David R. Henderson  

Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee: The Case of Erik Loomis

Does An Increase in Supply Lea... A Question of War and Peace...

Second Update:
Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber has commented below, ending with: "I would be grateful if you could change the original post to reflect these facts." I won't change it, but I will alert readers to his comment. I have three comments on his comment. The third is the most important:
1. He's right that my comment did not fit Crooked Timber's guidelines.
2. Contrary to what Mr. Farrell implies, I never charged Crooked Timber with censorship, ideological or otherwise. In fact, I took care to say, in the post below, that I was not charging Crooked Timber with violating my freedom of speech, which is what censorship is. I did charge Crooked Timber with refusing to take Yes for an answer. And I still stand by that charge.
3. I notice that Mr. Farrell did not respond to my most serious charge against Crooked Timber: that they systematically left out Professor Loomis's most-vile comments. This omission probably gained many signatures for their statement but cost Crooked Timber some credibility.

Last point: Mr. Farrell makes the serious charge of racism against one of our frequent commenters, Steve Sailer. While I am not a big fan of Mr. Sailer, as those of you who have followed our debates on immigration won't be surprised to read, I do think the charge of racism is inaccurate and unfair. Although I'm not a regular reader of Crooked Timber, I also doubt that, as Mr. Farrell writes, "Racist comments and commenters are banned." I'm guessing that it wouldn't be hard to find commenters on Crooked Timber attacking "rich white males," for instance. Whenever you wonder if a comment is racist, there's an easy check: try substituting another race in the comment and see how it reads.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers.

Occasionally I depart from straight economic topics to discuss bigger other important issues. One of the exceptions I make is to discuss freedom of speech and academic freedom, both of which I hold dear. That's what I want to do here: discuss the case of a history professor named Erik Loomis.

I came late to the party. This morning I read a post by a friend on Facebook, who expressed her support for his academic freedom and linked to a post on Crooked Timber that discussed the issue. Here's the only part of what Loomis had said that Crooked Timber quoted:

I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre's head on a stick.

Wayne LaPierre, for those who don't know, is the CEO of the National Rifle Association.

Crooked Timber claimed that Loomis is a "gifted young scholar" who has "become the target of a witch hunt." Crooked Timber also claimed that his untenured position at the University of Rhode Island is in jeopardy. In their words, he "is vulnerable.'' If URI were a private university, the only issue would be academic freedom. The fact that it's a government university brings in the other issue of freedom of speech.

"The guy lives near Connecticut," I thought, "he was understandably angry about the Connecticut murders, and he vented on Twitter." But I didn't know anything about Loomis besides what Crooked Timber told me. Crooked Timber asked people to endorse their statement. But it was too much of a package deal. So I went on as a commenter and wrote:

I can't fully support the statement because there's too much in there that I can't confirm easily. I don't know whether Professor Loomis is a "gifted" scholar or not. Nor is it relevant. We need to defend the academic freedom of every one, not just the gifted. So I support the main purpose of this statement, which is to defend his academic freedom.

I also support the freedom of Wayne LaPierre to speak and lobby for his views.

I would think if their true goal was to support Loomis's academic freedom, Crooked Timber would take "yes" for an answer. But they didn't. My comment wasn't published. So I wrote it again. Same result: not published.

There are only two things in my statement that I could imagine Crooked Timber taking issue with: (1) my uncertainty about how gifted Loomis is, and (2) my support of Wayne LaPierre's freedom to speak and lobby. Even if it's (1), would that be enough for them not to publish my statement? I don't think so. So the best I can figure is that it's (2).

Thus the title of this post. Crooked Timber is willing to publish a statement defending Loomis's freedom of speech but not LaPierre's. I'm not saying that Crooked Timber violated my freedom of speech by not publishing my comment. My freedom of speech guarantees that no one can use force against me for speaking or to prevent me from speaking; it doesn't mean that someone is compelled to provide a forum for my speech.

It turns out, by the way, that Crooked Timber also misled by omission. Everyone knows that the expression "head on a stick" is a metaphor, and that is how Crooked Timber defended Loomis. But see here for some of his truly vile comments. Crooked Timber quoted none of these.

Also, the other person, besides the people at Crooked Timber, who is unwilling to defend freedom of speech is . . . Erik Loomis. When given a chance to clarify his views on LaPierre, he wrote, "Dear rightwingers, to be clear, I don't want to see Wayne LaPierre dead. I want to see him in prison for the rest of his life."

And what would he want LaPierre in prison for? For murder? No. It would be for speaking out in favor of, and lobbying for, people's right to own guns. So, again, "freedom of speech for me, but not for thee."

One last note: I think it's important for an academic not to attack those whose views he disagrees with. Reading how vile the comments of this "gifted young scholar" were, I did start thinking that, at a minimum, some people at URI should occasionally monitor his class or question his students to find out whether he brings anywhere close to that amount of venom to discussions with students who disagree with him.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (74 to date)
Vipul Naik writes:

Are you definitively sure they've deliberately rejected your comment? It might just be in moderation or it might have been deleted accidentally. Sites that get large numbers of comments but have limited manpower to moderate them often have backlogs in their moderation queue, or mistakenly delete legitimate comments in a rush.

Ted Levy writes:

One irony of all this: While FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) is already at work defending Loomis against possible sanction by URI, I doubt very much that Loomis himself would be supportive of other work FIRE does to protect the rights of students who, for example, agree with Wayne LaPierre...

Steve Sailer writes:

Crooked Timber exists as a club for like-minded people to enjoy their like-mindedness.

William Barghest writes:

What do you mean by academic freedom?
That one's job should not depend on ones expressed views or simply that there should never be legal prohibitions on, or state intimidation against expressing one's views? If the first, does this not directly conflict with the University's freedom to hire and fire as they please?

