THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

November 10, 2011

"I am writing to express my sincere apology for the controversial post on my Psychology Today blog...It was not at all motivated by a desire to seek or cause controversy."

Satoshi Kanazawa, reader in management at the London School of Economics, wrote this apology in September after his employer censured him for his ill-considered claim that data analysis showed that black women were less attractive than those of other races.

At the end of October, the LSE students' union renewed its call for his sacking and the development has sparked renewed debate in the blogosphere. Stuart Farrimond, a lecturer in health and social care at Wiltshire College, is among those picking up the thread on his Doctor Stu's Blog (http://bit.ly/vnbmY1).

He notes that "many academics, even if they don't mind Dr Kanazawa's controversial topics, think his methods suck".

"The far-right English Defence League lapped it up, citing it as evidence for their cause. Everyone else said it was utter tosh. Dr Kanazawa, being no stranger to controversy, has a publication list that would enrage women, ethnic minorities, the poor, Jewish, and - well, everybody who isn't rich and middle class," he writes.

But the most pressing question raised, he suggests, is not whether Dr Kanazawa should have kept his job, but whether scientific research should ever be "censored".

Among Dr Kanazawa's past output are papers titled "Battered woman [sic] have more sons: A possible evolutionary reason why some battered women stay" and "Why beautiful people are more intelligent", he notes.

But they have all been published in established scientific journals and were subject to the peer-review process, he writes. While his conclusions may be "dubious", Dr Kanazawa's research methods "have broken no ethical code".

Nevertheless, Dr Farrimond contends that academics and scholarly publishers do have a duty to consider the ramifications of the work they publish. "Let us suppose that it could be comprehensively concluded that a racial group had a genetic superiority over others. Would we want to know the results? When would it be fair to publish these findings?" he asks.

"There's no obvious answer, but surely the 'greater good' must come into the equation. I suggest that ethical committees, journals and research institutions not merely consider the ethics of the methods, but the implications of the potential findings. A degree of common sense should prevail."

Another issue that has long caused palpitations for researchers is that of their career structure, with its manifold uncertainties.

Sylvia McLain, a Fellow in the department of biochemistry at the University of Oxford, muses on the topic in her Girl, Interrupting blog on the Occam's Typewriter network (http://bit.ly/rSJiZc).

At present, she says, there is a "huge amount of waste in the system" in terms of the lack of opportunity for postdocs to move into permanent academic posts. But the problems are widespread, she says: "Many people with permanent academic research jobs are having trouble finding money in this current economic climate - it simply ain't there."

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to john.elmes@tsleducation.com.

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