Academia's Secret

We are different. It is this concept of “difference” that produces a cocktail of unsettling emotions, but at the top of them all is the fear of inferiority and its potential outcome; exclusion. The harsh reality of the human condition is that our differences don’t always match up with our ideal outcomes. Some of us are better suited for certain tasks, and others simply aren’t. When disparities exist, our first instinct is to cast blame on a hazy mist of bad actors to account for them. The harshness of that reality drives some of us to reject all that leads to a morally neutral explanation of that unavoidable and timeless truth. We always need a villain. Because of this, a driven minority of impassioned activists must view that information as a ploy to keep the downtrodden, well, downtrodden.  

It is that activist minority who flagrantly shut down mathematician Theodore P. Hill. Dr. Hill and his colleague Sergei Tabachnikov constructed a mathematical model of what is called the Greater Male Variability Hypothesis--which is as it sounds. As with every trait, humans are more alike than they are different--on average. But no matter how similar we are, this doesn’t mean that we, as groups, aren’t different at the extremes. The GMVH tells us that even if we are more alike than we are different, on a broad scale we are ultimately different. Picture what is called a “distribution curve.” In the middle is a hump: the center of the hump is what most of us occupy. As it pushes outward, left and right, the rarer those qualities become. What this curve tells us is that women cluster at the center. Most men as well occupy that center, being more alike than we are different. But as you push out toward the extremes, you see fewer women and more men--on every trait from intelligence to aggression and suicide. This phenomenon explains why men are radically overrepresented in virtually every category from crime, Nobel laureates, to CEOs. Who wouldn’t want a logical explanation for something so prevalent that goes beyond “systemic bias”? Perhaps, the proponents of systemic bias who think that answer is infallible.

Sadly, this fact sat too uncomfortably for far too many within the corridors of academia. For too long, something recognized as valid by anyone respectable, the GMVH, stood without a mathematical model that demonstrated it with rigorous logic.  Drs. Hill and Tabachnikov strived to correct that, and instead of being met with the praise they deserved, their pursuits were met with scorn and, ultimately, total erasure.

This story exposes how academic activists wield their authority as a cudgel to suppress information that challenges their beliefs, silencing it--hopefully forever.

Marjorie Wikler, who is the Editor-In-Chief of the Math Journal The Intelligencer, wrote the following in response to the duo’s submission:

“I am happy to stir up controversy and few topics generate more than this one. After the Middlebury fracas, in which none of the protestors had read the book they were protesting, we could make a real contribution here by insisting that all views be heard, and providing links to them.”

Not only was she unbothered by the prospect of controversy, but Professor Hill writes that she “suggested that we might enliven our paper by mentioning Harvard President Larry Summers, who was swiftly defenestrated in 2005 for saying that the GMVH might be a contributing factor to the dearth of women in physics and mathematics departments at top universities.” She ultimately accepted their model for publication.

Controversy wasn’t an obstacle to truth, it seemed, until Google engineer James Damore dropped his internal memo, bringing the issue of male-female difference to the public’s front-view, and triggering a powder-keg of human emotion in the process. That event upped the ante as far as the controversy this is now mired in. With Damore being tarred and feathered as an advocate of discrimination, anyone daring to echo the reality of male and female difference was bound to be thrown under the same bus. Theodore and Sergei finally had become the target of seemingly every diversity professor there is.

The mathematicians received their first warning shot when someone who represents Women In Mathematics reached out to tell them that their findings might discourage women who want to pursue technical fields. She was afraid that some might use these facts to suppress women, as well. Pay attention to the fact that she didn’t question that they were in fact facts, just that the facts were potentially, possibly dangerous. Who would have thought that math professors could be such menaces?

She wrote critically of their work, “I support people discussing controversial matters openly … At the same time, I think it’s good to be aware of the effects.” She’s afraid that dumber readers than she and her fellow intellectuals “will just see someone wielding the authority of mathematics to support a very controversial, and potentially sexist, set of ideas…” In other words, the general population has to be protected from painful facts, so it’s better that they not see the light of day. The only arguments that she’s able to muster to support this, apparently, is their controversy and their potential sexism--apparently oblivious to the fact that they’re only controversial because of people like herself claiming that they’re potentially sexist.   

Being “aware of the effects” of “controversial matters” is extremely different than erasing them, quite obviously. With every scientific truth, especially on subjects like these, it’s true that we should do what we can to prevent them being used to discriminate or prejudge someone regardless of their individual merit. But that is exactly the opposite of what happened, when afterword a series of ideological actors conspired to suffocate the mathematicians’ work.

