Freedom of Thought, At Risk

Brian Giesbrecht, Commentary, Culture Wars

Free speech and free inquiry, birthrights bestowed upon us by western civilization, are under threat. There are too many questions that can’t be asked, too many subjects that can’t be discussed.

Alessandro Strumia, a University of Pisa professor, lost his position after claiming that his research revealed that while virtually all physics geniuses have been men, women physicists continue to be hired at the expense of better qualified male physicists. He wasn’t allowed to further explore his findings, apparently, his university hadn’t heard of the Enlightenment.

A thoroughly-researched paper by a team of University of Edinburgh psychologists was declared off limits to publication and intelligent discussion. According to the psychologists’ research, there is a greater spread in intelligence between men than women – twice as many men than women in both the top two percent and bottom two percent of intelligence. If their research proved out, it could help explain why the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are male dominated. The researchers found it difficult to find a publisher, the topic seemingly much too hot to handle.

There have been academics seeking out differences in IQs between races. Such research causes a furor. Some researchers have suggested that some races score higher than other races in IQ tests – perhaps explaining why there seems to be a disproportion of mathematical geniuses in one race rather than others. Is such academic research wrong? We may never know, such research has been declared racist and closed to discussion. On the subject of climate change, unless a scientist is 100% in agreement with the Paris Accord’s orthodoxy (which holds humanity causes all negative climate change) he/she are subjected to the worst kind of ad hominem attacks and written off as a crank. Offering questions or comments on that super-charged topic requires a helmet.

With religion, there are far too many taboo subjects to list. Subjects not open to public discussion include the cases for ending celibacy for Catholic priests and Islam’s belief in apostasy. Here, in Manitoba, some subjects are virtually forbidden to explore. These include chronic child neglect within the Indigenous community and exploring linkages between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and the social environment of some reserves. Those that recognize that the causes of Indigenous problems are far more complex, and suggest a link between dysfunction and the isolation and dependency of reserve life, are shouted down – if not labeled a racist.

Taboos placed on freely discussing certain subjects is strong within the very institutions where the concept of free speech and inquiry has its origins – universities.  Free speech and free inquiry are in serious trouble in Canada’s universities, with taboos often aided and abetted by mainstream media.

Free speech is a vital condition for a healthy democracy. Examples of its absence are easily found in socially and politically stunted societies such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran. Free speech and free inquiry are vital conditions to have and preserve a healthy democracy.

Free speech and free inquiry must be protected in Canada, and particularly by the very institutions that are supposed to practice it – our universities, legislatures and media.