All posts filed under: Editorial

Cancel Culture Comes for Woody Allen (Again)

In 2003, a 19-year-old worker at a Colorado resort accused NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant of raping her in his hotel room. Bryant’s endorsement deals were canceled, and it looked like this might be the end of his career. But prosecutors dropped the case when the alleged victim decided not to testify. Bryant, who admitted that he had engaged in adulterous sex with his accuser, argued that the liaison had been consensual, apologized publicly, and settled a subsequent civil suit on undisclosed terms. By the time Bryant died in a helicopter crash earlier this year, his public image had been restored, and Bryant received the NBA’s equivalent of a state funeral. When Washington Post writer Felicia Sonmez tweeted out a reference to the sexual-assault allegation amidst the grieving, she was suspended from work, and chastised by the Post’s executive editor, who told her, “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution.” In the summer of 1992, actress Mia Farrow found out that her adopted daughter Soon-Yi was still romantically …

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, …

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 …

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. 

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 …

Feast and Drink For Our Community’s Health

Earlier this year, for the first time in history, the government of Britain appointed a minister for loneliness. Although not a medical condition, loneliness is starting to be described in such language, with descriptors such as “epidemic” and “public health crisis” bracketing the term. Large-scale studies have found that around ten percent of adults in Western nations experience chronic loneliness. In a letter published this year in The Lancet, two neurologists from the University of Chicago asked readers to “imagine a condition that makes a person irritable, depressed, and self-centred, and is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality.” They went on to explain that it is not a condition that only affects those with poor social skills, or those who are highly sheltered or introverted. Loneliness is not necessarily about being alone, either—we can feel isolated when surrounded by other people. Somewhat counter-intuitively, social skills training, social support and social contact have all been found to be ineffective as interventions for social disconnection. *  *  * Drawing on the work …

Academics’ Mobbing of a Young Scholar Must be Denounced

The latest victim of an academic mobbing is 28-year-old social scientist Noah Carl who has been awarded a Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellowship at St Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge. Rarely has the power asymmetry between the academic mob and its victim been so stark. Dr Carl is a young researcher, just starting out in his career, who is being mobbed for being awarded a prestigious research scholarship on the basis of his peer-reviewed research. While getting a position like this is normally a time for celebration for junior academics, Dr Carl has gone to ground, unable to defend his reputation from libellous attacks, as he has been instructed not to talk to the media. Three hundred academics from around the world, many of them professors, have signed an open letter denouncing Dr Carl and demanding that the University of Cambridge “immediately conduct an investigation into the appointment process” on the grounds that his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed.” The letter states: “we are shocked that a body of work …

From the Editor

Another week, another defenestration. This time it’s Ian Buruma, forced to resign his post as editor of the New York Review of Books after publishing an essay written by Jian Ghomeshi – a disgraced Canadian radio journalist who was acquitted on several charges of sexual assault back in 2016. Buruma said in Slate: I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. How can I be? All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime. The exact nature of his behaviour — how much consent was involved — I have no idea, nor is it really my concern. My concern is what happens to somebody who has not been found guilty in any criminal sense but who perhaps deserves social opprobrium, but how long should that last, what form it should take, etc. The rate at which such purges are happening now is disquieting. Ghomeshi’s piece was published online just last Friday and Buruma is out the door before the …

From the Editor

Quillette was created with the intention of giving non-journalists — in particular scientists and scholars — a platform to share ideas without unnecessary editorial interference. I used the tagline “a platform for free thought” when the site launched because I wanted to encourage a wide range of contributions, no matter who and where they came from. Since Quillette launched in November 2015, free thought has definitely shown itself to be alive and well. The platform has not only become popular across the English-speaking world, but we receive insightful and bold contributions almost every day. It’s as if, somehow, a dam has burst. Why did I chose the name Quillette? In French, a synonym for quillette is bouture d’osier, which is a type of wood off-cutting used to grow new trees. An off-cutting planted in the ground that grows into a tree — this seemed to me a great metaphor for an essay. An off-cutting just needs the right conditions to thrive. Give it sunlight, water, and fertile soil and it will grow into something majestic, lasting generations. …