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The Nation: Free Speech?

2 minute read

In the matter of rude receptions, Stanford University Professor William Shockley seems to be getting more than his share. Shockley, a 1956 Nobel Prize co-winner in physics, has over the past decade ventured into the fields of biology and genetics, disciplines in which he is not an acknowledged expert, to propound a theory he labels dysgenics. He defines it as “retrogressive evolution through the disproportionate reproduction of the genetically disadvantaged.” One of its controversial contentions is that blacks are genetically inferior to whites in intellectual capacity. Another is that bonuses should be paid to persons with less than an average IQ who are voluntarily sterilized.

When Shockley tried to present his views at Harvard last month in a scheduled debate with Roy Innis, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, vigorous protests from the school’s black law students’ association caused the meeting to be canceled. An academic forum held recently at New York University condemned Shockley’s views and denied him participation. Finally last week, a talk that Shockley was set to deliver at New York’s Staten Island Community College had to be canceled when his appearance onstage brought prolonged clapping, shouting and whistling from a vociferous minority of the racially mixed audience. Shockley was forced to leave without speaking.

Shockley’s views have been open to serious question all along, and other scientists have taken pains to discredit both the quality of his scholarship and the validity of his conclusions (TIME May 15). Under the First Amendment, however, not only does Shockley have the right to propound his notions, but those who would like to hear them are entitled to.

The irony of the Shockley case is that a questionable, perhaps even pernicious doctrine is probably receiving more publicity by not being heard than open debate would give it.

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