Education, Free Speech, Neurodiversity, Social Science

The Neurodiversity Case for Free Speech

Editor’s note: this article was updated on August 6th 2017, to better reflect current terminology relating to neurodiversity.

Imagine a young Isaac Newton time-travelling from 1670s England to teach Harvard undergrads in 2017. After the time-jump, Newton still has an obsessive, paranoid personality, with Asperger’s syndrome, a bad stutter, unstable moods, and episodes of psychotic mania and depression. But now he’s subject to Harvard’s speech codes that prohibit any “disrespect for the dignity of others”; any violations will get him in trouble with Harvard’s Inquisition (the ‘Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’). Newton also wants to publish Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to explain the laws of motion governing the universe. But his literary agent explains that he can’t get a decent book deal until Newton builds his ‘author platform’ to include at least 20k Twitter followers – without provoking any backlash for airing his eccentric views on ancient Greek alchemy, Biblical cryptography, fiat currency, Jewish mysticism, or how to predict the exact date of the Apocalypse.

Newton wouldn’t last long as a ‘public intellectual’ in modern American culture. Sooner or later, he would say ‘offensive’ things that get reported to Harvard and that get picked up by mainstream media as moral-outrage clickbait. His eccentric, ornery awkwardness would lead to swift expulsion from academia, social media, and publishing. Result? On the upside, he’d drive some traffic through HuffpostBuzzfeed, and Jezebel, and people would have a fresh controversy to virtue-signal about on Facebook. On the downside, we wouldn’t have Newton’s Laws of Motion.

Let’s take a step back from this alt-history nightmare and consider the general problem of ‘neurodiversity’ and free speech. In this article, I’ll explore the science of neurodiversity, and how campus speech codes and restrictive speech norms impose impossible expectations on the social sensitivity, cultural awareness, verbal precision, and self-control of many neurodivergent people.

I’ll focus on how campus speech codes impose discriminatory chilling effects on academic neurodiversity, partly because I’m a nerdy academic who loathes speech codes. But it’s not just personal. Ever since the Middle Ages, universities have nurtured people with unusual brains and minds. Historically, academia was a haven for neurodiversity of all sorts. Eccentrics have been hanging out in Cambridge since 1209 and in Harvard since 1636. For centuries, these eccentricity-havens have been our time-traveling bridges from the ancient history of Western civilization to the far future of science, technology, and moral progress. Now thousands of our havens are under threat, and that’s sad and wrong, and we need to fix it.

This article is a bit long, because the argument is new (as far as I know), and it requires a bit of background. But I hope you’ll stick with me, because I think the issue is neglected and important. (A note on terminology: universities are commonly assumed to be ‘neurohomogenous’, where everyone is ‘neurotypical’, but in fact they are ‘neurodiverse’ and include many ‘neurodivergent’ people, who cluster into ‘neurominorities’ sharing certain conditions, and who may become ‘Neurodiversity Movement’ activists to advocate for their rights. People with Asperger’s syndrome sometimes call themselves ‘aspies’. The ‘neurodiversity’ term came originally from the Autism Rights Movement, but now includes many variations in brain function apart from the autism spectrum.)

From eccentricity to neurodiversity

Censorship kills creativity, truth, and progress in obvious ways. Without the free exchange of ideas, people can’t share risky new ideas (creativity), test them against other people’s logic and facts (truth), or compile them into civilizational advances (progress). But censorship also kills rational culture in a less obvious way: it silences the eccentric. It discriminates against neurominorities. It imposes a chilling effect on unusual brains that house unusual minds. It marginalizes people who may have great ideas, but who also happen to have mental disorders, personality quirks, eccentric beliefs, or unusual communication styles that make it hard for them to understand and follow the current speech norms that govern what is ‘acceptable’. Harvard’s speech codes and Twitter’s trolls may not prohibit anything in Principiaitself, but they drive away the kinds of eccentric people who write such books because of all the other ‘offensive’ things they sometimes do and say.

Eccentricity is a precious resource, easily wasted. In his book On Liberty (1859): John Stuart Mill warned that ‘the tyranny of the majority’ tends to marginalize the insights of the eccentric:

The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time. (Chapter 3, paragraph 13).

Nowadays, the tyranny of the neurotypical oppressing the neurodivergent may be the chief danger of our time.

The neurotypicality assumption behind speech codes

Campus speech codes may have been well-intentioned at first. They tried to make universities more welcoming to racial and sexual minorities by forcing everyone to speak as inoffensively as possible. But a side-effect of trying to increase demographic diversity was to reduce neurodiversity, by stigmatizing anyone whose brain can’t color inside the lines of ‘appropriate speech’. The more ‘respectful’ campuses became to the neurotypical, the more alienating they became to the neurodivergent.

Here’s the problem. America’s informal ‘speech norms’, which govern what we’re allowed to say and what we’re not, were created and imposed by ‘normal’ brains, for ‘normal’ brains to obey and enforce. Formal speech codes at American universities were also written by and for the ‘neurotypical’. They assume that everyone on campus is equally capable, 100% of the time, of:

  • Using their verbal intelligence and cultural background to understand speech codes that are intentionally vague, over-broad, and euphemistic, to discern who’s actually allowed to say what, in which contexts, using which words;
  • Understand what’s inside the current Overton windowof ‘acceptable ideas’, including the current social norms about what is ‘respectful’ versus what is ‘offensive’, ‘inappropriate’, ‘sexist’, ‘racist’, ‘Islamophobic’, or ‘transphobic’;
  • Use ‘Theory of Mind’ to predict with 100% accuracy which speech acts might be offensive to someone of a different sex, age, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, or political outlook;
  • Inhibit ‘inappropriate’ speech with 100% reliability in all social contexts that might be reported or recorded by others;
  • Predict with 100% accuracy what’s likely to trigger outrage by peers, student activists, social media, or mainstream media – any of which might create ‘adverse publicity’ for the university and a speech code inquisition, without due process or right of appeal, for the speaker.

Speech codes assume a false model of human nature – that everyone has the same kind of brain that yields a narrow, ‘normal’ set of personality traits, cognitive and verbal abilities, moral temperaments, communication styles, and capacities for self-inhibition. This neurotypicality assumption is scientifically wrong, because different people inherit different sets of genes that influence how their brains grow and function, and every mental trait shows substantial heritability. These heritable mental traits run deep: they are stable across adolescence and adulthood, and they span everything from social intelligence to political attitudes. They also predict many aspects of human communication – probably including the ability to understand and follow formal speech codes and informal speech norms. The neurodivergent are often just ‘born that way’.

Why speech codes stigmatize the most creative thinkers

When universities impose speech codes, they impose impossible behavioral standards on people who aren’t neurotypical, such as those with Asperger’s, bipolar, Tourette’s, or dozens of other personality quirks or mental ‘disorders’. Historically, neurodiversity was stigmatized with extreme prejudice, but recently the Autism Rights Movement, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, and other advocacy groups have fought for more acceptance. Neurodiversity is even celebrated in recent books such as Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin (on Asperger’s syndrome), A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar (on schizophrenia), The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton (on Dark Triad traits), and Quiet by Susan Cain (on introversion).

Most of the real geniuses I’ve known are not neurotypical. Especially in evolutionary game theory. They would have a lot of trouble comprehending or following typical university speech codes. I suspect this would have been true for most of the brilliant thinkers who built civilization over the last several millennia. Consider just a few geniuses who seem, given biographical records, to have been on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum: Béla Bartók, Jeremy Bentham, Lewis Carroll, Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Sir Ronald Fisher, Sir Francis Galton, Glenn Gould, Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock, Alfred Kinsey, Stanley Kubrick, Barbara McClintock, Gregor Mendel, Bertrand Russell, Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, Alan Turing, H. G. Wells, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. (Aspies like me enjoy making lists; also see this resource.) Moreover, the world’s richest tech billionaires often show some Asperger-like traits: think Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Peter Thiel, and Mark Zuckerberg. And in movies and TV, outspoken, insensitive aspies are no longer just ‘mad scientist’ side-kicks, but heroic protagonists such as Tony Stark, Sherlock Holmes, Gregory House, Lisbeth Salander, and Dr. Strange.

On the upside, the civilizational contributions from the neurodivergent have been formidable – and often decisive in science and technology. On the downside, Asberger’s traits seem common among academics who have suffered the worst public outrages against things they’ve said and done, that weren’t intended to be offensive at all.

