Most Courageous Person in Academia?

14 August 2010 at 9:44 am 33 comments

| Nicolai Foss |


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  • 1. liberty  |  14 August 2010 at 10:41 am

    And clearly not a libertarian, nor a very creative person. Monarchs and churches have made those arguments for millenia, and used them to impose their norms on the people. Not really anything new.

    1. Alcohol is arguably bad for society too. So are mean people and smelly people. So what?

    2. Furthermore people are born with a wide variety of genes and expressions of genes that make them more or less likely to desire various kinds of relationships and marriages – and kids can be raised far better in a happy alternative home than an unhappy straight one–and if everyone had to be straight, you can bet the (already large) number of unhappy “straight” homes would increase.

    I don’t see this paper as evidence of courage – more as evidence of narrow mindedness.

  • 2. William Sjostrom  |  14 August 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Good case, although I note he is both tenured and near retirement. Then again, you said courageous, not suicidal.

  • 3. Damdam  |  15 August 2010 at 5:45 am

    Is he “courageous” OR conservative, old fashion thinking and hyper religious? This is not “courage” but stupidity and anti-liberalism… it is certainly a confirmation of narrow minded and reactionary behavior. Come on, there is no place for those people in a libertarian world.
    Just a question, what is the relation of this post with markets and Organizations?!?! It is a disappointing post and what is your opinion Nicolai ? Be “courageous” and tell us your own opinion!

  • 4. Henri  |  15 August 2010 at 11:28 am

    My first reaction was that the guy is looking for a job at American Enterprise Institute or some other mental place. I mean, surely nobody actually BELIEVES in this?
    Kind of heartening it was just an old whacko rather than a recent PhD selling his soul.

  • 5. liberty  |  15 August 2010 at 11:46 am

    And if a professor wrote a paper that argued segregation was actually a good idea, based upon old school arguments about racial superiority bolstered by genetic “evidence” it would also be likely to incur him wrath, but then “courageous” is not the first nor certainly the *only* word I would to describe this professor, on a public blog post. It might just be interpreted as agreeing with his obvious bigotry.

  • 6. occasional_reader  |  15 August 2010 at 12:48 pm

    So, you are kidding when you say “courageous,” right? Courage is something we normally associate with positive characteristics. There can be nothing positive about that article nor about your post.

  • 7. Nicolai Foss  |  15 August 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Hey … Don’t kill the messenger. I am not endorsing his views (although they may deserve to be taken more seriously than seriously than just saying that he is an “old whacko”). I just found it amazing that somebody is willing to stick his neck out like this.

    And, actually, given these pretty angry reactions, perhaps he really is rather courageous. And, no, “courageous” need not be a positive thing. The Khan, Napoleon, etc etc were probably very courageous, but not “positive.”

  • 8. an O&M reader  |  15 August 2010 at 2:40 pm

    three decades ago, harvey milk used social-science research and data-based evidence to demonstrate that the claims made in this article are not true: children and parents are not better off in straight families in the ways that this article suggests. milk’s courageous and dignified response to claims such as in this article clarified that proponents of bigoted views were using nominally academic arguments as a frontispiece for promoting their personal agendas.

  • 9. liberty  |  15 August 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Again, I wonder if you’d have called the segregationist professor dredging up long-refuted supremacy arguments, newly “backed” by genetic data, as “courageous” and only “courageous” (without adding that he’s bigoted and wrong as well).

    If you can see where I’m coming from with segregation and supremacy, and yet don’t see it with regard to “gays destroy our society” and think this paper isn’t just a re-hash of the old arguments of the Church, then I think you need to ask yourself whether your framework isn’t a little bit off?!

    People aren’t objectively better or worse because of the genetic makeup that makes them one race or another, one gender or another, or one sexual expression or another. People don’t “destroy society” with inter-racial marriages or same-sex marriages. People deserve the freedom to express themselves, and have the friends and lovers that they want to have.