JLV writes:

1) People are morally culpable for the policies they support.

2) As Justice Scalia recently pointed out, that law should reflect morality is foundational to our legal system. (note that the set of people who defended Scalia's comments and the set of people who got all butthurt about Loomis are approximately the same.)

In light of that, what's vile about Loomis' tweets?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Wiliam Barghest,
What do you mean by academic freedom?
That one's job should not depend on ones expressed views or simply that there should never be legal prohibitions on, or state intimidation against expressing one's views? If the first, does this not directly conflict with the University's freedom to hire and fire as they please?

Good questions. I admit serious confusion.

David R. Henderson writes:

I'm not sure what Scalia comments you're referring to. What I find vile about Loomis's comments is his call for innocent people to be murdered, beaten to death, or imprisoned for life. I thought that was clear.

JLV writes:

This is relitigating a blog fight, but its at best deliberately obtuse to take "head on a stick" to be a literal call for murder. At least as late as July of this year, you were capable of making the distinction that "heads will roll/heads on a stick/chopping off heads" is a metaphor for legal/moral accountability rather than murder. (see: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/07/joffe_on_libor.html) I expect better from this blog is all.

David R. Henderson writes:

You did read my post, right? You know, the one above where I said that I would defend Loomis's right because it was a metaphor?

Greego writes:

On the 'chopping off heads/head will roll' thing - IMO this is different to naming the person whose head should be put on a stick. The latter is considerably more vicious and a borderline threat. And clarifying that lifetime imprisonment would suffice doesn't really fix things. For Crooked Timber to then turn around and support his right to free speech is absurdly ironic.

Paul writes:

@David R. Henderson

"What I find vile about Loomis's comments is his call for innocent people..."

Perhaps I am mistaken, but I would suspect that many people would agree with you that the innocent should be spared, but would vehemently disagree with you that Wayne LaPierre is innocent. Simply because you haven't violated the law doesn't make mean that you shouldn't be culpable for your actions and their consequences. I would assume that readers of Crooked Timber believe that LaPierre and his organization are culpable for the many thousands of gun deaths that occur each year in the U.S. I think one needs justification to consider such a highly controversial figure innocent in the court of public opinion, and certainly much more justification than simply the fact that they have never been convicted of a crime.

Greego writes:


I posted a non-offensive comment critical of Loomis on Crooked Timber several hours ago. It hasn't been posted, but several others have been in the interim. It's an echo-chamber.

Ted Levy writes:

Paul, do you think the ACLU should be held culpable for their defense of librarians who wish to maintain a publicly accessible copy of Mein Kampf, given the horrible results of Nazism? (I believe it may have been ultimately responsible for even more deaths than the NRA.)

egd writes:

I had always interpreted "academic freedom" to mean that schools should not punish professors for exploring areas of research that are controversial or unpopular. I don't think it gives professors free reign to have or express unpopular or controversial opinions outside of their academic research.

If Mr. Loomis is engaged in, for example, public reactions to threatening messages on Twitter, then this would be a matter of academic freedom. If he's just being a jerk, it's not.

Vipul Naik writes:

I see they've updated their post clarifying that the comments section on this specific post was intended only to gather signatories, not to host debate or discussion of the idea. In other words, their rejection of your comments was based on a deliberate decision to use the comments to solicit signatures, not borne of a general desire to censor critical remarks. From the last para of their post:

Update. Since this wasn’t entirely clear in the original post. This comment section is purely for people who want to sign onto the statement. If you don’t want to sign the statement, but simply to make semi-related points, start discussions, troll or whatever, please refrain from doing so.
libfree writes:

David, I have to agree with greego. I can't see myself referring to an individual this way without feeling that there is at least a half a threat. Maybe its regional, but around here I don't think I've heard anything other than "heads will roll". I've always heard the term "many a truth said in jest", I kind of feel like that applies here. As a believer in free speech, I don't he should be fired for it, but I agree that his employer, family and friends should at least be concerned.

Paul writes:

I don't see why, were there credible arguments linking the actions of the ACLU to continuing serious harm to others, we should consider someone wanting to hold the ACLU culpable for the harm they cause as someone making an argument incompatible with a free, civil society. Loomis appears to have made a hyperbolic statement on Twitter to the effect that he wants someone that he believes is culpable for the deaths of others to be punished. I think it is really hard to turn the argument "If person X intentionally engages in action Y whose most probable outcome is the death of person Z, then person X should be held accountable for the death of person Z," into any kind of a straw man argument. It seems to me that knowingly causing the death of others is just too serious a moral offense that the only counter argument against such an accusation is to deny that the actions did indeed cause death. To argue that the actions causing the death lie in some special protected class of actions appears to me to be a self defeating argument.

The argument goes something like this:

If free speech is just a tool that people will cynically use to cause harm to others while shielding themselves from any responsibility for the consequences of their actions, why would we want free speech?

The point being that with friends of free speech expressing the view that speakers whose words cause grievous injury to others should be held harmless, free speech would need no enemies.

Chris Koresko writes:

Wiliam Barghest: What do you mean by academic freedom? That one's job should not depend on ones expressed views or simply that there should never be legal prohibitions on, or state intimidation against expressing one's views? If the first, does this not directly conflict with the University's freedom to hire and fire as they please?

I think academic institutions ought to promote an environment in which their people (professors, staff, students...) are free to speak their minds without fear of recrimination from each other or from the university itself. This is true even if the people don't have the right to compel the institution to behave that way. It's not a matter of rights; it's a matter of propriety, especially for those institutions which promote themselves as arenas for academic freedom.

That said, there are reasonable limits. Whether or not Loomis has exceeded those limits is necessarily something the university authorities will have to decide.

