No longer the media’s darling

Sam Harris learns what happens when the media’s Narrative moves on and you are no longer one of its favorites:

In April of 2017, I published a podcast with Charles Murray, coauthor of the controversial (and endlessly misrepresented) book The Bell Curve. These are the most provocative claims in the book:

  • Human “general intelligence” is a scientifically valid concept.
  • IQ tests do a pretty good job of measuring it.
  • A person’s IQ is highly predictive of his/her success in life.
  • Mean IQ differs across populations (blacks < whites < Asians).
  • It isn’t known to what degree differences in IQ are genetically determined, but it seems safe to say that genes play a role (and also safe to say that environment does too).

At the time Murray wrote The Bell Curve, these claims were not scientifically controversial—though taken together, they proved devastating to his reputation among nonscientists. That remains the case today. When I spoke with Murray last year, he had just been de-platformed at Middlebury College, a quarter century after his book was first published, and his host had been physically assaulted while leaving the hall. So I decided to invite him on my podcast to discuss the episode, along with the mischaracterizations of his research that gave rise to it.

Needless to say, I knew that having a friendly conversation with Murray might draw some fire my way. But that was, in part, the point. Given the viciousness with which he continues to be scapegoated—and, indeed, my own careful avoidance of him up to that moment—I felt a moral imperative to provide him some cover.

In the aftermath of our conversation, many people have sought to paint me as a racist—but few have tried quite so hard as Ezra Klein, Editor-at-Large of Vox. In response to my podcast, Klein published a disingenuous hit piece that pretended to represent the scientific consensus on human intelligence while vilifying me as, at best, Murray’s dupe. More likely, readers unfamiliar with my work came away believing that I’m a racist pseudoscientist in my own right.

After Klein published that article, and amplified its effects on social media, I reached out to him in the hope of appealing to his editorial conscience. I found none. The ethic that governs Klein’s brand of journalism appears to be: Accuse a person with a large platform of something terrible, and then monetize the resulting controversy. If he complains, invite him to respond in your magazine so that he will drive his audience your way and you can further profit from his doomed effort to undo the damage you’ve done to his reputation.

It’s mildly amusing that Harris is only discovering now that the media in general, and Ezra Klein in particular, is disingenuous and utilizes character assassination as its stock tool-in-trade. Imagine what it is like for those who can be disemployed as well as discredited, Sam!

Well, you do not cease to amaze… “Junk science” is in the title of the article, and I “fell for it” (subtitle), because I didn’t do my homework (the thrust of the entire piece). Whereas in reality, you have been shown ample evidence that the science is mainstream, that I represented it accurately, and that your authors were cherry-picking it for ideological reasons.

Unfortunately for Sam, he has discovered how little interest those on the Left have in either the truth or in science, whether they are editors, reporters, or readers. The Narrative has moved on and Sam has been left behind, much to his surprise.

Judging from the response to this post on social media, my decision to publish these emails appears to have backfired. I was relying on readers to follow the plot and notice Ezra’s evasiveness and gaslighting (e.g. his denial of misrepresentations and slurs that are in the very article he published). Many people seem to have judged from his politeness that Ezra was the one behaving honestly and ethically. This is frustrating, to say the least.

Many readers seem mystified by the anger I expressed in this email exchange. Why care so much about “criticism” or even “insults”? But this has nothing to do with criticism and insults. What has been accomplished in Murray’s case, and is being attempted in mine, is nothing less than the total destruction of a person’s reputation for the crime of honestly discussing scientific data. Klein published fringe, ideologically-driven, and cherry-picked science as though it were the consensus of experts in the field and declined to publish a far more mainstream opinion in my and Murray’s defense—all to the purpose of tarring us as racists and enablers of racists. This comes at immense personal and social cost. It is also dishonest.

It sounds like Sam very much needs to read SJWs Always Lie.