I sort of stumbled into the discussion sparked by the incident at Middlebury college via a short tweet storm that ended up getting a lot more traction than usual. It also lead to a discussion with João Eira that I said I would continue in blog format because Twitter is a difficult medium for nuance. There were several economists in my feed that brought the incident up, the issues touch on scientific methodology, and I think I can make a connection to Russ Roberts' piece  that has been making the rounds. Surprisingly, there's also a connection to my recently updated comment policy. Therefore I thought it germane to my blog.
So you don't have to go to Twitter, the gist of my tweet storm was that
- Pushing bad science on people breaks an institutional norm, so it unsurprising that people reacted by breaking another institutional norm
- Charles Murray is a virus of enlightenment values (I'll explain more below)
- If Murray was a biologist studying legumes with work of comparable quality, he wouldn't have even been invited to speak (well, unless it was a pro-legume interest group interested in his conclusions)
One thing I'd like to make clear is that I am not encouraging violence. I am saying I understand the strong negative reaction to letting Murray speak at a college that turned violent.
The normal procedure in science and academic pursuits is to first learn the field of study, then do good quality work, publish in peer reviewed journals, and have those papers cited by either your own generation or younger generations . In short: do useful credible work. Murray has failed to do this with his most broadly known work .
Normally if a major piece of your work is as discredited as The Bell Curve, you do not get invited to speak at a lunch seminar, much less at a venue with a broader audience. In this, the people inviting Murray to speak violated academic norms. I tried to come up with a good example of how badly this defies norms but was unable to come up with a real world one. It would be like inviting Martin Fleischmann to speak about cold fusion in a counterfactual world where they didn't retract their paper. Also recognize how ludicrous it is to say Fleischmann must be allowed to speak about cold fusion in the interest of open discussion. Next week, we'll have a speaker tell us 2 + 2 = 5.
In the US, we're starting to get a taste for what happens when someone repeatedly violates institutional norms, but around the world when this happens the result is usually loud protest with the potential for violence. The Rodney King verdict and the subsequent unrest in Los Angeles comes to mind. That verdict was as much of a violation of social justice norms as inviting Murray to speak at a college was a violation of academic norms.
The virus: political norms infecting academic norms
One thing to understand about science is that there is a subtle but important difference in the meaning of "open discussion". In politics, we have the "freedom of speech" norm: people are allowed to say what they want. There is no requirement to have any supporting evidence. There is also no requirement that the speaker be open to another's speech. I can publish garbage if I'd like and I don't have to listen to your criticisms.
Science developed well before the freedom of speech was enshrined in the US Constitution and differs from "free speech": you are required to have evidence and you are required to be open to another speaker's speech. These norms are enshrined in the peer review process of academic journals. If I don't present convincing evidence that my paper is correct or if I don't respond convincingly to the reviewer's questions, my paper doesn't get published. I get shut down. It's an arcane and inefficient process, but it enshrines the norms of academia.
The media is the parallel institution to academic journals that follows political norms. It publishes "both sides" of even scientific issues like global warming, and will print factually false statements by people in the spirit of freedom of speech. Editorializing, allow me to say that an institution that operates this way doesn't seem to serve much purpose unless it calls out lies and factual errors or restricts itself to philosophy.
Murray and those like him are viruses that use these competing processes to propagate themselves. Murray publishes a political tract via the media that looks superficially like science analogous to the way a virus simulates proteins that gain access to the cell's machinery. Open academic discussion begins (e.g. here [pdf]) because the subject has been brought up (i.e. the virus DNA is in the cell). Further data is collected and studies are performed that Murray can selectively cite or perform facile analyses on. This is analogous to using the cell's machinery to produce proteins the virus needs to reproduce itself. Murray however is not open to the refutations of his book. It's never retracted (analogy: programmed cell death). When academic pressure tries to right the wrong by denying him academic positions or not publishing his papers (e.g. the body producing a fever), political pressure says that Murray is being censored, that colleges are not allowing open discussion (and ideological institutions like Mercatus or AEI host him, or request his presence in academic forums i.e. exactly what happened). The subsequent academic discussion of his work enables Murray to publish in academic journals despite the low quality of his research.
Credibility, self-editing, and open dialog
I wrote up a different short tweet storm that dealt with Russ Roberts' views  about economic research a few days before that turns out to be related. Roberts suggested a new kind of academic openness where economists publish e.g. all of the different exploratory regressions they tried before arriving at the one they put in the paper. I said that good scientific practice dictates that you should record all of this, but that once the paper is published replication or contrary results (also published) should dictate the debate ‒ "not armchair critical theory analysis of work products" (as I said in the Tweet).
The questioning process of peer review could (and sometimes does) analyze those work products, but the peer review process primarily relies on your academic credibility to allow you to "self-edit" your notes to produce your paper. However, this assumes academic norms, not political norms.
Political norms neither subject you to peer review nor support academic credibility. In short, you cannot trust the self-editing of work produced under political norms which makes Roberts' call to produce the initial work products a reasonable suggestion. One way of re-framing Roberts claim is to say that political norm have infected the academic process in economics and therefore we should give up the traditional peer review process for public review.