The varieties of neurodiversity

Restrictive speech norms are a problem for people on the autism spectrum, which includes about 1% of the general public, but which is a much higher proportion of academics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM fields) – like Sheldon Cooper, a Caltech physicist on the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Apart from the autism spectrum, a much larger proportion of students, staff, and faculty at any university have other neurological disorders, mental illnesses, or personality quirks that make it hard to avoid ‘offensive’ speech all of the time – even if they’re ‘high functioning’ and have no trouble doing their academic work. For example, speech codes make no allowance for these conditions:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) (3%) imposes high impulsivity and a tendency to blurt out inappropriate comments;
  • Tourette syndrome(1%) can include irresistible compulsions to say obscene or derogatory things;
  • Social (pragmatic) communication disorder(a newly recognized disorder, prevalence unknown) impairs abilities to use language ‘appropriately’, to match communication styles to different contexts and listeners, and to read between the lines given subtle or ambiguous language;
  • PTSD(8% prevalence) increases sensitivity to reminders of past trauma (‘triggers’), which can provoke reactive anger, verbal aggression, and offensive speech;
  • Bipolar disorder(4%) can trigger manic phases in which beliefs become more eccentric, and speech and sexual behavior become less inhibited;
  • Schizophreniaspectrum disorders (5% prevalence) often lead to unusual communication styles, social awkwardness, and eccentric views that fall outside the Overton window;
  • Paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal (‘Cluster A’) personality disorders (4% prevalence) involve social awkwardness, eccentric behaviors, and odd speech patterns, which can come across as insensitive or offensive;
  • Histrionic, narcissistic, borderline, and antisocial (‘Cluster B’) personality disorders (2% prevalence) involve impulsivity, attention-seeking, emotional instability and/or lack of empathy, which result in speech and behavior that often violates social norms.

Some of the prevalence estimates are imprecise, and many people have more than one of these disorders. But together, mental disorders like these affect at least 20% of students, staff, and faculty. That’s higher than the percentage of American college students who are Hispanic (17%), Black (14%), LGBTQ+ (7%), or undocumented immigrants (5%). And for many of these mental disorders, symptom severity peaks at the ages of typical college students: universities are demanding that the neurodivergent inhibit their speech most carefully when they are least able to do so.

Apart from diagnosable mental disorders such as Asperger’s, a substantial minority of people on any campus are on the extremes of the Big Five personality traits, which all have implications for speech code behavior. Low Conscientiousness predicts impulsive, reckless, or short-sighted speech and behavior – i.e. being more likely to violate speech codes. Low Agreeableness predicts being ornery, offensive, and disagreeable – i.e. violating speech codes. High Openness predicts adopting unusual beliefs and eccentric behaviors – i.e. violating speech codes. High Extraversion predicts being hyper-social, hyper-sexual, and hyper-verbal – i.e. especially violating codes about sexual behavior and speech. Since the Big Five traits all show substantial heritability, any speech code that can’t realistically be followed by people who score at an extreme on these Big Five traits, is basically punishing them for the genes they happened to inherit.

Beyond mental disorders and personality quirks, many people on campuses at any given time are in states of ‘transient neurodiversity’ – altered psychological states due to low blood sugar, life stressors, medication side-effects, or ‘smart drugs’ such as caffeine, Ritalin, Adderall, or Modafinil. Also, sleep disorders affect over 20% of people, and the resulting sleep deprivation reduces inhibition. These kinds of transient neurodiversity can also interfere with social sensitivity, Theory of Mind, and verbal inhibition, so can reduce the ability to comply with speech codes. Unless universities want to outlaw fatigue, hunger, heartbreak, meds and coffee it’s hard to maintain the delusion that everyone’s speech will be 100% inoffensive 100% of the time.

How neurodiversity makes it hard to understand speech codes

Since speech codes are written by the neurotypical for the neurotypical, the neurodivergent often find them literally incomprehensible, and it’s impossible to follow a rule that doesn’t make sense. For example, a typical set of ‘respectful campus’, ‘sexual misconduct’, and ‘anti-harassment’ policies prohibits:

  • ‘unwelcome verbal behavior’
  • ‘unwelcome jokes about a protected characteristic’
  • ‘hate or bias acts that violate our sense of community’
  • ‘sexist comments’
  • ‘degrading pictorial material’
  • ‘displaying objectionable objects’
  • ‘negative posters about a protected characteristic’

These quotes are from my university’s recent policies, but they’re pretty standard. I don’t understand what any of these phrases actually allow or prohibit, and I worked on free speech issues in our Faculty Senate for two years, and in our Sexual Misconduct Policy Committee for one year, so I’ve puzzled over them for some time.

Lacking good Theory of Mind, how could a person with Asperger’s anticipate which speech acts would be ‘unwelcome’ to a stranger, or might be considered ‘sexist’ or ‘sexually suggestive’? Lacking a good understanding of social norms, how could they anticipate what counts as a ‘hate act that violates our sense of community’, or what counts as an ‘objectionable object’? Lacking a good understanding of current civil rights legalese, how could any 18-year-old Freshman – neurotypical or not – understand what a ‘protected characteristic’ is?

The language of campus speech codes is designed to give the illusion of precision, while remaining so vague that they can be enforced however administrators want to enforce them, whenever personal complaints, student protests, lawsuits, or adverse publicity make it expedient to punish someone for being ‘offensive’. So, students, staff, and faculty are expected to be able to ‘read between the lines’ of speech codes to understand what is actually forbidden versus what is actually permitted.

But people differ in their ability to understand spoken and written language, including the dry intricacies of administrative policies, the ever-changing euphemisms of PC culture, and the double standards of Leftist identity politics. Deciphering speech codes requires high levels of verbal, social, and emotional intelligence to discern the real meaning behind vague euphemisms and social justice shibboleths, and the neurodivergent may not have the kinds of brains that can make those kinds of inferences.

Speech codes are also intentionally vague so that anyone who’s upset by someone else’s speech can make a complaint, with the subjective feelings of the listener as the arbiter of whether an offense has occurred. In most campus speech codes, there is no ‘reasonable person’ standard for what speech counts as offensive. This means that even if an aspie or schizotypal person develops an accurate mental model of how an average person would respond to a possible speech act, they can’t rely on that. They’re expected to make their speech inoffensive to the most sensitive person they might ever encounter on campus. The result is the ‘coddling culture’ in which administrators prioritize the alleged vulnerabilities of listeners over the communication rights of speakers. In fact, the only lip service given to neurodiversity in campus speech codes is in the (false) assumption that ‘trigger warnings’ and prohibitions against ‘microaggressions’ will be useful in protecting listeners with PTSD or high neuroticism. Administrators assume that the most vulnerable ‘snowflakes’ are always listeners, and never speakers. They even fail to understand that when someone with PTSD is ‘triggered’ by a situation, they might say something in response that someone else finds ‘offensive’.

Systematizing versus empathizing

Autism spectrum disorders are central to the tension between campus censorship and neurodiversity. This is because there’s a trade-off between ‘systematizing’ and ‘empathizing’. Systematizing is the drive to construct and analyze abstract systems of rules, evidence, and procedures; it’s stronger in males, in people with autism/Asperger’s, and in STEM fields. Empathizing is the ability to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings, and to respond with ‘appropriate’ emotions and speech acts; it’s stronger in females, in people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders, and in the arts and humanities. Conservative satirists often mock ‘social justice warriors’ for their ‘autistic screeching’, but Leftist student protesters are more likely to be high empathizers from the arts, humanities, and social sciences, than high systematizers from the hard sciences or engineering.

Consider the Empathy Quotient (EQ) scale, developed by autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen to measure empathizing versus systematizing. Positively-scored items that predict higher empathy include:

  • ‘I am good at predicting how someone will feel.’
  • ‘I find it easy to put myself in somebody else’s shoes.’
  • ‘I can tune into how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively.’
  • ‘I can usually appreciate the other person’s viewpoint, even if I don’t agree with it.’
  • Negatively-scored items that predict lower empathy include:
  • ‘I often find it difficult to judge if something is rude or polite.’
  • ‘It is hard for me to see why some things upset people so much.’
  • ‘I can’t always see why someone should have felt offended by a remark.’
  • ‘Other people often say that I am insensitive, though I don’t always see why.’

Reading these items, it seems like a higher EQ score would strongly predict ability to follow campus speech codes that prohibit causing offense to others. People on the autism spectrum, such as those with Asperger’s, score much lower on the EQ scale. (Full disclosure: I score 14 out of 80.) Thus, aspies simply don’t have brains that can anticipate what might be considered offensive, disrespectful, unwanted, or outrageous by others – regardless of what campus speech codes expect of us. From a high systematizer’s perspective, most ‘respectful campus’ speech codes are basically demands that they should turn into a high empathizer through sheer force of will. Men also score lower on the EQ scale than women, and Asperger’s is 11 times more common in men, so speech codes also impose ‘disparate impact’ on males, a form of sex discrimination that is illegal under federal law.