  • 10. occasional_reader  |  15 August 2010 at 3:07 pm

    There are two kinds of comments about this post so far, one set on the actual content of the homophobic study that Foss pointed us to and one about the very fact that Foss thought it was appropriate to call such a study courageous. Liberty and an O&M reader have made excellent points about the content, but personally I take their ideas as baseline assumptions. What dumbfounds me is that Foss posted the homophobic study and described it as courageous. Then he reiterated the courageousness of the author in subsequent post where he took the distinctly uncourageous stance that he was only the “messenger.” The point is, if you choose to be the “messenger” for this kind of stuff and you describe it as courageous, you create a hostile work environment for any gay person (and others as well). Perhaps Foss does not see the damage that such a post can do. Perhaps Foss has not witnessed or been sensitized to the ongoing discrimination against gay people in even here within the Academy, no less in the broader world. This post caused pain. And, it means that others who now have been hurt by this must have the courage to take a stand against both the ideas in the post as well as the very fact of the post itself.

  • 11. Nicolai Foss  |  15 August 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Bottomline: I found it pretty amazing that somebody would post a paper like this on SSRN. I do think that writing and posting such a paper requires quite a certain amount of courage. As was already pointed out, this is something you would only do if near retirement, etc. In itself this is an interesting observation, I think. I will not go into the various negative externalities caused by freedom of speech (Danes are familiar with those), and this comment ends the matter from my point of view.

  • 12. FC  |  16 August 2010 at 2:38 am

    Given that arguments for normalizing homosexuality have usually been based on social utility rather than individual liberty, it is reasonable to debate such claims.

    For example, we’ve all heard that gays are as good as straights at raising children, if not better. But only a minority of gay couples have children whereas the huge majority of straight couples have children. How do these different groups compare in IQ, education, income, location, health, etc? What about gays who bring into the relationship children the already had with a previous opposite-sex partner vs. adopting or IVFing as a couple?

    Sigh. Quantitative social science should be handed over to Martians, or some other disinterested party.

  • 13. liberty  |  16 August 2010 at 9:32 am

    Given that arguments for ending slavery have usually been based on economic efficiency rather than individual liberty, it is reasonable to debate such claims. It turns out that according to some models it is much more efficient than previously thought. Obviously, then, from a disinterested point of view, we should bring back slavery.

  • 14. FC  |  16 August 2010 at 1:29 pm


    Yep. This sort of debate should be conducted in moral/ideological terms but both sides want to claim the endorsement of science. The more things change…

    I happen to think that gay liberation is consistent with US constitutional principles. It doesn’t need statistics. (Much like Brown v. Board of Education.)

  • 15. David Hoopes  |  17 August 2010 at 6:39 pm

    None of this discussion addresses the premise of what is the best way for children to be raised. My belief is that a child is better off with two gay parents than the alternatives orphans are faced with (i was orphaned at birth). But saying that having two hetero parents is better than having two gay parents is probably not as awful as everyone makes it out. I don’t know that it’s true. I don’t know that it’s helpful (there are more orphans than there are hetero couples willing to adopt). I’m also not sure how you determine who provides the best parenting. My guess is it depends more on the particular individuals than it does their sexual orientation. Does the author actually say only married hetero couples should be parents?

    This reminds me of discussions here (any blog) that could be about comparing institutions. But, devolve into political hyperbole.

  • 16. liberty  |  17 August 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I don’t think its comparable to a discussion about institutions.

    Even if you could scientifically determine “which is better” (very unlikely since almost certainly the worst hetero parents are much worse than the best gay parents, and vice versa, so its simply not a case of one or the other being better without a MASSIVE all-else-equal clause that basically makes it moot, plus who even knows WHAT makes a good parent–there is a reason we leave most of that to the parents themselves to decide) —

    But even if if you could: it may also be better for kids to go to established schools than to be home-schooled, or to go to baseball on Sundays, it may be better that people feed their kids carrots at least twice a week, there are a lot of things that may be better for kids (all else equal) but we don’t mandate them. This goes WELL beyond that because you are depriving people of basic rights to love, marry and have kids AT ALL, not just telling them what they should do with their kids once they have them.

