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.
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.