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Brainiac

Retraction Watch: Potential censorship?

Science journals are not printed on litmus paper, but here’s a case in which politics appears to have triumphed over academic freedom.
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Science journals are not printed on litmus paper, but here’s a case in which politics appears to have triumphed over academic freedom. When mathematicians Theodore Hill and Sergei Tabachnikov collaborated on a paper offering theoretical support for something called the “greater male variability hypothesis,” they expected controversy but not censorship. They got both.

The hypothesis holds that in a variety of areas — from birth weight to standardized test scores — males are overrepresented at the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum. The article by Hill and Tabachnikov initially appealed to the journal Mathematical Intelligence, whose editor said she welcomed the controversial topic. That embrace proved short-lived. The journal bowed to intense pressure from critics of the article, which had been available online as a pre-print, and rescinded the acceptance. Then another publication, the New York Journal of Mathematics, contacted Hill and agreed to publish the work. Which it did, for a few days.

But when members of the journal’s board threatened to resign in protest, it, too, yanked the article. Indeed, they made it disappear without a trace, simply replacing it with an unrelated paper. “No matter how unwelcome the implications of a logical argument may be,” Hill wrote in a piece on the website Quillette, “it must be allowed to stand or fall on its merits, not its desirability or political utility.”

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