The ways that speech codes discriminate against systematizers is exacerbated by their vagueness, overbreadth, unsystematic structure, double standards, and logical inconsistencies – which drive systematizers nuts. For example, most speech codes prohibit any insults based on a person’s sex, race, religion, or political attitudes. But aspie students often notice that these codes are applied very selectively: it’s OK to insult ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘patriarchy’, but not to question the ‘wage gap’ or ‘rape culture’; it’s OK to insult ‘white privilege’ and the ‘Alt-Right’ but not affirmative action or ‘Black Lives Matter’; it’s OK to insult pro-life Catholics but not pro-sharia Muslims. The concept of ‘unwelcome’ jokes or ‘unwelcome’ sexual comments seems like a time-travel paradox to aspies – how can you judge what speech act is ‘unwelcome’ until after you get the feedback about whether it was welcome?

Even worse, most campus speech codes are associated with social justice theories of gender feminism, critical race theory, and social constructivism, which reject the best-established scientific findings about sex differences, race differences, and behavior genetics. Requiring aspies to buy into speech codes based on blatant falsehoods violates our deepest systematizer values of logic, rationality, and realism. For an example of a systematizer’s exasperation about unprincipled speech codes, see this letter by a Cornell student with high-functioning autism.

To test my intuitions about these issues, I ran an informal poll of my Twitter followers, asking ‘Which condition would make it hardest to follow a college speech code that prohibits all ‘offensive’ or ‘disrespectful’ statements?’. There were 655 votes across four response options: 54% for ‘Asperger’s’, 19% for ‘Schizophrenia’, 14% for ‘Bipolar’, and 13% for ‘ADHD’. The results of this one-item survey, from a small sample of my eccentric followers, should not be taken seriously as any kind of scientific research. They simply show I’m not the only person who thinks that Asperger’s would make it hard to follow campus speech codes.

In fact, to many STEM students and faculty, empathizers seem to have forged campus speech codes into weapons for aspie-shaming. In a world where nerds like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are the most powerful innovators, speech codes seem like the revenge of the anti-nerds.

How speech codes impose disparate impact on neurominorities

When a policy is formally neutral, but it adversely affects one legally protected group of people more than other people, that’s called ‘disparate impact’, and it’s illegal. People with diagnosed mental disorders qualify as ‘disabled’ people under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal laws, so any speech code at a public university that imposes disparate impact on neurominorities is illegal.

What is the disparate impact here? Given restrictive speech codes and speech norms, neurodivergent people know that at any time, they might say something ‘offensive’ that could lead to expulsion, firing, or denial of tenure. They live in fear. They feel a chilling effect on their speech and behavior. They learn to self-censor.

Consider how speech codes can feel wretchedly discriminatory to neurominorities:

  • Imagine you’re a grad student in the social sciences and you hear about peers getting into trouble making off-the-cuff remarks when teaching controversial classes, such as Human Sexuality, American History, or Social Psychology. You are deterred from teaching, and drift away into private industry.
  • Imagine you are a man with Asperger’s syndromedoing a science Ph.D. and you see social justice activists destroying nerdy male scientists for their non-PC views, trivial mistakes, or fictional offenses, as in the cases of Matt Tayloror Tim Hunt. You realize you’ll probably make some similar misjudgment sooner or later if you stay in academia, so you leave for a Bay Area tech start-up that’s more forgiving of social gaffes.
  • Imagine you’re an anthropology professor with Asperger’s, so you can’t anticipate whether people will find your jokes hilarious or offensive until you tell them. But you get better student course evaluations when you try to be funny. Now your university imposes a new speech code that says, basically, ‘Don’t say anything that people might find offensive’. You need good course evaluations for promotion and tenure, but your brain can’t anticipate your students’ reactions to your quirky sense of humor.
  • Imagine you’re an undergrad, but you have bipolar disorder, so sometimes you get into manic states, when you become more outspoken in classes about your non-PC views on sexual politics.
  • Imagine you’re a university system administrator with Tourette syndrome, so that sometimes in meetings with other IT staff, you can’t help but blurt out words that some consider racially or sexually offensive.

In response to these chilling effects, neurodivergent academics may withdraw from the social and intellectual life of the university. They may avoid lab group meetings, post-colloquium dinners, faculty parties, and conferences, where any tipsy comment, if overheard by anyone with a propensity for moralistic outrage, could threaten their reputation and career. I’ve seen this social withdrawal happen more and more over the last couple of decades. Nerdy, eccentric, and awkward academics who would have been outspoken, hilarious, and joyful in the 1980s are now cautious, somber, and frightened.

This withdrawal from the university’s ‘life of the mind’ is especially heart-breaking to the neurodivergent, who often can’t stand small talk, and whose only real social connections come through vigorous debate about dangerous ideas with their intellectual equals. Speech codes don’t just censor their words; they also decimate their relationships, collaborations, and social networks. Chilling effects on speech can turn an aspie’s social life into a frozen wasteland. The resulting alienation can exacerbate many mental disorders, leading to a downward spiral of self-censorship, loneliness, despair, and failure. Consider political science professor Will Moore: he had high-functioning autism, and was so tired of accidentally offending colleagues that he killed himself this April; his suicide note is here. If being driven to suicide isn’t disparate impact, what is?

There’s an analogy here between neurodiversity and ideological diversity. Campus speech codes have marginalized both over the last couple of decades. American universities are now dominated by progressive Leftistsregistered Democrats, and social justice activists. They are hostile and discriminatory against students, staff, and faculty who are centrist, libertarian, conservative and/or religious. There are real career costs to holding certain political views in academia – even if those views are shared by most Americans. This problem of ideological diversity is already being addressed by great organizations such as the Heterodox Academy and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, by online magazines such as Quillette, and by free speech advocates such as Alice Dreger, Jonathan Haidt, Sam Harris, Laura Kipnis, Scott Lilienfeld, Greg Lukianoff, Camille Paglia, Jordan Peterson, Steven Pinker, and Bret Weinstein. By contrast, the neurodiversity problem has not been discussed much, although it might be easier to solve through anti-discrimination lawsuits. In principle, speech codes discriminating against certain ideologies is a form of disparate impact, but at the moment, being a Republican or a Neoreactionary is not a ‘protected class’ under federal anti-discrimination law, whereas having a disability such as a mental disorder is.

Conclusion: What to do about neurodiversity and free speech

Campus speech codes discriminate against neurominorities. They impose unrealistic demands, fears, and stigma on the large proportion of students, staff, and faculty who have common mental disorders, or extremes on the Big Five personality traits, or transient disinhibition due to sleep deprivation or smart drugs. As a practical matter, it is virtually impossible for someone with Asperger’s, bipolar, ADHD, low Agreeableness, low Conscientiousness, extreme fatigue, or Modafinil mania to understand what kinds of speech acts are considered acceptable, and to inhibit the production of such speech 100% of the time, in 100% of educational and social situations.

In a future article, I’ll outline a legal strategy to use the ADA to eliminate campus speech codes that discriminate against neurominorities.

For the moment, just consider this: every campus speech code and restrictive speech norm is a Sword of Damocles dangling above the head of every academic whose brain works a little differently. We feel the sharpness and the weight every day. After every class, meeting, blog, and tweet, we brace for the moral outrage, public shaming, witch hunts, and inquisitions that seem to hit our colleagues so unpredictably and unfairly. Like visitors from a past century or a foreign culture, we don’t understand which concepts are admissible in your Overton window, or which words are acceptable to your ears. We don’t understand your verbal and moral taboos. We can’t make sense of your double standards and logical inconsistencies. We don’t respect your assumption that empathizing should always take precedence over systematizing. Yet we know you have the power to hurt us for things we can’t help. So, we suffer relentless anxiety about our words, our thoughts, our social relationships, our reputations, and our careers.

That era is over. Neurodiversity is finding its voice and its confidence. People with mental disorders and eccentric personalities have rights too, and we will not be intimidated by your stigma and shaming. We will demand our rights under the ADA through the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, and in federal district courts. We will educate administrators about the discriminatory side-effects of their bad policies. We will shatter your Swords of Damocles and raise our freak flags to fly over campuses around the world.

