The authors of a 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined “917 fatal police shootings of civilians from 2015 to test whether the race of the officer or the civilian predicted fatal police shootings” was withdrawn by the authors after being cited by noted conservative author and essayist Heather MacDonald.
Psychologists Joseph Cesario of Michigan State and David Johnson of the University of Maryland say they stand behind their work, which concludes there was “no significant evidence of anti-black disparity in the likelihood of being fatally shot by the police.” But they objected to its “misuse.” MacDonald cited the study in congressoinal testimony last September and again in an article for City Journal. But it wasn’t until her June 3 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that cited the study when there were “complications” on campus and outraged wokesters demanded that the profs be flogged — or something.
My June 3 Journal op-ed quoted the PNAS article’s conclusion verbatim. It set off a firestorm at Michigan State. The university’s Graduate Employees Union pressured the MSU press office to apologize for the “harm it caused” by mentioning my article in a newsletter. The union targeted physicist Steve Hsu, who had approved funding for Mr. Cesario’s research. MSU sacked Mr. Hsu from his administrative position. PNAS editorialized that Messrs. Cesario and Johnson had “poorly framed” their article—the one that got through the journal’s three levels of editorial and peer review.
Mr. Cesario told this page that Mr. Hsu’s dismissal could narrow the “kinds of topics people can talk about, or what kinds of conclusions people can come to.” Now he and Mr. Johnson have themselves jeopardized the possibility of politically neutral scholarship. On Monday they retracted their paper. They say they stand behind its conclusion and statistical approach but complain about its “misuse,” specifically mentioning my op-eds.
“Publish or perish” is now passe. It’s “Publish and pray you don’t offend the snowflakes” that matters now.
The authors don’t say how I misused their work. Instead, they attribute to me a position I have never taken: that the “probability of being shot by police did not differ between Black and White Americans.” To the contrary, I have, like them, stressed that racial disparities in policing reflect differences in violent crime rates. The only thing wrong with their article, and my citation of it, is that its conclusion is unacceptable in our current political climate.
You want to tell the spineless academics that they deserve whatever they get from the mob but the realities of today’s academic world make conforming to orthodoxy an absolute career necessity. Even at the cost of being intellectually dishonest and groveling before the mob, it’s not like liberals are bucking a conservative academic environment.
If that were the case, the liberal professor could dramatically hand his resignation to the president of the university, make some grandiose statement about academic freedom, and then make the rounds of Sunday talk shows and even late-night TV, all in preparation for the blockbuster book deal he would sign.
I have faith that the small cadre of conservative thinkers and writers on and off campus will keep the spirit of open scholarship alive. Otherwise, the history of the world will look a lot different in 100 years than it does to us today.