The hypocrisy of Boghossian’s academic defenders

I was listening to the latest Serious Inquiries Only podcast, on the Boghossian affair, while I was pumpin’ iron down at the gym, and Eli Bosnick made a really, really good point. After reading these various serious statements of support for Boghossian from people like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker — they’re piously declaring that demanding he follow IRB requirements is a threat to academic freedom — he mentioned a curious omission. While they rush to the defense of their alt-right, Intellectual Dork Web colleague who has violated university policy and faces a rebuke from the university administration, they’ve never said a word about…Turning Point USA.

You know TPUSA is a Koch-funded far-right organization that trains students to incidents at universities so they can get left-leaning professors fired. They’re kind of incompetent at it — wearing diapers to show that left-wingers are babies isn’t very impressive — but you still don’t get to accuse universities of Orwellian behavior when right there, right in front of their faces, with no apologies and forthright insistence, TPUSA is maintaining an Orwellian Professor Watchlist (fair notice: I’m on it).

On the one hand, you’ve got a university calling in bigoted anti-feminist employee to a meeting (oh god, that’s torture!) because he violated university policy; on the other, a well-funded right-wing organization making an enemies list of professors and encouraging action against them. Which one do you side with? It says a lot about you.


  1. ethicsgradient says

    There’s a world of difference between the actions of university administrations (or commenting on them), and those of an independent political organisation (or commenting on them). It’s not a good point at all. If you’re right that they’ve never mentioned Turning Point USA, then all that means is they haven’t thought them worth engaging.

    This is an attempt at whataboutism that fails.

  2. says

    Oh? Which do you think a professor should find a greater threat to their work: clearly stated academic requirements, or a well-funded reactionary group inciting hostility to professors?

    I’m not at all concerned about IRBs or IACUC requirements — if I don’t meet them, that’s on me. It’s not as if institutional standards are designed to harm faculty.

  3. says


    I almost agree that it’s sort-of-kind-of whataboutism. The difference for me is that this is given its own post. Yes, it takes place in a larger context, but this is one discussion. It’s not trying to divert attention from something else. It’s a new post just about this. True whataboutism is an attempt to derail a conversation and/or avoid having to answer a specific question by introducing a distracting 2nd question.

    In this case, PZ has made it clear where he stands on a number of questions. (Whatever you consider the “first question” to be in the case of your accusation of whataboutism, he’s probably answered it. We could judge better if you specified what issue you thought PZ was avoiding.) He also makes clear where he stands on this one: standing up for “academic freedom” by objecting to university rules requiring IRB approval on experiments involving humans is very different from objecting to McCarthyite enemies lists of suspect academics.

    If a person is genuinely concerned enough with academic freedom such that IRBs seem a threat sufficient to provoke comment, then groups like TPUSA and actions like their propagandist list-gathering would surely constitute at least as great a threat and should provoke at least as much comment. If you’re not commenting on TP-USA but you are condemning IRB standards, it’s legitimate to question whether what is motivating your comments is indeed a genuine concern for academic freedom.

    Now, actually proving Dawkins hasn’t commented on TP-USA’s activities or similar threats that might exist in the UK might be difficult. So you could characterize PZ’s argument as incomplete. But it’s not whataboutery, and the questions raised are, I believe, legitimate.

  4. karmacat says

    So Boghossian is too stupid or too lazy or both to come up with an experiment that complies with IRB rules. He can’t do what virtually all other scientists are able to do.

  5. says

    Boghosian and his defenders strike me a lot like many of my pupils. When confronted with breaking a rule, many of the will argue that the rule is bad because it was inconvenient to them at that moment.
    “You know we don’t just get up and walk around class.”
    “But I needed to put something into the thrash can!”
    “You know we have breaks for eating, why did you start your breakfast during classwork?”
    “Because I was hungry.”