May 29, 2024

Peter Singer defends academic freedom

Speaks up in favour of controversial young Cambridge academic

Utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer is best-known as a defender of controversial issues like euthanasia, infanticide and animal rights. But another side of the controversial philosopher is defending academic freedom.  

In a recent essay in the website Quillette, Singer speaks up for a young academic under attack for his views on IQ. Noah Carl has been awarded a Fellowship at St Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge. He studies how intelligence and other psychological characteristics affect beliefs and attitudes. His most cited paper is “Verbal Intelligence is correlated with socially and economically liberal beliefs”.

IQ research is not the flavour of the month in many circles. About 300 academics have denounced his work as “racist pseudoscience” and demanded that Cambridge “immediately conduct an investigation into the appointment process” because his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed.”

Quillette asked Singer to comment on the controversy. He issued a stinging riposte to Carl’s critics:

“I am dismayed that so many academics are willing to sign a letter calling for the rescinding of an academic appointment, without offering any specifics either as to the errors that the appointee has allegedly committed, or to flaws in the appointment procedure …

“Academic freedom is a foundational principle of the modern university, while the principle that one provide evidence or reasoning for the claims one makes is the basis of any rational inquiry. For a university to act on a letter that attacks an appointee without offering any evidence to support the sweeping claims it makes, would be to go against both these principles. How could so many academics sign a letter that asks a university to do that?”

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