Author: Claire Lehmann

Dealing With a Once-In-A-Century Pathogen

Back in 2015, Bill Gates published an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) warning that the world would likely see a pandemic in the next 20 years. He was writing in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, and argued that while the world had an effective system for containing Ebola, it did not have adequate preparation for dealing with a disease with a substantially higher transmission rate. “[O]f all the things that could kill more than 10 million people around the world, the most likely is an epidemic stemming from either natural causes or bioterrorism.” Gates likened preparation for dealing with epidemics to preparation for another global threat—war: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has a mobile unit that is ready to deploy quickly. Although the system is not perfect, NATO countries participate in joint exercises in which they work out logistics such as how fuel and food will be provided, what language they will speak, and what radio frequencies will be used. Few, if any, …

Lessons from Australia’s Bushfires: We Need More Science, Less Rhetoric

Over the last two weeks, the Royal Australian Navy has been evacuating thousands of residents fleeing uncontrollable bushfires in the south-eastern part of my country. Amid scenes of desperate Australians being rescued from beaches, national-security writer Craig Hooper has called the operation a “mini-Dunkirk.” HMAS Adelaide conducting flight operations operating off Eden. @Australian_Navy #AustralianBushfire pic.twitter.com/XREgyctFv7 — Commander Australian Fleet (@COMAUSFLT) January 6, 2020 At least 24 lives have been lost, and many others are missing. Hundreds of homes and businesses have been incinerated, as have more than 60,000 square kilometres of bushland. The Premier of my home state of New South Wales, the region that’s been worst affected, describes the crisis as “uncharted territory,” with some towns at risk of being completely wiped out. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who took a brief holiday at the start of the crisis, has been accused of poor leadership. And critics have taken the opportunity to demand that Australia’s climate policy be immediately overhauled to reflect this national disaster. But what exactly is causing this year’s extreme fire season? …

Join Us in 2020

What do you do when you want to speak about an issue in the workplace but find that ill-informed policies penalise you for doing so? What do you say when your son or daughter comes home from school and tells you that “capitalism is racist?” What course of action do you take when your friend or colleague is presumed guilty for a transgression they never committed? We’ve covered these types of situations extensively at Quillette since our inception. And we’re proud of doing so. Not just because these are important issues of justice and fairness, but because many of these stories would never have reached a wider audience without our platform. Who else would have published the story of a mathematician having his paper “disappeared” because of its politically incorrect hypothesis? Or the plight of a young anthropology journal founder who was ousted by a mob led by a famous author? When an individual has had their professional reputation unfairly tarnished, or is hounded by a social media mob — or has their right to due …

How David Graeber Cancelled a Colleague

At the height of the #MeToo scandal in 2018, when dozens of actresses were coming forward with sordid testimonies about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation, a much more obscure scandal was unfolding around an academic journal involving the anthropologist David Graeber. The journal—HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory—was imploding after Graeber, a former editor-at-large, alleged that members of staff had been treated in “shocking ways” and made a public apology, distancing himself from the enterprise. No specifics were given, but accusations spread like wildfire on social media. Many treated the scandal as a pretext to demand that the discipline of anthropology itself undertake a period of introspection and soul-searching. Some said that this was anthropology’s #MeToo moment. HAU was set up as a digital publication by the Cambridge PhD student Giovanni da Col in 2011, while he was working in the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit under the supervision of Caroline Humphrey. While many students have had concerns that anthropology is a field in decline, da Col actually wanted to do something about it, by establishing …

Retraction notice

An author by the purported name of Archie Carter sent us an article that appeared on our web site under the title “DSA is Doomed” for several hours today. After it appeared, we got a tip that it contained false information. When the author couldn’t supply answers to our follow-up questions in timely fashion, we pulled the article after notifying the author of our concerns. We retract the article and apologise for the error. 

