Open Thread 156.25 + Signal Boost For Steve Hsu

[UPDATE: As of 6/19, Professor Hsu resigned as VP of Research. He still encourages interested people to sign the petition as a general gesture of support.]

Normally this would be a hidden thread, but I wanted to signal boost this request for help by Professor Steve Hsu, vice president of research at Michigan State University. Hsu is a friend of the blog and was a guest speaker at one of our recent online meetups – some of you might also have gotten a chance to meet him at a Berkeley meetup last year. He and his blog Information Processing have also been instrumental in helping me and thousands of other people better understand genetics and neuroscience. If you’ve met him, you know he is incredibly kind, patient, and willing to go to great lengths to help improve people’s scientific understanding.

Along with all the support he’s given me personally, he’s had an amazing career. He started as a theoretical physicist publishing work on black holes and quantum information. Then he transitioned into genetics, spent a while as scientific advisor to the Beijing Genomics Institute, and helped discover genetic prediction algorithms for gallstones, melanoma, heart attacks, and other conditions. Along with his academic work, he also sounded the alarm about the coronavirus early and has been helping shape the response.

This week, some students at Michigan State are trying to cancel him. They point an interview he did on an alt-right podcast (he says he didn’t know it was alt-right), to his allowing MSU to conduct research on police shootings (which concluded, like most such research, that they are generally not racially motivated), and to his occasional discussion of the genetics of race (basically just repeating the same “variance between vs. within clusters” distinction everyone else does, see eg here). You can read the case being made against him here, although keep in mind a lot of it is distorted and taken out of context, and you can read his response here.

Professor Hsu will probably land on his feet whatever happens, but it would be a great loss for Michigan and its scientific community if he could no longer work with them; it would also have a chilling effect on other scientists who want to discuss controversial topics or engage with the public. If you support him, you can sign the petition to keep him on here. If you are a professor or other notable person, your voice could be especially helpful, but anyone is welcome to sign regardless of credentials or academic status. See here for more information. He says that time is of the essence since activists are pressuring the college to make a decision right away while everyone is still angry.

This was supposed to be a culture-war free open thread, but I guess the ship has sailed on that one, so, uh, just do your best, and I’ll delete anything that needs deleting.