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The right loves free markets, except when they hurt the Daily Mail

No, not like that. 

There’s a certain type of online right-winger who is a great believer in free markets, right up until the point it looks like they might be about to hurt something they like. At that point, decent, sensible companies are supposed to ignore the voice of the consumer and just do what those online right-wingers want them to do.

Such people have been much in evidence this week, because of a row involving (I can't believe it’s come to this, but there we are) Paperchase, purveyor of cutesy stationery to the masses, and a promotion in everyone’s favourite hate-stained chip paper the Daily Mail. Here’s Reaction’s Iain Martin now. Mind your head as those toys fly past:

Some background on this. Last Saturday, Paperchase offered two rolls of wrapping paper (regular retail price: £4.75!) free with every copy of the paper. You can see the appeal of such a promotion: the Mail gets a few more sales; Paperchase get a flood of people through the doors of their shops, where they will presumably remember that it’s nearly Christmas and buy a load more stuff. Everybody’s happy, right?

Well, no, not everybody. One organisation that wasn’t happy was Stop Funding Hate, an online pressure group which exists to persuade advertisers not to give their money to newspapers which make their dough saying nasty things about women, gay people, Muslims and so forth.

On Saturday it pointed out that Paperchase was promoting itself in a newspaper which had recently been laying into trans people, and got a few hundred retweets. Six hours later Paperchase decided that on balance it didn’t like the Daily Mail after all and this happened:

Then there was a backlash to the backlash, and that’s roughly where we came in.

What is the right’s objection to the Paperchase statement? Martin has claimed that he’s simply opposed to putting papers out of business (which, fair enough, I too like being able to earn money to buy things). But others seem to be making a slightly different argument: that Paperchase is giving in to an army of hysterical lefty remoaners, who don’t even think political correctness has gone made and probably like quinoa. Stop Funding Hate is interfering in the operation of the market for its own, wicked, hate-stopping ends. It’s a perfect, worked example of that meme you sometimes spot on the internets. Markets should respond to consumer demand. No, not like that.

There are two problems with the right’s hysterical reaction to all this, which is still, somehow, in full swing three days after the event. One is that it's not clear that the Paperchase damage limitation exercise consisted of anything but that one tweet. That promotion may very well have been the sum total of its relationship with the Daily Mail. If it never works with the paper again, then we can assume that last Saturday it had a revelation about its responsibilities not to throw cash at newspapers which have done more damage to the body politic than the Black Death ever managed, but we won't know that for sure for some time, possibly not until the Earth dies in a ball of flame.

The other problem is: this is exactly what you lot normally think markets are supposed to do. Those people who dont like the Daily Mail are not some kind of outside agitators: theyre potential customers.

And a company that pulled in revenues of £100m in 2015 is not likely to change its behaviour because of a few retweets, unless it believes they represent some wider feeling. If it apologised for the Daily Mail promotion, it’s because it genuinely believes it was in danger of losing sales in the run up to Christmas – which, without being an expert in the stationery market, I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess is its most profitable time of the year. It may have been wrong about that, or at least exaggerating the danger, but nonetheless, its motivation is less likely to have been politics than it is to have been cold, hard cash. 

Sharing information about a company’s actions and business relationships isn’t some corruption of free market forces: it’s a sign that the left is making use of them. Those politically correct, anti-Brexit, quinoa-munching lefties have every right to spend their money where they like, and to boycott any retailer that financially supports a newspaper whose values they despise. They have just as much right to persuade their friends to do the same. And Paperchase has every right to look at its bottom line and decide that, actually, the angry online left market is worth enough to them to make it a good idea to issue an apology.

This is exactly how free markets are supposed to work: consumers make choices, providers try to meet them, and those that don’t manage it go out of business. So why doesn’t the free market right approve? Why are they not delighted that the left has learned to love market forces?

Perhaps they’re a lot less keen on free market capitalism than they like to pretend – that they’re a lot less into markets red in tooth and claw that they are into right-wing tabloids.

Still, it’s a free country, and if the right don’t like Paperchase after this episode, they’re welcome to vote with their wallets. WH Smith will be delighted.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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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.