Monday, July 10, 2006

Barrett to teach

Kevin Barrett will get to teach Introduction to Islam, including a presentation of his view that the US government was behind 9/11. The UW provost had this to say:

"It is in cases like this - difficult cases involving unconventional ideas - ... that we define our principles and determine our future," Farrell said. "Instead of restricting politically unpopular speech, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque in front of Bascom Hall that calls for the continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas."

As I've blogged before, my problem is not so much that certain views should be ruled out of bounds, as it is with how a guy who is either stupid enough or disturbed enough to believe the highly implausible "false flag" theory of 9-11 got hired in the first place. The only way that you can buy into that stuff is by taking bits and pieces of information out of context and then refuse to think critically about them. I wonder how a guy who seems to have the judgment of a two year old - referring to the 99.9% of the world who disagrees with him as "total f***ing morons" and responding to criticism from Jessica McBride with the kind of misogynist garbage that would get me (properly)kicked out of just about everything I do was thought to be the best person to teach this class. There must be pretty slim pickings in Islamic studies.

The other concern I have is why these "unconventional views" that the university must tolerate so that they can be "sifted" and winnowed" are always on the left. What would the provost say about a geneticist who argued that certain innate skills and abilities were statistically correlated with characteristics like race and gender? What about a biologist who argued for intelligent design? Both of these ideas are alot more plausible than 9-11 denial. (In fact, they are probably, at a certain level, true.) Would we be sifting and winnowing through these?


Anonymous said...

If this case is used to “define our principles and determine our future”, we are in trouble.

Michael J. Mathias said...

Oh, my goodness. Please edify all of us as to which "innate skills and abilities (can be) statistically correlated with characteristics like race and gender?"

Rick Esenberg said...

The "oh my goodness" and request for "edification" proves my point. This is a question that is out of bounds. But researchers find differences between racial, ethnic and gender groups on all sorts of things. Then they argue about whether they are the products of genetics or socialization. For example, why is the NBA disproportionately African American? Why are the best sprinters in the world predominantly black? Why do Asian-Americans - as a group - outperform everyone else in certain academic areas? Why have jewish people done disproportionately better in certain others? Why are women doing so much better than men in college nowdays? As Larry Summers asked, why are top scientists predominantly male? Is it because, as he thought, there are more cases of extreme inteligence and lack of intelligence among the male population? Or is it because of socialization? The Summers case itself suggested that this is something the university does not want to sift and winnow.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Barrett is only scratching half of the truth.
The rest is here:

Michael J. Mathias said...

Well, you actually posed the question. As to whether it was out of bounds, I was under the impression that the kind of hokum in your response had been done away with long ago by polite society. Of course, I've been wrong before. My question was not based on any issue of socialization at all, but on your apparent acceptance as plausible the point that "innate skills and abilities (can be) statistically correlated with characteristics like race and gender." But I am sincere so I will drop my request to be edified and merely ask for clarification around your point which remains for me, at least, murky.

Other Side said...

I re-read the post and came to the same conclusion ... the implication is it's a right-wing stance.

I know you didn't mean that, Rick, it read that way.

Rick Esenberg said...

"... the kind of hokum in your response had been done away with long ago by polite society. "

I take it that you mean the possibility that characteristics might not be evenly distributed among racial, ethnic and gender groups.

The idea that this cannot be discussed "in polite society" proves my point. I really don't know if all characteristics and aptitudes are evenly distributed among racial, ethnic and gender groups. I know of research that suggests they are not and I think it'd be surprising if they were. Of course that doesn't tell us anything much about any individual person. For example, there is research that purports to show that men - as a group - score better on spatial reasoning and women - as a group - score better on verbal reasoning. I am a man but when it comes to spatial intelligence, I am a moron. On verbal skills, I score very highly.

Maybe all differences do get explained away by culture, but I certainly think that polite people can discuss it politely.

Michael J. Mathias said...

Even mushy-headed liberals get cranky and tired. I was trying to be clever and, in re-reading my posts, I picked language I thought would goad you. That was not polite and I sincerely apologize.

This is your blog and you should have the last word so please slap down my next comment in any way you see fit.

You noted: "Why is the NBA disproportionately African American?" I know you meant players and not owners or general managers. I don't know why most players are African American, but it's demonstrably true that most African Americans are not qualified to be NBA players. Potential players also don't get to choose to be in the NBA--they are selected by fallible (and even failing) human beings who make choices that align with all kinds of personal preferences or experiences that don't square as objective reality. Some of their choices are good (hello, Dwayne Wade!) and some are bad (goodbye, Glenn Robinson!)

In short, I am exceptionally uncomfortable with attempts to statistically coordinate anything related to athletics or brains and race or gender.

Rick Esenberg said...

I won't slap it down because I mostly agree. Its absolutely true that most African-Americans aren't NBA-caliber athletes and most men aren't Nobel Prize winning mathematicians. It is also true that, even if blacks and men are more likely to have these characteristics, there will always be whites and women who have them too. All I'm saying is that it's not obvious - indeed it seems unlikely - that every trait and ability would be spread equally without the population.

Asking the question does make us uncomfortable because we know how the answer can be misused, but should that mean that this is an area where no sifting and winnowing is allowed?