John writes:

Paul, the problem with that is that the vast majority of national policies have the potential to cause "grievous injury," one way or the other--depending on your political beliefs.

War. Gun ownership. Drug prohibition. FDA regulations. Vehicle safety regulations. Abortion. Bullying. Gay rights. Immigration. The welfare state.

In every single case, you'll find people on both sides of the debate claiming that their opponents' policies will lead to death, injuries, suffering and/or misery. A "right to free speech" that allows us to prohibit our opponents from making arguments on any of these topics would not be much of a right at all.

RPLong writes:

You know, what's interesting about EconLog is that every time someone publishes a post that I feel is pretty much universally agreeable, there is most often vehement disagreement in the comments section. Then I read more controversial EconLog posts and there is hardly a comment to be found.

I can take it as an important lesson, that what I take for granted is certainly not what many other people take for granted.

Steve Z writes:
My freedom of speech guarantees that no one can use force against me for speaking or to prevent me from speaking; it doesn't mean that someone is compelled to provide a forum for my speech.

Not quite - at least, that's not the freedom of speech guaranteed in the bill of rights. The First Amendment reads "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech[.]" The First Amendment binds the states due to the 14th Amendment. There is nothing in there about private individuals. Of course, they can't legally use violence to prevent you from speaking because the state has a virtual monopoly on lawful violence. But that's not because of your right to free speech. You might be referring to natural law, though.

Ken B writes:

Academic freedom is to protect academic debate, not to give blanket job protection to PhDs. Loomis's comments were not academic research, just bigoted screeds. Contrast this case with Phillipe J Rushton, a name I expect David will recognize. I'm with William Barghest on this point.

[Rushton published research on race and IQ; Ontario's premier tried to have him fired from Western, where David studied.]

If I were a student at URI I would refuse to accept Loomis as a professor, and I would be willing to make an issue of it.

Rational debate is impossible in the kind of atmosphere Loomis and Crooked Timber promote.
I am sorry to see some commenters here do not grasp that.

Pave Low John writes:

The whole Loomis debacle reminds me of a comment that was made to me by the secretary of the History Department where I'm taking graduate level classes. It was right after the Colorado theater attack and I mentioned to the secretary, a really nice woman, that since we have a bunch of veterans on campus (I'm one of them), that maybe the university should explore the option of letting veterans that hold valid concealed carry permits actually carry concealed on campus, just in case another Virginia Tech attacks happens here. The first words out of her mouth were, "Don't let Dr. X hear you say that!"

Dr. X, by the way, is an extremely liberal history professor with Obama stickers all over her door and a penchant for making political statements during class. I have done a small bit of graduate assistant work for her and have (so far) avoided any discussions that might be political.

But god forbid I mention letting experienced soldiers help protect the helpless college students that might possibly be attacked while attending class in a massive "No Gun Zone". Funny, I don't recall anyone cautioning me or anyone else to be sure and not mention anything liberal in a college class. Probably because no one will get berated or have their grades suffer for talking about liberal causes.

Free speech for me, but not for thee. That seems to be the guiding principle that I'm seeing in universities these days...

Ken B writes:

Some hypotheticals.

What if Loomis named a URI student in one of his tweets, or left such a comment on a student's twitter feed?

What if some students at URI are NRA or Gun Owners of America members?

Prospective students?

My answer is this. Neither establishes grounds for legal action against Loomis. The first certainly and the second likely would convince me that Loomis would probably not deal fairly with those students. Loomis has forfeited any presumption of trust. That seems to me to be a real problem for the university, impairing or possibly destroying his ability to do his job.

I am not saying he should be fired. People show poor judgment all the time, and don't get fired. I am saying the university has cause, and if they choose to fire him claims of academic freedom should be no bar.

Kevin Driscoll writes:

I am taking a slightly more moderate approach than Ken B. I agree that Loomis' comments suggest that he might not deal fairly with students who hold opposing views and that having a rational discussion in the midst of such vitriol is difficult. However, I think that to have cause to fire him, the University must directly observe these behaviors (preferably in class).

We don't need to use Loomis' speech outside of a work environment as a proxy for his actions when we can monitor his actions directly. Although Twitter is a public forum, it is still an expression of Loomis' private (ie non-work) views and I am willing to believe that he can keep those comments and any suggested prejudices out of the classroom.

As an example, I imagine that we all know someone (of the same or different political views) who likes to make personal attacks against leaders/members of groups who disagree with them. Being from the South, I hear all the time "Nancy Pelosi is a liar. Democrats are idiots. Etc. etc." Yet, these same individuals have no problems dealing with Democrats in their daily lives. I'd argue the same is probably true here.

Finally, if we try and police the out-of-work speech of individuals to see if they might be prejudiced, we're just going to drive the speech underground. We need individuals to have an open forum to express their views so that we can understand their thinking and measure whether their actions reflect that thinking or not. Preventing university professors from making personal attacks on Twitter won't stop them from being prejudiced in the classroom; it will just make it harder to figure out which ones to monitor closely.

Matt C writes:

Re Crooked Timber, I think Steve Sailer is right, they don't want to argue with views too far outside their community niche.

Given that most internet debate ends up dominated by loudmouths insulting each other, I can sort of understand.

It's still too bad they wouldn't engage. There are a lot of smart and interesting people posting at CT. Maybe there's a way to invite willing CTers over to EconLog. I certainly wouldn't mind more (reasonably civil and intelligent) progressives over here.

Joe Cushing writes:

This is especially important when you consider that it is the anti-gun crowd that created the zone where lawful citizens cannot defend themselves with equal force. It is they that created the environment where so many deaths could occur. The NRA advocates for the kind of freedom that saves lives. The anti-gun crowd advocates for the kinds of restrictions that lead to democide or at least to mass shootings. If I were against free speech, I'd be for putting the anti-gun crowd in jails. I'd charge them with the deaths that could be prevented if people didn't follow their advice.

