The Chronicle of Higher Education (A Cathedral&tm; publication) asks, and asks in earnest, “Academic Ethics: Should Scholars Avoid Citing the Work of Awful People?” by Brian Leiter.
Across academe, many scholars have been suggesting that we should not cite the scholarship of bad people.
A recent essay in The Chronicle by Nikki Usher, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, posed the question starkly: “Do we still keep citing the scholarship of serial harassers and sexists? Within their institutions, they may finally get the fate due to them (or not). But their citational legacy will live on, sometimes even in the form of the pro-forma citations that reviewers expect to see in a manuscript, and ask for if they don’t.”
Nikki is, for our non-American visitors, a non-male, which is not coincidental.
After saying this non-male Nikki is “not alone in her concern”, the author says:
After John Searle, the Berkeley philosopher of language, was sued for sexual harassment, Jennifer Saul, a philosopher of language and feminist activist at the University of Sheffield in Britain, suggested that, “If you can avoid teaching/discussing [Searle’s work], that may be the best strategy.”
I looked this up. A former research assistant Joanna Ong, 24, “alleges that a 50 percent pay cut was among the hostile actions taken against her at the Berkeley campus after she reported being groped and harassed by the 84-year-old Searle last year.”
Well, it’s possible. I suppose. But I belong to the I Don’t Believe All Women movement, and I note that in the very long article describing the alleged horrors Ong had to suffer, there was not one word from Searle’s side of the story.
Searle is 84, I emphasize. And the accusation that he’s guilty is seen to be sufficient justification to cease citing him.
It’s possible to discuss the philosophy of AI and such forth without citing Searle. Just as it’s possible to discuss the history of Christmas in the USA without mentioning Santa Claus. But in both cases you won’t get far.
There are two more instances of women complaining about men they didn’t find attractive, or men who might actually be cads, who knows. These men are less well known. Indeed, one of the complaining females said “He carries too much baggage — he doesn’t have to be cited anymore. …Maybe if he was Einstein we’d have to cite him, but he’s not.”
The author of the main piece knows he’s on hair-thin ice. He realizes not to cite men of eminence, if they be guilty or just accused of “harassment”, would lead to unacceptable limitations. But he also knows he musn’t anger the hyper-uber-over-sensitive feminists who go to and fro in the earth, and walk up and down in it, seeking to devour souls. So he delicately, mincingly, oh-so-carefully advises against the citation ban.
He begins with his bona fides. He says Gottlob Frege was “a disgusting anti-Semite” (are there other kinds?) and that Heidegger was “an actual Nazi.” He used “Nazi” three times in the piece (note: not a record).
With the vice signaling over, he moves on to soberly defining “Wissenschaften” and “discipline.” And then blows another few hundred gentle words that go nowhere.
I mention all this because it will be of interest to see if the author gets away with it. I think he will. He put in plenty of cover, and made it clear he would back down in an instant if confronted.
But then the author is not a dean or other administrator, a class of university life that has shown itself to have no backbone whatsoever. The feminists come marching to any of their offices, and we’ll see Searle (2018) nevermore.
The conclusion is that it was a good thing Wernher von Braun was a (“disgusting”) Nazi and not a sexual harasser, else American rockets never would have got off the ground.