The psychologists are burning another witch. A mob of professors, graduate students, and miscellaneous luftmenschen denounced Klaus Fiedler, the editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science, for “racism, general editorial incompetence, and abuse of power.” The Board of Directors of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), craven accomplices to the mob, swiftly told Fiedler to resign or be fired. Fiedler resigned.
The occasion? In 2020, one Steven Roberts of Stanford University published the usual farrago of identity-politics activism that passes for professional research among the woke, copy-pasted to apply to psychology. Fiedler, naif, arranged to publish a professional discussion of his article—which, naturally, thoroughly but politely dismantled his argument. Roberts’ solicited response included the slanderous accusation that respondent Lee Jussim’s citation of a line from Fiddler on the Roof (“Of course, there was the time when he sold him a horse, but delivered a mule.”) somehow invoked a long-forgotten derogatory comparison of blacks to mules.
(Gentle reader, is there one living American in a thousand who knows that this comparison ever existed?)
Fiedler, solicitous of Roberts’ professional reputation, asked him to withdraw that particular ad hominem. Roberts responded by withdrawing his article and publishing it as an open-access pre-print, publicly denouncing Fiedler and all his critics as proof that “systemic racism exists in science,” and sparking the social-media frenzy that led to Fiedler’s forced resignation.
Lee Jussim, distinguished professor of psychology at Rutgers University, has provided an extensive account of Roberts’ writings and of this witch-hunt. More broadly, he has described the general behavior of the identity-politics mobs who seek to destroy psychology.
These mobs seek (in my language, not his) to destroy all the academic disciplines by staffing them with commissars and by forcing them to pursue such euphemistically defined goals as “social justice,” “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and so-called “anti-racism.” In other words, they seek to impose a radical-left-wing political agenda on every aspect of the university, and to suppress all professional and private expression to oppose, or even question, that agenda.
Jussim and his likeminded peers say, despairingly, that the woke subordination of psychology (and the other disciplines) will encourage all free and intelligent minds to exit the discipline—and will also encourage attempts by Americans outside the academy to defund psychology as politicized nonsense.
Academics have disgraced themselves by behavior that would embarrass intelligent witch-hunters. Puritan ministers had greater doubts that “spectral evidence” should convict witches than psychology professors have about accusations of “systemic racism.” Increase Mather wrote that, “It were better that ten suspected Witches should escape, than that one innocent Person should be Condemned; … I had rather judge a Witch to be an honest woman, than judge an honest woman as a Witch.” Who among the mob that has come for Fiedler and Jussim has Mather’s scruples and charity?
Jussim and others already have articulated a critique from within the academy of Roberts and his fellow Witchfinders General. I’d like to add some further points.
Fiedler’s forced resignation is the least of the woke demands. The mob also demanded that the APS should,
3. Empower and fund your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to recommend and enact meaningful policy changes to address racism and intersecting dimensions of exclusion throughout the entire society, including in decisions about future APS journal editors.
4. Draw on the many available recommendations for disrupting racism in publication practices (e.g.,Buchanan et al., 2021; considerable work already conducted by task forces at SPSP and APA) to improve representation, create accountability metrics, provide editor and reviewer guidelines to avoid common racist practices, develop feedback systems for when those guidelines fail, and practice and communicate inclusive journal values.
5. Conduct remedial training for all editors on editorial ethics and anti-racism.
The woke want to use this occasion to impose a full DEI apparat on the APS and its publications. And this, of course, is always the point. Fiedler, Jussim, and their colleagues believe that professional etiquette requires them to treat the woke demands as more than lipstick on this love-child of Trotskyite entryism and Tammany Hall. I do not, and neither should the American public. Roberts and his cohorts incarnate the soul of lynch mobs, hanging judges, censorship, bigotry, thuggery, sanctimony, and ward-heelery. Intersectionally incompetent and intolerant, they have forfeited, indeed recklessly squandered, the esteem their professional forefathers laboriously accumulated over generations from the American public.
