November 17, 2013
Statement by Helmuth Nyborg
A local Danish committee has requested, on questionable grounds, that an already published paper on intelligence and demography be withdrawn from the international literature. If you worry about this censorship, please read on. If not, please skip, and have a nice day.
As some of you may know, I wrote a paper: The Decay of Western Civilization: Double Relaxed Darwinian Selection published online 2 April 2011, and printed in 2012 in Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 53, issue 2, 118-125).
Three Danish academics found that this publication is devastating for the trustworthiness of Danish Research. They further found that “Steps have to be taken to stop researchers, who assist political organizations in ‘white-washing their propaganda material’, in such a way that it becomes part of peer-reviewed’ international research and is used in the public debate as authorized knowledge”.
They accordingly filed a case against me on 12 September 2011 at the The Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD), established under The Ministry for Research, Innovation, and Higher Education in Denmark. On 28 October 2013 DCSD found me guilty of scientific misconduct, and requested that the Decay paper be withdrawn from the international scientific literature–with no options for appeal.
As you will see below, the verdict is based on flawed premises (The Case), and the governmental committee was exploited as a useful tool in a long-standing systematic, goal-directed, politically motivated, left-oriented attempt to censure psychometric and differential psychology (The Background) by the three academics.
Could I ask you to take a moment and read The Case and The Background. I believe this will enable you to decide whether the Decay paper is an example of white-washing of “extreme right-wing propaganda” to be withdrawn from scientific literature, or rather that we here can identify a politically motivated, and governmentally supported, attempt to censure “controversial” science, which presents a threat to free science, and calls for counteraction.
In the latter case, you may wish to write a note with your qualified considerations (with your name, position, and affiliation at the top) to the minister responsible for the proceedings of DCSD, with a copy to the addresses given below (Your considerations may take point of departure in one or more of the questions lined up under Perspectives).
- Morten Østergaard, Minister for Research, Innovation, and Higher Educations (email@example.com).
With copies or other notes to:
- The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (firstname.lastname@example.org; a description in English of DCSD can be found here.
- Rector, Aarhus University (email@example.com), where Mammen and Kjeldgaard are, and to
- Rector, Aalborg University (firstname.lastname@example.org) (where the third plaintiff–Jens Kvorning–works).
I would appreciate receiving a copy as well (email@example.com).
Please feel free to forward this invitation to anybody you think might also worry about censure of international science.
If you need further information, please feel free to contact me.
Prof. emer., dr. Phil.
Two psychologists, professor emer., dr. phil. Jens Mammen from Aarhus University, Denmark, and assistant professor Jens Kvorning at Aalborg University, and molecular biologist, lic. Scient., Morten Kjeldgaard at Aarhus University, filed on 12. September 2011 a case for scientific misconduct against Helmuth Nyborg (HN) to the official Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) under the Ministry for Research, Innovation, and Higher Education, in Denmark.
The complaint relates to the publication of HN’s paper The Decay of Western Civilization: Double Relaxed Darwinian Selection, first published online on 2. April 2011, and then printed in 2012 in Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 53,issue 2, 118-125.
The plaintiffs filed a very long list of accusations, which vary far and wide in scope and nature: Improper use of academic titles; extensive plagiarizing; misleading and manipulative application of data; misleading reference; HN did not properly describe the unusual and misleading statistical methods; data and methods lack transparency; another person has written substantial parts of the paper, but this is deliberately not being acknowledged; we see a case of illegal “Ghost Authorship”; there exists a “hidden” contract between the HN and an economist (JEV), who is secretly hired as consultant to supply commercially available demographic data for money; the hidden deal is that his name should be kept secret; the paper exemplifies uninformed taking over of other peoples’ ideas, methods, and arguments; there are hidden preconditions for use of the method applied; HN presents misleading interpretation of his own results and conclusions; HN deliberately omits data from other sources that would weaken the conclusions; HN deliberately ignores the fact that birth rates are declining in practically the whole world; HN deliberately ignores relevant and contradictory data from Danmarks Statistik Bank; HN misapplies “all the talk” about genetics and Darwinian selection as purely ornamental [staffage]; HN intends to provide his paper with an undeserved biological/genetic authority; HN misinforms his readers by pretending support from natural science; HN took advantage of personal relationships with the international journal that printed his paper, in order to publish plagiarized and misleading research in a special issue in the journal, for which he was the editor; the Decay article is an example of downright promotion of right extremist propaganda; the Decay article serves the secret purposes of a right-extremist organization (Den Danske Forening); the Decay article weakens the international trustworthiness of national Danish research, because it is secretly subjected to external, strongly politically motivated, interests.
