Leftwing hegemony in the academy stifles debate and, in doing so, risks lives, says Dorothy King
Monday January 30, 2006
Political correctness and the cult of liberal ideas are causing discrimination in universities and suppressing debate. Increasingly, only the leftwing politics of the 60s are taught and have become the only acceptable way to think. They have leapt from the campus to become the "norm" among the celebrity set. Movie stars make statements about foreign policy, and musicians on economics. It seems harmless but the consequences of a political monopoly on teaching are equally dangerous whether it is a leftwing or a rightwing one.
I was recently invited to dinner by a media-friendly academic, attended by several of her colleagues and a number of right-on celebrities. This was a new world to me. A politics lecturer - anti-war, passionate about Human Rights Watch ("Saddam Hussein is not getting a fair trial") - introduced me to her date. He was Russian, and his past included being posted in Chechnya while in the KGB. I was a little surprised, but she shrugged and said: "So? He's a millionaire now." I joined another group and listened to a lecture on animal rights by a man wearing two endangered species. If he felt comfortable with this sort of hypocrisy among his intellectual peers, God knows what he was teaching his students.
A musician spoke passionately about Western Sahara. He wanted to help the Sahrawi refugees but without the help of the UNHCR - because he had not heard of it. He seemed decent, if a little misguided, and wanted to make Africa a better place. I told him about a friend's immunisation programme, as an alternative, more effective way of helping Africa. Viruses made him squeamish. It is easier to theorise about helping 200,000 Sahrawi - a celebrity cause - than actually to help prevent the deaths of several million Africans by vaccinating them against a not-yet-fashionable disease. One day he and his fellow pop stars will probably be advocating the same vaccination, just as he is now supporting voguish causes today.
These figures seemed like parodies of affluent liberal academics, who advocate good ideas and impart them to a new intake of students each year but whose lives fail to live up to their own ideal. When I tried to discuss such views, my lifestyle and my integrity were challenged. After a few shots of vodka, I sat through their jibes with as much good humour as I could. It may sound like just another bad evening, to be forgotten as quickly as possible. But it struck me that these are the people of influence today, and I would argue that their bias and ignorance can have dangerous consequences. Academia and science are becoming increasingly politicised, with the help of Hollywood and the music industry.
A documentary by Evan Maloney, Brainwashing 101, has demonstrated how unwelcome anyone with non-leftwing views is made to feel in US universities these days - one professor was told she would not have been hired had they known she was a Republican. Leftwing anthropologists outnumber rightwing ones 30-to-one in US universities; with politics professors the ratio is almost seven to one. We are rapidly moving towards the one-party campus, and universities where you can only belong to the left are as dangerous as those where you could only belong to the Nazi party.
Ecology is a prime example of a field in which extremism rules. Anyone who questions the doomsday scenarios is labelled ignorant. Bjorn Lomborg, a leftwing Danish professor, set his students a project - to check the facts of a writer who had argued against the likelihood of ecological apocalypse. Mr Lomborg was shocked to discover that many ecological theories were based on estimates rather than statistics, and went on to write his book The Sceptical Environmentalist. Still an environmentalist by any assessment, he is now reviled for having pointed out that the Earth is not about to self-destruct next week. Worse, he gathered a group (including three Nobel laureates) to form the Copenhagen Consensus, which argues that fighting disease is more important than implementing the Kyoto protocol. When his research and statistics stood up to every onslaught, he became the subject of personal attacks.
[The banning of pesticide DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) is a case where misguided ecology has affected medical care, which has in effect led to genocide in the Third World. It used to be cheaper to use DDT to prevent malaria, than for people to catch malaria and then require treatment. Under pressure from ecologists, the West has blackmailed countries in dire need of foreign aid into not using DDT on the rather spurious basis that it might possibly be carcinogenic (the DDT-cancer link has never been proven). Western ecologists pushed through a de facto ban on DDT (unproven risk), which has led to a considerable increase in the number of deaths from malaria (big killer). South Africa had almost eradicated malaria. When DDT was banned, cases skyrocketed, and the government had to reconsider its policy – DDT use is once again allowed, and seen as the best way to combat malaria in South Africa. Ecuador never banned DDT – it increased its use, and is the only country in the world were deaths from malaria have significantly decreased in recent years. Leading scientists have protested the ban on DDT [http://www.malaria.org/DDT_signatures.html].