For centuries, academia has been a haven for neurodiversity – a true ‘safe space’ for eccentric thought and language, for thinking the unthinkable and saying the unsayable. We will make it that haven again, and there is nothing that university administrators can do to stop us. Everything is on our side: behavioral science, intellectual history, federal law, public opinion, and liberal academia’s own most sacred values of diversity and inclusivity. Neurodiversity is here to stay, and we will not be silenced any longer.

If the neurodivergent stand up for our free speech rights, campus speech codes will go extinct very quickly. In the future, they will be considered a weird historical curiosity of runaway virtue-signaling in early 21st-century American academia. The freedom to think eccentric thoughts and say eccentric things must be protected again. The freedom to be eccentric must be restored. Newton must be welcomed back to academia.


Further resources: at U.S. Department of Justice
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Autism Research Centre
Autism Research Institute
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Heterodox Academy
National Alliance for Mental Illness

Acknowledgements: For helpful feedback on earlier drafts, thanks to Jean Carroll, Diana Fleischman, Jonathan Haidt, Claire Lehmann, Greg Lukianoff, and many fine people on Twitter.


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  1. b19690103 says

    “we don’t understand which concepts are admissible in your Overton window, or which words are acceptable to your ears. We don’t understand your verbal and moral taboos.”

    They don’t either, which is why they get in trouble with each other regularly. (Think of the recent Hypatia blowout as an example of this.)

  2. DiscoveredJoys says

    I notice that at least half a dozen of the named geniuses also appear on lists of celebrities who are thought to classify as INTP under the Myers-Briggs typology. If personality types (Big 5, Myers-Briggs, Keirsey, whatever) are eventually confirmed to have common hormonal or biochemical foundation then it’s not just ‘neurodiversity’ that is discriminated against by speech codes but also ‘biochemistry’… and we are already aware of other protected statuses that depend on biochemistry (such as skin colour).

    • Santoculto says

      I though four temperaments so easier…

      It’s fundamentally a matter of hegemony))), oops, my disorder… O.O

      Do you think blacks are more protected because people are advised to don’t offend them verbally???

      Illibilism has been a disaster for black people, huge dysgenics and a culture that protect…their putrid apples and faults.

  3. Uri Harris says

    Wow, I wasn’t expecting those last few paragraphs to be so powerful. Beautifully written.

  4. Violent Agreement says

    Get some! This article almost made me stand up and cheer. An inspiring and motivating read.

  5. Stephen Henstock says

    I see the same thing in secondary education in terms of who gets promoted to leadership. The result is a lot of pc groupthink and blandness.

  6. andrewilliamson says

    Terrific and eye-opening. Thank you.

    • andrewilliamson says

      It seems that beyond speech code discrimination against the neurodiverse (for which a strong case is made here), there’s also a case to be made that speech codes discriminate against others based on the way their “neurotypical” brains work, i.e., those who process information differently (DiscoveredJoy – in the comments above – raised this issue in my mind).

      If we take Myers-Briggs typology, for instance, those of us who have the NT (iNtuitive/Thinking) function pair are the least common (10%), vs. the SF (Sensing/Feeling, 43%) types.

      Speech codes are the natural result of prioritizing feelings (F) over truth (T). They have a discriminatory effect against NTs, who will generally prioritize truth over feelings. I’d posit that NTs stand an increasing risk these days of being punished for simply processing and sharing information differently.

      Or, as I would put it, for thinking instead of feeling.

      For reference, from the MBTI site:

      “Sensing plus Feeling (SF)
      SFs tend to approach life and work in a warm people-oriented manner, liking to focus on realities and hands-on careers. They are often found in human services and in careers that require a sympathetic approach to people.”

      But “Intuition plus Thinking (NT)
      NTs tend to approach life and work in a logical and objective manner, and like to make use of their ingenuity to focus on possibilities, particularly possibilities that have a technical application. They are often found in careers that require an impersonal and analytical approach to ideas, information and people, and they tend to be less interested in careers that require a warm, sympathetic, and hands-on approach to helping people.”

      • andrewilliamson says

        Derp. Conflated truth and thinking there. Motivated reasoning, I guess.

        Still, I’d still bet on this claim: if feelings (F) are prioritized over thinking (T), they will with some frequency be prioritized over truth as well.

  7. Giovanna says

    Rock on Aspies – and I’m sorry if you neurotypical don’t have it

    You’re on schedule, Geoffrey, thank you!

  8. Giovanna says

    Oops, typo, it’s:

    Rock on Aspies – and I’m sorry if you neurotypicals don’t have it

  9. Consider just a few geniuses who seem, given biographical records, to have been on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum: Béla Bartók, Jeremy Bentham, Lewis Carroll, Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Sir Ronald Fisher, Sir Francis Galton, Glenn Gould, Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock, Alfred Kinsey, Stanley Kubrick, Barbara McClintock, Gregor Mendel, Bertrand Russell, Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, Alan Turing, H. G. Wells, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

    Much as I applaud the irony (yes, we do irony) of turning identity politics against campus identitarians, it took a panel of experts 18 weeks to assess me for Asperger’s, and it helps nobody to concoct list of suspected Aspies based on slim biographical details and a heavy dose of apophenia.

    It’s not enough to simply have one or two ‘autistic’ traits – you need a constellation of them.

    Einstein might have had a systematising mind but he was a charmer who had a string of mistresses. Ditto HG Wells. Any social problems Turing had were down to him being gay in a society that criminalised homosexuality. And Gregor Mandel, a catholic monk, wasn’t a party person? You don’t say!

    • Santoculto says

      I thought some traits that make some people very creative tend to be universal among them: Attention to detail for example. It’s expected that on the arts & philosophy people with more mentalistic touch will be more common. Interestingly disparate disorders as ADHD and autism tend to correlate with creativity probably with different types/facets of creativity. Attention to detail is predicted by hypersensitivity, all disorders are characterized. How hypersensitivity and/+ attention to detail result in intuitive jumps I don’t know, of course. All people with unusual brains already have a personal challenge to deal, it’s like to be in constant state of hyper-awareness, that something can go very wrong if you no have a extra cognitive control. What people only with disorder can not to do for themselves, they can’t control the disorder and possibly change it to trans-order. So creative mind may can be very manual/you need control it if not…caput… and very automatic /more intuitive or instinctive. The instinct and some self control are both higher. Or absurdly nothing what I said above.

      But I find wisdom considerably neglected even if compared with creativity.

    • Not a very impressive panel. I was assessed by a neurologist rather quickly. And having Asperger’s doesn’t mean you’re not charming. I can be charming. It’s exhausting, but I can do it. And I have to be prepared for it. Yes, Turing was gay. And homosexuality and gender fluidity is more common among those on the spectrum. Go read about Nietzsche’s childhood and tell me that man wasn’t clearly on the spectrum. Yes, there is a battery of traits, and those people had the full battery more often than not.

      • Santoculto says

        “It’s exhausting but I can do it” 😉

      • In the UK, that’s how long it takes. It’s no trivial matter to assess someone for Asperger’s. The alternative is to over-diagnose.

  10. I think you are missing an important part of the idea of a spectrum by not following the implications for neurotypical behaviour too.

    Since autistism is defined by a constellation of traits, and since everyone, autistic or neurotypical alike, occupies a position on these spectra, a failure to respond ‘appropriately’ to social conventions isn’t just an autistic trait, it also falls within normal behaviour for some individuals who are, in all other respects, neurotypical, just as being highly systematising might fall within the normal behaviour for someone otherwise neurotypical.

    In other words you can extend the ‘autistic’ defence of free speech to include people who are not autistic.

    The alternative is to have one rule for Aspies and another for neurotypicals. And this would cause difficulties for Aspies like myself who do not wish to share the fact of my Asperger’s to all and sundry.

    If I say the ‘wrong’ thing I shouldn’t have to reveal that I am autistic to defend myself. It should simply be recognised that saying the ‘wrong’ thing is something both autistics and neurotypical outliers do and having to prove that I am the former and not the latter is, in itself, discriminatory.

    And so free speech should be extended to rude neurotypicals too in order to protect the medical confidentiality of autistics.

    • I think you missed the point. He’s not saying there should be two different rules. He’s saying the speech codes should be completely done away with because “evil” isn’t the only choice–or even the most likely one.

    • Exactly. The spectrum concept means there’s no clear dividing line between ‘neurotypical’ and ‘neuroatypical’, so whatever problems people with Aspergers have with speech codes, ‘normals’, will also have sometimes. Speech codes are oppressive to everyone, but to different degrees, in different contexts.

