Free Speech

Head of Berkeley Atmospheric Science Center Resigns Directorship to Protest Refusal to Invite Dorrian Abbot

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From the New York Post (Emily Crane):

[Berkeley Prof.] David Romps said Monday he was stepping down as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center (BASC) after claiming his faculty had refused his request to invite Dorian Abbot to speak on Berkeley's campus.

Abbot, an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, made headlines earlier this month when he slammed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for caving to cancel culture after a woke "Twitter mob" waged a war against him.

The geophysicist said MIT told him his lecture on climate and the potential for life on other planets was being canceled to "avoid controversy" after students and recent alumni came after him over recent arguments he'd made [criticizing race-based] admissions that were unrelated to his science lecture.

Angered by MIT's decision, Romps said in a lengthy Twitter thread that he asked Berkeley's faculty if they would allow Abbot to hold his lecture there instead.

Here is what appears to be that thread:

I am resigning as Director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center (BASC) @BerkeleyAtmo. To reduce the odds of being mischaracterized, I want to explain my decision here.

Last month, the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences @eapsMIT  canceled a science lecture because of the invited scientist's political views. That scientist does excellent work in areas of interest to BASC (he visited us at our invitation in 2014).

Therefore, I asked the BASC faculty if we might invite that scientist to speak to us in the coming months to hear the science talk he had prepared and, by extending the invitation now, reaffirm that BASC is a purely scientific organization, not a political one.

In the ensuing discussion among the BASC faculty, it became unclear to me whether we could invite that scientist ever again, let alone now.

I was hoping we could agree that BASC does not consider an individual's political or social opinions when selecting speakers for its events, except for cases in which the opinions give a reasonable expectation that members of our community would be treated with disrespect.

Unfortunately, it is unclear when or if we might reach agreement on this point.

The stated mission of BASC is to serve as "the hub for UC Berkeley's research on the science of the atmosphere, its interactions with Earth systems, and the future of Earth's climate."

I believe that mission has its greatest chance of success when the tent is made as big as possible, including with respect to ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, family status, and political ideas.

Excluding people because of their political and social views diminishes the pool of scientists with which members of BASC can interact and reduces the opportunities for learning and collaboration.

More broadly, such exclusion signals that some opinions—even well-intentioned ones—are forbidden, thereby increasing self-censorship, degrading public discourse, and contributing to our nation's political balkanization.

I hold BASC and its faculty—my friends and colleagues—in the highest regard, and so it has been a great honor to serve as BASC's director these past five years. But it was never my intention to lead an organization that is political or even ambiguously so.

Consequently, I am stepping down from the directorship at the end of this calendar year or when a replacement is ready, whichever is sooner.

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  1. If only Dean Chemerinsky had that kind of integrity!

    1. De-exempt Berkeley and MIT. Seize their assets and shut them down. Use the seized assets to fund the Build Back Better plan.

      1. You gotta come up with something else bub.

        You keep yelling at a brick wall and it ain't moving.

      2. Berkeley is a state school, not a nfp corporation, you nincompoop.

  2. Every time one of the "good guys" resigns, evil wins.

    1. Agreed. Instead of resigning, he should have stood his ground, and tried to save the organization.

      Sure, they probably would have fired him, but until people start fighting back, nothing is going to slow down this revolution.

      1. I don't know. He got a lot of media mileage out of this. Furthermore, he probably had gotten tired of all the administrative work that comes with being director.

  3. "To sum up, we could do better work here if you stopped gazing at Uranus."

    1. Bevis and Butthead have come back.

  4. Sounds like many scientific institutions have been thoroughly politicized. This is why it's necessary to do your own research, and not rely on so-called consensuses of experts.

    1. "This is why it’s necessary to do your own research"
      You cannot do that with everything. Not many laymen have the statistics and mathematics expertise or the understanding of physics and atmospheric chemistry to do credible research on atmospheric and earth sciences, or even "climate change."

      1. Sadly, that it's not possible to do something doesn't imply that it isn't necessary.

        What we really need to do is create new institutions from scratch, the old ones are probably irredeemably ruined by now.

