Some physicists think that because they know physics, and physics is difficult, that they are qualified to work in other disciplines. Sometimes a physicist wandering from physics turns out fine, particularly if they make use of their obvious quantitative skill; I’m thinking here of David Layzer’s well-known critique of Arthur Jensen’s IQ work. Other times it is disastrous, such as William Shockley’s eugenic proposals. Yesterday evening the Graduate Employees Union (GEU) of my own university, Michigan State University, posted a long Twitter thread that shows that the Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Stephen Hsu, here at my own university, Michigan State University is much closer to Shockley than he is to Layzer.
I’ve written before in this space on how scientific racism gains purchase when supposedly mainstream sources publish and promote it. I find the evidence in the GEU Twitter thread to be good examples of Hsu promoting outrageous figures by appearing with them on podcasts and Youtube videos, such as that of the loathsome Stephan Molyneux.
Hsu shares a conceit all too common among physicists: that “it’s really high math ability that is useful for discovering things about the world — that is, discovering truth or reasoning rigorously.” But his behavior shows that this is manifestly untrue. All the quantitative sophistication in the world does not help in disciplines that require interpreting texts in historical contexts, understanding social nuance, or properly recounting the past for present-day audiences. Add in a heaping dose of conspiracy arguments and you can quickly end up promoting racist, especially antisemitic interpretations of history. This is what happened when Hsu interviewed his friend Ron Unz last year. The Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation at my University heaped praise on a promoter of Holocaust denial on his podcast; clear evidence of Hsu’s complete lack of scholarly and intellectual judgement.
When Hsu was hired here there was some controversy about his views on genetics and intelligence (see his response to this controversy here). As his blog makes clear, Hsu seems to be someone who believes in the biological reality of race and is what I call an “IQ fetishist:” one who believes there is a “thing” called intelligence and that IQ measures it. Hsu’s interest in IQ and genetics means he thinks we’ll soon be able to raise IQs through genetic manipulation and get a bunch of super-geniuses running around. One would think an educator would be interested in improving schooling for people, enriching their educational environment, making more educational opportunities available to everyone–but not Hsu. He’s interested in some pie-in-the-sky genetic technology that promises giving some people “1000 point” IQs. To me this is a serious lack of judgment about how the world works. And that brings us to Ron Unz.
Hsu and Unz ran to become part of Harvard’s Board of Overseers in 2016. At the time Some Harvard students expressed concerns about this attempt because Unz, it turns out, donates money to white nationalist organizations, but there is no evidence that this activity bothered Hsu or that it caused any tension in their friendship. Hsu was upset that Harvard was not admitting students strictly by their test scores, which he saw as a betrayal of the “meritocracy.” Hsu praised Unz for writing an article entitled “The Myth of American Meritocracy.” In the “Primary Bibliography” of that article Unz cited works by notorious scientific racist, Steve Sailer, two books by segregationist writer Nathaniel Weyl, and a book by Richard Lynn, well-known for his sloppy research on race, on “Jewish Intelligence and Achievement.” Lynn’s book was published by Richard Spencer, an alt right organizer of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
Years later, when Hsu hosted Unz on his podcast, Hsu describes Unz as “an old friend of mine.” Unz,the like Hsu was trained as a theoretical physicist. He also put his IQ as 214 on a job application once, which seems to impress Hsu. Me, I’d wonder about the kind of person who would claim such a thing since such a score would seem impossible to obtain given how most IQ tests are constructed:
Things begin to go awry about halfway through the interview when Hsu asks about Unz.com, Unz’s collection of “alternative media.” Unz explains that he’s “discovered” past writers and made their work available online. One of Unz’s favorite words is “purged.” Unz claims that once journalist James T. Flynn “came out against Roosevelt…he was purged along with a lot of America’s leading journalists right at the end of the 1930s, at the beginning of the 1940s.” The purge was widespread: “There were all these other people I’d never heard of either, who were the most influential journalists and scholars in America, and they were all purged, I’d never heard of them.” Unz never explains who “purged” these people or the mechanisms by which they were “purged.”
