Hundreds petition to retract paper they call “unscholarly, overtly racist” and full of “racially violent narratives”

Lawrence Mead

Hundreds of academics, anti-poverty advocates and others have signed petitions demanding the journal Society retract a new commentary which argues, in essence, that poor Black and Hispanic people in the United States are poor because they haven’t figured out how to be more white. 

One petition, to the editor of the journal, Jonathan Imber, had garnered more than 550 signatories by the time of this writing. Another, to the author of the paper, the editorial board of the journal, and the CEO of Springer Nature, which publishes the journal, was at 400 and counting.

The essay, by Lawrence Mead, a public policy researcher at New York University, argues that racism and a lack of good jobs do not explain why America, the world’s richest country, continues to have a problem with poverty. “More plausible,” Mead states, are differences in “culture”: 

The United States has an individualist culture, derived from Europe, where most people seek to achieve personal goals. Racial minorities, however, all come from non-Western cultures where most people seek to adjust to outside conditions rather than seeking change. Another difference is that Westerners are moralistic about social order, demanding that behavior respect universal principles, while in the non-West norms are less rigid and depend mostly on the expectations of others. These differences best explain why minorities— especially blacks and Hispanics—typically respond only weakly to chances to get ahead through education and work, and also why crime and other social problems run high in low-income areas. The black middle class has converted to an individualist style and thus advanced, but most blacks have not. Government has recently reduced crime and welfare in poor areas, but the ultimate solution to poverty is for the poor themselves to adopt the more inner-driven individualist style. 

According to one petition

The ideologies espoused by Professor Mead are reflective of the racist, anti-Black, patriarchal, hegemonic doctrines perpetuated in society, PreK-12, and in higher education, alike. As a community, granted the power to educate and inform, who have worked diligently to become experts in our own respective ways, we have the responsibility to do so in a manner that progresses equity for those communities historically and consistently oppressed. We have a social and professional responsibility to help mend the wounds of racial violence and oppression. We have a responsibility to dismantle structural barriers while creating new systems of resistance and acceptance that celebrate and promote justice. As teachers, it is our responsibility to curate a message of justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and access so that the bigotry so normalized in our society may no longer influence public policy.

It adds that the commentary is one of dozens of “racially violent” works by Mead, articles and books that:

are almost entirely devoid of the necessary data and empiricism customary of our field.

The petition calls on the journal to pull the paper: 

Given the commentary’s explicit racism, we respectfully ask that “Society” immediately retract the commentary, and that the journal issue an apology to the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color]  community, and the communities negatively impacted by these narratives. We also ask for the opportunity to publish a commentary that contextualizes the covertly racist practices, and structures, that permit the publication of work centered in the culture of poverty ideology.

The signatories also have asked Society and Springer Nature to answer the following questions:  

How many BIPOC serve on the journal’s editorial board? How many BIPOC scholars were asked to peer review the commentary? Were BIPOC scholars offered an opportunity to present a counter to the commentary? The answers to these questions will help elucidate the ways that academia in general and academic journals specifically serve to strengthen white supremacy.

The petition to Imber states: 

The piece is unscholarly, overtly racist and has no place in a publication that purports to be a serious academic journal. …

That this paper was accepted raises serious questions about the editorial process and the credibility of your journal. 

In the context of wider questions about institutional racism in academia, we demand that the paper be immediately retracted and an external inquiry be held into how the editors and reviewers either failed to spot or wilfully overlooked its numerous flaws. 

Neither Mead nor Imber immediately responded to our requests for comment.

‘Not some marginal academic’

Mohamad Bazzi, a professor at NYU’s Arthur Carter Journalism Institute, notes that Mead has been influential:

Not surprisingly, Mead’s essay has drawn outrage on Twitter. Christian Suri, a pediatric neurologist who is Hispanic, posted an exchange he had with Mead in which the NYU professor praised Andrew’s familial success but stuck to his thesis:

Mead told another researcher who questioned him: 

Update, 1615 UTC, 7/27/20: Susie Winter, director of communications and engagement, research, at Springer Nature, tells Retraction Watch:

We are deeply concerned by this and have contacted the editor in chief to investigate this as a matter of urgency.

Update, 1915 UTC, 7/27/20: NYU’s academic leadership has issued a statement about Mead’s paper:

A recent article, “Poverty and Culture,” written by Professor Lawrence Mead has caused great distress within our community. We share this sentiment. We recognize that Professor Mead has the same rights to freedom of expression as we all do and are firm in our commitment to the principle of academic freedom. At the same time, we reject what we believe to be the article’s false, prejudicial, and stigmatizing assertions about the culture of communities of color in the United States.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that we amplify our fundamental values of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging, and that we consistently strive to create a culture of care and respect. Our success as an institution depends on fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our community, and we must hold one another accountable in the education and support of our students and of each other. Racism, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and discrimination have no place in our classrooms or in our academic community.

