Pedigreed Bunk: The Right Wing Media on the Hsu Controversy

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I promise this will be short, but I need to keep track of the long line of falsehoods and omissions surrounding the Hsu controversy (background here). Apparently the right wing thinks repeating the same story over and over makes it more true. They are wrong, their account is nothing but “pedigreed bunk.”

The latest of Hsu’s defenders is physicist Lawrence Krauss, who, predictably, is wrong about pretty much everything he wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that Hsu reprinted on his own blog.  Krauss’s piece is wrong in entirely predictable ways.

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Stephen Hsu: Resignation

The Michigan State University EmblemYesterday afternoon Michigan State University President Stanley accepted the resignation of Stephen Hsu. Beginning July 1 he will no longer be the Vice President of Research and Innovation here.  I may have more to say about Hsu in future blog posts, but for now I have this to say: Michigan State University and President Stanley did the ethically correct thing. Hsu’s presence in his office was a stain on the institution. They should be congratulated.

I only speak for myself. President Stanley’s speaks for Michigan State University:

Dear Spartan Colleagues:
Late this afternoon, Stephen Hsu resigned from the position of senior vice president, research and innovation and will return to a tenured faculty position effective July 1, 2020.

I believe this is what is best for our university to continue our progress forward. The exchange of ideas is essential to higher education, and I fully support our faculty and their academic freedom to address the most difficult and controversial issues. But when senior administrators at MSU choose to speak out on any issue, they are viewed as speaking for the university as a whole. Their statements should not leave any room for doubt about their, or our, commitment to the success of faculty, staff and students.


I plan to appoint an interim senior vice president in the coming days and will consult with the Academic Governance Steering committee on this selection in accordance with university policies.


MSU has a long, proud and successful history in research and innovation. We are a nationally ranked program, producing research with global implications. Our entrepreneurship, innovation and tech transfer programs are launching successful new businesses, patents and products. We have a lot to be proud of already and a collective spirit to push to even greater frontiers in the future.


Sincerely,
Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. M.D.

Hsu continues to refuse to address the major concerns about his behavior. Hsu’s announcement on his blog obscures the issues when he writes: ” I do not agree with his decision, as serious issues of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Inquiry are at stake. I fear for the reputation of Michigan State University.”  Hsu must know that administrators do not have academic freedom. Fortunately, President Stanley does when he writes, “when senior administrators at MSU choose to speak out on any issue, they are viewed as speaking for the university as a whole. Their statements should not leave any room for doubt about their, or our, commitment to the success of faculty, staff and students.” (emphasis added)

And, any claim Hsu might have had to freedom of inquiry ended the moment he threatened legal action against his critics on June 15:

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.

Those are the words of someone hoping to use his power to silence those who dare oppose him. And in his blog announcement when Hsu claims to stand for freedom of inquiry: those are the words of a hypocrite.

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Stephen Hsu and academic freedom

Professors in academic regalia

This is the third post in what is apparently a series about Stephen Hsu. Here are the first two for the context:

IMPORTANT UPDATE

For a brief time, Hsu had a this note up on his website indicating he would sue his critics. This is a sure indication that he is unfit for his office and that the talk about “free inquiry” is merely posturing for his poor behavior. The note is now deleted but the Wayback Machine saved it:

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.

I wonder if Hsu knows that the discovery process during such a trial applies to him as well as his critics. It would be interesting to see all his emails to folks like Ron Unz or Steve Sailer.

Clarification:  The blog post he appended the note to was posted 13 June 2020. The note was not there when he first posted it. The note is gone now 16 June 2020. The Wayback Machine archived it on 15 June 2020.

END OF UPDATE

Stephen Hsu has posted another attempted defense of his actions as our Senior Vice President, Research and Innovation. For a person concerned about character assassination, he is very quick to complain about the “Twitter mob” and his fear of the University of caving to “mob rule.” Only slightly less hyperbolic is this comment from one of Hsu’s fans: “Now we understand the social dynamics of the Cultural Revolution, Stalinism and witch-hunts.”

The truth is, of course, that Hsu completely reverses the power dynamic: the graduate students, by far the most vulnerable population on campus, are trying to take on a powerful administrator who hold the purse strings of their research funding. The 300+ faculty members who signed the petition calling for his resignation from his office are taking on those same purse strings, someone with the ear of the President,  as well as someone who sits in on the tenure decisions of the untenured among them. Like many ways this controversy has been framed, Hsu’s concern about “mob rule” is the inverse of the the actual situation.

The letters of support for Stephen Hsu are beginning to come in. Only two letters mention Hsu’s support for Ron Unz and his promotion of Unz’s Holocaust denial website, making me suspect that some letters were written with incomplete information. I will also note that since Hsu is being accused of promoting false science infected with sexism that no letter of support for him has been written by a woman.

The letters, and Hsu’s own defense, do not understand the nature of free inquiry and academic freedom. Relieving Hsu of his position as Senior Vice President of Research and Innovation is not a violation of academic freedom it is the fulfillment of it. Academic freedom is a promise to police ourselves, it is a promise to society that says: “Let us explore the world as we see fit and we will produce knowledge. The cost of that freedom we will pay; it is the promise to you that the knowledge we produce is knowledge and not nonsense. We promise to you we can tell the difference.” Hsu, by his actions, has shown he cannot tell the difference between real scholarship and its pretender. He cannot tell if the person he sits down with to discuss genetics and race is a true scholar or a white supremacist. He does not care if his work is appropriated by white nationalists. To allow him to continue to do so while holding his office is to violate the responsibility that academic freedom entails.

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Stephen Hsu and Ronald Unz and Holocaust Denial

 
Drawing of a human skull hooked up an electrical device. It is labeled,

 

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.

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Holocaust Denial and Reason Magazine: 1976

Drawing of two British colonials in wicker chairs with the label:

What I imagine the editorial room of Reason looked like way back in 1976

Although they deny it, in 1976 Reason magazine published an issue devoted to Holocaust denial.  The issue didn’t contain any claims of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy about how the Holocaust was a hoax. It was “softcore” Holocaust denial which Deborah Lipstadt defines as:

Softcore denial uses different tactics but has the same end-goal. (I use hardcore and softcore deliberately because I see denial as a form of historiographic pornography.) It does not deny the facts, but it minimizes them, arguing that Jews use the Holocaust to draw attention away from criticism of Israel. Softcore denial also makes all sorts of false comparisons to the Holocaust. In certain Eastern European countries today, those who fought the Nazis may be lauded, but if they did so with a communist resistance group they may be prosecuted. Softcore denial also includes Holocaust minimization, as when someone suggests it was not so bad. “Why are we hearing about that again?”

One of the articles in Reason was by Austin J. App, a notorious antisemite. With the notion that parody and satire can do important critical work let us imagine what the editorial meeting was like when they decided to publish a piece by Austin App. Come with me now and using the power of imagination, we will go back to 1976 and the Reason editorial board meeting….

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The Origins of Holocaust Denial

A Map depicting Nazi concentration camps.

We are only a few weeks away from International Holocaust Remembrance Day: January 27. If you will remember, last year the Trump administration marked the day without mentioning that Jews were special victims of the Nazi regime and called the critics of of its silence asinine and and pathetic. To my knowledge, the administration has never apologized for this or amended what they said. Who knows what kind of insulting statement is in store for this year.

In anticipation of that fateful day, it might be worthwhile to explore the origins of Holocaust denial in the United States. Who was the first American to deny that the Nazis exterminated six million Jews and what was the basis for their denial?

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