The next attack on ‘cancel culture’ in universities: One serious wound is the scientific debate

The next attack on ‘cancel culture’ in universities: One serious wound is the scientific debate

In De Morgen on Saturday August 12, 2023, Marc Elchardus once again flew against persecution that might affect “conservative” or “right-wing” scholars in the academy: the so-called cancel culture. The reason for this is the recent posting on the Internet by one of the Americans Worksheet From the hands of Professor Dr. Norris of Harvard University. Elchardus’ conclusion is that our universities are dominated by a majority of “left” and “progressive” scholars who ruthlessly discriminate, eliminate and censor their “conservative” and “right-wing” colleagues, to the point that the latter is paid. Some kind of survival strategy. Engage in self-censorship.

In any case, such self-censorship is completely alien to Mark Elchardos: he appears regularly in newspapers and other media, does not mince words and does not shout too hard. And he is not alone: ​​in attitudes and actions, he is allied with three outspoken academics of the “right” and “conservatives.”

It is interesting to briefly discuss the Harvard research that gave rise to the column: a global survey focused on Political scientists from a hundred countries. Participation in the online survey was at your own initiative. After all, potential respondents were approached via “social media,” international and national associations, and professional associations of political scientists.

This method can be discussed. Also about reliability Self reporting It was a long-running controversy. After all, what are you actually measuring (eg facts or impressions). By the way: who answers (or doesn’t answer) such a survey that “pops up” by email in your inbox or social media without you asking? Possibly only those who feel the topic addresses them… I myself would hit the delete button anyway. I don’t trust the surveys (scientific and otherwise) that tell me out of the blue Subject to questions I would never ask myself except in a contextual way. Especially if you immediately understand which hypotheses are being tested.

In Belgium this got 56 entrants, so let’s say about 30 Dutch-speaking universities… very little if you consider the faculty of Flemish faculties of political science (in the VUB alone there are 351 academics as a result of searching the search database). Moreover, it is not impossible for these thirty people to come from the same grid and encourage each other to fill it up. There may also be respondents who have reasons for not answering “truthfully” or who start it and then see that the questions are too general or incomprehensible and then take them lightly.

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But even if everyone answers the questions posed objectively with their ratings (a scale of four or ten, for example), it still seems to me that using very general terms represents a disproportionately poor foundation (including the picture of a scientist with a pipette in a lab ) to claim that there are indeed limitations to academic freedom due to the numerical dominance of activist progressive scholars and the self-censorship of their conservative colleagues. This is certainly beyond the discipline of political scientists. Also for this same system it seems to me to be severely overrated. So I am impressed with anything.

It is also remarkable that the column is particularly aggressive and hateful: the so-called “left majority” throws up sludge, is “wrong and malicious”, relies on “conceptual nonsense” and invites anyone who is not in line into the helpless “fascist” way. This use of words is, of course, attributed to Mark Elcardus himself. But is he doing anything more remarkable in this way than scolding “left-wing” offenders? No: fate blames the supposed kettle on seeing the lions. the supposed Kettle, because the reader gets specific data from scratch about Flanders.

Ergo: What is this column actually? What and who has becomecanceledby whom? Self reporting of about 30 Flemish academics in one special field. And so in a very American hue Worksheet Which, of all things, uses more accurate classifications (4) of the “left-progressive” opposition as opposed to the “conservative right-wing” opposition used by Mark Elchardus.

Science is the collective production of solid, reliable, improveable, and verifiable knowledge, including the reaction and/or resistance of the study subject himself and Peers Determine right and wrong through argument. But true evidence can only be given in hard sciences that can control all the parameters of an experiment, and this is only insofar as the organism is indifferent to what happens to it. Only then can the argument die down and things can be considered “facts” (temporarily by definition). This is not the case in all other sciences, Who is stronger in the social sciences and Humanities. For example, just as all textbooks in physics are more or less the same, so in sociology and political science they depend on the scientific schools and the tendencies and points of view of their authors. Scientific controversies do not die here. It may well be that some schools temporarily gain the upper hand and set the tone. But the controversy remains. It is the engine of those sciences.

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Maybe the “left” and “right” categories Scientists Powerful jammers for proper argument. In political science, of course, political developments play a major role, and it is impossible to expect the agreement of all the scholars involved, as after a successful experiment: some part of the “activity” – or at least a tendency or direction – is always important to the party, as Mark Elchardus himself explains in His column of diatribes. This choice of perspective is usually demonstrated by the obligatory passage through “theory and conceptual framework” prior to empirical investigations. With Tarde you will of course end up somewhere very different from Durkheim. There isn’t much wrong with that.

But the differences should be scientific and open. We can miss the hate and abuse cultivated like the plague. With such a tone, we are no longer in science, but in politics itself and, even worse, in the ideological struggle itself. So, paraphrasing Mark Elchardus, you could say that both “left-wing” and “right-wing” scholars, If you still want to break it down and name it that way (and those lousy categories are starting to give me a headache) by definition’Unscientific standards have undue influence on what is researched, taught, and published.” This, then, is part of the controversy.

There is a big difference between academic freedom and freedom of expression. The latter is the freedom to express whatever he wants, whether it is nonsense or not, but there are preconditions stipulated by the law (defamation, defamation, racism, revisionism, hate speech etc.).

Academic freedom is a very different thing, because there is a prerequisite involved: it cannot be invoked if it does not relate to scholarly expressions or actions. For example, arguing that the Earth is flat is protected by freedom of speech, but not by academic freedom. That in the social sciences and Humanities It is not an easy line to draw, but that does not entitle anyone to treat all scientists described as “leftists” or “progressives” as fierce political dissidents, rather than colleagues in scientific debate.

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Elchardus simply does what it says”I wake up“No… unless it is all intended to be sarcastic and sarcastic, as I first thought of the Hypathia Hotline, but seems to have serious ambitions of creating a pseudo-unbiased disciplinary committee or pseudo-scientific integrity committee for”Accidents woke upto be in the academy. With media hoops as the only metric?

Most problematic about Mark Elcardos’ column, however, is his choice of target. If it is already cancel culture So this is what supposes universities to become competitive companies that have to produce more and more in order to keep their heads above water. He also admits it between the teeth.

Here, of course, lies the greatest attack on academic freedom: the ever-growing demand to publish more and more grants, to “win” more and more research contracts, to attract more and more students, and to offer more and more PhDs. , to be cited more and more, to take over more and more academic management, … Etc. to nausea.

The system of competition between universities within a closed envelope limited by subsidies leads to a change in the nature of the rhythm of science, to the establishment of fierce competition where there must be trust and cooperation, and of course to the deterioration of quality. In a concrete sense, this means that every academic should be on the lookout for research grants, in both the public and private sectors.

Aside from grants from the university itself, the FWO, and the European Research Council (where competition is quite fierce), this also means that you have to adapt to your terms, subjects, and goals. callsWhich sometimes as in European or ministerial programmes calls (in Flanders these days they are “right”, of all things), they are so goal oriented that you have to say in advance what your result will be, both in terms of content and in terms of “output”. Science is cheaper Consulting So.

And dear fellow Elchardus that stiff competition cancellation We are all in our dreams of a quality science based on subject respect and open, kind, logical scholarly controversies in disciplines with distinct truth systems.

Serge Guttworth is pProfessor at the Faculty of Law and Criminology at VUB.

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