      • Simon Elliot says

        Uh, why has my comment been deleted? I’ve been trying to contact you with an important question, Geoffrey, and you seem to be deliberately ignoring me.

    • “In other words you can extend the ‘autistic’ defence of free speech to include people who are not autistic.”

      He does.

  11. This isn’t just a hypothetical issue for me, by the way. I’ve recently had to defend myself at a disciplinary investigation where my autism was brought up.

    I shouldn’t have had to discuss this with strangers. Rather, it should have been accepted that people have a range of different responses to situations and that, were I neurotypical, I might still have responded the same way.

  12. The autism spectrum also sounds the death-knell for the blank state theory.

    Since autism is something you are born with, and since everyone exists somewhere in the spectrum, there’s no blank state. Rather there are people with less autistic traits than others.

    Neurotypicals are those who’s traits are clustered closer to the mean with regards to systematising, theory of mind, language skills, etc.

    Just as ‘normal’ intelligence refers to the 95% of people who fall within two standard deviations of the mean, ‘normal’ social skills or systematising would fall within a similar range. Outliers would include about 2.5 of the population who are exceptionally charismatic or gregarious on one side and a similar proportion of us with the social skills of a Vulcan on the other; or an instinctive grasp of the underlying physics of the universe on one side vs those who prevent their credit cards getting lost by fastening them to the fridge with magnets on the other.

    Nobody is going to be exactly average on every trait. There is, instead, a normal range for each trait. Those falling within that normal range for most traits are neurotypical.

    But a range of innate traits, normal or otherwise, means we are not born the same. The same experiences will not shape people born with different traits the same way.

    There is no blank slate.

  13. Santoculto says

    Why I always think people mistake heredity with heritability and when they say: “all traits are herit-able” they in the true want to say “all traits are inheritable”??

    Heritability seems measure the levels of phenotypical robustness. How robust or stereotypical is the expression of certain genotypical “trait”. Seems to be the continuity of inheritance. You inherit certain trait and environment & you will test its phenotypical robustness (phenotype reflecting genotype). For example hypothetically I was born potentially smarter. So I take meningitis during my early childhood and (I really don’t know what meningitis can cause in children) I become affected in some way. So the heritability of my potential intelligence will be reduced. Starting from the logic that every human disorder is a negative biological outcome, something goes wrong during conception “and/or” prenatal. In this case be homossexual, for example, would mean have a reduced heritability of expected heterosexuality, a ideal way to perpetuate human species. When there is a asymmetry between expected ideal phenotypical expression and real phenotypical expression so this mean something go wrong and heritability will be “reduced”, I mean, how (real) phenotype express (ideal) genotype.

  14. Santoculto says

    But it’s ok eliminate white people via en masse “immigration” and things like “France no have a genuine culture” or “New swedes videos” or “conservatives are deplorable” or “christians are inferior”. And what about terrific treatment homossexuals, women, non human living beings …and maybe disable people tend to have (also) in third world countries?? Specially in “religion of peace-zone”?? I agree over generalizations are usually dumb BUT I thought you’re also doing some over generalizations here: “never talk nothing negative or true about fat people”.

    • SJW Aspie says

      The tweet’s “argument” was that if fat (he used the term “obese”) people don’t have the willpower to lay off of carbs, they won’t have the willpower to complete a doctorate. That’s wrong as a matter of empirical analysis (lots of obese people get doctorates) and medical research (obesity is not just due to a lack of willpower). Given the rest of your reply, however, I’m open to the possibility that you are disabled.

      • Santoculto says

        My English is disable. I’m not necessarily disable, on the broader spectrum of everything, just like that. If you understand my reply I’m not saying he’s right to offend horizontal people with infactuelitets but that often the identities we belong are not perfect and that is mature accept their/our own fails.

        And because you describe yourself as SJW mean you don’t give a scheetos for other groups not because your supposed highly accurate moral rationality but exactly the otherwise, because your irrationality to defend statements you have superficial and erratic knowledge.

        You’re correct on your criticism about someone who write this text and offend over generalizing a category of people, this offense being factual or not. Maybe there is a negative correlation between weight and academic success but always blame people for attitudes they no have real control is just like to say there is free will and “heritability” of psychological traits are lower.

        • SJW Aspie says

          It’s not the case that neurodiverse people have no control over their attitudes (or their behaviors).

          It’s not your language that leads me to suspect that you are disabled, but rather your bizarre and quite frankly reprehensible beliefs. Please don’t reproduce, ever.

  15. Thank you for saying what I wish I had said. Of course, since I have been unable to get an academic position in the past 13 years since I received my Ph.D. in the humanities (with a dissertation titled “Evolutionary Aesthetics,” by the way), I haven’t had the direct experience you have had of these speech codes, even if I am against them. I actually was completely unaware for literally decades that most of my social issues stemmed from my having Asperger’s. I only learned I was an Aspie after my older son was diagnosed with autism. I then obsessively read everything I could about autism–and since I have an undergrad degree in recombinant gene technology and two years of grad work in molecular biology and I had to learn enough evolutionary and cognitive psychology to write a dissertation on evolutionary aesthetics, I naturally went hard-core on my sources. Shortly after I learned I had Asperger’s, I was pushed out of a lecturer position, fired because, and I quote, “We have no intentions of accommodating you,” and then fired from a teaching job in a race between me getting officially recognized by the school district as having a disability (by this time I had an official diagnosis) and the principal creating a paper trail proving I couldn’t do the job (I couldn’t, since I was given a regular position when I was trying to get certified for SpEd). I am still unemployed. And I’ve essentially given up trying to get an academic position. But I have eccentric ideas in the field of humanities, and we certainly can’t have that, now can we?

    • Santoculto says

      In humanities eccentricity from psychotic broader spectrum is welcome. Just look like for some of this academic papers??

      Eccentric who can contribute in some way to your pseudo-normality of the day (neo (left(ism) is welcome.

      • Santoculto says

        And because leftism disabled people are more welcome in empathizing departments than in systemizing ones, specially those on psychotic/mentalistic spectrum.

        Many SJW and on the left are “disabled’ people. Indeed many leftists have a type of /follow a officialized/collective mental disorder: a irrational ideology, what most cults and human cultures are.

        I think the bigger victims of politically correct or any censorship system (at least on this comparative perspective) are

        REAL RATIONAL people, disabled or not. Always.

    • I’m my case I was disciplined for accessing records that I was entitled to. My team leader hasn’t left a key unneeded to access a filing cabinet that contained nothing but my own records. She knew I needed them and had agreed to giving me access. I tried to contact her by phone, text and email and got no response. Eventually, knowing that an important meeting would have to be cancelled otherwise, and being mechanically minded, I just picked the lock.

      Despite doing no damage to the lock, and having access to nothing I was not entitled to access, I was disciplined. My Asperger’s was taken as mitigation – but if I had not had Asperger’s I think I’d have acted in exactly the same way. I think, given the situation, I acted entirely rationally, and I said so at the disciplinary meeting.

      Now, others might not have acted this way, and that’s my point. There were a range of normal responses to this. There’s the idiot way, which was to follow the rules, cancel the meeting, and rearrange it for a time the team leaders does what she was supposed to and leave the key, or the rational, efficient action I took. Yes, I was more likely to chose the latter option based on my neurotype, but my autism shouldn’t have been needed as mitigation for making a decision many neurotypicals might have made in the same situation.

      • DiscoveredJoys says

        Perhaps if you had a ‘neurotypical’ grasp of the lunacies of the idiot bureaucracy you could have said that you found the drawer unlocked? Which of course was ‘true’ after you picked the lock!

        Coulda, woulda, shoulda – we all think of the ‘best’ response after it would have been useful.

      • HIV is still an essential vitamin says

        I don’t think there was anything inappropriate or even supposedly inappropriate in picking that lock. It was just that she or her colleagues were nasty people finding an excuse to penalise you. And no-one “has” Aspergers (or autism). Autistic is an adjective not a noun. People don’t sort into those who “have” or “have not” – if they did, someone would be able to tell us how to do that sorting. But they can’t. See chapter 2.

  16. bnonymous says

    Posted something you didn’t like on the Internet, eh? Someones not a genius.

  17. Pingback: July 19, 2017 |

  18. Ken Smithmier says

    Fabulous piece. You brought such a different perspective to this issue, which of course is what your own brand of neurodiversity adds to our lives. Bravo!!

  19. Great post and filled with truth says the professor with CPTSD.

  20. Bill H says

    Who needs to “recognise neurodiversity” and subordinate their sense of reality to what someone else says it is?

