Prof who lost emeritus status for views on race and intelligence has paper flagged

Richard Lynn

A former emeritus professor who has been called “one of the most unapologetic and raw ‘scientific’ racists operating today” has had one of his papers subjected to an expression of concern.

Richard Lynn, who was stripped of his emeritus status at Ulster University last year after students there protested his views, published “Reflections on Sixty-Eight Years of Research on Race and Intelligence” in the MDPI journal Psych on April 24 of this year, after originally submitting it on April 1.

However, just four months later, the journal published an expression of concern about the paper. It begins with a seemingly innocuous premise, that the article is misclassified:

We note that the article was originally published as an Editorial; however, the author is not affiliated with the publisher and the views are not intended to represent those of the journal Psych or the publisher MDPI. The article type has therefore been changed to Opinion.

Then the editors dig into the content:

We wish to highlight the following points that could lead to the biased interpretation of the research covered by [1]:

1. There was no discussion of the correlation and causation, most notably between IQ and GDP. This has been an area of substantial discussion in the field, but this point is not sufficiently mentioned. Given the paper’s overall content, we believe this topic should have been given more prominence.

2. Support is given in the article to several quotations expressing extreme views not widely considered as being supported by current research results. The people making these statements are clearly characterized as ‘victims’. While the author may sincerely hold such a point of view, we do not agree that a scientific journal is the correct place to express such opinions.

3. The mainstream acceptance of the body of research presented has been over-stated. While there are a significant number of scholars who support the research, the topic remains controversial and not accepted by a large proportion of the research community.

We have re-evaluated the paper with the assistance of scholars in the field, the editor who accepted the paper for publication, and the author. Given that the author has a high profile in the field, we believe that [1] has value in providing an insight into the author’s own opinion of his research and the field as a whole. However, we recommend against using it as established fact, and that statements made in the article should be treated with skepticism.

The content of the paper covers a topic that is highly controversial and we acknowledge that the author has made contributions to the field over many years. As a publisher, MDPI does not wish to deliberately avoid controversial topics, but we believe that they should be presented in a scientific and balanced way.

MDPI remains committed to the addition of only high-quality and scientific research and discussion to the literature, and we are reviewing the process that led to the publication of [1].

Lynn told Retraction Watch that he does not agree with the expression of concern. He said he would ask a colleague to send a rebuttal, but we have yet to receive it. [See update at end of post.]

We asked Angela Saini, author of the recently published Superior: The Return of Race Science, for her take:

While it is to be welcomed that the editors are finally calling out poor scholarship from a psychologist such as Richard Lynn, who had his emeritus title withdrawn by his former university just last year for expressing racist and sexist views – following a lifetime of publishing in the notoriously pseudoscientific Mankind Quarterly, co-founded by Nazi race scientists after the war – one had to wonder how a paper of obviously poor quality and making such spurious assertions managed to get published in the first place. What must the peer review process at Psych be like that nobody thought to question the wisdom of publishing a paper like this?

Saini pointed out that 

another paper in the same journal defends the work of notorious scientific racists, Arthur Jensen and Philippe Rushton, claiming there is ancient evidence that intelligence varies with climate. The quality of peer review and editorial standards in minor journals such as these needs to come under greater scrutiny, especially in the Internet age when it’s difficult for lay people to know which source of information is more trustworthy than another.

This is of course not the first time that observers have wondered how “race science” has survived peer review.

Update, 1300 UTC, 8/12/19: Gerard R. Fuerst, a research fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research, which Lynn founded, passed along this message from Lynn:

I do not agree with the points raised in the expression of concern. I was asked to write a reflection paper, which I did. Given the request, the concern mentioned do not make much sense. Specifically,

1) I discussed correlation and variance explained because most of my research focuses on such analyses. If the editors wanted discussion of the research on causality, conducted by others, they should have specifically solicited this.  

2) I note that James Watson and others have been victims of political correctness. Numerous other prominent scientists have made similar points in books, journal articles, science blog posts, and interviews. The editors apparently feel that it is inappropriate to make this point in a reflection piece solicited by a journal. They are, of course, free to decide what is appropriate for their journal, but I don’t see that I did anything untoward here.