It simply is not true that Flynn was “purged.” Flynn is well represented in standard histories of American conservatism. Collections of his essays are readily available. As the excellent biography of Flynn, published nearly a 15 years before Unz “discovered” the “forgotten” Flynn, the reason Flynn was not prominent after World War II was because his writings became increasingly erratic and angry and he insisted on publishing crazy things like the notion that FDR allowed the Pearl Harbor attack in order to get the U.S. involved in World War II. One wonders if it was Flynn’s work on Pearl Harbor that Unz “ended up reading…which brought incredibly shocking facts to my attention about that time period that I’d never heard of in my standard history texts or anything like that.” Flynn, in other words, pushed the idea that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a massive government conspiracy, an idea that Unz apparently finds very attractive.
Another person Unz “discovered” was “Harry Elmer Barnes was one of the most influential historians and academics in American society. He was also purged and I’d never heard of him anywhere.” Like Flynn, Unz is simply incorrect that Barnes was “purged,” since Barnes’s name graces a Holocaust denial website. Barnes, like Flynn, was conspiracy monger who believed that Roosevelt and Churchill, not Hitler, were responsible for World War II.
To his credit Hsu gently pushed back on some of these “purge” claims but agrees that the media is not too trustworthy: “my confidence in the media could not be lower at this point.” He holds up unz.com as a “leading source of alternative media on the internet.” Hsu describes Unz as believing “there are lots of things in which the sort of consensus and what’s written in elite media could be completely misleading or wrong, and that that kind of misconception can persist for really long periods of time, like decades at a time.”
My view is that some things are not covered by the “elite media” because they are intellectually worthless. Heaping praise and recommending people who push intellectually worthless, but dangerous, ideas shows a serious lack of scholarly judgment. To be clear: unz.com pushes Holocaust denial and anyone visiting the site would immediately see this. Rather than calling it out, Hsu defends the work of his friend with the 214 IQ.
Myth One: Unz.com Provides Views of the Left and Right
The late, lamented comedian, Mitch Hedberg had a great line: “Why does everyone call me a Nazi? I do other things too.”
Hsu said: “My way of explaining [unz.com] to other people is that it’s a website which entertains or publishes views from both the left and the right, but typically people who can’t have their views promulgated by the mainstream media.” One question Hsu doesn’t ask is why these people might have trouble getting their views heard? Unz believes these historical figures were “purged” by….. someone, just who he never says. So, Hsu simply lets that question hang in the air rather than trying to find out what is going on. Holocaust deniers know who purged the Truth about World War II: The Jews.
A visit to the unz.com makes clear exactly what is going on. Here is the the site on 5 June 2020. There are four bloggers listed in a column on the right: Steve Sailer, promulgator of scientific racism and a key figure in white “identitarian” politics. Antony Karlin, an associate of Richard Spencer and promoter of antisemitism. “Paul Kersey”, who seems to devote every column to a tale of a black person killing a white person and is an active white nationalist under his real name, Michael J. Thompson. The fourth blogger is named “Audacious Epigione” and is yet another repetitive column devoted to scientific racism and extreme right-wing politics. Not a leftist among them.
It gets worse. Right above the list of bloggers is a little box advertising a book made available at unz.com:
Arthur Butz is one of the most famous Holocaust deniers in the world, and here his book is being pushed on the front page of the Unz review. The excuse that Unz is only interested in promoting hard-to-find sources is not a case since the book has been continuously in print by extreme rightwing publishers since 1976 and is freely available all over the web. This is not the work of a careful archivist trying to preserve historically important texts for scholarship. This is offering up a key antisemitic book of falsehoods as if it has something important to say about the Holocaust.
It gets worse. If you click on this box:
You find a list of books unz.com is selling. There are two books advocating the idea that 9/11 was an inside job, two books on Alexander Dugin, seven advocating various forms of white nationalism, and thirty-five advocating Holocaust denial. As before, this cannot be because these books are not available for purchase elsewhere. They are. But someone at unz.com wants you to read them and wants unz.com to profit from their sale. Again, leftist books are few and far between here.
The idea that unz.com is a site devoted to “both sides” of controversial issues is laughable in the face of this evidence. You may be able to hunt around and find unz.com promoting an occasional leftist idea but that means little in the face its promotion of the most extreme antisemitic politics possible.
Myth Two: Ron Unz Does Not Believe the Views on Unz.Com
Hsu is quite explicit about this:
So what I often say to people who read something on unz.com and don’t like it and then attack you, what I tell them is that these are not Ron’s views. Ron is deliberately trying to create a platform where controversial views can be published, and he’s not responsible for those views. He is the person who allows these ideas out but he doesn’t necessarily stand by all of the ideas, and many of the ideas on unz.com are mutually contradictory.
