Brown University deleted its initial promotional reference to Dr Littman’s work from the university’s website—then replaced it with a note explaining how Dr Littman’s work might harm members of the transgender community—presents a cautionary tale.
There were also said to be unidentified voices within the Brown community who expressed “concerns” about the paper. But when Brown responded to these concerns by removing a promotional story about Dr Littman research from the Brown website, a backlash resulted, followed by a web petition expressing alarm at the school’s actions. The dean of the School of Public Health, Bess Marcus, eventually issued a public letter explaining why the removal of the article from news distribution was “the most responsible course of action.”
In her letter, Dean Marcus cites fears that “conclusions of the study could be used to discredit the efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate perspectives of members of the transgender community” (my italics). Why the concerns of these unidentified individuals should be accorded weight in the evaluation of an academic work is left unexplained.Why, indeed. The real and obvious reason is that the anti-empirical, anti-science, anti-art, anti-men, anti-heterosexual, anti-European Enlightenment politics saturating the academy has enough political muscle to silence anything it doesn't want to hear. They have functionally turned Charles Murray into a non-person, repeatedly getting him uninvited to speaking dates or literally shouting him down, and scalped Larry Summers outright. Its secular wing got James Damore canned from Google for daring to question the party line on diversity. So it was scarcely a surprise when Theodore P. Hill found a published paper he authored on the Greater Male Variability Hypothesis had been disappeared, not once but twice, following complaints from the usual suspects. (Steve Stewart-Williams posted a good synopsis on Twitter.) His paper, co-authored by Sergei Tabachnikov, was accepted for the first issue of Mathematical Intelligencer.
No sooner had Sergei posted a preprint of our accepted article on his website than we began to encounter problems. On August 16, a representative of the Women In Mathematics (WIM) chapter in his department at Penn State contacted him to warn that the paper might be damaging to the aspirations of impressionable young women. “As a matter of principle,” she wrote, “I support people discussing controversial matters openly … At the same time, I think it’s good to be aware of the effects.” While she was obviously able to debate the merits of our paper, she worried that other, presumably less sophisticated, readers “will just see someone wielding the authority of mathematics to support a very controversial, and potentially sexist, set of ideas…”Oh, but it gets better: the National Science Foundation wrote to Tabachnikov "requesting that acknowledgment of NSF funding be removed from our paper with immediate effect".
A few days later, she again contacted Sergei on behalf of WIM and invited him to attend a lunch that had been organized for a “frank and open discussion” about our paper. ...
The next paragraph offers unwavering support for “studying and supporting the health and well-being of sexual and gender minority populations,” as well as “unshakable” support for the “full diversity of gender and sexual identity.” These statements of support are entirely appropriate. But in contrast to the material contained in the prior paragraph on academic freedom and inquiry, there appear in this section no caveats or clarifications. One cannot avoid the conclusion that the author sought to communicate a hierarchy of principles, with diversity on top, academic freedom underneath.
...[A] Freedom of Information request subsequently revealed that Penn State WIM administrator Diane Henderson (“Professor and Chair of the Climate and Diversity Committee”) and Nate Brown (“Professor and Associate Head for Diversity and Equity”) had secretly co-signed a letter to the NSF that same morning. “Our concern,” they explained, “is that [this] paper appears to promote pseudoscientific ideas that are detrimental to the advancement of women in science, and at odds with the values of the NSF.”Mathematical Intelligencer then rescinded its publication notice, claiming "publication would provoke 'extremely strong reactions' and there existed a 'very real possibility that the right-wing media may pick this up and hype it internationally.'" Imagine that. (Someone needs to tell these people about the Streisand Effect.)
Hill resubmitted the paper (minus Tabachnikov's co-authorship, to suppress political problems for him) to the New York Journal of Mathematics, which agreed to publish a revised version... right until it, too, was disappeared again.
Three days later, however, the paper had vanished. And a few days after that, a completely different paper by different authors appeared at exactly the same page of the same volume (NYJM Volume 23, p 1641+) where mine had once been. As it turned out, Amie Wilkinson [who was instrumental in censoring the paper at Mathematical Intelligencer] is married to Benson Farb, a member of the NYJM editorial board. Upon discovering that the journal had published my paper, Professor Farb had written a furious email to Steinberger demanding that it be deleted at once. “Rivin,” he complained, “is well-known as a person with extremist views who likes to pick fights with people via inflammatory statements.” Farb’s “father-in law…a famous statistician,” he went on, had “already poked many holes in the ridiculous paper.” My paper was “politically charged” and “pseudoscience” and “a piece of crap” and, by encouraging the NYJM to accept it, Rivin had “violat[ed] a scientific duty for purely political ends.”The author, a Vietnam War veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger, has not stepped away from the controversy, and has since published at ArXiv. (Reason's Robby Soave has also got a useful summary.) Amie Wilkinson published a statement regarding the affair that mentions the "unfounded allegations" Hill made against her that doesn't exactly refute them (many of the charges are leveled at her Facebook comments, wherein she attacked the authors and the paper). This can be easily resolved by an email trail; the charges of behind-the-scenes coercion for political ends are all too believable.
Update 2018-09-16: Farb has his own statement, which is just as unimpressive as Wilkinson's. Having the paper disappeared by the NYJM and replaced with some random paper is hardly normal practice. It is not an explanation, but a confession.
Update 2018-09-19: A semi-complete inventory of germane emails at Retraction Watch (headline intro here). Notably, none actually rebut Hill's claims that his paper was un-published, which is to say, they amount to a confession rather than an explanation. Andrew Gelman penned a long-form piece in which he claims that such revocations are commonplace, without any citations (supposedly had happened to him frequently). This comment from Gelman is a particular howler:
There are no saints here. Just people trying to do their jobs and making mistakes along the way. Based on everything I’ve heard about this case, it’s my impression that everyone in the story, including Hill, Tabachnikov, Wilkinson, Farb, Peterson, Pinker, and all the journal editors involved, all support free and open discussion. I don’t think that supporting free and open discussion makes anyone into a saint. All the people in this story did things that I wouldn’t have done in their place. And I’m no saint either.Hannah Arendt, pick up your white courtesy phone!
Update 2018-09-23: Added the link to the Lisa Littman story.