Ken B writes:

I am not sure about the witnessing part. Can't they witness twitter? But more importantly, how would URI treat a student who tweeted such comments about people who voted for Obama? Would they strictly apply your seen not seen distinction? I doubt it. As I say, I'm not saying he should be fired, only that if URI chooses to academic freedom won't cut it as a defense.

Methinks writes:

Uh....excuse me? Since when in recent history have we experienced anything that might be mistaken for "freedom of expression" in the academy?

People are free to express themselves all they want and as hideously as they want, so long as such flambouyant expressions in no way run counter to the standard collectivist agenda in academia. The dampers on freedom of expression may be much too subtle to be transparent in their full flower to outsiders, but when you have to please the very colleagues who will decide your tenure, everyone knows the rules.

So long as the government isn't throwing this monkey in jail for his screeching, then I see no problem. In this country, if the president simply doesn't like you, you can be locked up indefinitely or killed on his word alone. Due process is so passé! Sorry that I don't buy the claptrap about "state" schools. Just because the state sticks its nose where it doesn't belong doesn't mean that actions no longer have consequences.

And finally, the head on a stick comment, while a metaphor, really tells you all you need to know. Such a breathtaking "scholar" would surely have enough command of the language to choose from many metaphors. He didn't want him derided. He didn't want him repudiated. He didn't want him spurned, etc., etc. No. He wanted to and did express something much much more violent. I don't care if he wants him locked up for the rest of his life or if he wanted him drawn and quartered, it's still violence. That's what he wanted for a man who simply supports the rights of individuals rather than exclusively the monopoly on violent force to own weapons.

And speaking of government....will this "scholar" soon be calling for Obama's head on a stick for ordering the cold-blooded murder of many more Pakistani children in his drone war? And in Yemen? No, probably not. Collectivists go insta-passifist only when individual rights lead to the occasional bad outcome, not when rivers of blood result from a leftist Dear Leader's activities.

Ken B writes:

Readers might have noticed I am provocative, contentious, and not left-leaning. I however had very good and friendly relations with left wing professors over many years. I agree there is a disturbing group think but nearly all profs at a personal level are quite able and eager to be fair. (The other explanation is that I am a miracle of charm. Occam alas cuts against me this time.)

Lance writes:

The bad thing about cases like this is that it puts the university in a bind and may present some perverse incentives in the future.

Consider a 5th year assistant professor with limited peer-reviewed publications and university service. His chances at tenure are slim. He is also wont to post controversial remarks on his social media pages. He does so and causes an uproar. Thus, any tenure decision will be colored by his comments and not whether he deserves tenure.

Have a scant publication record (for a research university) or record of university service (for a liberal arts or teaching college), just make a few inflammatory remarks, get featured on O'Reilly, and have your tenure denial appear to be caused by your 'willingness to speak your mind' and not your poor academic track record.

I feel sorry for the future tenure committee of Prof. Loomis.

David R. Henderson writes:

Well put.

Ernie G writes:

The suggestion that Wayne LaPierre be imprisoned for, well, being Wayne LaPierre would require the passage of a Bill of Attainder:

A bill of attainder (also known as an act of attainder or writ of attainder) is an act of a legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without privilege of a judicial trial.
I refer Professor Loomis to Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution:
No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

Jeff Jefferson writes:

He needs to be fired. No compromises. If he were a conservative there is no doubt that he would be fired, and the outrage would be ten times what it is now. A person with Loomis's bias could not teach a realistic version of history. The left needs to start living with the same consequences that conservatives have to deal with.

Henry Farrell writes:

Dear Mr. Henderson

Your views were not censored as you suggest above. Approximately 30 minutes after the post was published (and before your comment was received - there were 10-20 comments at that point), we put up a notice at the bottom of the post in question:

"Update. Since this wasn’t entirely clear in the original post. This comment section is purely for people who want to sign onto the statement. If you don’t want to sign the statement, but simply to make semi-related points, start discussions, troll or whatever, please refrain from doing so. Further information that is directly relevant (e.g. about responses received, other people to be contacted or whatever) is OK. So too is brief context for why you are signing, if you want to provide it – but please remember that this is a public document, which is intended to speak to a cause that deserves support from a wide variety of people. Anything else – not the right time, thanks."

This was not ideological censorship. As it happens, over 90% of the comments that were not published were in fact comments supporting Professor Loomis, written by people who, like you, had unfortunately not actually read to the bottom of the post (most people commenting had been alerted by other left wing blogs or Twitter feeds, and hence were likely to agree in broad terms with the sentiments). We put up a second post a couple of hours afterwards at http://crookedtimber.org/2012/12/20/academic-and-workplace-freedom-open-thread/ which was intended to allow people who wanted to debate the broader questions to debate them. The issues that you are interested in talking about have indeed been debated there quite extensively. Had you commented there, rather than taking to this blog to suggest that we had rejected your comment because we didn't like your views, it would obviously have been accepted.

That said, we do have some limits on the kinds of comments and commenters that we allow. Racist comments and commenters are banned, which goes some way towards explaining Steven Sailer's unhappiness with us above. However, people from a broad range of views, including strongly pro market or conservative perspectives are welcome to comment.

I would be grateful if you could change the original post to reflect these facts.

Matthew writes:

Yes, they delete...I posted the following comment and it never got posted.

Matthew 12.23.12 at 4:07 pm
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
I will support this statement once you make the equivalent (and equally obvious statement) that Wayne LaPierre has the same rights too.