This representative of Women-In-Mathematics contacted Hill’s co-author, Sergei, and invited him fairly confrontationally to lunch, forewarning him that “you should know in advance that many (most?) of us have strong disagreements with what you did.” “What you did” is an especially bizarre way to finish a supposedly friendly invitation. It is clearly accusing him of some sort of wrongdoing--that wrongdoing being no more than trying to explain something with massive societal implications, especially one that explains the vast majority of the differences in outcomes that feminists are so worried about.

Predictably, this didn’t go over very well. Sergei was roundly told that the principles of free speech and, by extension, scientific inquiry “butt-heads” with other “important values”--chief among them, a commitment to fighting bias. Sergei was told to pledge his commitment to fighting that bias, bias they believed his research was justifying. This can be described as nothing short of a shakedown by an academy that wants to erect walls to shedding light on one of the most controversial and misunderstood topics today. The conduct of the Women-In-Mathematics during this fiasco sets the tone for the events that follow.

Hill immediately reached out to offer any clarification the Women-In-Mathematics might want, but as we will soon learn, those in thrall to left wing dark-age anti-intellectual dogma are never interested in dialogue. In fact, to engage in dialogue is to validate the legitimacy of moronically titled “problematic ideas.”

Women-In-Mathematics’ emotional and irrational opposition must have tugged a number of invisible strings because right after this silly, anti-intellectual grilling they were blindsided by another canary in the coalmine. Their paper was funded by the National Science Foundation, which soon reached out to Sergei telling him to remove any acknowledgement of their involvement with the study--the first time Hill had ever heard of such a thing happening.

It can’t be understated how worrying a development this is. The National Science Foundation is a government agency that funds academic research. If a handful of emotionally gripped feminist professors can influence its decision-making, this puts to rest the idea that the group of far-left equality-of-outcome types can simply be ignored as fringe within academia, and that they don’t have any real influence. Evidently, they can intimidate a government agency into burying any attachment they have to legitimate scientific work.  

If these events sound a little more than coincidental, it’s because they are: the Women-In-Mathematics applied their collective might to secretly discredit that paper to the NSF. Hill writes, “WIM administrator Diane Henderson (‘Professor and Chair of the Climate and Diversity Committee’) and Nate Brown (‘Professor and Associate Head for Diversity and Equity’) had secretly co-signed a letter to the NSF that same morning. ‘Our concern,’ they explained, ‘is that [this] paper appears to promote pseudoscientific ideas that are detrimental to the advancement of women in science, and at odds with the values of the NSF.’”

Absurdly, it never struck whoever at the NSF was responsible for this decision that Professors of “Diversity” might have more than a little skin in the game. Does it make sense for “Diversity” professors to be able to dismiss papers without any evidence beyond the fear that it’ll hurt “the advancement of women”? More than that, it’s more than a little patronizing to claim that high-performing women, who by this point are well aware of their talents, are going to be “discouraged” because a study explained observable facts that obviously doesn’t apply to them. Though this development alone is a stain on the academic profession, as the Universities by now have taught us, this is a pit that doesn’t seem to have a rock bottom. But that won’t stop these activists and their borderline book-burning cohorts from racing to it.

That very same day Hill heard once more from the Editor of The Intelligencer. Dr. Hill underestimated the consequences of poking the hornet’s nest by assaulting the assumptions of academia’s deeply entrenched left wing ranks. His paper, despite being enthusiastically accepted, would no longer be published. An unprecedented decision in its own right, you would think that there is some sort of crushing empirical flaw within it--not the case whatsoever.

Instead, it was the very same controversy that she assured Hill wouldn’t be a problem. After some arm-twisting and cajoling behind the scenes, the prospect of controversy struck her as… more controversial? In any case, the only rationale behind this jarring decision is that several, unnamed colleagues wrote her to warn that their work would evoke “strong reactions” and could be hyped by “right-wing media.” Evidently, science remains science up until the moment it is recognized by Fox News.

That unnamed colleague, it turns out, was Amie Wilkinson--another professor from the University of Chicago. Catching wind of it, she felt “morally” obligated to do what she could to bury it. One has to wonder how sprawling this network of academics hellbent on suppressing the flow of information is, if the reaction by this point in the story is so swift, coordinated and vicious. Ms Wilkinson was apparently unable to get the job done herself, so she calls in her dad, a well-known statician, to take aim at this piece of work. Dad writes, “this article oversimplifies the issues to the point of embarrassment.” Given how embarrassing it is, Wilkinson Sr. should be able to expose it for the comedy routine it is. Offered to discuss these embarrassments at a roundtable, the insecurity of his previously confident rejection shines through: he admits that others are more “expert” than he, declining the Editor’s perfectly sensible offer.