At Australian Ballot Boxes, the Left’s Empathy Deficit Came Home to Roost

The result of Saturday’s federal election in Australia is being treated as the most staggering political shocker in my country since World War II. Scott Morrison, leading the Liberal Party, looks to have won a majority government—a result that defies three years of opinion polling, bookie’s odds and media commentary. In the aftermath, analysts on both sides are trying to explain what went wrong for the centre-left Australian Labor Party, and what went right for the centre-right Liberals. Some attribute the result to Morrison’s personal likeability, and his successful targeting of the “quiet Australian” demographic—the silent majority whose members feel they rarely have a voice, except at the ballot box. Others cast the result as Australia’s Hilary-Clinton moment: Bill Shorten, who resigned following Saturday’s loss, was, like Clinton, an unpopular political insider who generated little enthusiasm among his party’s traditional constituencies. In 2010 and again in 2013, he roiled the Labor Party by supporting two separate internal coups, machinations that cast him as a self-promoter instead of a team player. The swing against Labor was …

Cambridge Capitulates to the Mob and Fires a Young Scholar

We live at a time where academic freedom is under threat from ideologues and activists of all persuasions. The latest threat comes from St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where administrators appear to have capitulated to a mob of activists (students and academics) who mounted a campaign to have a young scholar fired for “problematic” research. The back-story was covered by Quillette last December. The norms of academia—which have been built up and preserved by institutions such as Cambridge for centuries—demand that academics engage with each other in a scholarly manner. That is, if one academic has a problem with the methods or conclusions of another’s research, he or she should address those concerns within journals, according to established procedures, which other scholars can then read and respond to, including the academic whose research is being challenged. Today, due to the hyper-specialisation of academic fields, most academics will not be able to judge the quality of scholarship that is published in journals outside their field. That’s why when research is peer-reviewed it is done by experts in the …

A College President Stands Up for Academic Freedom

What happens when university students call on authority figures to censor students or staff at institutions of higher education? At Yale such students have been awarded prizes, at the University of Missouri they’ve been successful in forcing administrators to resign, at Claremont they were able to force their president to implement a long list of demands, and at Evergreen State College a throng of students were allowed to take control of the campus while harassed faculty sought refuge off-campus. At other colleges around America, and even on campuses in the U.K., Canada and Australia, university administrators have met illiberal student mobs with a parade of mealy-mouthed platitudes and prostrations. This pattern of weakness has been dismaying for all people who value academic freedom and open inquiry. This week, however, a line has been drawn by David Yager, President of Philadelphia’s University of Arts (UArts). In response to students calling for the censorship of Camille Paglia—one of the most admired humanities scholars in the world—he articulated a full-throated defence of intellectual freedom, showing administrators of supposedly superior …

After Christchurch, Remember the Victims, But Resist the Urge to Blame

The terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand—the largest terror event in Australasian history—carried out against a migrant community in a place of worship has left us all in shock. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, has described this attack as an attack on all New Zealanders. Part of the shock comes from the feeling that these types of events don’t happen here. Not in Australia, not in New Zealand. We are small, quiet countries, where people feel safe. Random violence is not a feature of everyday life, let alone on this scale. People deal with shock and grief in different ways. Some people mourn. Others get angry. Many of the early reactions to the event have expressed legitimate anger about the lack of action taken over violent, right-wing extremism. Observers have been warning about the toxicity of online echo-chambers and their potential to foment hatred and motivate people to commit violence for some time now. Much of the anger is directed at big tech companies who are seen as making a profit via …

We Must Defend Free Thought

You probably have felt afraid to speak your mind freely at some point. Whether it is in a university class, a meeting at work, or amongst friends online, it’s likely that you have remained silent when you have had ideas or opinions that haven’t conformed to received wisdom. This is not an unusual or maladaptive response. In fact, knowing when to stay quiet and knowing how to avoid conflict is a necessary and important part of being an adult. Most arguments are pointless and there is no reason to get into fights with people whom we otherwise want to cooperate with and build mutually beneficial relationships. Nevertheless, I worry that intellectual self-policing is happening more and more often, particularly for those living in tight-knit and politically homogenous communities. In such environments, challenging the prevailing ideological orthodoxy—even if it’s only to plead for more tolerance of diverse viewpoints—can lead to reputational damage, harassment, and, in some cases, career suicide. Today, these strictly enforced thought codes are pervading spaces where naturally open-minded and liberal people work, such …