  • 17. Dain  |  19 August 2010 at 4:02 pm

    According to Judith Rich Harris there is actually little evidence for the idea that parents, gay or otherwise, actually influence their children’s future to any great degree (apart from genes, which are a biggie, true). What matters are peer groups. They determine a child’s fate.

  • 18. liberty  |  20 August 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Another way to put it:

  • 19. an O&M reader  |  20 August 2010 at 4:17 pm

    dear ‘liberty’ — Thank you for the posts and for being so careful and perseverant about this. You are hugely appreciated.

    David. Just wanted to say that I think you are a great father and a terrific person, but i don’t agree with you on this. Of course the quality of parenting is impossible to measure, and that parenting doesn’t depend on sexual orientation! This is about equal rights under the law. What’s happening here is that someone is using a quality-of-parenting argument to promote a homophobic agenda. As ‘liberty’ might say, you wouldn’t question a person’s rights to marriage or parenting based on evidence that tied quality of parenting with race. The quality issues are not relevant to the rights discussion, despite the indepedent importance of parenting quality.

  • 20. occasional_reader  |  20 August 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I’ve been trying to think about how to respond to the original post. I tried one angle but didn’t get much back from Foss on it. I don’t think this is an issue of “free speech”… I think it is about a colleague basically sanctioning a view by advertising it and calling it courageous… a view which basically says that I am unfit to raise my own children. How could a colleague do this? How could a colleague not see how hurtful that might be? And, why use a blog on “organizations and markets” to say such a thing? Posting like the one Foss did make it unsafe for gay people in the field, as far as I am concerned. We can fight back on the content of the posted article (as many above have done), but I think we also need to be concerned that a colleague would feel it is appropriate to give airtime to such views on a blog like this. I could remain silent. In some ways, it would be easier to disengage. Because, in engaging, I’ve had to deal not only with the hurt created by the first posting but by the devastation created by the lack of thoughtful response by Foss after the feedback he has received in the blog. If I disengage, I simply would choose not to deal with Foss any more as a colleague, but then he would never know why or have any chance to change. My hope is somehow that we can eventually find a way to work in an environment that is safe and free of the intimidations and pain created by posts like his. It’s not about free speech, it is about respect. Would someone dare to make a post glorifying an article stating that Danish people should not be allowed to raise children? Or that white men should not be allowed to raise children? Yet, it is ok to do the same for gays. I’m sure people who think that the posted article is “courageous” do not self-identify as homophobes, but that is what they are, whether it is conscious and intentional or not.

  • 21. occasional_reader  |  20 August 2010 at 4:26 pm

    p.s. related to liberty’s last post, see a great version of the Lily Allen song done by gay kids in France… their response to homophobia… I tried posting a different link to it but the blog censored it because of the F word!

  • 22. occasional_reader  |  20 August 2010 at 4:26 pm

  • 23. Nicolai Foss  |  20 August 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Please let me reiterate what I wrote earlier that this infamous post was never intended to be homophobic. I can see that “courageous” was taken as an endorsement. Again, that was not the intention. I simply meant: “He is not afraid of saying something deeply controversial”. So this is about not understanding the finer details of the English language, and such linguistic ignorance hardly makes one a homophobe.

  • 24. an O&M reader  |  20 August 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Nicolai, thanks for responding. OK, so I can appreciate the linguistic ignorance and understand that you meant only that he was saying something controversial. Got it.

    But there is a second and much more important point here that you have not yet responded to. The point is exactly, precisely that you have persisted in saying that the fundamental rights of gay people are controversial.

    The author to which you pointed us is linking the quality of parenting to the rights of a portion of the human population to have children. This is a spurous link. It is not social science or legal scholarship. Whether an extant population is better or worse at something — anything — does not impinge on the legal or human rights of the population. “Liberty” says it all in my view…. So by saying that the fellow is ‘controversial’, you are indicating that there is a case that can be made that links the quality of a subgroup’s parenting to what is best for society as a whole — and that what is best for society as a whole is the suppression of rights. This is why “occasional” is concerned that you are a homophobe. It is because you don’t seem to see the link between your post and the legitimizing of the con game in the article.

