Dangerous Ideas

Eugene Volokh has written some very good posts (particularly this one) on the subject of treating the expression of certain controversial theories on campuses as “verbal violence” rather than “free speech”.

I remember being appalled when Nobel laureate William Shockley was shouted down at Yale and banned from speaking at other top campuses about his theories of intelligence and genetics. I didn’t think much of his theories or policy prescriptions, but I really didn’t like the reaction of blocking their expression rather than responding with valid criticisms.

Progress isn’t made by shielding our comfortable theories from criticism. We should embrace criticism, so that we can either gain confidence if the criticisms fail, or improve them if the criticisms succeed.

It’s true that many people are offended by certain theories. But, that’s not a good reason to stifle progress. Scientific claims should not be rejected out-of-hand because they would disrupt people’s world-views if they turned out to be true. People might just have to change their minds.


It’s particularly infuriating to see this on university campuses, where free expression and vigorous (peaceful) debate should be fostered.

This reminds me of what George Will wrote with respect to the Larry Summers incident:

Forgive Larry Summers. He did not know where he was

He thought he was speaking in a place that encourages uncircumscribed intellectual explorations. He was not. He was on a university campus.

Israel and Lebanon

Tom G. Palmer, for whom I have tremendous respect, posted the other day about the Israeli response to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

He wrote “The Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure throughout the country and the destruction of the lives of innocents are simply unconscionable.” and went on to suggest that the Israelis had blundered into an Iranian trap that takes international attention away from its nuclear ambitions and builds Arab hatred for Israel and the US.

I think the comment thread has been interesting and I’ve entered a few myself. Here’s my latest comment:


It’s easy to say that there are problems with the Israeli response because there have been tragic effects. But, it’s not a real argument until you propose a better response.

What would a better Israeli response look like?

Would they permanently hover over, rather than bomb, every access point for supplies?

Would there be no innocents killed?

Would there be no buildings bombed that have civilian uses?

I’m not saying that the Israeli response is perfect. But, I’m not seeing you describe what a better response would look like..

The situation is indeed very sad, but it’s important to remember who is trying to maximize the sadness, and who is trying to minimize it.

There is no victimless option that I can see.

It may be true that the Israeli response appears to be what Hezbollah and its benefactors wanted. But, that doesn’t mean they had a better alternative.

Tom promises to respond to my challenge if he can.

I’m quite sympathetic to people who view the media and wonder if Israel has over-reacted. But, as my comment above indicates, I don’t know what a better response would look like. Doing nothing is not tolerable. There are going to be mistakes, and there are going to be tragedies. But, what will lead to the best long-term outcome? I’m no military strategist, but it seems reasonable to me that trying to use overwhelming force to seriously degrade Hezbollah’s capabilities, while trying to avoid unnecessary harm to innocents, is a likely candidate for the best option available.

For a little personal background, I remember getting into quite uncomfortable situations with my parents and their friends when I criticized some of Israel’s tactics in Lebanon in the 80s. I am a strong supporter of Israel, in general. But, I’m not a knee-jerk supporter of everything Israel might ever do.

In this situation, though, I’m not ready to condemn any of their actions until I hear of better alternatives.


It’s interesting.

I’m annoyed at President Bush because he’s going to do something I approve of, but for the wrong reasons.

It seems that Bush might use his veto power for the first time to strike down a bill to fund stem-cell research.

I think that it’s right for a president to veto this bill. Federal funding for research like this is improper.

However, Bush is not considering a veto because he agrees that the government shouldn’t be taxing people in order to promote medical research. He’s doing it to appease a constituency that foolishly thinks that using embryos to produce stem-cells for research is unethical because it might encourage terminations of pregnancies. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the claim is true. What seems to matter is the symbolism of promoting the idea that embryos should be treated like human beings.

I don’t know how promising embryonic stem-cell research is, but I understand that it would successfully compete with other research candidates on its technical merits. It would probably do more to promote the health of human beings than its competitors.

It just seems wrong that this is where he finally decided to exercise his presidential power to correct legislative errors. The symbolism of this act is aggravating.

So, Bush wants to veto the bill for symbolic, rather than practical reasons.

And, I’m annoyed by the veto for symbolic, rather than practical reasons.

Happy Fourth of July!

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We didn’t request 1776 early enough this year, but it should arrive tomorrow.

I should just break down and buy the damn thing.