1Please note that all translations here and later from Danish are mine.
After more than two years of proceedings, the DCSD came on 28. October 2013 to a conclusion: Out of the long list of accusations, two had substance:
1. HN has presented a misleading reference to a data source. This is scientific misconduct and compares to uninformed construction of data or substitution with fictive data.
2. The majority (4) finds HN guilty in wrongfully assuming the role of sole author. The minority (2) finds that HN had not indicated wrongful authorship.
DCSD accordingly requested that the Decay paper shall be retracted from the international literature in accordance with Paragraph 15, stk. 1, no. 2.
DCSD stressed that there is no option for appeal.
I will in this brief reply argue that the verdict is based on substandard premises, which do not justify retraction of the paper. Because the verdict cannot be appealed, I will appeal for your support, based on the following arguments.
Ad.1. Misleading reference
Based on an evaluation by an external expert (Lisbeth B. Knudsen; LBK, Aalborg University, DK), the committee concluded that the reference to UN birth data was misleading, because it was used to support data, which are not found there.
This is incorrect. The reference leads correctly to the data used for analysis.
However, I made an error of omission, when I failed in the methodology section to describe a proportional parameter transformation. This transformation was needed, because the UN Fertility Rates at the correctly referenced data source could be used as input in the mathematical projection model only if transformed to Crude Birth Rates. A few words serve to illustrate the function of this straightforward data parameter transformation and why it has no consequences whatsoever for the conclusion.
When two countries have similar Total Fertility Rates (the UN measure presented at the correctly referred data source), and close to or similar age distribution, then there will be born close to or a similar number of children per 1.000 per year (Crude Birth Rates) in the two countries. Contrary-wise, if two countries have very different Total Fertility Rates, and comparable age distributions, then the number of children born per 1.000 per year will be very different in the two populations.
The transformation of one measure into the other by proportionality calculation has nothing to do with construction of data, neither with substitution with fictive data. An estimation of data, based on variables and parameters, differs fundamentally from producing fictive data.
The obvious character of this operation is the most likely reason why several anonymous international review specialists did not ask HN to add the description of it to the methodology section, well knowing that the paper was under heavy space restrictions (max. 5.000 words total). They also knew that the parameter transformation makes no difference whatsoever to the conclusion of the study.
However, as soon as this omission was seen as problematic, HN submitted an Addendum to the publisher, explaining the proportional data transformation (with a copy to DCSD). Issuing such Addenda is the normal scientific procedure for correcting omissions, even if the omission changes nothing of substance. It is considered good scientific practice, rather than serious breach of same.
The external expert (LBK), who advised DCSD, also stated that she had not previously in the literature encountered a mathematical [population] projection model with IQ. This observation is of particular relevance in connection with accusations for “unusual”, “uninformed”, or “misleading” application of methods. However, the expert opinion cannot be considered part of a critique, but rather a statement of a fact: The systematic population development – IQ coupling is, to the best of my knowledge, a new, creative, and highly useful construction, not to be found elsewhere in the demographic literature.
Finally, LBK apparently did not realize that the committee only asked her to comment on the formula for population development without IQ–the one which was correctly presented in the Decay article in the form of a simple mathematical population projection model. The fact that IQ was later coupled to the outcome of this population model in the form of a simple multiplication and a weighted average is neither a matter for judgment in the present court case, nor for the external expert on demographics to comment on, and it is certainly not relevant for the question of scientific misconduct.
The DCSD committee was divided with respect to the accusation that HN had deliberately disguised the existence of an important co-author (JEV), had secretly used him as a so-called Ghost-writer, or simply had wrongfully claimed sole authorship.
The majority (4) found him guilty of intentionally and wrongfully claiming sole authorship, and further stated, that “The majority finds that even if he [the accused] refers to the Vancouver Rules [in his reply], this does not change this evaluation, because the Vancouver Rules were not followed.”
This decision is as easy to counter at their first. The paid economist (JEV) did not write one word in the paper, but he did suggest changes to, and proof-read, and corrected the short methodology section with respect to proper use of the population projection model.
He further acted as a consultant on how the data were optimally and correctly treated in the population model (which, by the way, differs in application from his own model). The model was needed to circumvent deficits in the officially available data on births for the present purpose. I needed numbers for birth by country of origin, so the officially given numbers by legally ascribed citizenship were of little use. Moreover, the number of immigrants and their children of foreign origin at any time status point was also absent. These problems with the official data are described in the Decay paper.
