Sunday, August 23, 2009

Academic Freedom

Most Wikipedia editors are clueless about academic freedom. Like the common run of folks, they believe that an academic should be busy producing insights that confirm what all of us already know. Their reaction to an academic whose work has unveiled uncomfortable truths is one of distaste, repulsion, condemnation. Perhaps the best example would be that of historians specializing in the late Ottoman Empire, historians such as Justin McCarthy. McCarthy, a demographer able to read the Ottoman archives, has examined changes in local populations during the last years of the empire, and has supplied substantive numbers to the claims and counterclaims of ethnic cleansing and massacres during that period. His conclusions are not to the taste of those who maintain that there was an "Armenian Genocide." How is McCarthy treated on Wikipedia? By being formally categorized as an "Armenian Genocide Denier." I'm not making this up, take a look.

The Ottoman historians are not alone. Hostile editors edit articles on other academics working on controversial issues. A good example is Richard Lynn, an IQ researcher who has become a leading expert on between-group IQ differences. His work is extremely politically incorrect, but its quality compares favorably with that of his more politically correct peers. A decent article on Lynn has eventually emerged on Wikipedia, but it took a long time, and lots of struggle.

A final example would be that of Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia who spent his career examining cases of children who appear to remember details of past lives. His findings give mild support to the existence of reincarnation, a result not at all to the liking of skeptics, who are imbued with the unshakable faith that reincarnation can not possibly exist. Stevenson's article, as well as the related article on "reincarnation research", have been turned into pages where obscure journalists are cited to buttress claims that this research is "pseudo-science". Problem is, Stevenson's team has produced the only scientific work on reincarnation, so it boggles the imagination how those defenders of science--the skeptics--are able to announce that science disagrees with his findings.

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