Stephen Hsu strikes back!

Since Hsu is getting pestered by these accusations of scientific racism and demands that he be dismissed from his administrative (not academic) role, he has decided to refute those claims with a letter and petition of his own. Curiously, he isn’t able to deny the accusations with evidence, which doesn’t stop him from simply asserting his denial, and has decided instead to respond with signatures from his scientifically authoritative friends in his support.

What’s amusing is that those signatures are from a bunch of known scientific racists. It’s like getting a bunch of Aryan Nation skinheads to testify that no, he ain’t racist, nosir, not racist at all. Very convincing!

As Kevin Bird says,

To be clear, all these academics are free to research, write, speak, and publish as they wish. However, in the context of defending a colleague against accusations of scientific racism, a more strategic decision may have been to not sign at all. Furthermore, a concern for MSU is that many academics of questionable reputation and/or people who have been misled about the campaign and charges against Hsu are jumping to defend freedom of inquiry despite it’s inappropriateness in this case. The inability of counter-campaign proponents to distinguish academic freedom from the powers and privileges of university leadership is a substantial shortcoming of the counter campaign.

Hsu is free to do all the physics he wants, that is what he was hired for. His extra-curricular ravings about biology can be dismissed out of hand, and really, he shouldn’t be rewarded with a high position in the administration where it looks like he’s representing Michigan State.


  1. Timothy Hamilton says

    Maybe you (or a colleague) should write some hilariously bad essay of a biologist/geneticist doing physics mimicking the way physicists write about biology/genetics. Maybe lifting phrases from various “worst offenders” with attribution of course, or even providing citations for sources that have absolutely nothing to do with physics or biology. Approaching it in the spirit, perhaps, of “I never met an equation that I didn’t like & couldn’t boldly misunderstand.”

  2. Matt G says

    Timothy@1- Clever idea! I was just trying to imagine doing this, and then realized that I (a biologist) would NEVER presume to lecture a physicist about physics. Nothing gives me more pleasure than mocking anti-science people (whether creationists, homeopaths, or physicists doing bad biology) but I wouldn’t know how to begin. Are there any examples of biologists doing bad physics from whom we can draw inspiration?

  3. cjcolucci says

    I assume Hsu is tenured faculty, and nobody seems to be agitating for his removal from his faculty position. That would raise a legitimate academic freedom issue. Administrative positions are another matter. Screw him.

  4. JoeBuddha says

    Imagine all planets are shaped like cows? Simplify physics equations down to basic Algebra? Imagine light and electricity as bb’s going down vein like structures? Sounds like fun! I’d probably do it if I knew how to structure a scientific paper.

  5. chrislawson says

    Timothy Hamilton–

    Already happens. Physicists squawk when quantum theory is abused by non-physicists. As they should.

  6. Matt G says

    chrislawson@5- Quantum theory is abused by woomeisters and quacks (Deepak Chopra comes to mind), but biologists are the first to attack other biologists when they do it.

  7. chrislawson says

    Matt G–

    The biomedical scientists who pushed the powerline-cancer link. Wilhelm Reich and orgone energy. Velikovsky. Anyone doing homeopathy research after Perrin demonstrated the physical basis of Avagadro’s number (it was a bad theory before then, but afterwards it became 100% incompatible with experimental evidence).

    I don’t think cross-discipinary Dunning-Krugerism is limited to physicists and engineers.

  8. Matt G says

    Rob@6- I did some digging. As I pointed out yesterday, Johnjoe’s first book was plugged by physicist Paul Davies, famous for explaining cancer to biologists. The other person named on the back cover of this book is A.G. Cairns-Smith, who is called a chemist and molecular biologist. The other person named is God, who appears in the title of Davies’ book. If you’re a serious scientist, why would God appear in a favorable light on the cover of your book?

    I dug some more, and it seems that Davies at least is a fan of the “third way in evolution,” made famous by James Shapiro. This is simply a form of creationism. That ain’t biology, and it ain’t science.

    Johnjoe’s second book was co-authored by another physicist, Jim Al-Khalili. Why wasn’t he putting the brakes on the quantum woo?

    When biologists peddle BS, we call them out. Are you willing to call out other physicists when they pedal BS?

  9. Kevin Karplus says

    I’m afraid that no reputable people are willing to serve as administrators at MSU—they have been a sports-can-do-no-wrong school for so long that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel for administrators. (I say this as an alumnus of MSU—though I am ashamed now to be associated in any way with the school.)

  10. Matt G says

    chrislawson@8- Let’s distinguish between cranks trying to do science (or medicine), and scientists who are competent in their field, but not other fields. The three people you mention sound like they were cranks for most (or all) of their careers. I’m glad you mentioned engineers – it’s amazing how many are creationists. There has to be a mindset which explains it. When it comes to not staying in their lanes, physicists and engineers are among the worst (but not only) offenders.

  11. says

    Hey, I’m a biochemist, but I’m perfectly capable of using quantum mechanics… inside its boundary conditions, for which I have a healthy respect.

    There’s the problem: Hsu doesn’t understand boundary conditions. Maybe if I explain it to him in terms of n-body interferences with a nod toward wavical predictors of stereoisomer prevalence… naaaah, that would be requiring him to accept that lab technique matters, and that’s the real difference between physicists and other natural scientists — too few leading physicists (and virtually none in particle physics) actually do their own experiments. Really: Can you imagine a particle physicist gathering particles, making particle homes, and feeding them tasty maggots?

  12. leerudolph says

    Jaws@12: “Can you imagine a particle physicist gathering particles”

    Hey, stroking a cat on a cold, dry winter’s day is a great way to gather particles! Now, if you’re talking about those newfangled fancypants particles, you might have a point. But surely some particle physicists stroke cats?

  13. Artor says

    I’m imagining a particle physicist stroking his long-haired white cat. “No Mister Myers, I expect you to die!”

  14. KG says

    Johnjoe’s second book was co-authored by another physicist, Jim Al-Khalili. Why wasn’t he putting the brakes on the quantum woo? Matt G @9

    I’ve only read the book co-authored with Al-Khalili, not the earlier one. I’d say it was speculative, but just the right side of wooish (the stuff about consciousness specifically – the Penrose-Hameroff nonsense gets fairly short shrift, for example), and God is notable by his absence (as in reality), so maybe Al-Khalili did put the brakes on.

  15. KG says


    Incidentally there’s another physicist who makes a complete fool of himself outside his area of expertise: Roger Penrose. Brilliant mathematical physicist, complete numpty when he turned to philosophy of mind. Hameroff is an anasthesiologist by training, indicating that medics can be just as bad (see also: Ben Carson).