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Not Subject to Debate, Continued

Having spent decades fighting in the trenches on the front lines of the battle over campus censorship, and having co-founded a nonprofit that seeks to remedy these widespread violations of academic freedom, I can vouch for the fact that the spirit of censorship is more alive in higher education, among administrators and faculty members, than anywhere else in our society. These folks operate on the dubious theory that in order to protect members of “historically disadvantaged groups,” it is necessary to censor any words or thoughts that might lessen their “self-esteem” or otherwise “harass” them. It is as demeaning and destructive to members of these groups as it is to free speech and academic freedom. And the way these groups are defined, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t arguably fall into one or another. We are all, alas, vulnerable to insult. What a surprise!

 

            This disturbing trend is mostly limited to academics in the humanities — English, history, social science, or "gender and race studies" departments. It is unusual to see professors of the hard sciences succumbing to this culture of censorship. The late, great astronomer Carl Sagan explained the reason for this in a brilliant lecture that he gave to the ACLU of Illinois some years before his untimely death in 1996. The scientific method, he said, is very much akin to the First Amendment.

 

Truth in science is dependent upon a process where error is detected by the unfettered search for truth, and where no idea is dismissed by fiat, but rather is either proven or disproven by uninhibited exploration and solid evidence — i.e. “the free marketplace of ideas” that we hear so much about but rarely, if ever, see. This is why great science has historically been achieved in the freest societies, rather than in totalitarian ones.

 

            Unfortunately, Tufts physics professor Gary Goldstein apparently has gotten in touch with his inner totalitarian and now feels that purveyors of "offensive" (or challenging?) ideas should be denied from having the stage. That isn't exactly a formula for winning the Nobel Prize in Physics, nor in Academic Freedom.

 

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