Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole

Theodore Hill:

First, the National Science Foundation wrote to Sergei requesting that acknowledgment of NSF funding be removed from our paper with immediate effect. I was astonished. I had never before heard of the NSF requesting removal of acknowledgement of funding for any reason. On the contrary, they are usually delighted to have public recognition of their support for science.

The ostensible reason for this request was that our paper was unrelated to Sergei’s funded proposal. However, a Freedom of Information request subsequently revealed that Penn State WIM administrator Diane Henderson (“Professor and Chair of the Climate and Diversity Committee”) and Nate Brown (“Professor and Associate Head for Diversity and Equity”) had secretly co-signed a letter to the NSF that same morning. “Our concern,” they explained, “is that [this] paper appears to promote pseudoscientific ideas that are detrimental to the advancement of women in science, and at odds with the values of the NSF.” Unaware of this at the time, and eager to err on the side of compromise, Sergei and I agreed to remove the acknowledgement as requested. At least, we thought, the paper was still on track to be published.

But, that same day, the Mathematical Intelligencer’s editor-in-chief Marjorie Senechal notified us that, with “deep regret,” she was rescinding her previous acceptance of our paper. “Several colleagues,” she wrote, had warned her that publication would provoke “extremely strong reactions” and there existed a “very real possibility that the right-wing media may pick this up and hype it internationally.” For the second time in a single day I was left flabbergasted. Working mathematicians are usually thrilled if even five people in the world read our latest article. Now some progressive faction was worried that a fairly straightforward logical argument about male variability might encourage the conservative press to actually read and cite a science paper?