He doesn’t “necessarily stand by all of them.” But he definitely stands by some of them. One of them seems to be Holocaust denial.
Referring to his co-host, Corey Washington, Hsu asks:
If you have a skeptical guy like Corey who…I’m joking here, but blindly trusts what the media says to him, what’s the way for him to awaken from his slumber? What things should he read, what facts should he check? How would you awaken him from his slumber?
Unz responds: “Okay, I think probably a reasonably good starting point is actually my article “American Pravda.” Yes, Unz publishes a column called American Pravda and recommends it for the straight dope on World War II (among other things). If you visited American Pravda on the day of Hsu’s interview, 16 May 2019, you’d find Unz’s column he’d published three days before. In it he endorses the most extreme antisemitic tropes possible while recommending readings from Nazi sympathizers.
He begins the column by recommending the memoirs of Sisley Huddleston, a British journalist of the 1940s. Actually Huddleston was “unique in that he is the only Briton who has sought naturalization as a citizen of Vichy France” (New York Times, 10 December 1943, p. 10). The account of World War II offered by Huddleston is that of a Nazi collaborator but, according to Unz, “Huddleston’s credibility seemed impeccable” which speaks to Unz’s historical judgments. And Hsu offering Unz a forum speaks to his historical judgments.
It gets worse. Unz quotes from a previous column of his, one that had been printed a year before and that Hsu certainly should had known about if he had done any due diligence about his “old friend” with the 214 IQ. Unz wrote:
No example is more obvious than in the ongoing attempts to conceal the enormous role played by Jews in the Bolshevik Revolution and worldwide Communism generally. As I wrote last year: In the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution, almost no one questioned the overwhelming role of Jews in that event, nor their similar preponderance in the ultimately unsuccessful Bolshevik takeovers in Hungary and parts of Germany.
The notion of “Jewish Bolshevism” is an antisemitic canard that goes back a century and was a key piece of Nazi propaganda in their persecution of Jews. It is still a popular lie among neo-Nazi rightwing groups. A recent history of the idea shows:
Unz feeds the myth by citing antisemitic sources, both old and new, to support his claim about Jewish Bolshivism. First is that ever so reliable source on everything: Vladimir Putin. Second is an antisemitic British journalist of the 1920s, Robert Wilton; Unz directs us to read the book where Wilton claimed that Jews ritualistically killed Christian babies. Third, Joseph W. Bendersky’s book on antisemitism in the military. Unz ignores that Bendersky is reporting how antisemitism warped military intelligence and simply agrees with the warped military intelligence. Third is Kevin MacDonald, the antisemitic “evolutionary psychologist” who edits the Occidential Quarterly. Fourth, Henry Wickham Steed, another British antisemitic journalist. Fifth, white supremacist, Lothrop Stoddard, Sixth, David Irving, who holds the doubtful honor of the being world’s pre-eminant Holocaust denier. A British court had this judgment about Irving:
The charges which I have found to be substantially true include the charges that Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.
I could go on. It is all couched just short of outright endorsement, as is common in denialist literature. As Keith Kahn-Harris argues in his wonderful little book, Denial, deniers seldom want to actually convince anyone of their views. They want to be heard, they seek a way to say the unspeakable; to make it palatable; to wrap it up in “both sides” and false equivalencies. This way they can still be heard in polite company. Antisemites know this strategy well and recognize it when they see it. Stephen Hsu obviously will not or cannot see through this thin disguise.
Neither I, nor anyone else knows what Ron Unz “really believes.” I don’t really care what is in his heart. What is, or should be, blindingly obvious to anyone is that, despite his own Jewish background, he purveys and recommends antisemitic literature as a reasonable point of view. His public behavior is racist and reprehensible regardless of whether or not he personally holds those views.
Unz’s promotion of racist views has been well-known for some time. Hsu must have known of them. Does Hsu agree with Unz about any of this? There is no evidence that he does so and, again, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he gave over his forum to Unz, his “old friend,” and that Hsu parroted the unsupportable “both sides” and “he doesn’t really believe what he says” defense of Unz’s views. Hsu either knew of these views and decided that his “old friend” nonetheless should come promote his website on Hsu’s podcast or he did not know. Either option shows Hsu as manifestly unfit to hold an office at my university, or any university, that evaluates research priorities. He has shown himself incapable or unwilling of making intellectual judgments.
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