Squandered, not squandering. Jussim fears that the actions of his professional colleagues will justify attempts by American policymakers to defund much of what pretends to be scholarship, and to supervise externally an academy no longer able or willing to reform itself. What Jussim fears has already occurred. The university clearly has progressed beyond the point where the American public reasonably can expect that it will reform itself. It is telling that the petition against Fiedler received more than 1,200 signatures; the petition in his favor received only 100. American policymakers are fully justified in using the powers of the states and the federal government to restore the academy, and in defunding those sections of the academy that have succumbed completely to the woke. Gangrene requires surgery.
I do not wish to enter into the details of how psychology should conduct itself professionally, although I note that John Staddon has published a trenchant critique of psychology in the National Association of Scholars’s (NAS) journal Academic Questions, which challenges psychological practice more fundamentally than does Roberts. Nor do I wish to critique too thoroughly the paranoid poetics of the critical theorists, which searches with Javert’s indefatigability through the infinite realms of imagery to find a thought-crime. John Locke might say that they exercise prosecutorial wit, without judgment:
For wit lying most in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy; judgment, on the contrary, lies quite on the other side, in separating carefully, one from another, ideas wherein can be found the least difference, thereby to avoid being misled by similitude, and by affinity to take one thing for another.
But I do wish to pause a moment on Roberts’ theatrical dudgeon about the word mule. Jussim referred to Fiddler on the Roof. But to what else might mule refer? Jussim might have been thinking of black creative endeavor, as exemplified by Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men, and the play Mule Bone that Hurston co-wrote with Langston Hughes. Jussim might have been thinking of Charles Chesnutt’s tale from The Conjure Woman, which turns on a black character’s cleverness in convincing his white boss to buy a sickly horse instead of a healthy mule. Jussim might have been thinking of the radical promise of the phrase forty acres and a mule. Jussim might have been thinking of—any and every of the widely varying invocations of mule in black history and culture, to speak nothing of every use of mule in mankind’s annals.
Roberts’ slander of Jussim, as all other such exercises of paranoid poetics, falls into the category of failing to adjust for multiple comparisons—to consider one comparison, without considering the universe of other possible comparisons. This error is bad enough when done by professionals attempting scientific rigor. Roberts uses a sample size of one, and arbitrarily chooses a comparison from within human history’s undefined and nearly infinite field of possible comparisons. What we have here is not “researcher degrees of freedom,” but “prosecutor degrees of freedom.” American citizens don’t need the scientific metaphor to know that arbitrary smears are wrong. American professionals in the sciences and social sciences should be ashamed of such errors both as professionals and as citizens.
Lee Jussim is a friend of the NAS—a friend because he loves and embodies with joyful brio both academic freedom and the search for truth, and not because he agrees with the NAS’s catalogue of ideals and goals. Free men attract the friendship of all who share with them the love of truth. NAS’s friendship with Jussim leads me to propose another comparison for modern academia, alongside Fiddler on the Roof.
Lorraine Hansberry’s second and final play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, sought to portray all Americans, black and white, gentile and Jew. She neither feared that she would be trapped in her subject matter by the color of her skin, nor desired to impose such a limitation on herself. One of the triumphs of that play is her portrayal of Sidney Brustein, a man of ideals tempted to discard them, tempted to take down the sign from his window. Brustein discovers that the apparently reformist politician of the Left whom he initially supported is corrupt, and that his campaign lines have fatal consequences. So Brustein at the play’s end will keep his sign in his window:
The slogans of capitulation can KILL! … That which warped and distorted all of us is all around: it is in this very air! This swirling, seething madness that you ask us to help maintain! It’s not good, Wally—your world. It’s no—damn—good! You have forced me to take a position. … Just not being for you is not enough. To live, to breathe—I’ve got to be against you.
Lorraine Hansberry refuted the woke, because she could and did bring to life a Sidney Brustein. Sidney Brustein and Lorraine Hansberry live on in Lee Jussim, and in every professor who takes a stand against the madness of the woke, not because they are professional activists, but because they want to live and to breathe and to be free.
The sign is up in Lee Jussim’s window—and in that of every American who will not bend the knee to the woke. Long may it stand.
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