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.

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