Ed writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Badger Pundit writes:

I, too, tried leaving a comment -- twice -- asking the professors a key question: what "academic freedom" interest were they defending? I was mystified, considering that Loomsis's tweets were made in his private capacity, on his own twitter account, and were unrelated to his academic duties -- indeed, they involved subjects outside his academic field.

So I posted the comment on R.S. McCain's blog discussing the Loomis situation, and asked the professors to respond. Here's that comment: http://theothermccain.com/2012/12/19/university-president-repudiates-professors-violent-anti-nra-messages/#comment-743153343.

I also e-mailed law professor Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit), who posted a link to the "academic freedom" question in my comment, thereby putting the professors on notice of it (they read his blog, and indeed their statement linked to it): http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/160013.

I then made a followup post on McCain's blog, noting Instapundit's coverage of the professors' unwillingness to explain the "academic freedom" issue:

Then I sent a tweet to Michelle Malkin noting the professors refused to say what "academic freedom" interest they were defending, and she put a story about the subject on Twitchy.com: http://twitchy.com/2012/12/19/professors-decry-witch-hunt-rally-around-erik-loomis-in-name-of-academic-freedom.

Finally, also on Twitchy.com, I left a comment about the non-open nature of the supposed "open" threat the Crooked Timber professors supposedly created for the expression of critical views. That thread was subject to a "no trolling" rule -- which commentators (correctly) noted meant the professors reserved the option to delete comments they didn't like. My comment on the "open" thread is here: http://twitchy.com/2012/12/19/professors-decry-witch-hunt-rally-around-erik-loomis-in-name-of-academic-freedom/#comment-743290904.

Bottom line, the common theme running through Henderson's experience, my experience, and the experience of commentators on the so-called "open" thread is what Henderson suggests --"free speech for me but not for thee":

(1) the professors insist on free speech for themselves and Loomis;

(2) but not for the head of the NRA; and

(3) not for their readers who want to ask them basic questions about their speech, or who want to express less than 100% agreement with their speech.

I find it amazing to see university professors engaging in this course of conduct. I should note that throughout, I've made clear I have no problem with them defending a professor they know and respect against criticism for the conduct in his private life -- no problem at all with them helping forestall an overreaction. I've simply questioned them, because I'm genuinely mystified, about what the "academic freedom" interest is. I've not seen where, if anywhere, they've addressed that to date. If I've missed it, I'll stand corrected, but I'd appreciate someone pointing out where my question's been addressed.

Badger Pundit writes:

Professor Farrell,

There will be more detail below, soon (I posted a long comment last night which didn't clear moderation due to my use of short links; apparently my updated version will clear later today), but I had the same experience as Henderson -- I tried leaving a comment twice, unsuccessfully. The second time I didn't even receive an "awaiting moderation" response, apparently indicating I'd been banned.

My recollection is that the "update" you quote DID NOT appear at the bottom of your post shortly after the post was first made. Instead, for many hours this language was buried as a reply to a comment, where it easily could be overlooked be people visiting your blog (comment # 16, by "Henry").

Setting aside the exact location and timing of the update, it does not seem reasonable to fault Henderson, or anyone else, for failing to search through your blog to see whether you'd somehow purported to suspend the usual practice on comment-enabled blogs that address controversial issues -- one permitting vigorous and wide-ranging debate by commentators. The last place one would expect to have to look for such a disclaimer would be on a blog post purportedly defending the value of freedom of expression.

My lengthy comment which should post soon on this blog also discusses the so-called "open" thread you mention, which as I explain was not exactly open.

Finally, you'll see in my comment a summary of how I've repeatedly put to you and the other professors a basic clarifying question about your position which you seem not to have answered -- even after Instapundit called to wide public attention your failure to answer the question. After reading my comment, I would be most appreciative if you could either: (1) direct me to where you've previously answered the question; or (2) answer the question. Thank you.

P. Binder writes:

As is usually the case in such instances, property rights and thus free speech rights aren't well defined. University of Rhode Island accepts tax dollars extracted involuntarily. Wayne LaPierre is forced to support Professor Loomis'. Whenever government is involved, rights seem a muddle.

David Henderson Author Profile Page writes:

Dear Mr. Farrell,
Thanks for your reply. See my Update at the top of the post.

Frankly writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

timb writes:

Dear Mr. Henderson,

Your inability to note Steve Sailer's history of defending racists and their policies calls into question any other judgment you might make in this affair

David R. Henderson writes:

Re Steve Sailer, you would make your case stronger if you provided some evidence.
Re your argument, it's a non sequitur. Let's grant, arguendo, that I am unable "to note Steve Sailer's history of defending racists and their policies." It's possible. After all, just as I don't read Crooked Timber regularly, I don't read Steve Sailer's blog regularly either. Please tell our other readers and me which part of my post above that "calls into question."

Moneyrunner writes:

There is an interesting discussion at Popehat involving Loomis. This comment by Xenocless regarding modes of expression, (strong language warning) is one that I find entirely reasonable.

“A university ought to protect the former [civilized discourse] but should be under no obligation to have itself associated with the latter. “

And for those who have not had the experience of reading Professor Loomis’ tweets when it does not involve the NRA or guns, let me give you an example when it comes to bars, corporations, subtitles, fantasy football, race and Republicans. (Vulgar language warning)

I was under the impression that academic freedom was supposed to allow academics to freely discuss ideas and the pursuit of truth. What it has become, and Professor Loomis is an example, is license to be crude, vulgar, crass and racist (see Leonard Jeffries) with impunity. In the rest of the world, people get fired for speech that is a great deal less offensive than Professor Loomis; Adam Smith, who made offensive comments to a server at Chick-fil-A comes to mind. Does Academia really want to go to the barricades for someone in your profession who believes it’s a good idea to make these comments comments publicly?