    The only problem is that your “neurotypicals” are a bunch of mental children who get upset about everything – and then the autists and spergs get upset back. Grow up – all of you!

    I have a new classification: Neuro-hypo-genital. There. You can all throw stones at me together now, being united by a common enemy.

    If it is so good to be tolerant, then I’m sure you can tolerate people who don’t care either way.

    Who needs a theory of mind? If you can’t tell what others are thinking, must you continue to guess that they are?

    “Offensive statements” is an oxymoron anyway.


    It’s quite saddening really, if one for a moment begins to care at all. Because most of your nutters would benefit from vitamins and minerals, and then even if they did have different brains, and thought differently, at least they would be able to handle their emotions better.

    And If you are offended at my calling you a nutter, go and have some B vitamins. A lot of them – especially niacin and pyridoxine. And some zinc, magnesium, potassium, etc. etc. And then you just might see that it is my loss when I call you a nutter, and not yours.


    I appreciate the article, despite the “tone” of this comment. But we have the freedom to be as eccentric as we want already, and what the world does to us is something we should learn from and adapt to with our own faculties, and not demand that somebody else change with theirs.

  21. SJW Avenger says

    So claiming that I am neurodiverse allows me to be an asshole, abuse others, and sexually harass women? Good to know.

    • No, it means you might have to discuss what was being said in a rational manner and try to come to an understanding. The ever expanding concept of what is ‘harrassing’ is almost laughable. The goal posts keep moving as weaker and weaker people try to come up with reasons that normal behaviour is harrassment. I consider myself to be fairly liberal and accepting, but some of this SJW mess is just dishearteningly stupid.

      • SJW Avenger says

        Awww, Geoffrey. I’d apologize for hurting your feelings, but I suspect you don’t have any. And attributions of snark are rich coming from someone who insulted obese people by telling them that if they don’t have the discipline to lay off of carbs, they don’t have the discipline to do a Ph.D.

        I did read your piece closely. It’s a pathetic attempt to justify bad behavior in the language of disability. You might want to think about some issues as you write a follow-up piece:

        1. When you tweeted about obese people and lied about your tweet being part of a research study, was that because you’re neurodiverse and disabled, or just because you’re an asshole who gets off on hurting other people? Did you feel any remorse, or were you just angry because other people disagreed with you and UNM did not immediately institute a BMI requirement?

        2. The ADA requires “reasonable accommodations.” (It’s a legal term of art; look it up. Or find a lawyer friend to, assuming you have any friends.) “Reasonable accommodations” requirements don’t require an employer to give the disabled employee anything he or she wants. I presume that you want to get rid of all speech codes. What else do you want as a reasonable accommodation?

        3. You note you have no idea what is required under your university’s sexual harassment policies. (You’re lying, of course, but let’s assume that this is actually true.) Shouldn’t you be kept away from women, given that you are so profoundly disabled that you don’t know how to avoid any sort of sexual harassment?

        4. Aren’t you paint a picture of neurodiverse people (I’m one, as is my son) as so socially inept that no one should employ them?

        5. Are neurodiverse people unable to benefit from social competence training? (For example, do you think that you could be taught not to fat shame people, or learn some basic rules about how to treat women with respect?) You talk about how speech codes get in the way of “group meetings [and] post-colloquium dinners” and collaboratoons. But no one has to invite you to dinner or write a paper with you. Wouldn’t social competence training be helpful?

        6. Do neurodiverse people have any ethical responsibilities with regard to how they engage with others?

        7. Is “free speech” just your way of saying that you want to say whatever you want, no matter how asinine or hurtful, and have everyone celebrate you as a plain-spoken genius?

        • You are aware this is a public forum right? You are showing your petticoats. Here’s some more rope 😀

        • A World Without Concern Trolls says

          LOL – your whiteness is killing me over here. I just called two of my employees over to take a gander at your sad response, which opened up a discussion about people like you that I won’t bore anyone with. It ended with a bit of head-shaking, a bit of laughter, and then this:

          Let your dopamine flow, world defender.

        • HIV is still an essential vitamin says

          This comment from “SJW Avenger” is so xyz that it’s just as well he/she/it hid behind a pseudonym rather than publish an non-anonymous exposition of his/her/its profound inadequacies. The rest of us can just sigh of relief that we aren’t thus afflicted ourselves.

        • Myrdradek says

          Right on. Assholes like Geoffrey hiding behind autistic people(who are often members of marginalized groups who are victimized by the “Free speech” martyrs articles like this exist to defend. I can’t tell you how many autistic trans* people I know who would not be amused by Jordan Peterson’s refusal to use proper pronouns) shouldn’t be allowed this transparent dodge.

    • You do not have a mandate to speak for women or use them as your ideological hobby horse. Speak or yourself.

      • SJW Avenger says

        That’s not how debate works. He claimed that he is unable to discern what sexual harassment/misconduct is, and by extension that he should get a pass from organizational policies forbidding it. Everyone else gets to disagree (or agree) with this proposition or anything else in the article. His argument does not preclude me from (a) believing that sexual harassment is wrong and (b) that his claims about neurodiversity and sexual harassment policies are also wrong.

        • “He claimed that he is unable to discern what sexual harassment/misconduct is”

          No, he didn’t. Now, I’m not convinced you’ve actually read the article.

          He wrote:

          “Using their verbal intelligence and cultural background to understand speech codes that are intentionally vague, over-broad, and euphemistic, to discern who’s actually allowed to say what, in which contexts, using which words;

          Understand what’s inside the current Overton window of ‘acceptable ideas’, including the current social norms about what is ‘respectful’ versus what is ‘offensive’, ‘inappropriate’, ‘sexist’, ‘racist’, ‘Islamophobic’, or ‘transphobic’;

          Use ‘Theory of Mind’ to predict with 100% accuracy which speech acts might be offensive to someone of a different sex, age, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, or political outlook;

          Inhibit ‘inappropriate’ speech with 100% reliability in all social contexts that might be reported or recorded by others;

          Predict with 100% accuracy what’s likely to trigger outrage by peers, student activists, social media, or mainstream media – any of which might create ‘adverse publicity’ for the university and a speech code inquisition, without due process or right of appeal, for the speaker.”

          And since feminists are now notorious for accusing people who ask them to get a coffee of exual harrassement/miscondict, I think the onus is on feminists to adapt to real life, not the rest of us to adapt to them.

  22. Andreas Ortmann says

    I find Geoffrey’s argument persuasive and think, yes, a good legal case can be made. And I look forward to the sequel in which that legal strategy will be laid out. That said, there is of course two rights to be balanced. That of neuro-typical and that of neuro-diverse folks and there will be an inevitable clash. I fear the most realistic strategy forward is to fight the excesses.

    Also, I think to identify the enemy as the left is a rather problematic target identification. Many administrators (ultimately those that design and implement the codes and punishment strategies are anything but).

    • Good points. I’ll try to bear in mind in writing the follow-up piece. In my experience, the Leftist mid-level administrators are pushing much of the speech code agenda, but of course everyone squabbles over the policies to try to implement their own ideological agenda, whatever it is…

  23. Andreas Ortmann says

    … Many administrators (ultimately those that design and implement the codes and punishment strategies) are anything but.

  24. dkhan says

    This is an interesting article that shows a new aspect of this topic. Let me add one thought. Or a couple.

    Those CoCs assume that those people interpreting them act in best interest and reasonable.
    And they may start like that. I really think that most people don’t have bad intentions in their doings.

    So they are upset about something and post that on twitter. It takes off and they get A LOT of positive attention through all this social buzz. I think anyone knows that feeling when you post something and then get flooded with likes. It’s great.
    Unfortunately – like with every addiction – some people can get hooked to that.
    It starts slowly, they even get new job opportunities through it, maybe buzzfeed doing an interview.
    Then the attention they get fades off …. very quickly because news rotate fast.
    So they start craving like any other person suffering from some kind of addiction would do.
    For many – at this stage – their whole professional existence circles around outrage and triggers and enforcing rules because they got well known and hired by some company that wants to show off how PC they are.
    And they start seeking for reasons to be upset or triggered. The thing is – and here this kind of addiction becomes something new – that there are a few hundred to thousand people with the same problem in any given community. They jump on any possible outrage and so it becomes a self amplifying system. As if a cheering free beers party would start anytime an alcoholic would order a drink.

