Wednesday, September 27, 2023

How's Come You Won't Tolerate My Bigotry?

Pharyngula has two posts back to back today. Here, he discusses a bigot howling because an academic conference "deplatformed" a discussion of "biological sex" in anthropology. Here, he discusses a group of far-right Catholic medical students who are sad that they're expected to learn about medical care for trans people, abortion, and contraception. These students organized to bring in a member of a far-right hate group, the American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the legitimate group) to give a presentation on why trans people are crazy. 

Why, indeed, should we not allow all speech in our universities and at our conferences? Even speech which is demonstrably false and incorrect? Surely if we were real free speech advocates, we would provide platforms for everyone. Isn't the cure for bad speech more speech?

And yes, in a perfect world, that would indeed be what we should do. Let the bigots spew their bigotry, let them lie and slander. We who are interested in the truth and in justice will reply with evidence and data and fact-based reasoning. In a perfect world, that would work.

In this world, not so much, as the last decade has surely shown us. And yet we do, in fact, allow liars and bigots to have platforms quite often. An example: here at my university, the local far-right Christians appear on campus several times a year, to scream their bigotry, racism, and misogyny at our students. We let them do this, even though most of the students hate it, because free speech. By doing so, it is arguable, we give legitimacy to their ideas. They're howling this hate speech on a university campus, funded by the state. Surely, then, the students are to agree, my professors, my university, my state thinks all these ideas are legitimate and worth considering?

As PZ Myers argues, we're scholars in the academy, and as such we have a duty not to tolerate false ideas, lies, and fraud. In my classroom, I don't hold a debate about what a good source is. Instead, I teach my students how to evaluate a source, and how they can tell a credible source from a non-credible one. Once, when I was teaching History of the English Language, I had a student who wanted me to teach that we on planet Earth speak multiple languages because of the Tower of Babel. Should I have let this student's false idea have equal time in the classroom? Should I have taught it as an "alternative" theory of how languages arose?

As a side note, notice that the conservatives who screech that we should give equal time to their mythological belief system do not, in fact, practice this themselves. The conservative medical students did not want to see both ideas in the classroom. They want their idea to be the only one taught, the official really true truth, and everyone else to be shut up or called insane.

As Myers says,

There is a line we have to draw where we openly repudiate bad ideas presented in bad faith. We should no more have a conference panel at a serious meeting on fallacious ideas about sex than we should have conference panels on creationism and flat earth...

 See also this:  

X, the company formerly known as Twitter, has removed the ability for people to report a tweet for containing misleading information

Honestly, if we can't call something which is demonstrably false a lie, what is the point to having universities, or academic conferences, or any sort of an organization which is in the business of learning, studying, and discovering the truth?

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