Politically Incorrect Research Is Cancelled from Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

(p. A15) Psychologists Joseph Cesario of Michigan State and David Johnson of the University of Maryland analyzed 917 fatal police shootings of civilians from 2015 to test whether the race of the officer or the civilian predicted fatal police shootings. Neither did. Once “race specific rates of violent crime” are taken into account, the authors found, there are no disparities among those fatally shot by the police. These findings accord with decades of research showing that civilian behavior is the greatest influence on police behavior.

. . .

My June 3 [2020] Journal op-ed quoted the PNAS article’s conclusion verbatim. It set off a firestorm at Michigan State. The university’s Graduate Employees Union pressured the MSU press office to apologize for the “harm it caused” by mentioning my article in a newsletter. The union targeted physicist Steve Hsu, who had approved funding for Mr. Cesario’s research. MSU sacked Mr. Hsu from his administrative position. PNAS editorialized that Messrs. Cesario and Johnson had “poorly framed” their article—the one that got through the journal’s three levels of editorial and peer review.

Mr. Cesario told this page that Mr. Hsu’s dismissal could narrow the “kinds of topics people can talk about, or what kinds of conclusions people can come to.” Now he and Mr. Johnson have themselves jeopardized the possibility of politically neutral scholarship. On Monday they retracted their paper. They say they stand behind its conclusion and statistical approach but complain about its “misuse,” specifically mentioning my op-eds.

The authors don’t say how I misused their work.

. . .

This retraction bodes ill for the development of knowledge. If scientists must disavow their findings because they challenge reigning orthodoxies, then those orthodoxies will prevail even when they are wrong.

For the full commentary, see:

Heather Mac Donald. “I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 9, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 8, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The PNAS article co-authored by Cesario, Johnson, and others is:

Johnson, David J., Trevor Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario. “Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116, no. 32 (Aug. 6, 2019): 15877-82.

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