Rushton Revisited

Epsom Salts
I hate taking baths. Showers I like. Baths not so much. Sitting still in hot water, neck deep in my own filth is not my idea of pleasantness. Nevertheless, due to my recent return to martial arts and an increase in gym activity, my old body has been requiring the occasional hot soak in Epsom salts.

Now, Epsom salts are a fascinating thing. Not only does it supposedly relieve muscle aches, it also treats dry skin, can be ingested as a mild laxative, and applied to soil as an effective fertilizer. Now the skeptic in me is starting to wonder: WTF?

Pacific Mall
Over the holidays, I made sure to spend some time in Toronto’s little slice of the Mongkok, Pacific Mall. Here’s a photo I took in one of the video stores. Three guesses as to what it actually says:

And here’s a photo from a nearby grocery store in which a sign proudly displays the price of coconuts. Only… those are some strange looking coconuts!

Academic Freedom
Tonight’s topic on TVO’s The Agenda was the limits of academic freedom and the politicization of education, issues close to my heart. Examined were the recent cases of Margaret Somerville’s receipt of an honourary degree from Ryerson University, and the attendance by Prof. Shiraz Dossa of the Holocaust denial conference in Iran.

I won’t reproduce the debate. I think I’ve made my position on the topic quite clear: there is no topic or intellectual activity, however societally offensive, that should be off limits to an academic. Indeed, I would extend this freedom to any citizen. In the case of academics, that freedom manifests as job protection.

Globe columnist John Ibbitson has written that Dossa should lose his job for bringing his university and country into disrepute by attending the conference. I could not disagree more. The right of an academic to explore any ideas, in whatever context, in whatever venue and with whomever he pleases, needs to be sacrosanct in a truly liberal society. This means protecting those who advocate for everything from Holocaust denial to child sex to racial superiority to –gasp!– world peace. Professors should only be judged according to the quality of their intellectual products and their teaching, never on the topics or content of those products, nor on the company they keep.

The line, though, is drawn when an academic evolves from exploring a marginalized topic to trying to influence the world views of his students according to an agenda, rather than simply equipping his students to better understand the issue.

I am reminded of Phillipe Rushton, who created a fuss in the late 1980s when he published research suggesting that intelligence and penis size were inversely related and determined by race. David Suzuki traveled to the UWO campus to debate Rushton on live TV. I was very disappointed when, instead of tackling Rushton’s methodological flaws, Suzuki rambled on about how “we should not be doing this kind of research.”

Yes, money can be better spent on more deserving topics. But Suzuki really disappointed me; and, to tell the truth, he has never recovered in my esteem. The correct point of view for a liberal society is that there is no question that should be off limits to a scientific investigator, no matter how societally unattractive. Methodologies and motivations are fair avenues of criticism, however, but never topic.