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Notes from a Witch Hunt
Chronology of Events, With Sources
Over the last few days a Black professor at Stanford, Steven Roberts, denounced as racist his treatment at the hands of Klaus Fiedler, the former editor of Perspectives in Psychological Science (PoPS), a major psychology journal, and the four critics of one of his earlier papers published there. I was one of the critics who Roberts particularly singled out to smear as racist with an outright lie that I will address in a subsequent essay. A good short overview of these events can be found here.
This triggered a social media shitstorm and mobbing directed mostly at Fiedler and me. Fiedler is not on social media. The purpose of this post is JUST to orient you to the major events, and not to analyze, characterize, evaluate them or debunk the worst of the nonsense.
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Timeline as I Understand It
Dates are approximate as I was not privvy to all that happened. Even when they involved me, older events are time approximate.
2020. Roberts et al publish a paper in PoPS on “Racial Inequality in Psychological Science.”
Jan 1, 2022, Fielder becomes editor at PoPS. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) celebrates his appointment, on grounds of his support for intellectual pluralism, scientific rigor and international diversification. (I will not comment here further on this, but I do urge you to keep this in mind).
Hommel submits a commentary critical of Roberts et al (2020) to PoPS.
Fiedler sends the commentary out for review. I am one of the reviewers.
After receiving the reviews, Fiedler accepts Hommels’ paper for publication, and requests commentaries on Hommel’s paper from two psychologists plus me.
We provided them, and each is accepted:
Fiedler, Stroebe and Hommel are all European. This is worth mentioning because it may be that many European academics do not share the sensibilities or values common among American academics and this could be relevant to understanding the entire affair.
Exact sequence and nature of events is not completely clear here, because only partial information is available to me. Here is what I do understand, but it is not necessarily in exact chronological order:
Fiedler invites Roberts to reply to the commentaries thus far. He provides one.
Fiedler requests Hommel’s input on Robert’s reply. Its role in further events is not clear to me.
Fiedler gives Roberts’ reply a conditional acceptance. Fiedler asks Roberts to remove a section that Fiedler describes as an unfair characterization of my commentary. Roberts characterized my commentary as drawing on 19th century racist tropes and claimed that I drew parallels between Black people and mules (which of course I didn’t but more on this in the next essay). Fiedler asks, but explicitly does not require, Roberts to remove this section. Fiedler’s expresses his view that Roberts commentary on my section is so obviously a misrepresentation that it will make Roberts look bad, and Fiedler is trying to prevent that. (In light of the actual course of events, this is also worth keeping in mind).
Hommel provides his reply to the commentaries, which can be found here.
Roberts pulls his paper from consideration for publication to protest what he claims is the unfair treatment at the hands of Fiedler and that the entire episode to this point reflects the systemic racism endemic to psychology.
December 2, 2022. Roberts posts what would have been his reply paper online (available here) with two additions:
A new introduction outlining his view of how he was treated in an unfair, racist manner. For example, part of the complaint is that Fiedler, Hommel, Stroebe, Stanovich and I are all senior White men.
He also posted email correspondence between Fiedler and himself about the status of his second paper.
December 2, 2022, ongoing as of this post: A social media shitstorm ensues. Some examples appear at the end of this chronology. Fiedler and I are denounced as racists; PoPS procedures are denounced as racist. Fiedler is accused of using unethical procedures for the manner in which he invited the commentaries and responses (this would be a good time to re-read the APS headline about him at the top of this essay).
December 2nd or 3rd: An online petition and open letter is organized. Within 3 days, it gets 1200+ signatories. Its substance is shown here:
December 5, 2022:
An alternative open letter is posted, raising questions about the demands in the original, denunciatory letter, and calling for a thoughtful, careful collection and evaluation of all relevant information before granting their demands.
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.
December 6, 2022. Fiedler resigned.
December, 9, 2022, Statement of the German psychological society, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie issued upbraiding APS for violating procedural justice in its execution of an order to summarily dismiss Fiedler.
"…it is not our understanding of procedural justice to condemn a person without giving him or her an adequate hearing.”
December 15, 2022. The Association for Psychological Science issued this explanation for its actions.
By December 20, 2022, 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.
Additional essays will follow this report.
Here are few drops from the raging flood of social media outrage over this:
The title is the main exception to my “just the facts” approach here. John McWhorter has been exceedingly articulate about characterizing woke antiracism as a new religion, and nothing quite says “witch hunt” like mob “justice.”
If anyone has details identifying any errors here, or which can clear up ambiguities, please do let me know and I will revise this chronology.
I do not identify as White for reasons explained here. I’d rather assumptions like this not be so … presumptuous, but I can’t work up enough righteous anger about being mis-racialized by Roberts.
Roberts posting the correspondence with Fiedler is probably a violation of professional ethics. The norms governing such correspondence is that they are confidential in the absence of permission to post publicly, and there is no evidence of said permission having been either requested or received.