Does the THES have this right?
The “unrestricted liberty” to be offensive to others without fear of sanction forms the foundation of a radical statement of academic freedom proposed this week by an influential group of scholars. The statement, launched by 64 academics including philosopher A. C. Grayling, would extend the current law that ensures that academics are free to “question and test received wisdom, and to put forward unpopular opinions”. If adopted in law, it would give all academics the unfettered right to speak out on any issue, “both inside and outside the classroom”, whether or not it was part of their area of academic expertise and “whether or not these [issues] were deemed offensive”…The statement would also offer backing to Andrew McIntosh, professor of thermodynamics at Leeds, who has been sharply criticised for claiming that the world is only 6,000 years old and that evolutionary theory is wrong.
Would it? Phil Baty doesn’t say how he arrives at that conclusion, and it seems…surprising, at least. It rides roughshod over the distinction between opinions that are deemed offensive, and being flat wrong. Academics are expected to be competent in their fields, and as far as I know academic freedom isn’t generally taken to mean freedom to teach gibberish. His conclusion also ignores the distinction between ‘fear of sanction’ or sanction itself, and being sharply criticised. Dawkins (for instance) isn’t ‘sanctioning’ McIntosh by saying he’s wrong or by saying that Leeds should dissasociate itself with his views. So I’m wondering if the THES just got it wrong, or if the statement would protect flat error as well as ‘offensive’ opinions. (Yeah, I know the difference is not always clear-cut, but that doesn’t mean it never is, or that there is no such.)