their hatred and misconceptions, that they see the past century’s VERY MODEST progress as oppression against conservative views.
Yes, I’ve heard this charge before. I don’t see how you could seriously argue that.
It is an established fact that the social sciences are overwhelmingly dominated by the progressive left. Specifically, the field of gender studies has had an unchallenged monopoly for the last half century, and has spent it on woman-centric, feminist theory. This goes hand in hand with feminist political action, which has consistently sought rights for women and hindered attempts to redress imbalances in the other direction. This is coupled with a press that uncritically repeats their theories and eagerly goes on the offensive, as was demonstrated in the case of “misogynist brogrammer” James Damore, pilloried merely for a good faith attempt at dialogue. Dialogue in response to officially sanctioned diversity workshops at one of the biggest, most influential internet companies in the world.
It is also established that intersectional dogmas such as “racism = privilege + power” are being taught to students as if they were the sociological consensus, which argues that you cannot be racist against white people, or sexist against men. It is also an established fact that millions are being spent on diversity issues, at least some of which is funneled towards diversity consultants who present concepts like implicit bias and stereotype threat as scientific truth despite its shoddy foundations.
In today’s culture of victimhood, everyone wants to be the biggest victim, because that gives one social power. Your hyperbole that people are being raped and murdered for daring to exist is a clear example… and echoes the rather bizarre obsession the intersectional left has with confusing anything but complete and unconditional social validation with a denial of their human rights.
It is also preposterous to think there is nothing wrong with suppression of papers, with the boycotting of lectures, or the smearing of individuals in open collaboration with the “woke” press, and that anything short of blood on the streets means that people have no legitimate beef. Character assassination can be as harmful and irreversible as the physical variant, the only difference is that it comes with more plausible deniability.
The simple fact of the matter is, if women and racial minorities were treated the way white men are currently treated, the intersectional left would scream bloody murder. The hysterical rants of spoiled college students have been documented numerous times, and reek of exactly the kind of privilege they claim to lack. One of the most obvious things to realize is that if your grievances can attract uncritical national coverage and sympathy overnight, you are not lacking in privilege. It is the people you don’t hear from whom you should really be concerned about.
Privilege theory isn’t wrong, not at all. It simply being applied incorrectly most of the time, by people entirely blind to their own. You cannot possibly argue that one’s life is an accumulation of a complex set of interacting factors, and then conclude therefor that all women or all racial minorities are oppressed. Instead you should realize that you’re using an argument of complexity to justify a ridiculously reductionist view.
1) Your sentiment that “It should be possible to have a legitimate difference of opinion regarding the value of that paper, without making someone into the bad guy” is wonderful, and mostly lacking elsewhere. Thanks for this. Your response to D Kane that the “attacks don’t retroactively justify all of Cuddy’s earlier actions, but they do cast new light to me on the consequences of my own actions” is equally enheartening.
2) A refrain in your comments is that “Wilkinson suggested the journal publish a rebuttal, the journal editor instead decided to remove the paper.” From what I can tell, the evidence that she made no suggestion of removal is almost exclusively Wilkinson’s self-description. Even if this is the email that Wilkinson intended to write, perhaps the wording didn’t make it clear that she was not suggesting removal? Is it fair to wonder why Wilkinson has not offered that email if it’s as exonerating as she describes?
3) Did you happen to notice that you are explicitly mentioned in the newly released email from Lee Wilkinson as a suggested author of a rebuttal to accompany the article: “And if you do decide to go with the article plus commentaries, I would suggest that you consult with people like Donald Rubin at Harvard or John Hartigan at Yale (emeritus) or Steven Sigler at Chicago or Andrew Gelman at Columbia, all of whom have far more experience with the statistical and mathematical issues underlying this hypothesis than Hill and Tabachnik[ov].”
I have no reason to believe that Wilkinson’s description of the email she sent is inaccurate. You ask why she has not offered that email. I don’t know, but it could well be that all the attacks on her (some very rude and sexist attacks in the Quillette comment section, and much worse elsewhere on the internet) have made her decide that the best thing now is to just not feed the flames, and wait for this all to diminish.