3) The editors claim that my research is “not accepted by a large portion of the research community.”  This may be the case; however, my claim was that my national IQ estimates are now “mainstream” (or no longer fringe) among Intelligence researchers, which is true.

That said, I think these concerns largely resulted from a reasonable misunderstanding regarding the point of the reflection piece. Moreover, I think that it is noteworthy that the editorial board remains committed to publishing quality research, even on politically controversial topics.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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13 thoughts on “Prof who lost emeritus status for views on race and intelligence has paper flagged”

  1. Angels Saini has absolutely no standing as a scientist. I am frankly surprised (but not shocked) that Retraction Watch should call upon her for an opinion.

    1. You spelled her name wrong. From her Amazon bio:
      “Angela Saini is an award-winning British science journalist and broadcaster. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, Wired, New Humanist, and she regularly presents science programmes on BBC radio. She has won awards from the Association of British Science Writers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was also named European Science Writer of the Year.

      She has a Masters degree in Engineering from Oxford University and was a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ”

      Also, she wrote a book on the subject. So, I think she has some standing.

  2. This new journal Psych has so far published only one number, which has 4 articles where the controversial Emil O. W. Kirkegaard appears as an author with a declared affiliation of the Ulster Institute for Social Research presided by said Richard Lynn.

  3. The Editor of the special issue of “Beyond Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability” no longer seem to be listed.

    An archived copy is more informative.

    Is there any reason why MPDI decided to remove this information?

  4. First, I think his views are wrong, biased, and can easily be discredited without attacking the man personally. But suppressing bad ideas is always a bad policy, since it will only make them stronger and more powerful – ever tried telling your kids they cannot do something? It tends to make the allure more powerful. These days, anyone outside of the ivory tower (it would do all of us academics good to look out the window once in a while) distrusts those inside and seeing information suppressed only makes it seem more attractive. This seems like a political hit job to a lot of people (the way the article is written) and not a correction of the scientific record (as it should be) – if we want the general public to trust in science (and journalism), we have to be VERY careful about this.

    The big issue here, though, is that this article from RT has no credibility (and therefore you are actually promoting his views to a lot of people) because they asked a journalist (who is well-known to have strong biases of her own) to comment and not an actual scientist in that area. In my view (as an academic who is quite liberal myself), this sends the message that at least one of three things is true about the RT article: (1) no credible scientists in the field were willing to speak against him (and hence it passed peer review because he has credibility in the field and not because of a mistake on the part of the editor or publisher – Psych is a single-blind journal) OR (2) credible scientists were asked but none gave an answer that the RT author wanted to hear (and hence RT has a clear and strong bias) OR (3) the journalist is simply the first person approached to respond and RT was in such a hurry to publish the piece that they pushed it forward without considering the credibility of the source (and therefore, RT was sloppy and careless on this article and was more concerned with clicks than doing good quality journalism). Which is it? This criticism comes from someone on the same side of the divide as you and I agree with conclusions of this article – but I have to speak up when I see something like this and call out my own to make sure that we keep the more high ground and don’t cause more division and radicalization in the current political climate.

    1. “But suppressing bad ideas is always a bad policy, since it will only make them stronger and more powerful”

      This is complete nonsense. Slavery was a very bad idea, is it ok to publish pseudo-scientific papers extolling its virtues simply because suppressing it makes it stronger and more powerful? After WW2, Germany made it a crime to espouse nazi views in public, do you think this was bad policy and do you think its made Nazism in Germany much stronger?

      I find people who make arguments like yours are often people who are least affected by such bad ideas. Some bad ideas simply need to be stamped out of society, period.

  5. Although his ideas are simply appalling, we find ourselves facing a dilemma: where does freedom of speech stands ? Because his ideas are racist ( which they are ) , he should not publish ? I’m from a country, a religion, an ethnic background that has suffered a lot from these stereotypes but that does not make me acting against these spurious ideas. That’s the price to pay for FREEDOM.

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