        1. And how would you prevent your new institutions from become the same type of institutions we have now?

          You really can't and therefore you will always lose.

          1. Conquest's 2nd law: "Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing."

            The answer is that the organization must be explicitly opposed to this sort of thing, and relentless about refusing to hire anybody who isn't philosophically opposed to this sort of thing.

            We have to be clear about why our universities fell to this threat: They opened the door to it, and let it in. They hired people who were philosophically opposed to freedom of thought, communists, and knew they were doing it.

            I guess they thought they could afford to, so long as they were a minority of the staff. But they didn't stay a minority of the staff, they took over.

            1. Isn't any - EVERY - organization left-wingish in that there is some "common" goal and also rules (which means a certain loss of individuality)?

              1. "Left wing" as being opposed to freedom of thought, diversity of opinion, and a requirement that people's beliefs be converted for the "common good".

              2. If your definition of 'left wing' is so broad that every organization looks left wing to you, it's probably too broad.

                In general terms, the problem here is that 'conservatives' join organizations to advance the purpose of the organization, while 'liberals' join organizations in order to turn them to 'liberal' ends, even if their original purpose was orthogonal to politics.

                So a conservative college will hire people who are good at the topic they're supposed to teach on, even if they otherwise have non-conservative views. While a liberal college will only hire people if they have liberal views, regardless of whether they are otherwise qualified for the position.

                Those people then end up in positions to control hiring, and the liberals, at both liberal AND conservative institutions, make a point of hiring only liberals. And the conservative institution ceases to be conservative after a while.

                Mind, when I say 'liberal' here, I actually mean left-wing, which is what 'liberal' has come to mean. The term doesn't really have anything to do with liberty anymore.

                The only way to counter this dynamic is for conservatives, too, to engage in ideological discrimination, to refuse to hire even the competent if they are left-wing. That's what the 'explicitly right-wing' part of Conquest's 2nd law implies.

      2. As Brett said.

        Just because they "cannnot do that" doesn't mean it isn't necessary.

        If my car mechanic is a crook, then even if I can't fix my own car right now, I'm going to need to figure out some way around it.

  5. A rather sad story, but one that is not surprising of UC Berkeley

  6. The only surprising element is that one of these academic invertebrates showed integrity. Nice to see, but we need people to stand like this every time the oppressive cult cancels someone.

    1. Stand up?

      The guy is walking away and isn't standing up to anything.

  7. One problem is that at Berkeley the woke undergrads are exceptionally fierce, much more fierce than undergrads at almost any other university; it's a Berkeley tradition from way back when we were all very young. If these profs had invited Professor Abbot, the students would have interpreted the gesture as deliberate provocation, a "dare". I would have tried to find a bookie willing to take a bet - a substantial one - that there would be unrest, and that Professor Abbot would not have been able to complete his lecture. I wouldn't have been surprised if the unrest had included violence and vandalism. Would Professor Abbot getting shouted down, and the event going viral, help the cause of non-political choice of speakers, or of academic freedom? Would it serve as an effective rebuke to MIT? Would it make Professor Abbot feel any better? Would it benefit UC Berkeley, or the atmospheric chemists there, at all? I think no, no, no, no, no, and no.

    I understand that I'm revealing a disgusting lack of intestinal fortitude; it's not necessary to point that out to me. But this comes under the heading of choosing ones battles. And (lame-excuse alert!) declining to issue an unexpected invitation is nowhere near as bad as cancelling him after inviting him, as MIT did.

    1. You can choose to be defined by others, or defined by yourself.

      "Would Professor Abbot getting shouted down, and the event going viral, help the cause of non-political choice of speakers, or of academic freedom?" is the wrong question.

      The correct question is, "Would doing the right thing help the cause of academic freedom, even if it will likely be opposed by evil people who will try to shout us down, and may even resort to violence?"

      1. Scientists shouldn't be asked to confront feral beasts - it distracts from their research.

        Some more political group at Berkeley should invite Abbot, not to speak on his scientific subject, but to defend his racial-preferences op-ed.

        Proposed lecture title: "In defense of California law: Why the voters of California were right both times - 1996 and 2020 - when they rejected racial discrimination and racial preferences."

