All posts filed under: Science

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry

Academics who conduct research on intelligence and human differences, or who comment on it, are being removed from their positions, either as faculty or university administrators, at an accelerating rate. This development is clear to those who follow such things, but it deserves closer examination so we can better understand it. For young academics interested in this kind of study, it is a critical area of research, not a growing archive of misconduct. It is equally important to young professionals who are looking to innovate on education paradigms, which are informed by an expanding understanding of intelligence, the original driving force in pedagogy. The problem is that it is not easy for such a person entering the field to grasp from the many dismissals and demotions what is going on. Intelligence research and researchers are being categorized as racists, sexists, and eugenicists, but the reasoning and evidence offered in support of such serious charges is often unconvincing, certainly by the standards of publication peer review. Nonetheless, such claims are sometimes quickly and tacitly accepted by …

From South American Anthropology to Gender-Crit Cancel Culture: My Strange Feminist Journey

I’m one of the many academics who’ve been “canceled” for having the wrong sort of opinion—or quasi-canceled, at least. As of this writing, I remain an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta. Since July 2019, I had also served as the department’s undergraduate programs chair. It was supposed to be a three-year appointment. But in late March, I was dismissed from that position due to informal student complaints to the effect that I had made them feel “unsafe” by articulating feminist critiques of current theories of gender. Earlier this month, my colleague Carolyn Sale wrote up an account of my case for the Centre for Free Expression blog at Ryerson University. As tends to be the case with these controversies, this in turn caused students and colleagues to scour my social media accounts in search of yet more “gender-critical” commentary. When they found it, they demanded that I be fired from my tenured position and charged with hate speech. Articles of the type you are now reading typically channel great anger, resentment, …

A Bolt in the Dark

The scene is of the world falling apart: It is the late spring of 1942. We are in the city of Turin in the north-west of Italy, near the border of Nazi-occupied France. Mussolini’s Blackshirts march through the streets. Every few days the anxiety and senselessness of the moment is cracked by the whine of British bombers, who have made their way from the Allied invasion of North Africa. On occasion, they fly over the city, releasing their cargo as families scramble to their basements, despite the risk of being trapped beneath the rubble of their precarious homes—the fate of so many. Amid this chaos, along one ordinary street within a quite common home, there is a young Jewish-Italian woman at work. She is tall, probably 30, with dark hair and hawkish features. She is toiling away at her bedroom desk, her eyes fixed on the task before her. She is holding make-shift micro-scalpels that she has ground from sewing needles. To her left, there is a powerful Zeiss microscope and a syringe filled with …

Capitalism or the Climate?

Can environmentalism and capitalism sustainably coexist? An influential movement of climate activists view capitalism and environmentalism as antithetical. According to the title of an article in the Guardian, “Ending Climate Change Requires the End of Capitalism.” An article in Foreign Policy, meanwhile, is subtitled, “New data proves you can support capitalism or the environment—but it’s hard to do both.” And in her bestselling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein writes, “By posing climate change as a battle between capitalism and the planet, I am not saying anything that we don’t already know.” These are just a few of countless prominent examples. This view dwells not just in newsrooms, but in the halls of government as well. US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, author of the 2019 Green New Deal resolution and surrogate to Bernie Sanders in the 2020 democratic primary, told a 2019 SXSW audience, “Capitalism, to me, is an ideology of capital. The most important thing is the concentration of capital, and it means that we seek and prioritize profit and the …

Human Challenge Trials—A Coronavirus Taboo

The idea is as simple as it is apparently repulsive: allow human challenge trials (HCTs) under which “low risk” and healthy young adult volunteers in double-blind studies would be given trial vaccines (or a placebo) and then intentionally exposed to the novel coronavirus. This would accelerate the assessment of the trial vaccine’s safety and efficacy and more generally expand our understanding of this virus in a controlled setting. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 70 vaccines are currently under development, five of which are already moving to clinical trials. Notwithstanding these Herculean efforts, the earliest we can realistically expect a readily available vaccine is in 12 to 18 months. This is in large part due to constraints imposed by traditional vaccine validation methods, which rely on large test groups and chance exposure to the virus by participants to assess the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. HCTs, using a relatively small low-risk group of volunteer participants, could potentially accelerate the release of a safe and effective vaccine by many months. While conducting coronavirus HCTs …

