Intimidation Tactics Used by Student Activists at St Edmund’s College

Documents the tactics that were used by student activists at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, to put pressure on the college during its investigation of me

For about five months between November 2018 and April 2019, I was under formal investigation at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where I had been appointed a Junior Research Fellow in the summer of 2018. I was asked not to talk to the media, and not to enter the college without prior notice, for the duration of the investigation.

1. Misrepresenting my views and my research

As soon as the student activists got word of my ‘controversial’ research activities, they organised an “emergency meeting” of the Combination Room. Naturally, I was not invited to this meeting. (However, someone later sent me the minutes.) It was alleged that I am “involved in eugenics research” and that I have “documented opinions that people of colour are less intelligent and more violent that people of European descent”. In a letter that the activists subsequently sent to the College Council demanding an investigation, they alleged that my academic publications are “firmly associated with the discredited and eugenicist ‘race and intelligence’ research”.

As a matter of fact, I have only published two papers relating in any way to ‘race and intelligence’ (out of more than 30 in total). One of these is a research ethics paper arguing that there are costs as well as benefits to stifling debate around taboo topics. The other is a co-authored correspondence, which corrects various mischaracterisations of the London Conference on Intelligence. In other words, I have not done any original research on ‘race and intelligence’. (For a detailed response to criticisms of my research and my collaborations, see this FAQ.)

The activists’ letter was characteristically incoherent, and at one point they tried to argue that a particular quote of mine promotes racism, whereas it in fact does the exact opposite:

In Carl’s own words, racism is “morally wrong, not to deny the possibility of certain scientific discoveries” — this is an outstandingly shocking claim. Racism as ‘moral wrong’ but ‘scientific intrigue’ is the very original logic of racism. There is nothing revolutionary about chasing scientific ground to grade and rank people on fictional methodologies of intelligence (IQ points) and along race, gender, ethnicity, nationality or religion.

The full quote of mine is:

After all, the way to combat racism is to point out that racism is morally wrong, not to deny the possibility of certain scientific discoveries. As the estimable psychologist Steven Pinker notes, “political equality is a moral stance, not an empirical hypothesis”.

2. Petitioning alumni

When the college did not immediately give in to the activists’ demands, they began petitioning alumni, presumably in order to get them to heap further pressure on the college. For example, one of the activists wrote the following on a college alumni Facebook group:

IMPORTANT: Dear Eddies, we need its alumni to speak up now: St Edmunds reputation may be precariously balanced.

Some of you might be aware that St Edmunds has just appointed Noah Carl, attendee at the infamous London eugenics conference (London Conference on Intelligence) and a racist pseudoscientist who uses irresponsible correlations between race, genes, intelligence and criminality to establish inferences like some racial groups are more intelligent / more prone to violence etc. This kind of research is discredited as we know that race is only a social construct!

The research is inconsistent with our ideas of inclusivity and diversity and the standards of academic freedom we all stand for. Over 200 students from St Edmunds college signed a letter questioning the appointment of Noah Carl to this fellowship. Over 100 academics including Profs from various faculties at Cambridge, Oxford and abroad followed suit and stood in solidarity with students.

The post claims that my research is “inconsistent with our ideas of inclusivity and diversity”, which shows that the activists were quite explicit about their political motivations. It also claims that my research is inconsistent with “the standards of academic freedom we all stand for”, which presumably means they do not stand for academic freedom…

3. Teaming up with activist academics

As is by now well known, the student activists teamed up with activist academics from the university to organise an open letter against me. This open letter, which demonstrated a basic lack of understanding of the relevant science, was eventually signed by more than 500 academics from around the world. On 6 December 2018, the activists sent their open letter to several British newspapers, which led to my picture appearing on the front page of The Times next to the headline ‘Cambridge dons revolt over ‘racist’ fellow’s role’. (I will say more about the open letter in due course.)

In the social media storm that followed, one activist academic accused me of trying to “revive the basic rudiments of Nazi race science”––a particularly farcical claim, given that the Nazis were generally opposed to intelligence research (as I noted in my FAQ):

Actually I did look at the research. I concluded the guy’s clearly trying to revive the basic rudiments of Nazi race science. He specifically tries to prove people of certain “races” are genetically superior or inferior. The fact you defend him implies you are racist yourself.

