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Math journal rescinds offer to publish paper on male intelligence: ‘right-wing media may pick this up’

UChicago coverup, ‘career-threatening reprisals’ from Penn State diversity officials 

Are you afraid that a publication such as The College Fix may be interested in an academic paper you publish?

Better safe than sorry – don’t publish it. But also don’t bend to politically correct pressure after you’ve promised to publish it.

A mathematics scholar at Georgia Tech and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo said a mathematics journal rescinded an offer to publish a paper by him and a Pennsylvania State University professor. Investigation would reveal that Penn State and University of Chicago officials were involved.

The editor-in-chief of Mathematical Intelligencer, Marjorie Senechal, was afraid of “the reaction she feared our paper would elicit” because it dealt with the “Greater Male Variability Hypothesis,” Theodore Hill writes in Quillette.

Hill and Penn State’s Sergei Tabachnikov had devised a “simple intuitive mathematical argument based on biological and evolutionary principles” to logically explain “how gender differences in variability might naturally arise in the same species.”

The hypothesis that males have greater variability than females across a range of species and traits – including human intelligence, where both “idiots” and “geniuses” are disproportionately male – is already supported by “fairly robust” evidence, according to Hill.

The “Viewpoints” section of the Intelligencer, “which specifically welcomes articles on contentious topics,” agreed to publish the paper in its first issue of 2018. (The paper went through “several further revisions” with guidance from Senechal, the editor, before it was formally accepted in April 2017.)

Senechal told Tabachnikov she was “happy to stir up controversy” and even mentioned last year’s Middlebury College riot against libertarian social scientist Charles Murray, where “none of the protestors had read the book they were protesting” (“The Bell Curve”).

NSF told it’s ‘detrimental to the advancement of women in science’

Tabachnikov made the mistake of posting a “preprint” of their accepted article on his website in August, “at about the same time” that Google engineer James Damore provoked controversy across Silicon Valley by positing that biological differences partly explain differences between men and women.

This drew attention from Tabachnikov’s math colleagues at Penn State, who tried to talk him out of attaching his name to the paper “to restore peace” in the department, Tabachnikov told Hill. (The Quillette author attributes most of his sources to email.) Some of his colleagues said the paper was analogous to “scientific racism.”

Things came to a head on Sept. 8, 2017, when the National Science Foundation took the apparently unprecedented step of asking Hill and Tabachnikov to remove their acknowledgment of NSF funding from the paper, according to Hill.

The same day, Senechal took back her word to publish the paper, citing fears from colleagues that “right-wing media may pick this up and hype it internationally.” As Hill says:

Working mathematicians are usually thrilled if even five people in the world read our latest article. Now some progressive faction was worried that a fairly straightforward logical argument about male variability might encourage the conservative press to actually read and cite a science paper?

A Freedom of Information Act request would later reveal Penn State’s role in the NSF about-face.

Diane Henderson, the Women in Mathematics administrator and chair of the diversity committee, and Associate Head for Diversity and Equity Nate Brown had contacted NSF early on Sept. 8. They said the paper “appears to promote pseudoscientific ideas that are detrimental to the advancement of women in science.”

Husband-and-wife pranksters got it yanked from two journals

The attempt to “memory hole” the paper, in Hill’s words, also involved a math professor at the University of Chicago, which institutionally supports freedom of expression but whose professors are more equivocal.

Amie Wilkinson’s role was exposed when her father, “a psychometrician and statistician,” forwarded a letter that laid out how his daughter tried to get the paper rescinded. She had asked her father to also complain to the journal, even though he later admitted he wasn’t qualified to debate it.

Tabachnikov and another Penn State colleague who did “computer simulations” for the paper ended up withdrawing their names, “faced with career-threatening reprisals from their own departmental colleagues and the diversity committee at Penn State,” Hill said.

Not only did UChicago’s Wilkinson keep trashing “both the journal and its editor-in-chief on social media” long after the Intelligencer rescinded the officer, Hill says, but she later tanked its publication at another journal.

The New York Journal of Mathematics had agreed to publish a revised version of the paper solely credited to Hill on Nov. 6, but three days later it had “vanished” and a few days after that “a completely different paper” appeared “at exactly the same page,” Hill says:

As it turned out, Amie Wilkinson 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 [editor-in-chief Mark] Steinberger demanding that it be deleted at once.

Before he learned of Wilkinson’s reprising role, Hill was told by Steinberger that half his board threatened to resign from NYJM and “harass the journal … until it died” if it published Hill’s article.

The journal screwed over Hill because its deletion of his published article rendered him unable to “sign a copyright form declaring that it had not already been published elsewhere.”

‘At the Free Speech University, it turns out, talk is cheap’

The University of Chicago enters the picture because of its alleged refusal to conduct a good-faith investigation into the behavior of Wilkinson and husband Farb, who is also a professor.

Hill wrote to President Robert Zimmer, a mathematician “from the same department and even the same subfield” as the UChicago pranksters. He laid out “five concrete allegations” against Wilkinson and Farb.

The university’s response showed that it mischaracterized what Hill alleged.

Zimmer the mathematician didn’t want to deal with it, instead directing a vice provost to tell Hill that the math professors had been cleared of “academic fraud,” which Hill never alleged. When Hill appealed to Zimmer, the vice provost again responded, claiming the pranksters had simply “exercised their academic freedom” and did nothing “unethical or unprofessional,” as Hill claimed:

A reasonable inference is that I was the one interfering in their academic freedom and not vice versa. My quarrel, the vice-provost concluded, was with the editors-in-chief who had spiked my papers, decisions for which the University of Chicago bore no responsibility. At the Free Speech University, it turns out, talk is cheap.

Referring to the incident that first set off this concern, former Harvard President Larry Summers’ comments about gender and intelligence, Hill writes:

First Harvard, then Google, and now the editors-in-chief of two esteemed scientific journals, the National Science Foundation, and the international publisher Springer [which publishes the Intelligencer] have all surrendered to demands from the radical academic Left to suppress a controversial idea. Who will be the next, and for what perceived transgression? If bullying and censorship are now to be re-described as ‘advocacy’ and ‘academic freedom,’ as the Chicago administrators would have it, they will simply replace empiricism and rational discourse as the academic instruments of choice.

In the comments section of the article, National Association of Scholars President Peter Wood offered to publish Hill’s article in its quarterly journal Academic Questions, which is also published by Sprinter.

Igor Rivin, the NYJM editor who offered to publish the article when the Intelligencer dumped it, responded to Wood that he would provide the “referrees’ reports” on the article.

Read the article.

IMAGE: Yury Zap/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.