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20 December 2018updated 05 Oct 2023 8:22am

No, objecting to Cambridge’s appointment of a eugenicist is not about free speech

Like many in the academic far-right, Noah Carl lives a double-life.

By Ben van der Merwe

A few weeks ago, a petition began to circulate. Noah Carl, a Cambridge academic who had recently been awarded a prestigious scholarship, was accused of promoting “racist pseudoscience” for the benefit of the far right.

Almost immediately, media commentators leapt to Carl’s defence. The petition was a “witch-hunt”, a “mob” and “academic McCarthyism”. Snowflake students and their Marxist academic handlers, it was alleged, had once again labelled an honest conservative as “racist” without reading their work. Carl told the Independent he would not be commenting publicly on the petition.

Carl’s defenders didn’t need to look into the claims made by the petition. A cursory glance at his mainstream academic work was enough to see that what students and academics were upset over was simply uncomfortable scientific truths and a man willing to debate them robustly. It was clear: Carl was just another martyr for free speech. The latest casualty in the long march of student totalitarianism. Or so they claimed.

Like many in the academic far-right, Noah Carl lives a double-life. Research for mainstream, established journals serves to legitimate the pseudoscience that he produces in his spare time. This extracurricular work, for the online journal OpenPsych, is where Carl really takes on the tough questions.

Take his attempt to deal with the causes of racist stereotypes – a difficult topic in need of thorough, thoughtful debate. Following an observational study with a sample size of 23 nationalities, he argued that racist stereotypes are “reasonably accurate”. The only person to review this article outside of OpenPsych concluded by stating: “It is never OK to publish research this bad.”

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Or take his two attempts to deal with the connection between Muslim immigration and terrorism – an inflammatory topic when dealt with even by the most conscientious of researchers. Among the sources Carl used for his data was, an Islamophobic conspiracy website that was cited four times in the manifesto of Anders Breivik, a Norwegian far-right terrorist. Unsurprisingly, the data uses a broad criteria, which includes domestic violence and robbery.

OpenPsych is a pseudoscience factory-farm, and Noah Carl is its prize hen. He is its second most prolific contributor, a member of the review team and its only Russell Group academic. Half of Carl’s OpenPsych reviews have come from just two people, one of whom, Emil Kirkegaard, has no educational qualifications beyond a Bachelor’s degree in linguistics, according to his own LinkedIn page. Kirkegaard also happens to be the founder of OpenPsych.

Kirkegaard is a maverick when it comes to scientific ethics. In 2016, he and Julius Bjerrekær (OpenPsych’s third most prolific author, behind Kirkegaard and Carl) were responsible for what one social scientist described as “without a doubt one of the most grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible data releases I have ever seen.” The two had leaked the private data of 70,000 OKCupid users, including their personal sexual preferences.

That Noah Carl’s articles never got close to serious scrutiny didn’t stop them from spreading online. One of the studies on Muslims ended up on a far-right website under the headline: “Research: The Causes of Islamic Violence Uncovered!” The study on immigration was summarised by far-right Free West Media as showing that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnicities.” InfoWars chose the headline: “These immigrants commit more crime in the UK and Britons want their numbers reduced,” while a French far-right politician went for the more succinct “Study Validates Prejudices.” In most cases, Noah Carl’s then position at Oxford University was quoted approvingly.

This is not unusual for OpenPsych papers – in fact, it’s the norm. OpenPsych is not simply a few undergraduates who skipped their methods classes, but a central node in a dense network of race scientists who work to provide legitimacy and propaganda for the far-right.

Earlier this year, I uncovered that UCL was unwittingly hosting a secret annual conference on racial eugenics, the London Conference on Intelligence (LCI). The LCI was, I discovered, part of a wider network of eugenicists centred around the notorious Mankind Quarterly and its backer, the Pioneer Fund, which was established with the aim of promoting “race betterment” through selective breeding and racial segregation.

OpenPsych is another cog in this machine. Of the top 15 OpenPsych contributors, 11 have written for Mankind Quarterly in the past three years. Of these, nine were also speakers at the London Conference on Intelligence, including Mankind Quarterly editor Gerhard Meisenberg, Pioneer Fund president Richard Lynn and Noah Carl himself.

Among the papers he has approved for publication on OpenPsych are those linking race and criminality, including one which concludes by suggesting: “Muslims immigrants have values that are disharmonious with those of people living in Western countries […] resulting in crime against the native population.”

OpenPsych also has more direct links to the far-right. The Pioneer Fund is known in the USA for bankrolling the white supremacist group American Renaissance, whose conferences have hosted former British National Party leader Nick Griffin, white nationalist Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

One frequent contributor to American Renaissance, Peter Brimelow, runs the white nationalist website VDARE, to which two OpenPsych regulars have contributed. Two have spoken at the crackpot libertarian Property and Freedom Society, while Richard Lynn was roped into this year’s conference of the far-right Traditional Britain Group, after the organiser of the London Conference on Intelligence pulled out due to press attention.

“Totalitarianism doesn’t always come wearing jackboots,” thundered Daniel Hannan in the Washington Examiner – referring, of course, to the petition rather than white supremacists. Toby Young promised that he would be “leading the fightback against the Maoist Left,” which was unsurprising coming from someone who compared his own attendance at the London Conference on Intelligence with being part of Hungarian human rights activist Václav Havel’s Charter 77.

Amidst all the grandstanding, not one of these pundits appear to have bothered to look into the veracity of the allegations against Noah Carl, content instead to join the moral panic over campus censorship. Not one mentioned that the petition had been a last-resort by students who could not get the University to conduct an investigation through private complaints, content instead to accuse them of “academic mobbing.”

This is not genuine outrage at the erosion of academic freedom. After all, Toby Young’s short-lived position on the Office for Students was in part because he toed the line on the government’s anti-free speech Prevent agenda (other candidates were disqualified for being opposed).

The media has a problem with students. Maybe it’s because students are a modern folk-devil, portrayed as simultaneously buffoonish and deadly, like Muslims or bendy bananas. Or maybe it’s because nothing is more bruising to the ego of certain politicians and pundits than to see students and academics refuse to tolerate the same gutter racism that thrives in their own institutions.

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