Thoughts on Academic Freedom (and Our Series)

Below are some of the comments and articles that have addressed the issues of academic freedom as written about in the series appearing at Social Science Space. For an introduction to the series, click here.

mike-bird_optMichael F. Bird is a theologian and New Testament scholar who lectures at Australia’s Ridley College. He blogs at Euangelion at the Patheos website, where the full post excerpted below appears.

Here are some of my own fleeting thoughts about how political correctness as enforced by the social progressive Taliban is stifling academic freedom:

The liberal pre-occupation with micro-aggression and micro-invalidation, where a person of a privileged gender or ethnicity inadvertently affronts a minority, goes far beyond notions of tolerance and respect. These protests rest on the idea that society can be transformed into utopian equality by top-down institutional engineering of its language and the sanitization of dissident ideas. European philosopher Thomas Wells argues in contrast that banning speech that offends sensibilities is not in the spirit of true liberalism which safeguards personal autonomy. Rather, the liberal project of political correctness has instead manufactured the “wave of ridiculousness now sweeping across college campuses, first in America and now Europe, in which students seek to protect themselves from the trauma of hearing disagreeable views and ideas.” In some instances this leads to a form of student censorship whereby any view point that does not affirm the philosophical framework of the moral superiority of the minority is shut down or else any view point other than the social progressive one is treated as contraband.

Read more at the Euangelion blog at Pantheos …

kl_reichelt_optK.L. Reichelt is a medical doctor and researcher at Oslo University well known for his work on opioid peptides and gluten intolerance and on cancer. In 2004 he received the gold Kongens fortjenstmedalje — The King’s Medal of Merit — from Norway’s Harald V for his services.

I think you really miss the most important obstacle: the evaluation of applications and papers by our peers.

Most of the referees are so infatuated with their own theories that they hardly care to really read information which is different. I can give many examples but I still remember when the chemiosmotic hypothesis was put forward at the Federation of European Biochemical Societies meeting in Warsaw and also in ’68  in Prague.

Peter Mitchell, later a Nobel laureate for his contributions, was  called a “research whore” to his face, and worse in open session. It is after all the mavericks  who  often cause paradigm changes , and  research councils and many journals are often more afraid of their reputation than getting at the core of the problems. It is unbelievably more easy to make a beautiful, almost perfect paper, when you elucidate a facet of a major discovery [rather than make one yourself]. It is safe, not controversial and in fact more or less sterile.

The other obstacle is an increasing bureaucracy. Ethical committees, for instance, that get stuck on sentence formulations in applications even if the procedures are safe, not harmful, etc. They ask if the experiments are necessary, and if they think it is not according to their  views,  easily say no . Outside their own fields of research they are often unable to grasp the importance of the application. Applications that do not fit 100 percent to the stipulations of the research councils are not even read, but sent to the wastepaper basket. If they read the abstract this would probably not happen, but they do not if some minor technicality is not as they want it.

People who work in such jobs, but not bench chemists etc , are past masters of sprouting the correct and expected words at meetings, etc , but in reality their attitudes are a dangerous threat.

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