  • 25. pj  |  20 August 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Ha, the reaction Nicolai got certainly proves that there’s a lot of ardent fans of gay marriage / parenthood eager to beat down anyone who so much as calls opposing it “courageous.”

    I would have thought it wouldn’t take much courage for a near-retiree with tenure to advocate a widely-held position, but obviously I was wrong.

  • 26. liberty  |  20 August 2010 at 8:17 pm

    “an O&M reader” makes the point very well: you seem not to see the fact that this paper is attacking basic rights of a subgroup on the basis of some weak arguments regarding how this subgroup might parent. If I could find similar “evidence” about how blacks parent, or inter-racial couples parent, or any other sub-group, would this simply be “controversial” but legitimate research? Or would you have called it out for what it is: thinly veiled bigotry?

    The fact that some here do not seem to be willing to take this question seriously–and instead call those of us making the point “ardent fans” of a “controversial” concept–who would have thought basic rights were so controversial among libertarians??–is simply disappointing to me.

  • 27. pj  |  20 August 2010 at 9:55 pm

    liberty – It seems odd that “libertarians” would say, as Damdam did, “there is no place for those people in a libertarian world.” It seems odd that “libertarians” would fill every other sentence with martial language, insults, and fighting words: “attacking” … “bigotry” … “homophobe” … “con game” … “great … F word” … “make it unsafe for gay people” … “fight back” … “hurt” … “devastastions” … “intimidations and pain” … “not about free speech, it’s about respect” … “depriving people of basic rights” … “slavery” … “DESTROYS SOCIETY” … “bigoted views” … “personal agenda” … “nothing positive” … “selling his soul” … “old whacko” … “mental place” … “reactionary” … “narrow-minded” … “stupidity” …

    Yes, “libertarian” rhetoric has come a long way from “live and let live,” “agree to disagree,” and “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” When did civility cease to be a libertarian virtue? I say this as a lifelong libertarian who finds it increasingly uncomfortable to be associated with some who have adopted that label.

  • 28. liberty  |  20 August 2010 at 10:04 pm

    um… what words would you use to describe people who argued that blacks have no rights to have children? Live and let live? No problem if they don’t respect the rights of blacks?

    If someone does not respect the rights of others, indeed they have no place calling themselves libertarian. Libertarianism does not mean live and let kill, or all for oneself, without respect for others rights. If you can’t see this, you clearly cannot see that all people–even gay people–have rights.

  • 29. Nicolai Foss  |  21 August 2010 at 2:53 am

    “an O&M Reader: “The point is exactly, precisely that you have persisted in saying that the fundamental rights of gay people are controversial. ”
    — No, I have not. Saying that “this fellow” is “controversial” does not, as a simple point logic, translate into saying that the “rights of gay people” are controversial (unless I am misunderstanding the word “controversial” also :-(). He is “controversial” in the basic sense that many, many people would disagree with him. I think this thread amply illustrates that :-)

  • 30. pj  |  21 August 2010 at 9:53 am

    liberty – Of course gays have rights, but it’s absurd to claim that the gay marriage/adoption issue is identical to slavery or, worse, some mythical program of racial genocide through a prohibition of child bearing. When have gays ever been prohibited from having children or forced to labor for others?

    Much of this debate is about gays’ desires to adopt other people’s children, or to receive the approval and imprimatur of society upon their relationships. Whatever the merits of these desires, many of the advocates of the gay side of this debate take very unlibertarian positions by seeking to compel others to approve of them and to help them satisfy their desires. You have entirely elided this aspect of the debate.

    Let’s not forget that we went to war to end slavery. By repeatedly equating the other side of these issues to slavery and genocide, you are in effect threatening to fight a civil war if you don’t get your way. How “libertarian” is such a war? Is it a sane response to a professor’s opinion piece?