Thucydides writes:

I find it ironic that the good people are willing to defend Loomis (out of respect for principles), even though he is working to subvert or end their freedoms, and would never lift a finger if their situations were reversed.

Quite frankly, if people like him are working towards a world where they can impose their values on the rest of us by force, perhaps it would be fitting for them to discover what living in such a world would be like. Let him face dismissal and financial ruin as a consequence of his actions, and as a warning to anyone else who wants to think and act that way.

Badger Pundit writes:

Part of Moneyrunner's comment is more apt than he may realize:

In the rest of the world, people get fired for speech that is a great deal less offensive than Professor Loomis; Adam Smith, who made offensive comments to a server at Chick-fil-A comes to mind. Does Academia really want to go to the barricades for someone in your profession who believes it’s a good idea to make these comments publicly?

Actually, Adam Smith was an academic, too -- part-time, at the U. of Arizona, in teaching business. After the controversy over the video he posted of his trip to Chick-fil-a to protest its (alleged) unfriendliness to gays, U. of Arizona severed all ties to him (it didn't need to fire him; it was summer, and it simply didn't renew his contract).

Like Loomis, Smith's speech activity involved purely his private life, and a topic that had nothing to do with his academic field. Yet I didn't notice the Crooked Timber professors, or any other academics, coming to Smith's defense. Did they come to Loomis's defense because they think his public call for the death of the head of the NRA -- and his apparently many other, nearly as controversial outbursts -- were cumulatively less controversial than the Chick-fil-a video?

In my view, there was no case for either Smith or Loomis to be defended on the basis of "academic freedom," because academic freedom doesn't concern itself with statements of academics made as part of their private lives on non-academic topics.

But for those who believe Loomis must be protected based on "academic freedom," do they also believe the U. of Arizona violated academic freedom when it failed to renew Smith's contract solely because of his off-campus, off-topic YouTube video? Addressing the Smith case may shed light on how far, under their theory, a university has to go to ignore off-campus, off-topic speech activity by its academic employees.

SDN writes:

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Randolph writes:


1. Crooked timber creates a petition, and *very explicitly* says that comments are only for signing the petition with a brief note why.

2. You assume that the rules don't apply to you so you post a comment directly violating the clear commenting rules.

3. You comment doesn't get posted.

4. You throw a temper tantrum because the editors had the gumption to apply the standard and clear rules to you.

5. You claim that the rejection of the comment must have been because of some disagreement with the content of the comment.

What a juvenile tirade. They even made a separate thread so that people could discuss the topic, why didn't you post your comment there?

David R. Henderson writes:

4. You throw a temper tantrum because the editors had the gumption to apply the standard and clear rules to you.
Randolph, you really think the above post is a tempter tantrum? I reported that they didn't post my comment. How exactly is that a "temper tantrum?'

5. You claim that the rejection of the comment must have been because of some disagreement with the content of the comment.
I did claim that. And you're right that that wasn't it. I noted that in my update by alerting by readers to Henry Farrell's comment. But it is interesting, isn't it, that Crooked Timber left out the most-vile comments from Loomis and that none of them has stepped up, as far as I know, to actually defend a principle, namely freedom of speech for both Loomis and LaPierre?

Ken B writes:

Randolph, David has admitted he did not read the fine print. Still the question of Loomis's other comments, which provide the gravaman of the complaints discussed here, seems to go to character, intent, and juvenility more than misreading do.

"What a juvenile tirade." That might fit one entry here; are you a juvenile?

Randolph writes:

RE: "Crooked Timber left out the most-vile comments from Loomis"

The "head on a stick" was the comment that seemed to attract the most attention on the right initially. It's the only one that Glenn Reynolds mentioned here http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/159913/ . Probably the most widely read attack.

The CT post was more of a response to the response than a critique of Loomis' tweets. The "head on a stick" comment is what appeared to set off the calls to the police and the university president.

Anyway what was more vile? Beaten to death? Maybe, but it seems to be the same basic category. Unless you contend that it was in fact reasonable to interpret the "beaten to death" tweet as a literal threat. But I'm sure you don't, you're just throwing sand up obfuscate the central point that clearly figurative tweets were interpreted as literal in what was either bad faith or blind partisanship.

Whether the particular tweet that CT used as an example was an ideal choice is a pretty minor quibble if the analysis follows the same trajectory for the possible better examples.

RE: Misreading

Even if there wasn't a misreading, assuming bad faith in comment moderation is silly. A comment could fail to get posted for all kinds of reasons other than an affirmative disagreement with an idea expressed.

Now maybe if there was evidence of a history of ideologically motivated moderation, but I'm not seeing that.

RE: temper tantrum

You made a post claiming that someone doesn't support the free speech of people they disagree with based on your snarky comment to a blog post you skimmed not getting through moderation.

I stand by the characterization.

Randolph writes:

I see my comment was held for moderation... oh the irony.

Badger Pundit writes:

[Comment removed for ad hominem remark. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to discuss editing your comment.--Econlib Ed.]

Thomas writes:

Steve has it exactly right on this point. I believe Henry means something like this:

"However, people from a broad range of views, including strongly pro market or conservative perspectives are welcome to comment, provided that they don't express those pro market or conservative perspectives or otherwise disagree.

David R. Henderson writes:

Maybe 3 times is a charm. I hope so. This is my final statement on this particular point. You wrote:
You made a post claiming that someone doesn't support the free speech of people they disagree with based on your snarky comment to a blog post you skimmed not getting through moderation.
I explained both in the post and in the update at the top that I was not accusing Crooked Timber of not supporting free speech. That part of the post was about Professor Loomis.

Badger Pundit writes:

[Comment removed for irrelevance.--Econlib Ed.]