I wanted to appreciate JEV’s contribution to the analysis, so I wrote twice (documentable) to him, and invited him to co-author the paper. By so doing I unknowingly deviated from the qualifications of the Vancouver Protocol for authorship. This protocol states that in order to be credited as an author, each and every author on a publication needs to have been involved in the:
1. Conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data
2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content
3. Final approval of the version to be published.
I informed DCSD that JEV did qualify only on the first of these points – analysis and interpretation of data. However, DCSD did not consider it relevant that JEV twice declined my invitation for co-authorship, and that he had not written one word in the paper. To the contrary, the majority finds that HN’s “… reference to the Vancouver Rules does not change [their] evaluation, because the Vancouver Rules were not followed”.
In other words, if a paid data consultant declines an invitation to appear as co-author, the DCSD decision leaves a scientist with three choices: 1. To physically force him to put his name on the paper (as co-author or in an acknowledgement), which I believe is against the law, 2. To not publish it, which I believe is against the interests of science, or 3. To respect his decision to leave out his name, publish the paper, and risk being accused of scientific misconduct.
DCSD decided that I had deliberately left out JEV’s name and wrongfully brought myself in the role as sole author of the paper.
The case raises questions.
In general, is it in the best interest of science, that:
- A group of self-admitted politically motivated academics can be allowed to shortcut the ordinary scientific process in the way described?
- The submission of an addendum to supply missing methodological information equals gross scientific misconduct?
- A Danish governmental committee issues requests for withdrawing published international peer-reviewed research?
- An acting Dean and groups of academics can get away with making false accusations against a large segment of academia, respected professional journals, international conferences, societies and associations, named colleagues, and sympathetic journalists (see next section)–accusations of political right-wing extremist sympathies that the targets of these accusations actually despise–and without even notifying these individuals and groups of their accusations?
- A national committee takes consequential actions on basis of neglecting important information about how the correctly referred data was used and about co-authorship?
- A national committee disregards the criteria of the Vancouver Rules?
More specifically, the case also raises questions, which are partly related to DCSD, partly to the practice at other universities:
- Some prominent Danish law commentators find that DCSD creates new standards for proper scientific conduct, and then raise them to such a high level, that they become counterproductive to science. Do you agree that the standards were raised too high in the present case?
- Would similar circumstances elicit similarly serious personal consequences at your university?
- Would a missing description of a proportional parameter transformation – corrected later by submission of an Addendum – equal scientific misconduct at your university?
- Is it acceptable, and legally defensible, when a committee demands a paid data consultant to sign a paper against his will – in particular when the consultant himself argues that he neither conceived the paper, nor drafted it, nor approved the final version of it?
- Is it acceptable in this situation to leave you with the decision to either sacrifice the project or risk being accused of scientific misconduct?
- Has your university issued unequivocal directions for under which circumstances a paid data consultant or other assistants are required to appear as co-authors, or is this rather a question of internal and informal agreement among interested parties?
- Do you find that a university has an obligation to protect its scientists against politically motivated attacks, in particular when they do politically “incorrect” research, instead of exposing them?
- Do you find that a university Dean, a Director, and an ordinary faculty member should be disciplined, when they lie in order to harm or block a particular research project or smear a “politically incorrect” scientist or groups of scientists, in the eyes of the public?
- What are your thoughts about rectors who gloss over such events?
- What do you think of rectors, who state that “My primary duty is to care for the good reputation of the university, but I will also go far to defend freedom of research as expression”?
- Do you agree with Steven Pinker, who on 9. December 2009 wrote to then Rector Laurits B. Holm-Nielsen at Aarhus University, that “If he [Nyborg] is incorrect, that will be established by a community of scholars who examine his evidence and arguments and criticize them in open forums of debate, not by the exercise of force to prevent him from pursuing his research. These are the tactics of a police state, and bring shame on any institution that uses them”?
Before these questions are answered to my satisfaction, I shall neither accept DCSD’s basic premises for the verdict, nor the accusation for having committed scientific misconduct in two cases, nor the request to withdraw the Decay paper.
However, as my local defense line has been run down, I am interested in learning about your response to one or more of the above mentioned questions, and in you making it known.
Science is self-correcting. When a paper on an important matter is published with invalid methods or questionable conclusions, other researcher will soon correct this, and science moves on.
The three plaintiffs use the opposite strategy. They never publish their critique in the relevant international specialist-forum, where the Decay article is printed. Instead they submit a veritable broad-side of very different accusations to local and national newspapers and committees, hoping that at least some of them sticks. In this way they can be sure to shun critical responses from specialists in the areas, and instead correspond with the occasional invited external reviewer who does not always address the relevant questions. This strategy is not intended to promote science, but rather to obstruct scientists working in psychometrics, differential psychology, behavior genetics, or with evolutionary theory, which they dislike and see as right-wing extremism.
