Hundreds of scholars recently signed onto an open letter denouncing Cambridge post-doctoral researcher Noah Carl on the basis that:
“A careful consideration of Carl’s published work and public stance on various issues, particularly on the claimed relationship between ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’, leads us to conclude that his work is ethically suspect and methodologically flawed.”
The letter provided no indication of which works they considered, no explanation of how those essays were methodologically or ethically compromised, and no references to other sources that might explain problems with the scholar’s work.
Similarly, although the letter criticizes the merits of Dr. Carl’s published, peer-reviewed research, there was no indication that its authors or signers had tried to engage with the author or the editorial boards to explain the perceived problems or to invite response to specific concerns about the method, data, or analysis of any of his papers.
The letter went on to assert:
“Carl’s work has already been used by extremist and far-right media outlets with the aim of stoking xenophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric.”
Here again, no specific details or evidence were provided to back up these assertions. Indeed, even if evidence were provided that bad actors had been (mis)using his work, it is not clear why Dr. Carl would be held personally responsible or culpable for this. Was he aware his work was being used in this way (if it was)? If so, did he condone or actively solicit this use? Was there some kind of negligence on his part which made the work easy to exploit? If so, there is no evidence for any of this provided in the open letter.
Indeed, the only specific details offered to justify Dr. Carl’s public condemnation was his “attendance at, and public defence of, the discredited London Conference on Intelligence.”
Dr. Carl did attend this conference. He then served as the fourth author of a paper published in the September/October 2018 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence – wherein attendees directly addressed public perceptions of the event, and the extent to which these characterizations mapped onto their own experiences and observations there.
Intelligence is one of Dr. Carl’s primary research areas. Although he does not personally work on race and IQ, he has publicly defended the right of others to do this research in a just-published essay for the peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.
Heterodox Academy has no interest in playing referee with regards to the empirical, methodological or analytic rigor of Dr. Carl’s work. Nor do we wish to speculate about the value and implications of his contributions. We refuse to make assumptions about the motivations of either Dr. Carl or his critics.
What we can say with confidence is that the open letter condemning Dr. Carl makes very strong and damaging claims about his research and his character – yet provides virtually no evidence for those accusations. We believe a different set of principles should govern situations like these (click to expand):
Communal inquiry and debate are at the heart of the academy. As researchers, we put our ideas into the crucible of open inquiry and rely on debate and discussion to refine understanding and advance solutions to complex problems. The practice of issuing open letters attacking scholars for their contributions undermines this important goal by evicting academics and their ideas from the arena — often on flimsy evidentiary grounds. More constructive responses can and should be employed.
5/1/2019 Update: Cambridge’s investigation into the recruitment process which appointed Carl “rejected the complaints that there were failings in the recruitment procedure.” Nonetheless, following the outcry against his work, the university has officially sacked Noah Carl. Speaking on behalf of the College’s Governing Body, Master Matthew Bullock apologized “unreservedly for the hurt and offence felt by all members of the Combination Room.” He continued, “diversity and inclusivity are fundamental values of the College and we abhor racism and religious hatred. There are lessons we must learn about how we demonstrate the importance of these values and we will take action to repair the damage that has been caused to our College community.”
Debra Mashek, Executive Director
Sean Stevens, Director of Research
Musa al-Gharbi, Director of Communications
Krystyna Lopez, Director of Memberships & Partnerships
Laura Lalinde, Director of Operations
Note that the executive team does not speak for the entire membership of Heterodox Academy. We did not consult the membership in drafting this statement, and we have no mechanism for expressing the collective will of our politically diverse membership.