4. Co-ordinating with student journalists

During their five-month campaign against me, the student activists at college co-ordinated their efforts with journalists at Cambridge University’s main student newspaper, Varsity. To date, I have been mentioned in no less than nine articles in that publication: the first on 7 December 2018, and the most recent on 5 May 2019. None of these articles is particularly balanced, and several of them are highly tendentious. Interestingly, the latest one openly acknowledges the nature of the campaign against me:

After months of pressure from academics and students, St Edmund’s College terminated the research fellowship of Dr. Noah Carl following a panel investigation into his research.

The fact that the activists co-ordinated their efforts with student journalists at Varsity is noteworthy because of the wide circulation enjoyed by that publication. As the website notes:

We deliver up to 10,000 free copies to all 31 colleges in the University, from where they are distributed from mail rooms, common rooms and social areas. Copies are also distributed to the University’s faculties, departments and social areas — over 160 individual locations.

This means that, for the five-month duration of the investigation, students, academics and staff from around the entire university were subjected to a continual bombardment of negative and misleading information about me.

5. Co-ordinating with the Student Union

In order to bolster their campaign against me, the student activists reached out to the Cambridge University Student’s Union, an organisation that has in recent months shown itself to be distinctly unsupportive of academic freedom. On this occasion, CUSU “unanimously passed a motion to support St. Edmund’s College JCR”, after the activists asked for “solidarity” from JCR and MCR representatives at the CUSU Council.

6. Organising public protests

By the end of January, the student activists were growing increasingly impatient, so they decided to organise what would be the first of two public protests against me. Like the activists who forced Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying out of Evergreen State, they photographed all of their exploits, and proudly posted them online. Here is an example of a poster advertising the protest (note the sinister watermark of my face):

At the protest, the activists held up placards, released coloured smoke, and chanted slogans like “racist fellow’s got to go”, “silence is complicity” and “what is there to investigate?” They apparently also claimed that they had been “treated as adversaries in their own college”. Here is one of their photos of the protest:

By early March, the activists had become even more impatient, so they decided to organise a second public protest against me. Whereas the first one had taken place in college, the second one took place on King’s Parade in central Cambridge. Here is a photograph of the protest, taken from Varsity:

On this occasion, they handed out flyers to members of the public, and apparently even sang songs:

Remade versions of nursery rhymes, such as The Drunken Sailor and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, were sung during the protest,with lyrics such as “What do we do with the racist fellow, fire him from St. Edmund’s,” and, “Racist racist Noah Carl/How I’m shocked that here you are/In St. Edmund’s you seem so high/Like a racist in disguise”.

A short video of their protest can be found on the Varsity Facebook page. (The top comments are well worth reading.)

7. Organising weekly protests

In addition to these two public protests, the student activists also organised smaller weekly protests before each Friday Formal, as one of them proudly announced on Twitter:

8. Intimidating college staff

Notwithstanding Varsity’s characterisation of the first public protest as a “peaceful demonstration”, there was an incident in which several protestors gained access to a restricted area of college, and behaved in an intimidating manner towards members of staff (most of whom I do not even know). According to an official statement by the college:

During an otherwise peaceful protest, demonstrators gained unauthorised access to the main administration corridor of the College where staff had been led to believe they could work safely and unimpeded. Unfortunately, this led to a situation where grown men, not all of whom were members of the College, trapped mostly female staff members in their offices. This was followed by repeated banging and kicking on their doors and shouting in an intimidating and aggressive manner. These tactics caused considerable alarm and distress to our staff. The College believes in the rights of its members to hold peaceful protests. However, it will not tolerate aggressive and intimidating behaviour towards its staff, or any member of its community.

Despite the fact that the college reportedly had CCTV footage of the three perpetrators, two of them “responded with outrage for being singled out”. Yet according to Varsity, “the college did not pursue further action.”

9. Vandalising college property

During the course of their campaign against me, the activists vandalised college property by adding absurd references like “Eugenicist MCR” and “1930s Germany” to various signs around college. They then posted the photographs on social media:

10. Boycotting the investigation itself

In late January, the Combination Room actually voted to reject the college’s investigation into me, which––if you recall––was an investigation that they themselves had demanded. According to Varsity, their reasons for rejecting it were threefold: there was no student representation on the panel, none of the panellists had expertise in the social sciences, and none of the panellists was confirmed to “identify as BAME”.

The student activists’ complaint about the lack of BAME “representation” is particularly absurd, since it implies that ethnicity is somehow relevant to assessing the truth or validity of someone’s research. Amazingly, the college gave the students what they wanted, and proceeded to add a BAME person to the investigation panel. They also added a social scientist, although that particular individual does not appear to possess any expertise in intelligence research or stereotype accuracy research.

As far as I’m aware, the student activists have not rejected the outcome of the investigation…

Independent researcher