Declining Med School Standards in a Time of Pandemic

In the beginning were the Medical College Admission Tests, or MCATs, a time-honored means of ascertaining worthiness for medical school. Formulated by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the MCATs assessed an applicant’s cognitive heft and baseline acumen in such no-nonsense disciplines as anatomy, biology, kinesiology, chemistry, and other precincts of hard biophysical science. Then, around the turn of the millennium, early social-equity advocates began insisting, in essence, that the MCATs unfairly limited med school to people who showed significant potential as doctors. Specifically, the pool of physicians being churned out each year was judged insufficiently diverse. A chief concern was that African Americans, 13 percent of the US population, represented barely six percent of medical school enrollees. Efforts were made; the numbers ticked up incrementally. Then in 2009 the body that accredits medical schools, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), touched off a parity panic across the med school landscape by issuing stern new guidance on diversity. In order to remain accredited, declared LCME, medical schools “must” have policies and practices in place …

The Complicated Science of a Medically Assisted Death

Jeff was ready to die. An Oregon man in his late 50s with kidney failure, he had cleared all the legal and practical hurdles that can keep someone from pursuing a medically assisted death. All that was left for him to do was ingest the lethal medication. Or so he thought. For much of his life, Jeff had worked as a long-haul trucker, sleeping in the cab of his truck and going fishing in between jobs. When his kidneys started to fail and he went on dialysis, he gave up trucking and became homeless. Jeff eventually stopped dialysis. He knew he wasn’t eligible for a transplant, and he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life hooked up to a machine. By the time Jeff was admitted to a Portland nursing home and enrolled in hospice, he had come to accept that he was dying. And he wanted to go out on his own terms. When Jeff first made his request to use Oregon’s assisted dying law, no one was sure whether he would …

I May Have Gender Dysphoria. But I Still Prefer to Base My Life on Biology, Not Fantasy

Feelings and opinions have displaced facts and evidence in many areas of the liberal arts. This is nothing new. A more recent phenomenon, however, is the extension of this trend into the realm of biology, which has fallen victim to the idea that men can become women—and vice versa—merely by reciting a statement of belief. It is an insidious movement that combines the postmodern contempt for objective truth with pre-modern religious superstitions regarding the nature of the human soul. The subordination of science to myth was exemplified in the recent British case of Maya Forstater, who’d lost her job after pointing out the plain truth that transgender people like me cannot change our biological sex by proclamation. “I conclude from…the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate,” concluded Judge James Tayler at her employment tribunal. “The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” I’m …

An Evolutionary Explanation for Unscientific Beliefs

“Another theory is that humans were created by God,” announced my tenth-grade biology student as she clicked past PowerPoint slides of Darwin’s finches and on to images of a catastrophic flood. After her presentation, I carefully avoided inane debate and simply reiterated the unique ways in which science helps us make accurate predictions. I then prepared for pushback from parents and administrators. Sure enough, the next day the superintendent of the school district came to my classroom with some creationist literature that he was confident would change my mind on the whole theory of evolution by natural selection thing. It didn’t, but it did lead me to pursue a PhD in educational psychology in my search to explain how such beliefs could be maintained in modern times, particularly in the face of such strong counterevidence. As it turns out, the theory of evolution by natural selection provides a strong explanation for how and why some people don’t believe evolution by natural selection has ever taken place. I initially thought the problem was a matter of …

How CRISPR-Enabled Gene Editing Could Change Our World: A Huntington’s Disease Case Study

Inside the O’Briens is a work of fiction by Lisa Genova that chronicles several years in the life of Joe O’Brien and his family. At the age of forty-four, Joe, a Boston police officer, is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a progressive brain disorder. Symptoms of Huntington’s disease usually appear in a person’s thirties or forties and initially include involuntary jerking and twitching movements, as well as subtle emotional difficulties and disorganized thinking. As the disease progresses, problems develop with motor skills like walking, coordination, and balance; the involuntary jerking and twitching become more pronounced; and cognitive abilities and emotions become further impaired. While there are medications to help alleviate these symptoms, there is no cure. Most people with Huntington’s disease die of this illness fifteen to twenty years after the onset of symptoms. The diagnosis of Huntington’s disease is only the beginning of Joe’s nightmare. At the same time that Joe learns he has this fatal disorder, he is made to understand that each of his four adult children—JJ, Patrick, Meghan and Katie—has a 50 …