Empowering Bad Ideas through Censorship: The Case of Bo Winegard

Bo Winegard, who was, until very recently, in a tenure-track position in psychology at Marietta College, has pinned an essay for Quintette, “I’ve Been Fired. If You Value Academic Freedom, That Should Worry You.” His case is very troubling for those of us who believe in the liberal values of intellectual liberty. But it is also troubling for those who have made their life’s work confrontation with right-wing ideas. It makes that job a lot harder.

Race realist Bo Winegard

Winegard does indeed appear to have objectionable views. While I am unfamiliar with the corpus of his work, I know a little something about it. I give a lecture in criminology on so-called “race realism” in my criminology class, and many of the folks Winegard quotes or admires are there exposed and criticized before students. Race realism is racism, I tell my students at the end—after telling them at the beginning to be patient with what they may find offensive as I avoid straw dogging the race realist argument. I show them the hazards of racial thinking and the many errors of evolutionary psychology, especially with the claims about differentiated grouped intelligence. I want students to know that racist hereditarian views are still around and are, in fact, mainstream. A cursory look at his work reveals that Winegard is at least sympathetic to many of the views I criticize. 

One crucial piece of my critique is how the discipline of psychology continues to be a refuge for hereditarians like Winegard. IQ testing remains an industry and its aggregated findings reify racial categories. One routinely encounters the racist term “caucasian” in the discipline’s literature. Winegard can claim to have published peer-reviewed work because a discipline that accepts such assumptions will publish it. Racialists J. Philippe Rushton and his ilk are well published and have relied upon that fact to legitimize their racist views. Our job as rational humanists is to debunk this literature.

As important as debunking is, the RationalWiki pages used to undermine Winegard’s career are precisely the sort of stuff we must avoid using in this work. These pages are over-the-top, treating nationalism and concerns over population, immigration, and a certain pernicious religious ideology (Islam) as automatically “authoritarian” and “racist.” The entries are, frankly, obnoxious, the leftwing equivalent of Conservapedia. Its role in undermining intellectual freedom is akin to the rightwing’s TurningPoint USA and the professor watch lists. I would never use RationalWiki for debunking. It’s not a credible source. Such groups, whether on the left or the right, encourage students and others to harass teachers and disrupt their events, thus stifling free speech. In this case, interfering with the work of critique in the same arena.

I would never pursue the dismissal of a teacher or researcher on the basis of her views on this (or any other) subject. This is an argument that must be had in the open and on scientific terms. This can only happen if teachers and researchers are not punished for their views. Censoring, dismissing, harassing, and blacklisting people on the basis of political and ideological standpoint drives objectionable views underground where they remain unchallenged where they risk being accepted by those who do not have the expertise to doubt their veracity. Moreover, it gives them an argument that their views are so dangerous to the leftwing hegemonic structure of the contemporary academy that they must be censored and, on this account, they must be true. It allows them to paint themselves as modern-day Galileos.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

2 thoughts on “Empowering Bad Ideas through Censorship: The Case of Bo Winegard”

  1. The reason why Winegard was dismissed is symmetrical to your article’s failure. Even more than just failure: a substantial fear amongst both liberals and social constructivists — alike — regarding race. That fear being a.) there is no valid methodological refutation of psychometrics; b.) interracial differences are “objectively” indisputable and replicated — irrespective of “why” or personal intent; c.) without mathematical/statistical refutation, one is just normatively calling it “racist”

    Why? Regardless, racism is a straw man argument from the premise. They would rather fire him than engage in constant circular argumentation, of which may not sustain once certain views become mainstream.

    Think about it, you took the time and wrote an article that accomplished nothing. You provided no greater theoretical argument for “why” hereditarian inferences are racist. Moreover, refused any engagement in the subject-matter: (g), factor analysis, intra-racial differences, adoption studies.

    And lastly, you failed to show how giving Winegard academic freedom would disprove his alleged “racism.” It cannot be: that’s the point. So, if Winegard can’t be refuted, then his views will become facts — therefore, policy points.

    Dr. Arthur Jensen even admitted that racial differences of intelligence are “a priori assumptions.” The problem is that intra-racial differences — are not. Furthermore, IQ is the most sensitive quantitative construct within the social sciences; the broad claims of IQ are replicated and widely accepted.

    Heritability, while debatable regarding percentage, is accepted in content.

    Therefore, because of widespread external validity — replicated studies of both Black and White youth — it’s impossible to objectively refute Winegard’s assumptions without tropes of “Hitler and racism.” And not just Winegard, but Lynn, Jensen, etc.

    Winegard was fired because his research is unfalsifiable and some believe it’s dangerous. Make no mistake, though, academic freedom pales in comparison to collegial uniformity. And trust me, the last thing many dissenting academics will tolerate is competition in which their only response is: “my colleague’s a racist.”

    Think about that academic environment?
    There can be no doubt that Winegard’s colleagues didn’t want him on campus.

    The progressive left understands what the right does not — and never will. Which is that freedom of speech is only acceptable when it does not question “unquestionable” assumptions. In the post-war period, those are innate human differences. And yes, to believe that all inferences are considered acceptable by progressive standards is naive.

  2. Thank you for your lengthy comment. Unfortunately, it misses the point of my article. My point is about academic freedom and freedom of speech. I am compelled to note the problems with the views in question to make sure progressives do not use my essay to claim that I agree with these views. Progressives conflate defense of freedom of thought with agreement of thought. Moreover, your comment makes two debunked claims. First, race is not a valid biological construct. I have numerous articles on this blog about this. The claim that race is a biologically valid construct is shattered by modern population genetic research. Race is a category of racism. It does not exist independent of that racism. Second, the g-factor is not a valid construct. That has been known for decades. The instrument may be reliable (I am not claiming that it is) but it is not valid. Even if the points you make were relevant to the point of the my article, the comment would still fail. Again, thanks for responding!

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