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38 thoughts on “Hundreds petition to retract paper they call “unscholarly, overtly racist” and full of “racially violent narratives””

  1. If you do not agree with someone else’s work in your field shouldn’t just publish some kind of rebuttal? Why demand for it to be taken down?

    1. That’s not the world we are now in. Robespierre’s rise and fall used to be taught as a cautionary lesson; I’m afraid the mob doesn’t recall what came next in that tale.

      1. Why “anti-poverty advocates” are not with “” ?
        Does Retraction Watch take their word for it?

        The hidden race continues to be hidden, and those are the ones that get fully systemic racism from progressives:
        Asians who despite systemic racism from Marxist critical theorists that dominate academia are the racial measured group that have better economic results in USA.

        As usual Retraction Watch voice the revolutionaries. Maybe the authors even consider this kind of stuff science.

    2. Basically because SCIENCE is rebutted and discussed, not unfounded racists comments. Unless you are not whatsoever related to academic culture (or you are L Mead, of course) I don´t think any reason why you created a fake account on Twitter and come here to ask the same silly question

    3. A rebuttal only works if the article is factually incorrect. For all the criticism, nobody appears to be claiming this.

        1. Yes, and this is fine, and I agree with the criticism (even if it is very superficial). But /my/ criticism is that most of the critics don’t even bother. NYU has already decided what the issues are, and thus all further debate or disagreement are “false, prejudicial, and stigmatizing assertions about the culture of communities of color” – i.e. racist. Apparently, sociology is at ways end, no further research or hypotheses contradicting the current dogma wanted, thank you.

          Much like the infamous (possibly apocryphal) Caliph Omar, who argued for the burning of the library of Alexandria:

          “If the books of this library contain matters opposed to the Koran, they are bad and must be burned. If they contain only the doctrine of the Koran, burn them anyway, for they are superfluous”

          Or the quote I saw recently, that the current protests would be the /last/ civil rights movement needed.

          These are not the voices of progress, these are the voices of oppression and totalitarianism. That universities – traditionally the hotbeds of heresy and opposition of established truisms – are at the forefront of such dogmatic fear of original thought is an incredible sad state of affairs.

          1. An article receives criticism from the rest of academia for espousing racist claims and being generally unscientific… TOTALITARIANISM, OPPRESSION

      1. I noticed the same thing. It is one thing to play the race card and/or make ad hominem attacks, and another thing altogether to show the science was invalid.

        Discussions which involves race, especially in today’s progressive cancel culture are very difficult. Actually, while I might have otherwise ignored the study because it is outside of my current focus, it is precisely the way it is being attacked that put it on my list of things to read.

    4. Absolutely! Science is advanced through point/counterpoint; through research and studies focusing on various aspects of the question.

      Whining and cancel culture have no place in the scientific arena.

      1. Weird that people only whine about papers being retracted when the paper in question is a racist screed.

        1. Er, no. Anything going again st current Climate Change theory will also be subject to cancellation.

          As will proposals for alternative responses to Covid…

    5. It’s not an agreed or disagree. His work is false, has been proven false, and is racist. like it to work on eugenics or anti-vaccination. Of course you redact it. Because it’s so categorically ridiculous, wrong, and misleading why would you accept that. And then you also print the actual research debunking it. Free speech is not consequence free: redact it. Immediately.

  2. “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
    ― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

  3. Broad generalizations about “whiteness” are currently all the rage, but it’s apparently unacceptable when the shoe is on the other foot.

    I took regard Meade’s broad generalizations about “non-white” or “of color” cultures to be absurd, especially his claim that only “Western” (by which he apparently means the U.S.) culture is “moralistic.” But this is no more puerile than what regularly comes from “whiteness studies” or “women’s studies.”

    1. The Smithsonian e-pamphlet on Whitensss said more or less the same thing, only with the valuations reversed.

      1. The Smithsonian took down that e-pamphlet because it was based in falsehood, and apologized. This is the proper thing to do.

        1. They took it down because they got caught, and because it had the opposite of its intended effect; people were passing the graphic around and laughing at it.

          Has the “research article” the graphic was based on been retracted? Has the blog post in which it was embedded been removed?

        2. I think you can still buy the book it was based on, “White Awareness Training” by Judith H. Katz.

        3. “The Smithsonian took down that e-pamphlet because it was based in falsehood, and apologized. This is the proper thing to do.”

          So they put a paper in Marxist critical racial theory and issue a non apology, not even addressing the “systemic culture” that made that possible.
          Then let on continue the website saying same thing, just not as detailed.

          That detailed progressive view on utility of race to foster dependency to progressive power was the problem.

          It was fantastic seeing people all over world and of many cultures commenting that “white=capitalist” values were the ones they were taught and valued.

