Author: Toby Young

Why I Want to Start a Free Speech Trade Union

Last April, the historian Niall Ferguson called for a NATO of the pen. Inspired by the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty in which 12 Western democracies agreed that “an armed attack against one or more…shall be considered an attack against them all,” he suggested that “professional thinkers—academics, public intellectuals, writers of any stripe” should sign a “Non-conformist Academic Treaty” in which they promise to come to each other’s defense if one of them is “called out” on social media or “investigated” by their employer. Among the victims of these modern-day witch-hunts Ferguson cited Bret Weinstein, Bruce Gilley, Nigel Biggar, Roland Fryer, Samuel Abrams, Peter Boghossian, Jordan Peterson, and Roger Scruton, and said the lesson was clear: “we either hang together or we hang separately.” This struck me as an excellent idea, but I could also see a practical difficulty. One of the reasons NATO succeeded in deterring Soviet expansion into Western Europe is because it didn’t require any individual country to make the first move in response to Soviet aggression. Rather, NATO provided an institutional framework …

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man: A Profile of Boris Johnson

I first set eyes on Boris Johnson in the autumn of 1983 when we went up to Oxford at the same time. I knew who he was since my uncle Christopher was an ex-boyfriend of his mother’s and he had told me to keep an eye out for him, but I still wasn’t prepared for the sight (and sound) of him at the dispatch box of the Oxford Union. This was the world famous debating society where ambitious undergraduates honed their public-speaking skills before embarking on careers in politics or journalism, and Boris was proposing the motion. With his huge mop of blond hair, his tie askew and his shirt escaping from his trousers, he looked like an overgrown schoolboy. Yet with his imposing physical build, his thick neck and his broad, Germanic forehead, there was also something of Nietzsche’s Übermensch about him. You could imagine him in lederhosen, wandering through the Black Forest with an axe over his shoulder, looking for ogres to kill. This same combination—a state of advanced dishevelment and a sense …

Progressive Creationism: A Review of ‘A Dangerous Idea’

In a recent article for Quillette, Colin Wright argued that left-wing scientific denialism poses a greater threat to academic freedom than right-wing scientific denialism. In the past, evolutionary biologists could dispute the claims of creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design without jeopardizing their careers. But the same cannot be said of scientists who publicly dissent from progressive dogma when it comes to, say, the biology of group differences. The reason, according to Wright, is because the Christian Evangelicals who denied the basic principles of evolutionary biology held no power in academia, while their secular equivalents are often professors, department chairs, deans, administrators, college presidents, journal editors, and so on. Indeed, the new denialist orthodoxy when it comes to biological sex—that it is “assigned” at birth, rather than observed and recorded—is now the official view of the scientific establishment, having been embraced by Scientific American and Nature. As Jordan Peterson wrote in The National Post two years ago: “Look out evolutionary biologists. The PC police are coming for you.” I imagine few of Quillette’s readers will …

Do Parents Make a Difference? A Public Debate in London

On Monday in London’s Emmanuel Centre a debate took place that pitted two Quillette contributors—Robert Plomin and Stuart Ritchie—against two “experts” on child psychology—Susan Pawlby and Ann Pleshette Murphy. The motion was “Parenting doesn’t matter (or not as much as you think)” and we knew from the outset where people stood thanks to the format adopted by Intelligence Squared, the company that organized the debate. The ushers asked people to vote for or against the motion on their way in and then again at the end, the idea being that the “winners” would be the side that persuaded the most people to change their minds rather than the side that got the most votes. Which was just as well for Plomin and Ritchie since only 17 percent agreed with them at the beginning of the evening, with 66 percent against and 17 percent saying “Don’t Know.” Would they be able to level that up a bit over the course of the next 90 minutes? Plomin, a professor of behavioral genetics at King’s College London, went …

Is Sociogenomics Racist?

The publication of Blueprint (2018) by the behavioral geneticist Robert Plomin has revived the old debate about whether there’s something inherently racist or right-wing about looking for biological causes of human behavior. The subtitle of Plomin’s book—How DNA Makes Us Who We Are—makes it sound as if he’s a full-blooded hereditarian and that has led to a predictable outcry from long-standing opponents of this “dangerous” intersection where the natural sciences and the behavioral sciences meet. (To read an extract from Blueprint, click here.) To its opponents, sociogenomics—or social genomics—of which Plomin is a leading practitioner, sounds suspiciously like sociobiology. When the Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson published a book of that name in 1975, it was greeted with passionate opposition by a group of left-wing scientists who had assembled under the banner of ‘Science for the People,’ originally an anti-Vietnam War protest group. The biologists in that organization, several of whom Wilson had counted as friends up until this point, formed the ‘Sociobology Study Group’ and started firing off venomous letters to newspapers. For instance, a …

The Public Humiliation Diet

Reading about James Gunn’s defenestration by Disney for having tweeted some off-color jokes 10 years ago, I was reminded of my own ordeal at the beginning of this year. I’m British, not American, a conservative rather than a liberal, and I didn’t have as far to fall as Gunn. I’m a journalist who helped set up one of England’s first charter schools, which we call ‘free schools,’ and I’ve sat on the board of various not-for-profits, but I’m not the co-creator of Guardians of the Galaxy. In some respects, though, my reversal was even more brutal than Gunn’s because I have spent a large part of the past 10 years doing voluntary work intended to help disadvantaged children. It is one thing to lose a high-paying job because of your ‘offensive attitudes,’ but to be denied further opportunities to do good hits you deep down in your soul. At least Gunn can now engage in charity work to try and redeem himself, as others in his situation have done. I had to give up all the charity …

Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?

A fascinating paper about sex differences in the human brain was published last week in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex. It’s the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain ever undertaken, involving over 5,000 participants (2,466 male and 2,750 female). The study has been attracting attention for more than a year (see this preview in Science, for instance), but only now has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal. For those who believe that gender is a social construct, and there are no differences between men and women’s brains, this paper is something of a reality check. The team of researchers from Edinburgh University, led by Stuart Ritchie, author of Intelligence: All That Matters, found that men’s brains are generally larger in volume and surface area, while women’s brains, on average, have thicker cortices. ‘The differences were substantial: in some cases, such as total brain volume, more than a standard deviation,’ they write. This is not a new finding – it has been known for some time that the …

The Ethics of Cognitive Enhancement

Editor’s note: this is a companion piece to The Neuroscience of Intelligence: An Interview with Richard Haier. I first met Richard Haier at the annual conference of the International Society of Intelligence Researchers (ISIR) in Montreal last July. I told him I was hoping to write a book about the public policy implications of the growing weight of evidence that intelligence is genetically based and he said he had already written a book in which he touched on that subject. He then gave me a copy of The Neuroscience of Intelligence. Not only is Haier’s book an excellent summary of the progress we have made to date in understanding the science of intelligence, it also looks ahead to a future in which various technologies arising out of our improved understanding may be developed to enhance IQ and considers some of the ethical questions that gives rise to. Haier makes no bones about his own enthusiasm for cognitive enhancement. “Higher intelligence is better than lower intelligence; no one seriously disagrees,” he writes in Chapter Five. “All …