      2. That is the correct question for someone who is not part of UC Berkeley to ask. Those who are part of UC Berkeley have a professional mandate to do what is good for UC Berkeley, including for UC Berkeley's public image.

    2. Would Professor Abbot getting shouted down, and the event going viral, help the cause of non-political choice of speakers, or of academic freedom?

      Does capitulating to an illiberal mob that is trying to shout down diverse ideas encourage that sort of mob activity?

  8. Buh buh Prof. Romps.

    Just like the anti-vax nurses who are being fired, you're going to find there's no where to go.

    What other university will want to hire you for a directorship of their science center now?

    1. Um, he didn't resign from the university.

      1. Right, just the directorship.

        1. So he's not really analogous to the anti-vax nurses; he doesn't need to go anywhere.

        2. Right, just the directorship.

          And you still don't understand the problem with the "nowhere to go" part of your inapt analogy?

  9. Notable omission by Professor Volokh. His own published links show Professor Abbot associating university DEI efforts with Stalin's Terror Famine in Ukraine. Really.

    Read Abbot's various published outcries, and what you find is a committed culture warrior demanding that to cherish meritocracy it becomes necessary to defeat social justice, at least insofar as the latter notion might be applied to university admissions. He's pretty clever about it. He uses graphics instead of explicit language when he expresses the idea that anti-racists are the real racists. He uses graphics to cast his lot with right wingers who cynically try to allege discrimination against Asians as a tool to end affirmative action for blacks. He's pretty ambitious with the graphics.

    Whatever his merits as a scientist, Abbot shows himself to be a tone-deaf, standard-issue, right wing social advocate, of the sort who equates any mention of group identity—or any use of group identity as a measure of policy—with communism. Literally with communism. That he does explicitly, not with graphics.

    He also has the effrontery to demand that all such issues get discussed only academically—unless appeals from folks who would be hurt by his policies come from people like him, and get confined to theoretical discussions without practical policy influence, he doesn't want them considered at all, at least not at the university.

    It is not my purpose to suggest that someone with tenure for doing science should not be at liberty to be as foolish as he is capable of being outside his field. I don't say Abbot should be fired, or canceled, or anything like that. I do find it unseemly that someone as determined to turn himself into a lightning rod as Abbot seems to be should go around demanding that everyone else hold his hands while he does it.

    Professor Abbot, taking you at your word that your intentions are of the best, you ought to be mindful that your clumsy attempts at social philosophy invite a bond between you and a great many less subtle folks whom I doubt you would want as associates, let alone as your acolytes. Just as the folks you disagree with delight in breaching the walls of your beloved ivory tower, so too will a great many folks who actually hate the people you disagree with. While you are rounding up allies, you ought to give that some thought.

    1. Do you realize that by desperately trying to connect Abbot to the extreme right you are doing exactly what you project on him?

      1. AtR, nonsense. I am not the least bit desperate. And Abbot does not seem to me to be connected to the extreme right. He seems to be clueless, with a clueless taste for meritocracy over everything else. He has chosen a particularly clueless approach about issues which bother him. It happens to be a method which does associate his approach with the extreme right tic of calling communists everyone they don't like.

        But for Abbot, it's mostly haphazard, shallow thinking, with an unfortunate tendency to rile up some members of minorities—particularly those who suffered troubled histories of damage from encounters with that kind of cluelessness. For Abbot, what they say does not connect. He shows pretty clearly that his thinking does not extend to social implications. He thinks he is being fair, and idealistic.

        Problem is, to folks on the extreme right—including many whose thinking is about nothing but social implications—all of that makes Abbot a heroic-looking figure. It all points toward another increment of trouble in university communities which could do with less trouble.

        1. He seems to be clueless, with a clueless taste for meritocracy over everything else.

          Why do we assume he is clueless? He is obviously intelligent and can handle complicated thoughts.

          Wouldn't a fair assumption be that he isn't at all clueless and knows exactly what he is doing. Allowing himself just enough plausible deniability to try and avoid being lumped in with the extremists ?