Ken B writes:

It took me less than 15 seconds on Crooked Timber to find racially charged rhetoric. http://crookedtimber.org/2012/12/13/peak-pale/

I suggest this vindicates DRH's speculation on the topic.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ken B,
I appreciate your attempt. The comment is about race but I don't think it's at all racist. It's more the kind of thing that Steve Sailer does.

Ken B writes:

@DRH: I did carefully avoid "racist" for a vaguer term. I think it is an appeal to prejudice relying on racial stereotypes. But scroll down to a comment for jte and see if it doesn't fit you prediction very nicely indeed.

Badger Pundit writes:

Ken B:

I, too, found the "peak pale" post quite easily last night, though it took me a couple minutes. I just searched for "rich white," as Henderson suggested. But like Henderson, it didn't strike me as racist. And it seems the discussion of Sailer is relatively peripheral to the main subject of Henderson's post.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ken B,
Thanks. I should have scrolled down. jte's comment is close. I'm not sure if it gets a cigar. Maybe a 5-cent cigar, which, by the way, is what this country needs. :-)

Badger Pundit writes:

I urge Professor Farrell to address as promptly as practicable (allowing for the holiday schedule; see below) the subject raised by Henderson that so far he's avoided -- Loomis's other, most-vile comments. I'm open-minded about what he might say. Farrell might choose to defend them. Or he might instead condemn them and argue nonetheless that "academic freedom" and free speech mandate the comments not affect Loomis's employment status. Or he might have a more nuanced intermediate position. But Farrell ought not simply ignore this subject.

It's regrettable that it apparently took external publicity for Farrell to respond to any of Henderson's post. Henderson posted on December 20. Three days passed without a response. Only after Instapundit linked to it at 10:35 a.m. December 23 did Farrell respond (70 minutes later):

In response, around 3 p.m. December 23, Henderson posted his "Second Update" (above, top of post) noting Farrell keeps ignoring the most-vile Loomis comments. As of 2 p.m. today on December 24, Farrell has not yet further responded, even after Instapundit's post of last night calling further attention to Farrell's continuing delay in addressing Loomis's most-vile comments:

Previous to the current partisan dispute, Farrell had written positively of Instapundit, noting his productivity and self-deprecating view of his blogging role (pp. 27-28, PDF on Farrell's website here). Hopefully this further prodding from someone well known to Farrell will encourage a further response.

Possibly the holiday schedule accounts for Farrell's non-response to date regarding the most-vile comments, which would in abstract be understandable. But here it's worth noting that at the same time they're declining to address Loomis's most-vile statements, the Crooked Timber professors this morning posted about a new statement on the Loomis affair by the University of Rhode Island:

Professor Farrell's continuing failure to address the key point made by Henderson is particularly problematic given his past complaints in online debate about others who fail to respond to his arguments. For example, in a 2005 comment on his blog, Farrell criticized a conservative who, he complained, "refused to respond directly to my arguments," even though "I had destroyed his core argument."

Henry Farrell writes:

Professor Henderson

To be quite honest, I find your response entirely inadequate. People can reasonably make mistakes such as e.g. not reading a post properly, and then getting on their high horse suggesting ideological bias in how " Crooked Timber is willing to publish a statement defending Loomis's freedom of speech but not LaPierre's." However, when it is pointed out that this is all the result of a mistake, I think that it is reasonable to expect the person who has made the mistake to acknowledge so in a reasonably complete fashion, rather than an update to the post which describes the mistake made in the most anodyne manner possible, fails to acknowledge the rather offensive insinuations that the post made about bias and hypocrisy let alone to redress them, and then actually goes on to repeat the insinuation in a slightly modified form.

Responding to your updated insinuations in order.

(1) Your statement that "He's right that my comment did not fit Crooked Timber's guidelines." This is correct as far as it goes, but the problem is that it doesn't go very far at all. When one makes an accusation that someone ias acting in bad faith, and it is shown that this accusation is in fact based on your own error, I would have thought that a correction plus apology, or at the very least an acknowledgement that your error had led you to make insinuations about our unwillingness to publish comments defending LaPierre, would have been appropriate. Evidently, you adhere to a different interpretation of the relevant ethics.

(2) Your claim that censorship involves the abrogation of free speech, and hence you never suggested that we had done this to you. This is mere semantics. You know perfectly well what was meant by the term 'censorship' here - it is a perfectly common everyday use of the term - and redefining the term to suit your own meaning is nothing better than playing Humpty-Dumpty-in-Wonderland word games. Doubtless, if I could authoritatively define the meaning of the words that you were using, I could similarly use them for convenient rhetorical purposes.

(3) Your suggestion that Steve Sailer is not a racist, and that if he were, it is just as racist to say mean things about rich white folks. Again, the "the true racists are the anti-racists" trope chestnut is a language game, and nothing better. And on the merits of Steve Sailer, I'll point you to the writings of notorious Communist provocateur John Podhoretz, describing a deeply unpleasant Sailer comment about the consequences of Hurricane Katrina as "shockingly racist and paternalistic ." Sailer has made many very ugly comments - spend a few moments using Google to acquaint yourself.

