Stephen Hsu and Guilt by Association

The Fair Minded People

This is the fifth in a series of posts about Stephen Hsu. See the background here:

It has been seven days since my post on Stephen Hsu hosting a Holocaust denier on his podcast. He has not responded in any way and certainly not apologized. It has been five days since he has threatened a lawsuit against his critics, including graduate students at his own university. He has not explained or apologized for that threat.
Some people have suggested that I am engaging in unfair “guilt by association” tactics regarding Hsu. Consider this thoughtful exchange I had on Twitter, the home of reasonable argument:

CaptainKrypton Flag of United States @captain_krypton · 13h These guilt-by-association tactics would be at home in the McCarthy era, but deserve no audience in today’s academia. Acquiescing to cancel culture mobs will erode the ability for researchers to engage in open and free inquiry. Reject cancel culture, support @hsu_steve . John Jackson @jpjjr1961 · 13h Learn what

Truly, Twitter is a great marketplace of ideas.

Because more serious and fair-minded people might think I am employing a guilt-by-association argument I will make clear how I am not. The heart of all my arguments in this controversy is that Hsu has shown himself incapable of making scholarly judgments about academic research, the central mission of his office. When these serious errors of judgment are made public he neither explains them or apologizes for them, instead he threatens legal action against his critics including the most vulnerable members of his academic community. These actions have shown him unfit for the office he holds and he should be removed from that office immediately.

None of the above paragraph is a guilt-by-association argument.

Guilt by association (GBA) arguments are a type of ad hominem argument, a topic I’ve published on before. Despite what you may have read on Twitter or Reddit, an ad hominem (AH) argument not simply name-calling. Telling someone “You are ugly!” is not an AH argument. An AH argument attacks a person’s argument through the character of the person advancing that argument: “You are ugly therefore I reject what you say” is an AH argument and a pretty lousy one too.

The great informal logician, Douglas Walton, wrote what may well be the definitive book on the subject of AH arguments including GBA arguments. Walton gives us an elaborate taxonomy of AH arguments and sophisticated methods to evaluate them. Here’s how he schematized the GBA argument:

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION AH a is a member of or is associated with group G, which should be morally condemned. Therefore a is a bad person. Therefore a 's argument a should not be accepted.

The GBA argument requires that I reject someone’s claim because of their association with an objectionable group. I have never done this. I have rejected many claims Hsu has made for very good reasons based on a lot of evidence. No one has attempted to engage in what I’ve written, preferring to claim I’m offering a GBA argument when I am not. Let’s review some of the points I’ve made regarding Hsu:

  • Hsu claimed that unz.com presents viewpoints of the left and right. I rejected that claim because of the mountain of evidence at the site that shows it to be a far right promoter of racist and antisemitic viewpoints. Hsu’s association with Unz was not the reason for my objections to his false claim.
  • Hsu claimed that Unz does not believe the content on unz.com. I presented Unz’s own words that he is an antisemite who spreads falsehoods about “Jewish Bolshivism.” Again, no GBA.
  • Hsu claimed Stephan Molyneux was not a controversial figure in 2017. I showed you Molyneux’s racist activities since 2005 that clearly showed him to be a controversial figure. No GBA.
  • Hsu claimed that genetics proves race is real and thus is not a social construction. I showed, with lots of evidence, that the social construction of race grew out of the study of population genetics. And I showed how human geneticists themselves reject his claim and still know that modern genetics is perfectly harmonious with the idea that race is a social construction. No GBA.
  • Hsu claimed to stand for free inquiry. I showed how his threat of legal action shows that he does not. His words again:

NOTE ADDED: Many people have offered to help with a Kickstarter (or similar) campaign to raise funds for legal defense and to pursue individuals in the Twitter mob for slander or libel. It is clear that identifiable individuals have participated in such and can be held financially responsible. Slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation. Libel: a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation. If you are experienced with this kind of crowd funding activity, please get in touch with me as there may be a team assembling to work on this. The Twitter mob attacking me seem to be a small group of extremists, and I see no reason not to fight back to defend my integrity. If you are an attorney with relevant expertise, please contact me.

  • Hsu’s defenders have framed Hsu’s actions as a matter of academic freedom (note: administrators do not enjoy the protections of academic freedom). I showed how the principles of academic freedom require that we condemn poor, sloppy and dangerous scholarship. I cited the philosopher who first defined academic freedom, John Dewey as well as writings from the American Association of University Professors to prove my point. No GBA.

There’s more but you get the idea. I have never merely argued that Hsu needs to go because of his associations. I have argued that his defenses of those associations are based on falsehoods. And I believe that those falsehoods have shown him to be incapable of representing research integrity at Michigan State University. I have also argued that his views about genetics and the reality of race misunderstand genetics and the social construction of race. This is further evidence that he should not be in a position to judge good scholarship from bad, which is an important part of his job. Finally, I have questioned his ability to recognize scientific racism when it is presented to him.

This controversy is not about guilt by association. This controversy is about whether or not Michigan State University’s Vice President of Research and Innovation is fit to hold that office. I do not believe he is.

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2 thoughts on “Stephen Hsu and Guilt by Association

  1. Pingback: Stephen Hsu: An Irresponsible Leader | Fardels Bear

  2. Pingback: Watching the Whitewash | Fardels Bear

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