          He shows pretty clearly that his thinking does not extend to social implications. He thinks he is being fair, and idealistic

          Doesn't he explicitly refuse to consider social implications? Isn't that a choice he is making? Again, I don't think this is accidental or some sort of oversight...he doesn't think the social implications are relevant to the discussion. He doesn't want to care about social implications because that would weaken his position.

      2. Do you realize that by desperately trying to connect Abbot to the extreme right you are doing exactly what you project on him?

        Do you realize that there is nothing "desperate" about looking at what Abbot says and rightfully connecting him to the extreme right.
        Pointing out that someones ideas are in fact racist isn't projection, its observation and rational thought.

        The desperation is coming from his defenders that want to make him a victim. He doesn't have a right to speak anywhere he wants.

        People who have abhorrent social views shouldn't be given a pass by respectable society, nor should people who don't care for their views/ideas be forced to give those views a platform.

        Regardless of whether or not he is great in his field his non-field behavior also

        It's funny how the right never gave a shit about the consequences of peoples words and actions when it was what they considered "undesirable opinions" that were being penalized. But now that the right's positions and rhetoric are becoming undesirable, all of a sudden the right is filled with victims and martyrs.

        I am sure that there are plenty of money losing right wing rags that would be happy to give Mr Abbot a platform.

        Heck we will probably see a guest piece in reason about why freedom of speech means "I get to take a shit in your living room while you say thank you -- but only if I am espousing right wing bullshit"

        1. Pointing out that someones ideas are in fact racist isn’t projection, its observation and rational thought.

          Dorian Abbot explained his position here. Can you clarify the parts of it that are racist?

          1. Swood, the part where Abbot demands no policy consideration for group identity skates close to out-and-out racism. Problem is, Blacks got group identity imposed on them against their will, with horrific consequences.

            Insisting now that it is illegitimate to remember that, or to take it into account when considering Blacks' present condition and opportunities, is a least heedless. But Abbot takes it the next step. He denounces as communists Black folks who believe consideration for their experience with group identity ought to afford them legitimate political agency. He goes farther still, saying group identity is a step down the road toward Stalinist politically induced famines.

            That is pretty energetic advocacy. It suggests more than mere cluelessness is at work. I am content on the basis of that record to say that at a minimum, Abbot may not be a self-conscious racist, but he has a responsibility for advocating policies which if followed would be objectively harmful to Blacks. Given Abbot's initiative, political activism, and extremism on behalf of policies Blacks identify as harmful to them, it is unreasonable to target as villains Blacks who conclude Abbot is racist, and say so.

            1. You are now, explicitly, insisting that people not being identified by their race is really racism?

              At this point, you've become self-parody. Treating groups according to their skin color is racist, and treating them not by skin color is racist.

              And you've also applied your mind-reading skills to uncover Abbot's hidden unconscious racism - so isidious! Even the actual person is unaware. What racism lurks in the hearts of men? The Lathrop knows!

    2. His own published links show Professor Abbot associating university DEI efforts with Stalin’s Terror Famine in Ukraine. Really.

      The question he was addressing was this: “What are the consequences of treating human beings primarily as members of groups rather than as individuals worthy of dignity and respect?” His point was that Stalin used this tactic against the “Kulaks” in the Ukraine and that we should treat people as individuals rather than as members of groups. Seems reasonable to me.

      Can you provide a quote from him that “equates any mention of group identity…with communism”? Can you provide a quote by Abbot demanding that “all such issues get discussed only academically…without practical policy influence”? You say, “Just as the folks you disagree with delight in breaching the walls of your beloved ivory tower, so too will a great many folks who actually hate the people you disagree with. While you are rounding up allies, you ought to give that some thought.” Are you suggesting that Abbot’s actions encourage violence against those he is opposing?

      You say that Abbot is a “committed culture warrior demanding that to cherish meritocracy it becomes necessary to defeat social justice.” How does hiring the most competent person for the job defeat social justice?

      1. In his references to Stalin and the Ukraine, Abbot also said:

        What does this have to do with the current academic climate on campus? I do not think we are about to have a Holodomor, but I do see similarities in the worldviews being advocated on campus to those that lead to the Holodomor.