Yes, I do realize that Lee mentioned me in that email. I had no idea about this at the time; I only learned about all of this recently as the consequence of Hill’s post and the subsequent discussions.
Courtesy of a link by a poster on Quillette’s article on Hill’s paper [harland0,
September 8, 2018] I came across this fascinating paper:
CONCLUSION In summary, over two studies, utilizing two independent samples of adult twins, we demonstrated that concerns for norm maintenance—as reflected in right-wing authoritarianism and traditionalism—and in-group favoritism showed a largely overlapping genetic basis. An element of these shared genetic effects on norm concerns and favoritism was, in turn, common with the heritable bases of Openness.
If I understand this correctly, the Right overwhelmingly exhibits a heritable personality trait, Openness, surely crucial to all science and exploration. Then it’s not surprising the Left so strenuously supports censorship, and is so opposed to free speech. As biology is not my field I would greatly appreciate it if someone could confirm.
If I’m understanding this correctly, their reference to Openness in the sentence you quote means what they elsewhere refer to as (low) Openness. For example:
“The significant association between (low) Openness and both RWA and in-group favoritism supports previous work (Ekehammar & Akrami, 2007; Sibley & Duckitt, 2008).”
“At a phenotypic level, the results were similar to those reported by Sibley and Duckitt (2008), with significant links from both RWA and favoritism to (low) Openness.”
“Ekehammar and Akrami (2007) observed significant negative associations from facets of Openness and Agreeableness to
in-group favoritism, and Duckitt and Sibley (2010) note that ‘RWA seems to be determined by the socialized belief that the
social world is a dangerous and threatening place, and by the personality construct of social conformity (or Big Five low
Openness and high Conscientiousness)'”
I wouldn’t have said it was overwhelming, but the paper seems to be saying that the Right tends to exhibit low Openness.
This was quite the saga, and I appreciated this write-up of it for it’s attempt to be entirely factual without throwing around all kinds of speculation.
I wanted to add a comment in regard to “censorship”, as this gets thrown around far too much in comments sections like these. Journals have every right to protect their reputation, even if it is protection from their own editorial board. The behaviour of Rivin was entirely inappropriate and the paper should never have been published there without proper review. That said, it is inappropriate to “disappear” an article, so I believe the journal should have retracted it formally with a statement that the retraction should not reflect in any way on the paper itself but it was included outside of the appropriate publication practices and therefore should not have appeared in the issue. This would be the most open and honest way to deal with it.
In the case of the first publication, this is less clear. I think it is within their right to rescind acceptance to protect their reputation, but that doesn’t mean I think it was handled appropriately at all. In both cases though, the unwillingness to provide a platform for publication is in no way “censorship”. I think, if all parties — primarily authors and editors — acted in good faith, a version of this article would have appeared somewhere in print without too much of a fuss. Sadly nobody did act in good faith though.
And finally, it is disgusting that people are piling torrents of abuse on the person who raised concerns. It is up to the journals to determine whether or not the concerns are merited, and it is within anyone’s right to raise concerns with a publication.
I’ve written a long essay on the Hill affair, with lots of links and footnotes. Corrections welcomed. See
–Eric Rasmusen, economist, Indiana University
A suggestion: have a separate blog post where key people in this comment section submit a summary of their positions. It would also be nice to to invite a submission from Pinker.
This thread is pretty much unreadable now.
Think of it as a the submission of closing arguments. It would be very clarifying, and some might find it cathartic. Or maybe everyone is thoroughly sick of the whole thing.
Good idea. I’d like to see the various points addressed systematically. If Professors Amie and Leland Wilkinson, Farb, and Senechal would participate, that would be even better (in fact, even *just* them, who know the situation better, rather than Prof. Gelman, Gowers, and Tao having to try to defend them with much less info in hand).