Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Conclusion of the Kanazawa Affair

The LSE internal review into Satoshi Kanazawa's controversial blog post (which we discussed here and here) is finally concluded. The findings (and a letter of "apology" from Kanazawa) can be read here. The report states, among other things that
some of the arguments used in the publication were flawed and not supported by evidence, that an error was made in publishing the blog post and that Dr Kanazawa did not give due consideration to his approach or audience
some of the assertions put forward in the blog post were flawed and would have benefited from more rigorous academic scrutiny
and that
the author ignored the basic responsibility of a scientific communicator to qualify claims made in proportion to the certainty of the evidence.
As a result of these findings LSE has taken disciplinary action against Kanazawa:
In particular, Dr Kanazawa must refrain from publishing in all non-peer reviewed outlets for a year. Further, he will not be teaching any compulsory courses in the School for this academic year. 
Somehow the school thinks that these measures will ensure that
an incident of this nature does not happen again.
I don't know what readers of this blog who followed this story think, but as far as I am concerned this is an egregious example of too little too late and I really can's see how the measures put in place by the school can stop a repeat offender like Kanazawa, whose modus operandi crucially involves making outrageous and divisive claims on the basis of very little or no evidence evidence for the purpose of presumably getting some press attention, from offending again. What do others think?


  1. There is little doubt that Kanazawa is a frightfully bad scientist and a racist. But the issue was a ridiculous and offensive blog post for a pop-sci magazine, which - however galling - does not even come close to the sort of professional misconduct that should cost someone their job (like falsifying data or analysis results in a professional publication). In fact, even forbidding him to publish "in all non-peer reviewed outlets for a year" comes very close to to looking like a dangerous attack on freedom of employee expression outside the workplace.

  2. Anonymous: I don't think we ought to treat this as a case of "employee expression outside the workplace" in the sense that you mean. Scientists qua scientists have certain epistemic and ethical responsibilities whenever and wherever they hold forth on the topics of their expertise. Kanazawa was clearly neglecting those responsibilities in this work, and it is completely reasonable and desirable for LSE to censure him for it. Perhaps it is not as serious a case of professional misconduct, narrowly understood, as falsifying data or fudging analyses. But it is a much more serious violation of the social responsibility of the scientist, given the context, than many cases of professional misconduct.

    As to whether this disciplinary action is going far enough, I'm with Gabriele. It's not at all clear that enough has been done to prevent him from doing this again in the not-too-distant future.

  3. It seems to me quite dangerous to give employers power to decide what should count as an academic's social responsibility and power to sanction them for breaches of social responsibility that fall short of professional misconduct. It's an uncomfortably short step from sanctions against a psychologist's racist musings in a pop-sci magazine to, say, sanctions against climate scientists whose public advocacy annoys big donors who call it irresponsible alarmism.