    Libertarianism is not only about “rights,” but about a spirit of cooperation rather than coercion. You seem to have lost the spirit. I question whether you would refrain from coercion if you thought it would bring the satisfaction of your desires.

  • 31. liberty  |  21 August 2010 at 11:13 am


    I see now why many in the gay community have spent so much effort on the nature/nurture debate. Otherwise it seems people say “they have rights, they can always marry someone of the opposite sex!”

    Note that I haven’t been comparing the issue to slavery, but to the denial of rights to blacks or to interracial couples (circa the 1960s, for example). It did not take a civil war but peaceful protests to fix those injustices.

    So, you say gays have rights – they are not prohibited from having children – and are only asking for “sanction” and “approval” … ?

    Meanwhile, if two gay men want to do precisely what a man and a woman (who are infertile) want to do — get married, adopt a child, be treated with respect, have automatic visitation and inheritance, and tax things in line with the straight couple, they cannot.

    Again, if it was a black couple you would see this as a rights issue. If a black couple or interracial couple could not legally marry, adopt a child and raise that child, and be legally treated as a married couple, you would see this as a rights issue. Equality before the law ring a bell?

    You may want the state out of marriage entirely (I do) and think that many times when we see injustices we end up bringing the heavy hand of government into places it doesn’t belong (affirmative action, bussing etc often backfire) but this does not change the fact that if we have laws, everyone should be treated equally before them. If it is government that treats married couples in special ways for insurance and adoption and other purposes, then government must allow everyone an equal right to marry.

    And this is where people bring up nature/nurture because inevitably someone says “they have an equal right to an opposite-sex marriage” which is like saying that a vegetarian has an equal right to eat, even though all that is offered is beef or worse that the meat-intolerant or allergic has an equal right to eat, even though that food will make him sick or kill him.

    If your school–a monopoly over the available lunches–offered only beef pie for lunch, then I doubt you’d agree that the policy really treated the children equally, assuming some of them do not eat beef. Some of the kids would go hungry because they could not or would not eat the food. The best answer may be to kill the monopoly it has over lunches. Another idea would be to pressure the school until it offered some kind of alternative option for lunch that would satisfy all those who could not or would not eat the all-beef-lunch.

  • 32. pj  |  21 August 2010 at 11:31 am

    liberty – First, much better tone. Thank you.

    I’m not interested in taking the other side of the marriage/adoption debate from you – not my issue.

    What does concern me is the pattern that is emerging of coercion of anyone who disapproves of gays. California not only legalized gay marriage, they criminalized refusing to support gay adoption. A Christian adoption agency was recently forced by the courts to serve gay couples. Now Christians are obliged to withhold cooperation from sinful conduct, and from sinners who persist in sinful conduct; perhaps only a minority of Christians consider gay adoption to be sinful, but to compel them to assist gay couples is involuntary servitude.

    Similarly, Boulder and Denver Colorado were in the news a few years ago for criminalizing the refusal to rent to gay couples.

    I believe that what you are entitled to is what other people are voluntarily willing to give to you; no more. What everyone is entitled to is freedom of association – the right to decide who they will and who they will not associate with.

    The destruction of freedom of association in support of gay rights has economic implications, since the rise of freedom of association in the Christian West was essential to the Industrial Revolution and modern progress. If the principle spreads, the consequences could be quite dangerous.

    Add to that that much of the move to gay marriage & adoption has occurred through judicial rulings, not regular legislative proceedings, and threats to republican political institutions and the power of voters to control government become an issue as well.

  • 33. an O&M reader  |  21 August 2010 at 11:46 am

    i don’t see the pattern that concerns pj. people can express that their feelings are hurt without suppressing free speech. so feelings are hurt — so what? nobody has said that the views shouldn’t be expressed. people make mistakes, wreck the tone in a community, and disagree all the time without challenging the right to free speech.

    i agree with nicolai that free speech is fundamental — indeed, as fundamental as the right to parent your kids.

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