Online Mob Forces Editor-in-Chief of Major Psychology Journal To Resign Over Contrived Racism Accusations
The petition mob made short work of taking down Klaus Fiedler.
Klaus Fiedler, the esteemed former editor in chief of Perspectives on Psychological Science (PoPS), was forced to resign earlier this month after he accepted commentary criticizing a paper by Steven Roberts, a black associate professor of psychology at Stanford University.
Aaron Sibarium broke the story at the Washington Free Beacon:
[T]he editor, the prominent German psychologist Klaus Fiedler stirred up controversy by agreeing to publish trenchant critiques of a 2020 article by Steven Roberts … who had argued, among other things, that “color-blind leadership” promotes “structural inequality.”
The conflict may have been aggravated by Fiedler’s unusual—another commentator suggests naïve—editorial approach, according to the editors at Quillette. After he became editor-in-chief at the journal, Fiedler, who is warmly praised and defended here and here, accepted a piece criticizing Roberts’s article. He then solicited and accepted three more submissions disagreeing with Roberts, including one from Rutgers University’s Professor of Psychology, Lee Jussim, who details the chain of events here. There was now a total of four authors slated to oppose Roberts’s views on “systemic racism” in his field.
The prospective piling on obviously put Roberts on the defensive. But Fiedler invited him to reply to his critics, which he did—in a response that accused Jussim of drawing on “racist tropes,” says Jussim.
Roberts was talking about a line Jussim quoted from Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye the milkman recalls a dispute over the sale of horse that turned out to be a mule. Roberts says “mule” was once a racial epithet referring to blacks—and its use as an analogy is evidence of Jussim’s racism.
I have no idea what he is talking about and neither does hardly anyone else. Jussim told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he too was “unaware of that history”: “It’s absurd because obviously the origin is Fiddler on the Roof,” he said. “It refers to an idea. It doesn’t refer to people.”
At this point the discourse quickly deteriorated. According to the Free Beacon:
Though Roberts … was invited to reply to the critiques … he pulled his paper after becoming convinced that the debate was “rigged” against him, he told the Chronicle of Higher Education. He then published the paper on a preprint service, PsyArXiv, on December 2, along with his email exchanges with Fiedler, which he claimed provided evidence of his unfair treatment—and, he implied, of Fiedler’s own racism.
Fiedler told the Free Beacon that Roberts’s decision to publish private correspondence was unprofessional and unprecedented. “I never saw something like that,” he said.
The criticisms made by Jussim and the other authors were “unsound, unscientific, ad hominem, and racist,” Roberts wrote on PsyArXiv. The preprint went viral almost immediately, with several prominent psychologists—including Linda Skitka, the former president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology—calling on Fiedler to resign.
That same day, those calls to resign materialized in a petition and open letter addressed to the leadership of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the body that publishes PoPS. It targeted both Fiedler and the journal’s other editors, alleging “racism, general editorial incompetence, and abuse of power” against Roberts and calling not only for Fiedler’s resignation but also for “immediate, meaningful, systemic change from APS leadership.”
The petition mob made short work of taking down Fiedler. As Jussim recounts, within three days, over 1200 signatories had shown their support for the letter.
And unlike Roberts, Fiedler was not afforded the opportunity to respond:
Without discussing the events with Fiedler, and without investigating whether the story Roberts posted online is the whole story, and without verifying that the email exchanges between Roberts and Fiedler that Roberts posted were complete, APS issued Fiedler an ultimatum: Resign or be fired.
Justice was swift: By December 6th, Fiedler had resigned, and by December 20th, Jussim reports further, “the entire set of associate editors at PoPS resigned. About 1/3 of the consulting editors (those tasked with reviewing many papers) has also resigned,” he says.
Ironically, while woke anti-racists insist we must all “have a conversation” about race, they are so often the first to sign a petition to shut that conversation down when challenged with arguments they can’t answer.
Some petitions have a legitimate purpose, as with petitions to the government or to a court that seek due process. But there is no such civic virtue in the petitions typically launched in the academic community. They invariably appeal to their members’ basest instincts to choose a side, and that side better be the side of the woke good.
We’ve reported here on them on many occasions, to name a few:
- NYU Fires Chemistry Professor After Students Launch Petition Claiming His Course is Too Hard
- Students Petition to Have Clarence Thomas Removed as Lecturer at George Washington U. Law School (Thomas later left his position: https://thehill.com/homenews/3576743-justice-thomas-no-longer-teaching-courses-at-george-washington-following-roe-backlash/)
- Harvard Postpones Panel on Autism After Angry Students Petition
- The ongoing campaign to fire UPenn Law School’s Professor Amy Wax for her conservative views, as we wrote here, also began with a petition.
These petitions and “open letters” are not calls for due process. They are a summons to the mob to deny it to anyone — this time it was Fiedler — who dares oppose its woke ideology.
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