        (1) “Anti-racism” and some versions of DEI promote a worldview in which group membership is a primary aspect of the human being and different groups are taught to view each other antagonistically. They tend to claim that members of certain groups are successful mostly because of some sort of “privilege,” just like the Communists claimed about the Kulaks.

        (2) Following these ideologies leads to dehumanizing statements such as: “We need more X diversity in our department, not more Chinese,” or, “Because Z is a white male, he has no right to discuss certain issues.”

        (3) Note that the following statement is equally dehumanizing: “We should hire Y primarily because he or she will help us with our problem with X diversity.”

        I am speaking out on these issues because I believe I have a moral obligation to warn about the dangers of adopting a group-based framework in the academy and in society more generally. I do not mean to offend anyone, but I am firm in my belief that sometimes people need to be challenged to think through the implications of ideologies they are advocating.

        What objections do you have to this?

        1. My principal objection is that there is a more complete context, readily available by using links provided in the OP. Anyone interested in forming their own opinions with regard to Swood's items ought to follow all those links, and get a first-hand look at Abbot from his own presentation of himself.

          1. There were three links supplied by the OP: one to Twitter and two to New York Post stories. I was unable to find anything supporting the points of yours that I mentioned. Could you help?

          2. There were three links provided by the OP: one to Twitter and two to The New York Post. I was unable to find support for the points of yours that I mentioned. Could you help?

    3. SL,
      Abbott ws NOT demanding that MIT or UCB hold his hand. MIT EAPS invited him on their own initiative. That is your false editorializing, mr. newspaper man.
      Abbott's invitation to deliver the Carlson lecture was not decided on by an individual but by a committee of the EAPS faculty.
      Subsequently, the EAPS chair caved to outside pressure. And now the MIT administration is trying to save face.
      As for your "culture warrior" comment, your name-calling is at least as tone deaf and subservient to the social justice warriors who have figuratively shouted down Abbott as anything that you claim that Abbott has done.

      1. Don Nico, Abbot is saying in so many words that if you take any cognizance of identity groups, you are a communist. While paradoxically saying that people who do take account of identity groups are like Stalin. In my book, that is right-wing-style culture war, perhaps at its most confused, but nevertheless full strength.

        As for my subservience, see if you can find anything to point to.

  10. Good on him for standing up for what he believes in. Though I think this act will be symbolic without effect. He'd probably have done more good sticking around and keeping his organization non-political through his influence, because I don't think anyone who wanted to ban Abbot from speaking about non-political matters is going to do anything but celebrate the loss of someone with principles.

  11. Did Prof. Romps select Abbott for a presentation at Berkeley -- above all other candidates nationwide and beyond -- purely for the quality and nature of his scientific work, mostly for the quality and nature of the scientific work . . . or for political reasons?

    Should other academic institutions consider this point -- and the issues of collegiality and judgment -- when assessing any application for employment from Prof. Romps?

    This should not make him unemployable. I hope this professor finds work at a fourth-tier, conservative-controlled, nonsense-teaching school that enjoys the way he 'owned the libs.'

    1. Well, if you'd read the not-particularly-lengthy statement from Prof. Romps, you would have seen that he expressly answered your question:

      Last month, the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences @eapsMIT canceled a science lecture because of the invited scientist's political views. That scientist does excellent work in areas of interest to BASC (he visited us at our invitation in 2014).

      Therefore, I asked the BASC faculty if we might invite that scientist to speak to us in the coming months to hear the science talk he had prepared and, by extending the invitation now, reaffirm that BASC is a purely scientific organization, not a political one.

      But then you also would have seen that he was resigning as the director of this particular center, not resigning from Berkeley altogether, and thus has no need to seek alternate employment.

      1. Well, if you’d read...

        Then he would not be who/what he is.

      2. I read it. It sounded like a politics-based, rather than merit-based, invitation, which struck me as odd in this context.

        I wondered whether there was any evidence to counter the evidence that this attempted invitation flouted (1) Prof. Abbott's declaration that he favored a merits-only world and (2) Prof. Romp's declaration that he preferred a merits-only, politics-free environment.

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