[Furthermore, the use of cheap generic Malaria medication – rather than branded drugs – lead to many deaths in Africa, according to a study by Prof. Amir Attaran in the Lancet [http://www.overpopulation.com/articles/2004/000011.html]. Attaran describes it as "medical malpractice". This week the WHO announced that the main alternative to DDT, the drug ACT (artemisinin combination therapy) is not enough, and that malaria parasites are becoming resistant to it. ]
Anti-globalisation, promoted by pop stars briefed by leftwing academics, advocates helping Africa and the third world. In fact, the well-meaning ideas they spout have often had the opposite effect. Take the case of the pop singer Bono fronting, alongside Bill Clinton, a campaign to roll out generic anti-HIV/AIDS drugs in Africa. Opponents of such campaigns are accused of being in the pocket of drug companies. However, supporters ignore the fact that "cheap" drugs are often not really cheaper than branded ones and the latter work far better. In the west, generic drugs are exact copies of branded drugs whose patents have expired. In less developed countries, so-called generic ("cheap") drugs are usually approximations based on guestimates of the ingredients and formulae used in the original drug, so are far less safe to prescribe.
It seems ethically questionable to conduct such experiments on the world's poor, people who are in no position to fight back - for their families to sue, for example, if they die from poor treatment. The implications of poor Africans being experimented upon and dosed with faulty medicine to satisfy the anti-globalisation impulse among celebrities is too scary to contemplate. Cheap drugs lead to second-rate medical care, which kills. Many African scientists have made their displeasure clear. None of the doctors I know working in Africa want to treat their patients with second-rate medicines. Too many star-struck academics are supporting such trendy causes, and those who fail to criticise them are allowing medicine to continue to be politicised. When the activist Swampy is anti-globalisation, we can ignore him: when academics and pop stars start to advocate it, is becomes hip.
In medicine, anti-globalisation is dangerous; it can kill. When medical research is increasingly being dictated by "feminism" and political correctness, we must all start to worry.
The evangelical right in the US, notably the American Family Association, is against vaccination and research into cancer of the colon and cervix, as well as stem-cell research. But the feminist left is also hindering such investigation. Many of its members oppose investigating possible problems associated with oral contraception because even studying the pill is seen as sexist and potentially undermining the "rights" of women.
In vitro studies have shown that the pill could be a far greater risk factor in the progression of certain types of cancer than smoking. There are other, equally effective forms of contraception, but the pill - which "liberated" women - has become a sacred cow to feminists. For some academics to suggest it may not be the best option for all women or that there are circumstances in which it is better not to take it leads to broadsides from "liberal" colleagues and comparisons of their work to Nazi propaganda.
Smoking is implicated in the development of cancerous cells, so doctors advise patients to stop smoking. In studies, it can increase the risk by 50%. Other research shows that in vitro hormones and oral contraception increase the risk by 100%. If further studies had been done and this initial research proved correct, then doctors might have been able to improve the survival rates of female patients by suggesting an alternative form of contraception during treatment for squamous cell carcinoma.
Fortunately, a few brilliant scientists carry on in the face of accepted wisdom and PC axiom. The medical researcher Barry Marshall was called a crank when he suggested peptic ulcers were caused by a bacterium - everyone "knew" ulcers were caused by "stress". He persevered with his idea and drank a glass of the bacterium himself to prove his theory. It turned out he was right. We now cure ulcers with antibiotics, and in 2005 Dr Marshall was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine.
I mentioned the theory of a possible link between hormones, oral contraception and cervical cancer at the dinner and was screamed at by an American academic: apparently I risked setting back women's rights 100 years. Her idea of debate was to throw bread in my direction and to refuse to listen to contrary arguments. An ardent feminist, she thought she could help women with cervical cancer by yelling.
The people present that evening were all very intelligent, but they questioned surprisingly little. Just expressing the "right" opinions gave them a sense of moral superiority. If such people are shaping our future, we're in trouble. If we stifle debate - from the left or the right - we are no better than totalitarian regimes such as the Nazis.
· Bjorn Lomborg will be speaking at the Intelligence Square debate on global warming on February 9
· Dorothy King is with the think tank Archaeology and Ecology.
Klein, Daniel and Stern, Charlotta, How Politically Diverse are the Social Sciences and Humanities? (pdf)
Médecins sans Frontières report on generic drugs (pdf)
Intelligence Square debate on global warming
The piece was very cut - I could write 10,000 words on the subject, with many more examples ... - but thought it might be worth posting some of the cut paragraphs for anyone interested - they're the ones in square brackets.
For studies of contraception and HPV see: