Philosophers tend to be highly influenced by their environment, and can often be found rationalizing instead of critically examining the conventional views of the people around them. But if anything warrants philosophical scrutiny, surely it is our national taboos. As a philosopher of biology, one taboo is of particular interest to me: the taboo on considering the possibility that genes play a role in group differences in psychological traits. So I wrote a paper arguing that, while nothing can be definitively proved, there is strongly suggestive evidence that genes are involved in group differences, and we should stop suppressing and censoring research into this topic.
I submitted the paper to Philosophical Psychology—a respected journal that publishes work on the connection between philosophy and psychology, which at the time was co-edited by Mitchell Herschbach (a philosopher) and Cees van Leeuwen (a psychologist). To my pleasant surprise, I received two positive referee reports along with a request for revisions. After two rounds of review, the paper was accepted and published in the January 2020 issue of the journal.
The paper was accompanied by an Editors’ Note written by van Leeuwen and Herschbach, saying:
The decision to publish an article in Philosophical Psychology is based on criteria of philosophical and scientific merit, rather than ideological conformity… In sum, Cofnas’ paper certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ. However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence, and they deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.
Needless to say, heterodoxy about politically sensitive issues is not always well received in academia, so it was gratifying to see the editors of an important journal taking a stand for free inquiry. “2020 is gearing up to be the best year ever,” I thought to myself.
It didn’t take long for the paper and Editors’ Note to come to the attention of the wokerati on Twitter. Macquarie University philosophy professor Mark Alfano deemed my paper “shit” and announced his plan to “ruin [my] reputation permanently and deservedly.” He started a petition on change.org demanding an “apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three)” from the journal editors. A number of philosophers—many of whom did not even read the paper—joined the campaign to get it retracted and/or smear me. University of South Carolina professor Justin Weinberg promoted Alfano’s petition on his widely read philosophy blog, Daily Nous. He also published a guest post that falsely and preposterously claimed that I defended “segregation” and “apartheid schemes.”
But the editors of Philosophical Psychology stood firm. Van Leeuwen and Herschbach wrote a statement on Facebook reiterating that the review process had been carried out properly, and declaring, “Efforts to silence unwelcome opinion… are doing a disservice to the community.”