          This marxo-racial hate is teached today in many USA schools and universities. They want to put us in racial and other silos to be exploited for social climbing proposes by the progressives.

    2. Minorities experience life in broad generalizations get real. It’s not science. It’s not even research. It’s racist commentary being published AS IF it’s research or legitimate. No point or counterpoint. This is not information that’s debatable. There are decades of ACTUAL research to prove his opinions are actually just incorrect. Redact it so less false stuff it out there.

      1. I’m just amused that so many are angry with Mead’s work when bad academic work that’s racist in the exact opposite way has now become standard.

        Of course Mead is incorrect. But his work is serving the purpose of highlighting the hypocrisy.

  4. The racism dripping from so many of these comments simply illustrates how and why absurd theses like Mead’s are accepted and published without question by mainstream journals. Not a single one of you who agree with Mead cites works to support Mead’s point–you simply regurgitate right wing talking points and parrot right wing rhetoric about conservative academics being silenced by “the mob”… and yet you’re all still talking. If critique is “silencing” and the demand for good scientific evidence and argument are “oppression,” then the Enlightenment principles you claim to stand for don’t mean very much, do they? Seriously, read a book. Try starting with this one: Racial Theories in Social Science: Mead’s arguments are no longer credible and so many people protest them for the same reasons they protest the publications of climate change deniers and flat earthers.

    1. Not a single racist comment has appeared here.

      You’re upset about a handful of polite comments on a blog, but the man discussed in the post has hundred of people trying to destroy his career because his opinion is unfashionable, and also, as we see from the quoted tweets, because he’s refused to grovel.

      That’s the difference.

      Also, saying “read a book” as if every book ever agrees with your narrow viewpoint, and then posting a link to a racist book attacking whites, does not help your case.

      1. In “Stony the Road,” Henry Louis Gates provides excerpts from several papers published during the colonial period and throughout American history where “facts” pertaining to persons of African descent were provided via medical and behavioral “science.” We all (hopefully) know now that not only were the conclusions presented in these papers inherently racist and xenophobic, they were a part of a multi-pronged approach for legitimizing the “less than” narrative of blacks. This was done to other racial and ethnic groups as well as women. The conversation about how political ideology guised as “objective” journalism and scientific literature has raged for many years now – because of commentaries like this. I wholeheartedly look forward to a rebuttal to Mead’s drivel.

        1. Mead probably has few serious supporters, but the opposite sort of drivel, that whites are devils that can be painted with a broad brush, is now standard in the the social sciences and humanities. Mead is now an outlier; DiAngelo and her ilk are much bigger problems.

    2. “The racism dripping from so many of these comments simply illustrates how and why absurd theses like Mead’s are accepted and published without question by mainstream journals. Not a single one of you who agree with Mead”

      Could you be specific? I get that I no longer have any idea what ‘racism’ means – just like ‘fascist’, it appears to have become a general purpose way of tarring somebody you don’t like, rather than a word with any actual content – but I don’t perceive any of the comments to be racists in the traditional sense. Please state what definition you use, and which comment you believe matches it?

      Also, I didn’t see anybody actually /agreeing/ with Mead here, just objection to his being harassed for proposing a hypothesis about causes for SES discrepancies between different groups.

      The great thing about science is its ability to eliminate the incorrect stuff, but that requires an open and honest debate. Which is why shutting down open debate is so important to the powerful who depend on incorrect beliefs to maintain their power.

  5. I do hope that someone can look into the research of Robin DiAngelo too:

    “In a white dominant environment, each of these challenges becomes exceptional. In turn, whites are often at a loss for how to respond in constructive ways. Whites have not had to build the cognitive or affective skills or develop the stamina that would allow for constructive engagement across racial divides.” (White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3 (3) (2011) pp 54-70 )

  6. Mead’s commentary is an example of exceptionally poor scholarship – outdated referencing, masses of self-citation, one-sided arguing, unsupported generalisations, value judgements on topics he manifestly knows little about (cultures that are different from his own), bizarre assumptions (all black people and all Hispanic people are new to the USA and are all the same). I find it deeply concerning that such a piece of writing would be published in the first place. I am aware it is not an article, but a commentary. However, there should be standards for commentaries as there are for research articles. Published pieces carry weight and Mead is a policy advisor. Policies are developed on his advice. On the other side, publishing commentaries such as Mead’s brings institutions and publishers into disrepute and makes people trust research less.

    1. ” bizarre assumptions (all black people and all Hispanic people are new to the USA and are all the same). ”

      So you would call racial preferences in progressive American Universities racist?

  7. One thing is accuracy, honesty and good faith in the data presented in the scholarly literature, another is censorship. To call a paper “fascist” is nonsense, fascism had precise historical connotations, and to use this term inaccurately to demolish a point of view is intrinsically wrong. I hope this hysteria will end and that retraction watch does not become a tool for censorship of opinions.

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