(4) Your suggestion (and yes - it is very clearly an intended implication, and I will thank you not to deny it), that we are being dishonest, when you say that "it is interesting, isn't it, that Crooked Timber left out the most-vile comments from Loomis and that none of them has stepped up, as far as I know, to actually defend a principle, namely freedom of speech for both Loomis and LaPierre?" Perhaps if you had actually bothered to read the original post properly, you would not only have avoided false accusations that we would not publish pro-LaPierre comments, but have been able to figure out what we are worried about. One of the things that leftists find deeply annoying about many (not all) libertarians is their lack of attention to forms of private power, exercised in the workplace and elsewhere - e.g. when people risk being fired for saying the wrong thing. We make that clear in the original post, and actually link, for the reader's convenience, to an earlier post where we describe our thoughts on this topic at length. Which brings us to the current situation. On the one hand, we have (a) a not particularly well-known professor and blogger Being Angry on the Internet. If you go out to the Internet, you will find many other people Being Angry, often in equally unedifying ways. It happens, but does not have particularly obvious costs. On the other hand, we have (b) a group of well-organized people with strong connections in both traditional and non-traditional media mounting a campaign against this individual, and (c) the individual's university president hanging him out to dry, in a fashion which suggests that his tenure chances are likely to be damaged. Now - try and figure out for yourself why we are not particularly worried about (a), but think that the likelihood of (b) worsening (c) is a problem. It isn't rocket science. And lest you start blithering on indirectly about ideological bias, reflect on the facts that I have been both denounced myself by Professor Loomis in harsh ideological terms, and have in the past come to the defense of Jonathan Adler, when he was a pseudonymous blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy, and faced the prospect of being outed by a leftwing professor in ways that would plausibly have damaged his tenure chances too.

And with that, I am out of here.

Ken B writes:

Prof Farrell:
As David Is "not particularly well known" his opinion naturally carries little weight, and I will defer to the now famous Dr Loomis in future. I guess by your standard I should defer to the late William Shockley on race too; he was very famous. But as I have never heard of you I feel entitled to object your claim David was Being Angry. He wasn't even Being Vexed. I think you are Being Absurd.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ken B,
Thanks again for your support. I think, though, that Professor Farrell was not insulting me, at least in the passage you refer to. I think, although Professor Farrell can correct me if I'm wrong, that he was referring to Professor Loomis as "a not particularly well-known professor and blogger Being Angry on the Internet."

Ken B writes:

Upon rereading I think you're right David. He meant Loomis. I recant my ironic comment.

Timb writes:

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Cliff writes:


Does it matter whether a "racist" statement is true or not? Is any statement regarding differences in the distribution of alleles between population groups "racist"? If so, I guess you will have to ban every evolutionary geneticist from your blog!

Henry Farrell writes:

A brief clarification: as per professor Henderson's comment, the reference to a not particularly well known professor was directed towards Erik Loomis, and was not pejorative. Nor is the rest of the comment intended to insult Professor Henderson in any way. As I made clear, I am extremely dissatisfied with professor Henderson's response, but do not want to cast any general aspersions on professor Henderson's character, which I do not know, even in the very general sense that one can discern someone's online character from behavior on the Internet (just as he does not usually read Crooked Timber, I do not usually read this blog). I certainly do not think that he has behaved as he should in this instance - but it is not unknown for people who generally act in good faith to find it hard to roll back accusations that they would not have made with the benefit of hindight. All of us sometimes nod.

With respect to Badgerpundit's suggestion that it is problematic that it took me three days to respond to this post - I hadn't seen it. Nor did I see the Instapundit post until afterwards (having extensive experience of Glenn Reynold's blogging in the far past, I would be rather more likely to read this blog than Instapundit) - instead, I was alerted to this post by a right-leaning email correspondent who very possibly discovered it through Instapundit, but could possibly have found it independently. I don't have either the time nor the inclination to comb through the blogosphere looking for posts to disagree with - I suspect that few bloggers do. With respect to Cliff's suggestion that the alleles tell the truth about the existence of racial differences, I am afraid that this claim is statistically incompetent - I'll turn him to two monster posts by my sometime co-author Cosma Shalizi who is both far more intelligent and statistically literate than I. Briefly, the statistical 'proof' that there are genetically caused differences in intelligence between races is bogus. There is some reason to imagine that specific aspects of intelligence are partly the result of genes on the individual level, although the statistical evidence for this is far weaker than generally assumed. There is no reason to believe that these aspects are inherited differentially by different racial groups, especially given the extreme diversity in the African gene pool. And the notion that IQ measures some underlying 'real' form of generalized intelligence, 'g' is the result of statistical illiteracy, and inability to understand what factor analysis can actually do for you. That some people persist in believing that there is strong evidence of genetically inherited differences in intelligence between races is plausibly an unfortunate product of some combination of ignorance, the persistence of pernicious mythologies, and the obviously discreditable desire to believe in racial differences for their own sake. Obviously, the specific proportions of these factors vary dramatically from individual to individual (some may not be motivated by actual racism, but still have an obligation to read further and discover why this is an exploded theory).

And with that, I propose to go back to my holiday activities (and to wish happy holidays to all who might like to receive such wishes).

Cliff writes:


I will read your linked posts and am genuinely interested in engaging you on this topic, as I am someone who dismissed racial differences until being exposed to what I considered overwhelming evidence supporting them.

I do find it disheartening that you attribute such beliefs solely to bigotry, ignorance and statistical incompetence, when they are held by many experts in the field.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Henry Farrell,
Thank you for your comment above and happy holidays to you too.

Cliff writes:

Hmm, I read the first link in full and the author, while choosing words very carefully, states that he/she does think there are (more likely than not) genetic differences in IQ between races. So I guess your objection is that some people have too high a confidence in this belief, or overstate its significance, and should hold it with 52% or 55% confidence, rather than 90% or some such, and the evidence is not nearly as convincing as they believe. Not sure that is an adequate basis for banning. I thought your opinion was that such ideas were wholly false and pernicious (and "racist"?).

bigmac writes:

"Crooked Timber exists as a club for like-minded people to enjoy their like-mindedness."

Who can say that this comment is "racist", unless someone is looking for something minute to latch that label onto.

I don't know Crooked Timber - is it a site that promotes "racial identity" issues? If so, maybe that's how the comment from Steve Sailer could be construed this way.

As an outsider, having only found this blog today, that charge is just way beyond normal reasoning.

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