    If they are wrong in their doing, why is there no majority that regulates that?
    Those cohorts consist of people that are empathic, well versed in debating and looking for triggers, while the maybe opposing majority prefers to better stay out of the kitchen when there is a conflict.
    Plus: this karma police can easily get you evicted from your job, while being part of it will give you status and credibility.
    This is why a subject speaking out will most of the time stay quite isolated compared to the crowd on the “PC” side.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Disclaimer: I’m politically left and against any form of discrimination and harassment and for social equality and equal chances for everyone.

    We should accept opinions that divert from our own.

    “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It”
    Evelyn Beatrice Hall

    • dkhan says

      I want to add … while the intentions are good and I understand most probably the most cases of outrage, too often things get out of hand because instead of confronting people personally, people play it through social media.

    • Very good analysis. It rings true. Thousands of self-appointed defenders of ‘decency’ ready to pounce on anything that they can turn into virtue-signaling click-bait.

  25. ARubin says

    I think this is a great idea. It’s a free society. So-called “autists” as well as actual mental defectives should be allowed to say whatever racist and sexist things they want. After all, they’re only words and one would have to be mentally defective themselves to be upset by them. The flipside is sane society would also finally be free to further advocate to protect ourselves against the mentally defective using the real evidence of their increased risk of dangerous crime, for example how diagnosed autists have among the highest rates of sex offenses and child pornography charges of any group. Owing to the fact that sane people are able to actually get things done socially, this would very quickly lead to laws enforcing sterilization, guaranteed effective treatment such as lobotomization, and euthanasia should all else fail. It’s really a win-win. I’m sick of *all* forms of political correctness, including that protecting dangerous retards.

    • Santoculto says

      Free speech for people who can’t control their honesty about certain people… 😉

  26. So, just to be clear, you’re advocated forced sterilization and lobotomization of all professors with Asperger’s syndrome? You’ve jut provided me with the best example of anti-Aspy stigma I’ve ever seen. Thank you.

    • ARubin says

      Who said anything about professors? I mean everyone.

      If you have a behavioral disorder that makes you unable to control things like downloading child porn then you have an obligation to have that disorder treated. Clearly there’s effective treatment, just the more severe it gets the more harmful it is to the patient. The logical conclusion to the policy I suggested is autists will just CONTROL THEMSELVES so as not to be labeled with a diagnosis that requires treatment under law. Seeing as autism is a behavioral disorder, this would make them effectively cured.

      Anyway, thank you for coming full circle to SJW and whining about stigma. It’s almost like you’re too socially oblivious to pick up on the irony of that…

      • Santoculto says

        “Control themselves”

        What your BLE$$ED people never did… 😉
        Other comment on moderation/free speech ;)))

      • “downloading child porn”

        Where did that come from? From speech codes to child porn! That’s one leap of imagination

        • ARubin says

          Paula Wright, how does it feel to call yourself an “:independent researcher” when you actually spend your days begging for money on the internet in order to feed little William James? Is he retarded as well?

          • haha. What’s clear here is it’s you who have the issues. Carry on. It’s a curious spectacle. I like to demonstrate to people that anonymous trolls are powerless and very very pathetic individuals indeed.

      • HIV is still an essential vitamin says

        >”autism is a behavioral disorder”

        Any actual evidence for this popular mindless mantra? You can see a ton of dis-evidence in chapter 2 at . Have a nicer day.

    • ARubin says

      Note I’m also neurodivergent myself as I have essential tremor.

  27. I shared this article on social media, as I often share articles on neurodiversity and autism/Aspergers to the communities I converse with and readership. I am an adult on the autism spectrum, as is one of my adult sons, and partner. I have corresponded with 1000s around the world who identify with being autistic or having Aspergers. I’ve written two books on the topic, articles, give presentations, etc. I appreciated that the text brought up some new ideas and was well written and presented in a way that makes people think and respond. Some things to possibly note: Not all autistics lack theory of mind, and some disagree with this theory in general; I argue that NTs lack theory of mind about autistics — so whose way is the right way? As autism is a developmental disorder (condition), individuals can gain skills as they grow, particularly when exposed to social situations. Unfortunately, bullying, shaming, and being isolated by peers teaches many on the spectrum how to, at minimum, try to fit in and work on understanding where others are coming from. I work as a lead job recruiter in the STEM field, and community manager. We hire neurodivergent folks. ( In my years of associating with autistics, from many walks of life, I’ve observed we aren’t just prevalent in science, tech, engineering, and mathematical fields. Many are in the helping profession (nurses and teachers and daycare providers), many are artists. This is a huge stereotype perpetuated by media. What is typically forgotten or overlooked is there are females on the autism spectrum, and that our traits, by way of culture and genetics, sometimes present in different ways than our counterpart (male). Also, all autistics have coexisting conditions; I haven’t met one who didn’t have generalized anxiety disorder and some form of depression (commonly situational or hormonal (PMDD) or based on biological factors of connective tissue disorder) In addition, a small percentage have BPD (which many out grow), a larger percentage bipolar disorder, and there are about 30 other conditions I could add. I have dyslexia, dyspraxia, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and more. And I must say . . . Some of my best friends are not neurodivergent and can be very efficient, kind, and transparent communicators. I have a site at with many neurodiverse resources and am @aspergersgirls on twitter. Thank you for the thought provoking words. This is written in a neutral tone and didn’t provoke an emotional response in me in any way… I am adding that because I know how the intention of a tone of text can be misread or misperceived. Thanks again. Samantha Craft of Everyday Aspergers. And some autistics are very talented at putting themselves in another’s shoes and have HUGE capacity for empathy. And I, for one, can be charming! (based on prior comment)

  28. Hi Samantha, thanks very much for your very informative and helpful reply. I wish I’d had more space in my piece to talk more about some of these issues such as comorbidity, different autism spectrum symptoms in men vs. women, and stereotypes about professions. My main goal was to spark more awareness about the free speech implications of neurodiversity, and I’m delighted that so many people on the autism spectrum are contributing to that!

  29. ” So, students, staff, and faculty are expected to be able to ‘read between the lines’ of speech codes to understand what is actually forbidden versus what is actually permitted.”

    This has the anatomy of female intrasexual competition all over it. Vague rules, provisionally enforced, subject to retrospective change.

  30. Indra says

    What does the sentence “especially in the field of evolutionary game theory” do?? Thanks.

  31. sam says

    I’m quick to point out that I am annoyed by the censorship at universities, but regarding this piece, there’s odd or inappropriate behavior seen in many personalities and demographics. Where are we getting that a “substantial minority” of academics or trainees have one of those personality traits?

  32. Santoculto says

    I think men with ADHD tend to be more super sincere than autistic who tend to be super honest, two different things.

    • HIV is still an essential vitamin says

      Would be most grateful if you could clarify what you consider to be the difference. Just because two words exist it doesn’t follow that there are two distinguishable concepts behind them.

  33. Ben says

    “Imagine you are a man with Asperger’s syndrome doing a science Ph.D. and you see social justice activists destroying nerdy male scientists for their non-PC views, trivial mistakes, or fictional offenses, as in the cases of Matt Taylor and Tim Hunt.” As a man with Asperger’s syndrome doing a science Ph.D., my own experience is that, while most people use empathy to interpret appropriate speech and behaviour, it is nevertheless possible to systematise the kinds of policies that are being talked about in this article. It is actually much easier if you investigate thoughtfully and critically the rationale and systems of thought behind them, a possibility not mentioned in this article.

  34. I absolutely agree, it’s about time the needs of the academic speakers are given just as much prominence as the needs of the student audience, and that we review the balance between free speech and ‘safe spaces’.

    Personally I think they should be much more emphasis on how to look after people who are ‘triggered’ then there is on trying to prevent it. In my experience is never the things that people think are going to be triggers that cause the most disturbance anyway.

    I am however very disappointed to find some incorrect and very inaccurate assumptions being made and repeated here.

    Firstly the rate of autism in men is not 11 times higher than that in women, this merely reflects the diagnosis rate. High functioning autism in women is hugely under diagnosed, partly because women are pushed into roles where their non-conventional behaviour or responses become less apparent, and partly because they does not meet the stereotypical profile of autistic men.

    The stereotypical profile is that of somebody who cannot empathize, which though on the surface appears to be a reasonable assumption, is absolutely not.

    People on the autistic spectrum do empathize, however they may need to instinctively suppress it to cope with the flood of information, or empathize on a level that most of society does not recognise.

    People with autism can be found in many professions especially those involving the care and nurture of children and animals, agriculture, horticulture, and in the performing arts and other creative industries.

    We have to think beyond stereotypes, beyond geek, and beyond the lecture theatre too.