I personally like this idea (in fact, I follow it with this blog ‒ I effectively publish my scientific notebook on the internet), but it requires its own norms. One is making everything available (e.g. software, data). That's another one I've followed inspired by Igor Carron and his blog dealing with signal processing and machine learning (here's the hardware and software implementations page). This takes the focus off of peer review and puts it on reproducibility.
Another norm this requires is for the resulting open discussion to be genuinely open in both directions. Reputations need to follow bloggers and blog commenters, and everyone needs to be genuinely interested in dialog and capable of accepting (i.e. being open to) criticism. As I mentioned above, I recently changed my comment policy from one that followed political norms ("free speech") to one that follows more academic norms (if you're not open to being wrong, you're shut down).
No one owns the ideas
Another area where the academic norms and political norms differ is in the treatment of the argument from authority "fallacy" with the latter being a lot more amenable to such arguments. You will see the political norm in action in economics when people appeal to what Keynes or Minsky "really said".
However the academic norm favors argument from credibility. The name of the person is unimportant. I probably understand quantum mechanics better than Werner Heisenberg ever did. I've built up some academic credibility in quantum field theory by publishing several papers (going through the peer review process) and a doctoral thesis (going through the thesis defense process). I can credibly talk about the ideas of Feynman, Weinberg, or Witten without invoking their names. I lack "authority", but I have credibility.
The flip side of that is that no one owns the ideas. I don't need Feynman's name to support every path integral and I can take the insights of the approach into completely different subjects that Feynman did not foresee. I'm not limited to what Feynman "really said". People are free to take the information equilibrium framework I've been developing on this blog and write their own papers and blog posts.
You may be thinking I've gone far afield from taking about Charles Murray, but this is terribly relevant. If a university prevented him or the odious Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking, this would not be violating of academic norms of openness. It would be upholding the academic norm of credibility. The "ideas"  are not being suppressed, the speakers are. If the "ideas" are so good, get someone with academic credibility to expound them in your academic environment. In science, you don't need Einstein  in order to talk about general relativity. If the relationship between race and intelligence is such an interesting academic research question surely you don't need famous (but academically discredited) names to talk about it. No one owns the ideas, so someone with academic credibility can talk about them at a university if they really need to be discussed.
In a sense, that gives it away. The odious Milo Yiannopoulos in person was critical to the desires of the young Republicans at Berkeley and the AEI student group needed Charles Murray, not a seminar by one of his acolytes. They needed an argument from authority. It was political, not academic.
That's the difference between political openness and academic openness. Academic openness means you can get someone besides Charles Murray or have him talk at a non-academic venue.
Pushing the ideas of the powerful
The US has supported systemic racism since before it was founded. This is still in place (just read Ta-Nehisi Coates), and therefore it's not like racist ideas don't have a venue or a constituency. Racist ideas are a load of garbage academically, so breaking academic norms in order to push ideology supported by the powerful  ... well, rubs a lot of people the wrong way. We also have a president and a party that have broken a lot of norms with the continued support of CEOs and the financial industry. These norms have been broken to push the ideology of the powerful (business interests) or the dominant (white Americans over Syrian refugees). This has resulted in protests. If norms continue to be broken, we can expect those protests to become violent. I'm not advocating violence, but when Republicans spout baldfaced lies and act with rank hypocrisy and there are no consequences to the violations of norms, people will think there are no rules anymore and act accordingly .
It is key to understand here that it is power and money behind it. As mentioned above, it seems that academic norms have been routinely violated in economics. Business interests pushed "free markets" not because they were the best theory supported by data surviving rigorous peer review (in fact, that process showed many, many free market failures), but because they served the powerful. CEOs set up pseudo-academic institutions in an effort to infect the academy with the free market virus which spread through "open academic discussion". The global financial crisis sparked a protest ‒ and from what I've read it doesn't discriminate between the good academic economists from the infected ones .
If academic and social norms continue to be violated in the interests of the powerful, I fear the protests are only going to get worse.
 Max Planck: A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
 I am not going to cover the well-documented issues with Murray's "research". Suffice to say that the concepts of "race" and "intelligence" are ill-defined on their own independent of each other, and his work on The Bell Curve was not subject to peer review (or even given to potentially unfriendly reviewers). Additionally, Murray's background is in political science and history so he has limited expertise to speak about intelligence (the domain of neuroscience, biology, or psychology). Overall, The Bell Curve is pseudo-scientific garbage.
 I can't put enough quotation marks around the word "ideas" here so I won't even try.
 I hope the universe forgives me for putting these names in the same paragraph.
 I can hear the precious snowflakes now: "But conservative and racist ideas are an oppressed minority on college campuses." We don't discuss aether anymore, either. It's because those ideas are garbage and you're just a terrible person.
 In the language of information equilibrium, they will discover this new previously inaccessible (because of past norms) state space volume and occupy it.