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Should the BBC still close the presenter pay gap if lower-ranking staff suffer?

The Daily Mail reports that paying female presenters more means cutting budgets elsewhere.

You can trust the Daily Mail to be the champion of the downtrodden worker, fearlessly challenging privilege wherever it may be found. Today, it’s the turn of lower-paid staff on the BBC’s Today programme to benefit from the paper’s razor-sharp analysis of injustice.

Why, it is asked, should “rank-and-file” workers bear the cost of vast pay increases to female presenters, intended to “close the show’s gender pay gap”? Since reducing the pay of male presenters such as John Humphrys and Nick Robinson is apparently unthinkable, shouldn’t we be asking whether an “outrageous growth” in pay for their female peers is at all wise?

After all, while sexism isn’t particularly pleasant, partial equality isn’t equality at all. When the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, why worry about whether women at the top are receiving less than their male counterparts? You can make a tiny minority of women as overpaid as a tiny minority of men – but doesn't that still leave the most basic injustice intact?

While I can’t help doubting the Mail’s true motives in reporting on this, I’d say they have the beginnings of a feminist point. Feminism is not just concerned with abolishing the idea that women are inferior to men; it’s a political project that aims to end the abuse and exploitation justified by this supposed inferiority.

One half of the human race is treated as a resource for the other half to use and discard. Our goal should not be to ensure more women get to be exploiters, more men exploited. It should be to end exploitation full stop.

And yet there’s a problem when this gets used – as it so often is, by both left and right – as an excuse for stasis. Yes, we are told, denying someone equal pay for equal work because they are female is unfair, but there are worse things in life. What about not getting paid at all? (A question usually posed by those blissfully unaware of the relationship between gender and unpaid work.)

We’re left with a variation on “what about female genital mutilation?” – that moment when someone who doesn’t actually do anything to end one problem decides to suggest it is selfish to care about anything else. You can’t really be concerned about pay injustice if you think it’s fine for more than six million UK jobs to pay less than the voluntary living wage. By the same token, though, you can’t be all that committed to ending inequality if you demand that all those paid less because of their sex quietly wait their turn.

When thousands of female workers for Birmingham City Council won the right to back pay for all the years during which they were paid less than their male counterparts, there were some who lamented these women’s inability to see the bigger picture. Council leader Sir Albert Bore complained that the council had been left in a “horrendous position financially” (unlike, say, a woman who can’t afford to leave her abusive partner or buy new shoes for her child because she happens to clean nursing homes rather than streets).

Whether we’re dealing with overpaid radio presenters or underpaid cleaners, the message is the same: women, you must take one for the team. If we pay you more, someone else loses out and no, it can’t ever be managed in a way that brings about fairness for all. That’s much too difficult.

Curiously, the “it’s all too complicated” argument is rarely used by the left to suggest there’s no point in even trying to have a politics that promotes wealth redistribution. It’s only where women are concerned that “suck it up” is recast as “strategic thinking”.

The Daily Mail is not known for consistency as far as gender or economics is concerned. Unable to resist the opportunity to have a dig at both the BBC and the very idea of pay equality, the paper is prepared to allow that paying vast sums to those at the top does have a negative impact on everyone else. The wealth doesn’t magically trickle down.

The logical conclusions to this – first, that solving inequality between men and women can’t be women’s work, and second, that overpaying one group at the expense of another is quite obviously unjustifiable – may be left unsaid, but they’re there for the taking.

Maybe wealthy women who ask for more are greedy. Or maybe, like women from all walks of life, they’re sick of the humiliation that comes with being told nothing you do will ever render you as valuable as your be-penised counterparts.

Either way, what we’re seeing is an admission that top-heavy pay structures are damaging. The solution to this isn’t slapping on a “men only” sign; it’s taking the inherently feminist idea of radical redistribution and running with it.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Spudgun67 via Creative Commons/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.