Anyone who followed the short-lived feud between Dr. Jordan Peterson and Ira Wells will find that this is an enduring trend for left wing academics. The elder Wilkinson’s cheap tactic here follows an all too familiar script of dismissing a given fact they don’t like, calling it some form of laughable or pseudoscientific or both, and retreating to the fact that they aren’t an “expert” on the topic at hand. This tactic was also used by the founder of the left wing publication Vox when he was pressed by Sam Harris about his rejection of IQ research. Not at any point are these people expected to be experts, but they are expected to back up their claims, which they conspicuously are never able to.

In spite of Wilkinson’s inability to back up his dismissal of his work, Dr. Hill was even willing to go so far as to revise his paper to his satisfaction. The Mother-Father duo apparently didn’t bother to grace Hill with a response--at least not directly. Hill writes, “Wilkinson continued to trash both the journal and its editor-in-chief on social media, inciting her Facebook friends with the erroneous allegation that an entirely different (and more contentious) article had been accepted.”

The Wilkinsons were able to bag another scalp when Hill’s co-author Sergei withdrew his name from the study. After all, he didn’t want to be associated with a paper that surely must be a tool of oppression for ambitious young women.

In yet another chapter of this sordid saga, Hill was contacted by the Editor of yet another journal, The New York Journal of Mathematics. He offered yet another revision, this time supervised--and it was successfully published! In a functional academic climate, that would complete the affair, everyone’s sanity intact. But if you’ve learned anything by now, that’s not how things go in today’s climate. To borrow from Orwell’s ridiculously applicable 1984, "Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” This could just as easily refer to what this story’s O’Brien, Amie Wilkinson, did next. In an act of corruption typically only seen in the third world, fortune has it that she’s married to a man named Benson Farb--who is on that journal’s board. Hill tells us than in a furious email he wrote, “‘Rivin, is well-known as a person with extremist views who likes to pick fights with people via inflammatory statements.” Farb’s “father-in law…a famous statistician, already poked many holes in the ridiculous paper.” Of course, he couldn’t stop himself from parroting the same baseless script that it is pseudoscientific “crap.”

Having already technically been “published”, Hill had no recourse--he didn’t have the rights to get it published elsewhere. As far as publication is concerned, his story was effectively killed. But in typical ideological, emotionally-gripped fashion, this wasn’t enough for Amie Wilkinson, who allegedly continued to attack both Journals for even considering the paper. The mere consideration of ideas, this teaches us, is to be rejected by the powers that be within academia. With nowhere left to go but over her head, Hill wrote directly to the University of Chicago’s President Robert Zimmer. Surely he would get a fair hearing from someone who praised his university’s “fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.

Except, Hill didn’t seem to get much of a hearing at all, save for a letter from the Vice-Provost, who wrote that the Wilkinsons had “exercised their academic freedom in advocating against the publication of the papers” and that their behavior had not been either “unethical or unprofessional.”

For the spirit of scientific pursuit, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Solid and thoroughly revised work was met with a rabid conspiracy of ideologues armed with nothing other than their fear of risk and exhausted rhetoric. If something so solid as a mathematical model that demonstrates the differences of men and women can’t be published without a few, highly influential, incestuous academics blocking it, what can? And when they do, respectable academics who want to maintain their careers have to slink away in silence, as did Sergei. And if you respond fearlessly, appealing your way to the top, you will find no recourse within academia. The leadership of such esteemed universities as the University of Chicago can be counted on to dismiss you entirely.

Fortunately, there are publications and alternative media like Quillette that can be turned to to sound the alarms, but that won’t be enough without action. All of this means that we have to gravely reform the universities, and if they resist, do all that we can to bring them to heel. If that means defunding them, as President Donald Trump and many others suggested in reaction to Berkeley’s censorious tactics, so be it. We cannot afford the institutions that are moulding those who will enter positions of leadership in business and, most importantly, government, to be this corrupt. It is one of the gravest threats to intellectual progress and freedom of thought that we face today. There is no telling how many Wilkinsons or spineless Zimmers there are in our top schools, but stories like this give us absolutely no reason to trust them.

Christian O'Brien