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E-Pluribus | April 11, 2023
Threats and the limits of the First Amendment; "equity" and the field of organ transplants; and identity politics takes a backdoor into science.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Damon Root: Is Telling Someone To 'Die' on Facebook Protected by the First Amendment?
Sometimes the only defense of indefensible speech is that it shouldn’t be illegal. At Reason, Damon Root examines a case before the Supreme Court that tests the limits of the First Amendment when it comes to threats, specifically, in this case, online threats.
"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment," the U.S. Supreme Court said in the 1989 case Texas v. Johnson, "it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." In practice, that principle means all sorts of despicable utterances, including "hate speech," are constitutionally protected.
But the Court also has said that the First Amendment has its limits. One of them involves "true threats" of violence. In the 2003 case Virginia v. Black, the justices defined that category as "those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals." The First Amendment, the Court held, "permits" the government "to ban a 'true threat.'"
Deciding what counts as a "true threat" is no easy task, however. In April, the justices heard oral arguments in Counterman v. Colorado, which asks "whether, to establish that a statement is a 'true threat' unprotected by the First Amendment, the government must show that the speaker subjectively knew or intended the threatening nature of the statement, or whether it is enough to show that an objective 'reasonable person' would regard the statement as a threat of violence."
Read it all here.
Stanley Goldfarb: Medical Reparations Have Arrived
Making up for America’s past wrongs is built in to the modern day movement for equity and inclusion. At City Journal, Stanley Goldfarb looks at how these impulses are affecting the medical community and in particular organ transplants. Goldfarb says though it is easy to cry “racism,” the facts and science say otherwise.
In the name of “equity,” the [Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)] purport to be expanding black patients’ access to kidney transplants. They essentially claim that the longstanding system for such transplants is racist, pointing to how black patients make up 30 percent of the dialysis population and transplant wait list but receive a smaller fraction of kidney transplants.
Activists assert that this disparity reflects bias on the part of treating physicians, particularly when referring black patients for early kidney care. But a study from the Veteran’s Administration found that more referrals for expert care did not improve outcomes or prevent progression of advanced kidney disease to the need for kidney replacement therapy.
If racism doesn’t explain the discrepancy, what does? The list of reasons is extensive, reflecting disheartening, stubborn problems that physicians and policymakers have long tried to address. One is the advanced age and complex medical conditions of many black patients with diabetes-related kidney failure; many of these patients are also relatively satisfied with dialysis treatments and unwilling to undergo extensive evaluation for transplant suitability. Others include insufficient health literacy, concern about the surgical procedures associated with transplantation, and lack of a support system for post-operative patients—an especially important factor in transplant suitability. Black families are also less likely to supply kidney donors from relatives.
UNOS and OPTN ignore these facts to advance a race-based agenda. They are forcing transplant centers to rework the waitlist for cadaveric kidneys in such a way that favors black patients. The rationale is that the longstanding formula used to estimate kidney function, which was race-conscious and required a second calculation for black patients, was racist.
Read it all.
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Jukka Savolainen: ‘Positionality statements’ smuggle identity politics into academia
That scientific papers should be about “the science” would seem to be a given. Jukka Savolainen at Unherd, however, writes that “positionality statements” accompanying such academic offerings muddy the waters and can imply that the research and conclusions contained in these works should be filtered through the demographics and backgrounds of the authors.
Blind peer review is an academic practice that requires scholarship to be evaluated on its merits, with no attention to the identity of its author. This standard approach reflects a foundational principle of the scientific value system: the norm of universalism, which states that “all truth-claims should be subjected to the same impersonal criteria regardless of personal or social attributes of their protagonist”. Unfortunately, however, the integrity of this scientific peer review process is now under threat by the proliferation of so-called “positionality statements” in academic literatures.
A positionality statement is an author’s description of their identity as it relates to the research topic. . .
[ . . . ]
As a social scientist, I understand the value of self-reflection and agree that scholars should be sensitive to the strengths and limitations stemming from their biographies. But, as my co-authors and I explained in a recent peer-reviewed journal article, sharing such reflections in the form of positionality statements is counterproductive at best.
[ . . . ]
[P]ositionality statements are a sneaky way to introduce identity politics within actual scholarship. In the course of our research, we read a number of statements published in various fields of academic literature. An honest appraisal of this material suggests that the real purpose of these frequently cringeworthy statements is to signal the authors’ adherence to “social justice” ideology and loyalties to selected identity groups.
Read the whole thing.
Note: Twitter’s feud with Substack is still preventing embedding of tweets.
And finally, via NBC News, in Colombia, free speech definitely has its limits. A woman has been convicted of “discrimination and harassment” and faces up to three years in prison for a racist diatribe in response to a question from a journalist about that country’s first black vice president: