The William Shockley example that Lincoln Allison uses in his discussion of academics sharing controversial ideas is quite telling here, as no one would have given two figs what a semiconductor physicist’s views on eugenics were if they were not a Nobel laureate (“Check your privilege”, Features, 20 August). Shockley used the platform that his Nobel gave him to espouse uninformed views on human reproduction, genetics and neurophysiology – to me, that is not acceptable behaviour as it is unscientific and brings science into disrepute. The fact that he was not challenged either by his employers or by other colleagues who were specialists in those areas is not something that we should be celebrating. He paid a significant price for this behaviour, but one that his own actions justified.
However, this is really about the media and their ability to manipulate public mood through selective reporting. I believe that Allison’s real enemies here are the media. It is the potential for the media to twist reporting into attacks on those associated with the espouser of particular views that has caused these issues. In the modern media environment, how could the University of Brighton have acted in any other way, without risking a potentially big fallout?
I’m not sure what Allison thought he would gain by expressing contrary opinions and criticisms of the law against a media narrative driven to creating public outrage. The validity of his opinions was clearly never going to be examined properly with howling public outrage spewed forth on anyone who dissented with the media line.