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In Defence of Scientific Integrity and Due Process

I have known Klaus Fiedler for over forty years, and he is one of the most fair-minded and decent scientists I have ever met.

· 5 min read
In Defence of Scientific Integrity and Due Process
A 16th-century engraving of an execution by fire: The execution of Anne Hendricks, burned in Amsterdam in 1571 (credit: Jan Luyken, public domain)

Many of us learnt with great sadness and indeed, a sense of outrage, of the recent attacks on Klaus Fiedler, until a few days ago an outstanding editor of a leading Association for Psychological Science (APS) journal, Perspectives on Psychological Science.

After decades of dedicated and meritorious service to the discipline, Fiedler was accused of racism and was summarily removed from his editorship by the association. This occurred without any due process or any proper investigation or independent assessment of the charges against him.

The charge of racism against Fiedler was based on unsubstantiated claims by Steven Othello Roberts, a self-identified race scholar, who objected to Fiedler’s handling of comments on his paper by several reviewers invited by Fiedler.

Reviewers of Roberts’s work argued that his work is ideological and not scientific (Hommel), that he introduced identity politics into the discipline (Stanovich), that racial representativeness is not relevant to establishing universal psychological principles (Stroebe), and that Roberts’s emphasis on racial diversity is ill-advised (Jussim).

Critical comments on scientific papers are not unusual. What Roberts objected to, and what he implied was evidence of racism, is that the reviewers happened to be “all senior White men,” linked to his belief that “systemic racism exists in science. There is a racialized power structure that marginalizes research by (and about) people of color.”

As far as one can see, there is no evidence of racism in anything Fiedler has done. Indeed, the only racism on display here is by Roberts, as it was he who raised the racial status of the reviewers as problematic and claimed that their critical remarks were “unsound, unscientific, ad hominem, and racist.” For details of this disgraceful case, please see this excellent summary of events by Lee Jussim—Notes from a Witch Hunt:

Notes from a Witch Hunt
Chronology of Events, With Sources

I have known Klaus for over 40 years, and he is not only not a racist, but one of the most fair-minded and decent scientists I have ever met. Klaus has been an eminent professor at the University of Heidelberg, and he is a highly experienced editor who served with great distinction and dedication on the boards of several leading journals.

On his appointment, APS praised Fiedler for bringing a broad body of research and knowledge as well as significant editorial experience to the journal. APS also celebrated him as the first chief editor from outside North America. When he received a submission critical of Roberts’s provocative 2020 paper on ‘Racial Inequality in Psychological Research,’ he sought multiple expert reviews and gave Roberts ample opportunity to comment and respond.

This is all standard process in scientific publishing. What apparently aroused Roberts’s ire and subsequent imputation of racism against Fiedler and the reviewers is that they were all white males.

Accusing Fiedler of racism on the basis of his editorial choice of reviewers and his handling of a manuscript has no substance as far as one can see. Reviewers should always be chosen based on their expertise and merit, and not their racial or identity status.

Fiedler has served our discipline well and with distinction over many decades as an esteemed scientist, a hard-working and conscientious editor, and a much liked and admired friend, mentor, collaborator, and supervisor.

As a scientist, it was his duty to disregard ideology and evaluate papers based only on their scientific merit, and to select reviewers solely based on their expertise. This he has done. The race or identity of an author or reviewer can play no role in such decisions.

The far more troubling issue is how our discipline and our professional associations have reached the stage where unsupportable accusations can result in the immediate dismissal of an outstanding editor. As well as the besmirching of a serious and decent scientist’s good name.

What happened to Fiedler is part of a worrying trend among scientific associations in psychology adopting activist policies in violation of the most basic principles of fairness and scientific values.

In a similar vein, the executive of the European Association of Social Psychology summarily abolished its prestigious Henri Tajfel Prize based on unsubstantiated claims about improper sexual attitudes in Tajfel’s laboratory in the 1970s. (Incidentally, Fiedler himself is one of the distinguished recipients of the Tajfel Prize.)

Various other psychological associations now demand that scientific papers must be prefaced by statements about how they advance diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. One of the most prestigious journals, Nature Human Behaviour, now reserves the right to refuse articles it deems to be socially problematic, irrespective of their truth or scientific merit.

The procedures adopted by APS are nothing less than a shameful denial of procedural and natural justice. To its credit, the German Psychological Association has issued a statement upbraiding their American counterpart, stating that “it is not our understanding of procedural justice to condemn a person without giving him or her an adequate hearing.”

Several senior figures have expressed their support of Fiedler. Joachim Krueger, a senior researcher on the editorial board of Perspectives on Psychological Science has resigned from the journal and wrote: “APS has placed ideological mandates before science and has thereby begun to throttle it. I do not know how you might recover from this … In time, someone will write the story of these recent events, and the APS leadership is not likely to star in a heroic role.”

Those of us who have had personal experiences of living in totalitarian societies will recognize that summary condemnation and punishment of individuals accused of ideological trespasses—without due process—is the hallmark of totalitarian institutions. They should not be tolerated in our professional associations.

Hard-working and decent scientists like Fiedler should not be dismissed on the say-so of a disgruntled author who dislikes the way his manuscript has been reviewed and handled. Such unfounded accusations of racism should not remain unchallenged, and we cannot remain silent without compromising the foundational values that inform our enterprise.

I hope all scientists, and especially psychologists, will protest against this shameful injustice on every available forum and in the strongest possible terms. I would certainly encourage people to write with their protest to the APS executive here: Contact Us – Association for Psychological Science – APS . If a member, consider resigning from this association. You might also want to sign this letter demanding fairness and due process for Fiedler. Please also alert your friends and colleagues about the outrageous injustice perpetrated by APS against one of our most decent and fair-minded colleagues. If we let this pass, we should no longer pretend that our associations continue to represent the noble traditions of scientific inquiry.

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