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Middlebury College, Academic Freedom Laws — Assessing the Future of Intellectual Freedom

David Klinghoffer

Charles Murray

From sources of prestige scientific and other scholarly and academic opinion, the trend of opinion has been increasingly against intellectual freedom. One would like to think that the riot at Middlebury College against sociologist Charles Murray and his host Professor Allison Stanger would occasion some second thoughts among elite academic and media figures. Don’t hold your breath.

The hysterical insistence on uniformity of thought, stirred up by false accusations that Murray’s nuanced views on genes and intelligence make him a “white nationalist,” drew a furious mob of students. The students turned their anger on Dr. Stanger when she tried to physically defend Murray, who is 74 years old. The ensuing violence left Stanger in a neck brace and with a concussion. She says that while this was going on, she “feared for [her] life.”

No wonder. Something is seriously wrong on campuses, where privileged Middlebury College students assault scholars for failing to articulate the expected views on political and other matters.

Stanger and Murray were first chased out of a planned public venue for their conversation, taking refuge in a video studio. There (see it here) you can hear the mayhem outside in the background, including what sounds like students banging on drums (it was windows actually) and setting off fire alarms. At the end, Stanger acknowledges that despite her disagreements with Dr. Murray, they were able to learn from each other by rationally examining points of contention that divide them. The assault took place after they left the studio.

Maybe, maybe, the leadership in the academy will finally take this appalling event as a wakeup call.

That would be welcome because, minus the violence, it’s hardly different in spirit from the move by elite media to suppress efforts on behalf of academic freedom in science education. There too we see a hysterical insistence on conforming to all the expected views — on evolution, the origin of life, or climate change — mixed with a constant resorting to out-and-out falsehoods.

The idea that academic freedom (AF) bills promote teaching intelligent design, or creationism, in public schools is about as true as the absurd rumors circulating at Middlebury College before the riot that Charles Murray promotes white nationalism.

Latest case in point? The distinguished science journal Nature weighs in on AF laws. The language is calm, of course. Yet the insistence on uniform opinions on controversial science is unmistakable. The editorial repeats the untruth, endlessly spread by the National Center for Science Education, that examining opposing mainstream views on certain science topics is “antiscience.”

Last week, state legislators in Iowa introduced a bill that would require teachers in state public schools to include “opposing points of view or beliefs” in lessons on topics including global warming, evolution and the origins of life….

Since last month, Indiana, Idaho, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida have all introduced and discussed similar tweaks to the way in which they want to educate their children. A related move in South Dakota has been blocked — and researchers and science organizations that spoke up in opposition there deserve credit for doing so.

Although these proposed changes are typically presented by their supporters as giving teachers the chance to discuss genuine scientific controversies, in truth they are (very) thinly veiled attempts to pursue political and religious agendas that have no place in school science lessons — for whatever age.

They conclude:

Not all science is tentative, and researchers should not be shy about saying so — both to those in schools and to those in charge of schools.

The idea that theories of biological origins are absolutely certain and not “tentative” would come as a surprise to the scientists who gathered at the venerable Royal Society in London last November to debate “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” Beyond the sheer inaccuracy of the statement as it applies to evolution, insisting that ideas not be held “tentatively” is a prelude to shutting down legitimate, mainstream discussion.

The editors at Nature don’t need to bang on windows or set off fire alarms. They don’t need to physically attack 74-year-old sociologists. They are much more powerful than the pathetic brats at Middlebury, and far more effective at squashing instructors who don’t conform to expected views — in this case, by teaching students to objectively weigh the straight orthodox Darwinist line.

That having been said, libels about “antiscience” could set off riots. It’s not unimaginable. We’ll have to wait and see what happens at next month’s March for Science — whether it’s a march on behalf of open inquiry, as claimed, or on behalf of shutting such inquiry down.

Academic freedom bills pose the question in a particularly pointed way: Are you in favor of open discussion in science education, or against it? Nature, at least, has come down firmly on the question.

Image: Allison Stanger and Charles Murray, via Middlebury College.