The plaintiffs are even admirably candid about their strategy. In fact, they politically motivated their critique of the Decay paper when they wrote to DCSD, to the Trade Union Periodical (Forskerforum), and when addressing the public press. As previously mentioned, they find that its publication is devastating for the trustworthiness of Danish Research, so “Steps have to be taken to stop researchers, who assist political organizations in ‘white-washing their propaganda material’, in such a way that it becomes part of ‘peer-reviewed’ international research and is used in the public debate as authorized knowledge”. In this they line up with the actions of American similarly left-wing oriented groups of academics who describe themselves as fire brigades, who feel obliged to put out all scientific right-wing inspired fires they find morally or politically offensive (conf.
The plaintiffs’ current actions also have a long past in Denmark. When HN in 1997 chaired the Biannual Meeting of The International Society for the Study of Individual Difference (ISSID), where most of the international elite-researchers on intelligence and personality were invited to Aarhus, one of the plaintiffs–Morten Kjeldgaard–publicly afterward compared the scientific events taking place at this open scientific meeting to what happened during the worst periods of Hitler’s and Stalin’s periods (www.eugenik.dk). He also questioned the funding of this political “pseudo-science.” Kjeldgaard has ever since closely monitored all HN’s activities, private as well as professional, and published his observations at his home page or in the public press. He associates offensive personal descriptions to photographs of named members of ISSID and The international Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR). He often refers to, misinterprets, or condemns lectures that HN either presents or attends. He routinely scorns those few who dare describe HN’s research objectively.
The second plaintiff, professor emer., dr. phil. Jens Mammen, recommends HN’s former colleagues and anybody else to follow Kjeldgaard’s continuously updated homepage. He also deliberately misrepresents HN’s previous project on sex differences (see http://www.helmuthnyborg.dk/ and
The plaintiffs never respected the request of DCSD–to keep proceedings secret until the final verdict–and they even leaked HN’s “confidential” responses to the Trade Union Membership periodical (Forskerforum) and to the daily press. The left-oriented periodical systematically misconstrued the case and raised a biased public debate, but denied HN proper response. When HN protested, the various academic Trade Unions behind the periodical (Magisterforeningen, DJØF, and others) simply referred to editorial freedom, and did nothing to prevent the clearly biased attack on one of their own members.
Such a strategy is guaranteed to succeed. Few research projects are entirely flawless and finding just one error – intended or not – suffices to claim evil intentions, given proper malice. This is why the Decay article at the same time enjoys a good reception (it is fairly well cited) in critical international circles, but is being considered a prime example of extreme propaganda and scientific misconduct in Denmark, eagerly saluted by a sympathetic press.
DCSD’s procedure in the Decay-case is cause for worry for scientists both in Denmark and abroad. Biased colleagues can now exploit official committees by turning them into a People’s Court against basically defenseless scientists of all colors. All it takes is to fabricate a series of accusations, then leak confidential hearings to a sympathetic press, and finally to prevent the accused from a proper response. The plaintiffs were, in fact, able to correctly predict with confidence the outcome of current process, months before the actual verdict was available.
The verdict gives food for thought for young scientists. They have from now on to make absolutely certain, that not even the slightest error or misunderstanding or omission occurs in their manuscript or reference list. Just one silly error or omission may ruin their career forever. This obviously is not productive for creative science. As a reviewer and editor for a life-time, I routinely came across multiple minor, and sometimes also major errors, even in papers from the best in the field. Ordinarily, none of these faults are ill-willed, but even if they were, all the important ones will be eagerly corrected by competent critiques in the relevant open scientific fora – also those which went under the radar of the reviewers. The less important errors will mercifully die out in the fullness of time.
There is accordingly no need for institutions like DCSD, which are bound by narrow legal rules and only partly enlightened by specialized scientific insight. The Decay case is a first-class illustration that determined colleagues can misuse DCSD to serve their personal and political purposes, in order to impede politically incorrect science like intelligence research. They turned the committee into a useful misconstruction, which ought to be closed down as soon as possible.
In conclusion, the Decay case illustrates a full-scale attempt to try and close down research in important areas of science – demography, psychometrics, differential psychology, behavior genetics, and evolutionary theory.
I urge all objectively oriented academics to react strongly against such attempts to censure papers in these areas. I urge you to take active countermeasures. As they say: Bad things happen when good men remain silent.