    Neuro diversity as principle is well understood, however we are only just scratching the surface of our knowledge and understanding of neurodiversity as a whole.

  35. aldflksadfjlaksdjfklasdf says

    I was with you until this:

    “Aspy students often notice that these codes are applied very selectively: it’s OK to insult ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘patriarchy’, but not to question the ‘wage gap’ or ‘rape culture’; it’s OK to insult ‘white privilege’ and the ‘Alt-Right’ but not affirmative action or ‘Black Lives Matter’; it’s OK to insult pro-life Catholics but not pro-sharia Muslims.”

    That’s not an aspie problem, that’s just being an ignorant reactionary who doesn’t know anything about history, it’s pretty insulting that you think autism means that you can’t see the difference between literal nazis like the alt-right and BLM. This website is embarrassing

    • Santoculto says

      Many things here:

      Firstly, he’s not a neo-nazi friend, alt-righters tend not to be neo-nazis or in your world-mind ”neo-nazis”. He’s likely to be a alt-light, a pretend-to-be ponderated version of alt-right. We have a spectrum, from the supposed-to-be traditional or mainstream right to: alt-light, alt-right, white nationalists and finally neo-nazis, even there is a pervasive exception in ideological purity-degree in all this categories, even among neo-nazis.

      Secondly, ”ALL black men are genetically more likely to be violent criminals”, it’s what you are trying to say isn’t*

      No minimally reasonable people on ”this-sphere-you-hate-so-much” say ”ALL black men or ALL black people are genetically prone to be violent”, but that there is a higher proportion [if compared with other macro-racial groups] of them who are, in the same way there is a higher proportion of poor white people who are prone to be ”low-profile criminals” IF compared with other social classes within the same macro-racial group, at the same way there is a higher proportion of ”high-profile” of jews and high-class whites who are more prone/and commit more ”high-profile” crimes as corruption. In the same way, there is a higher proportion of some dog breeds WHO are more prone to be aggressive, regardless their environmental quality.

      It’s doesn’t mean pitbulls of blacks ”ARE” macro-forever-intrinsically violent because usually it’s a ”selective confounding”. Certain demographically prevalent derived-subsaharian populations has been selected since unknown long-term if not ancestral period to be more aggressive/dominant, namely among men.

      In almost if not all human populations, there is a”toxic masculinity’ , for example, higher proportion of violence-prone males than females.

      Indeed, in the true we no have, originally speaking, bad and good psychological traits but [socially] receptive and defensive traits, shaped by selective pressures. When a defensive trait is intensely expressed, in indiscriminated or [also in irrational] ways, so we have a problem, it’s a true or genuine bad psychological trait. Maybe we also can argue that a indiscriminated expression of receptive psychological trait [naivety to pathological altruism] is also a bad psychological trait because it’s just irrational and/or potentially dangerous to the individual.

      At priori, violence, something is quite common in nonhuman natural world, is a natural mechanism to defend and to survive thanks for motherfackar nature. I have a impression that a lot of violence-prone men have very lower tolerability to ”lack of respect for themselves” [within communities, so called honor cultures] as well the pervasive social ills they are forced to live.

      Deny that current black populations are more prone to be violent hurt specially themselves because most of black-crime victims are blacks, even we can find common bridges that invariably speaking some macro or structural environmental factors can increase certain behavioral expressions.

      About the hypothesis that [male] sexual diversity have a pathogenic nature, i agree partially with you that it’s a complicated issue via ethical but also factual/”scientific” reasons. My pet-theory is that sexual diversity is a expected result because at priori all traits, that are ”heritable” also varies. So we have a long spectrum from the quasi-exclusive heterossexuality to quasi-exclusive homossexuality, and that it’s a continuous spectrum and not a discontinuous, as many of those who defend this patogenesis-hypothesis seems want to say. Among heterossexual men and women we already have a sexual and a psychological variation and coming to inversion of this traits. My fundamental argument is: whatever cause human sexual diversity, and namely, bi and homossexuality, also will cause heterossexual/and hormonal-psychological diversity. No doubt bi but specially homossexuality is a disorder if this characteristically harm the chance to procreate with opposite sex. But it’s not all disorders that are the same. Some disorders must be unacceptable, others maybe tolerated as a expression of human diversity to feel and to interact with reality OR in the near future, LGBT community must become more responsible with their own common expression if/when parents become able to choice their son characteristics even i’m partially against this and considerably cautious.

      • ARubin says

        Santoculto, is being unable to compose an intelligible sentence a heritable trait?

  36. Pingback: Research Preamble: constructing spaces of freedom; free speech & free thought. | Neil Bassan

  37. plutonian says

    When you frame this as an issue of certain groups of people not being able to understand the university rules, you are setting yourself up for the counter argument that obviously these people need to be reigned in. The most extreme example would be psychopathy which prevents having more than a surface-level understanding of morality. You are not including this group of neuro-atypical people in your list, but logically I see no reason why you shouldn’t.

    The heart of the matter is not whether the rules are understandable by certain groups. It is perfectly possible to understand with great precision the limits of the Overton window, yet still regard it as more a prison than a window, and to recognize that most original ideas (certainly within the social sciences) will be found outside of it, not having had time to be assimilated into the overarching culture.

    Hence, the problem is not that the emerging university culture enforces neurotypicality but mediocracy. Or is the former an Aspie codeword for the latter? 😉

  38. Santoculto says

    It’s because I suffer from pathological honesty $_$

    I’m horrible player!! -.-

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  40. I don’t think these new speech codes come more naturally to the neurotypical: they tend to be adopted and enforced by people with personality disorders such as NPD/BPD and people with sinister political motives (post-modernism and neo-Marxism).

    A key aspect is that they are false models of reality that are impossible to apply in real life: it keeps everyone potentially guilty and open to accusation in the eyes of those who wish to wield power over others.

    I’m not sure it can be claimed that it ever was well intentioned, only that those who have accepted it on the most superficial terms without thought or further investigation have had their good intentions exploited and manipulated.

    • HIV is still an essential vitamin says

      Well said. I think they are being promoted by authoritarian fascist mentalities who are intolerant of the views of others but lack any basis in truth which which to defend their power-endorsed ideologies. Authoritarian people always side witih power and don’t give a d about the truth or otherwise.

    • ARubin says

      I disagree in that I think codes of conduct are well-intentioned, but agree in that they’re “false models of reality.” The thing that really strikes me is the whole debate surrounding codes of conduct seems to be autists fighting autists, both with totally solipsistic views of social reality.

  41. ARubin says

    How ironic for the publishers of an article advocating free speech to delete comments. For the record, Geoffrey Miller is heavily involved with neo-nazi Twitter who are now retweeting this article with the added commentary that black men are genetically more likely to be violent criminals. He’s also now going on about yet more pseudoscience, how HIV turns gay men into sex-crazed maniacs, and is of course best known for his claim that obese people (another disabled group) should not be allowed to obtain PhDs…which he cowardly tried to claim was a “social experiment.”

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  43. Miller should read more history:

    “England’s universities were above all else instruments of Christianity, and at each step in his Cambridge career Newton swore oaths avowing his faith. But in the seventh year of his fellowship, 1675, a further step would be required, he would take holy orders and be ordained in the Anglican clergy, or he would face expulsion.”

    “Isaac Newton” by James Gleick, p. 107 (2003)

    As it turned out, Newton appealed to Charles II who waived the requirement and Newton remained Lucasian Professor of Mathematics until his death in March 1726/7. Religiously, Newton was a non-trinitarian, non-Nicene christian. After the Restoration, both Charles II and James II were very cautious about insisting upon religious conformity, something that cost their father, Charles I, his head in 1649.

  44. As an asperger myself, agreeing with all your views on free speech, I fear that the “neurodiversity” is getting enrolled with the PC crusade rather than against it. This is what I see on all the”aspie” forums I read. THere, most of the contributors equate “neurodiversity” with whatever supposed diversity from PC politics (gender, religion, ethnicity, etc.), spousing an emancipationist fanatism that is well documented, even talking about neurotypical privilege! This is far from your position and mine but, I was stunned by the fact that you don’t talk about these common PC views among aspies and “neurodiverse people”. By this ideological trick “apspies” (at least in internet forums) tend to position themself in a category victimized by the naturally evil majority (patriarchate, western domination, men, etc.), even if they are more victimized by PC than by the majority rule… Anyway, this also shows that this minority positioning induced by PC is something that is becoming the general behaviour of everybody, the majority becoming a foil specter for the minority tyranny.

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