A controversial talk on how state benefits can “warp” the personalities of the unemployed has been postponed until further notice over concerns that left-wing activists were threatening to disrupt it.
Adam Perkins, lecturer in the neurobiology of personality at King’s College London, was due to speak on 9 February in the latest of a series of events at the London School of Economics on the welfare state until it was called off with just a few days’ notice.
Listings for the event state that the postponement was the result of “unforeseen circumstances”, but the LSE confirmed to Times Higher Education that its organisers took the action because they were “aware of some negative social media activity” related to the talk.
Dr Perkins’ research has been criticised for stigmatising the long-term unemployed, having stated that “individuals with aggressive, rule-breaking and antisocial personality characteristics are over-represented among welfare claimants”.
His new book, The Welfare Trait, which states his belief that habitual welfare claimants can pass these characteristics on to their children, has also been criticised, with one internet commenter calling this view a “modern PC version of genocide”.
In the run-up to his LSE talk, his views were denounced as “grotesque” on Twitter, and disability rights group Black Triangle appeared to be organising a picket and protest on the day. “I think [work and pensions secretary] Iain Duncan Smith would love this idea as it fits the Tory notion of ‘benefits scroungers’,” said the group’s Facebook page.
Dr Perkins told THE that the talk’s organisers, the LSE’s Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, decided to halt the event after having received “some threats of disruption”.
“It is difficult to judge whether such threats would be carried out, hence the [organisers] decided more time would be needed to manage the event properly than was available,” Dr Perkins said.
He added that LSE staff had been “open-minded and helpful” from the outset and that the postponement had not been forced on them or suggested by any central LSE body.
Nevertheless, the failure to ensure that the original event went ahead is likely to dismay some academics in light of recent concerns about campus censorship and the fact that social media traffic did not suggest that any intimidation or violence was planned by protesters in this case.
Dr Perkins said that his book’s central argument is that “if we want a sustainable welfare state that provides a safety net during unemployment but without eroding work motivation, we need to take account of discoveries from personality research”.
“This message went down smoothly, with no heckling or any other protests, at a book launch lecture at King’s in December,” he said. “I expect the discussion at LSE to be no less free, open and productive.”