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A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/04/01


An interview with Professor Rick Mehta. He discusses: terms used to defame people; being kept upright contrasted to being upright; means used to silence some speakers; protections of some viewpoints and not others; and some students lacking protections and fearing speaking out.

Keywords: FIRE, Heterodox Academy, psychology, Rick Mehta, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.

A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I liked the term, the broader phenomena, not only within the Left/Liberal spectrum, as far as I have seen so personal view, which is that they are terms to defame to dismiss.

You label someone a “fascist,” “Marxist,” “Men’s Rights Activist,” “feminist”; once you label someone that. In your own mind, it amounts to a low fidelity cognitive replacement in place of reasoning, of reason.

Rick Mehta: Oh, definitely.

Jacobsen: That way, you can dismiss them. My fear is that this might become such a large phenomenon that it even becomes accepted in high-level intellectual circles. People writing some of the most influential columns in the country, which seems like a risk to really lower the level of intellectual discourse.

Where, at times, many of the most intellectually astute people are reading them and people that are influenced by those people then follow their brand of that in a way, but it gets diluted in quality.

That could be a risk in terms of how people talk with one another in the public. So, if you want to know the general content of the way a leader composes themselves, what are their followers doing?

Of course, the leader is not responsible for what the followers are doing, but, in many cases, the followers are taking on a style and tone from that leader.

Mehta: Yes, I think we are approaching a tipping point. What I showed in my introductory psychology class, the way I did it was “here is the context of intelligence in the past, so let us look at intelligence in the present.”

I was able to show the graph of the Heterodox Academy, where the universities have shifted quite dramatically to the Left. I found a Business Week article. Interestingly, we see the Left bias in two other places: mainstream media and Hollywood entertainment.

All of them are imploding right now. It is an absolute disaster. Those are the three areas where we have Left-leaning et cetera. The distribution for the political leanings for all these other lines of work are completely different.

So, I think there is this fragmentation going on and I think people are clueing on that there is this major disconnect with what I see on my television or CNN website, or whatever, even with video games now.

They are a heavy emphasis on social justice. But people are not wanting to buy them. So, their sales are going down. Even the comic books, and Star Wars too. Fans usually love those ones. But on Rotten Tomatoes, only, I think, 50% of people liked it [the latest Star Wars movie], but it got a high ranking by the critics.

So, there is a fragmentation, where it is not going with the public. I think the Pew Center (in the US) found that public support for the higher education is starting to become politicized where the Democrats are loving it, but the Republicans are not – which is unprecedented.

It has never happened before, if I understand it correctly. I think I saw a tweet earlier this week that companies are reluctant to hire women because of the overreach of the Me Too movement. There are problems starting to happen now.

I think the 2018/19 years are going to be pivotal years.

2. Jacobsen: When I look at some of the bastions of this, I think about the one you mentioned: Hollywood. Let us take the big bargaining chip that Hollywood takes with the public in some of its most self-aggrandizing moments…

Mehta: [Laughing].

Jacobsen: …such as award ceremonies, they, for years, have mentioned themselves, not across the board but in general as a general phenomenon, as moral exemplars, as the height of virtue in the public sphere.

Maybe for some, that is the case. Perhaps, they are donating copious quantities of money investing in public good for which they deserve praise, but, as a general phenomenon, if I look at the recent and ongoing cases of sexual misconduct allegations coming out, then the same people coming out later saying, “That we shouldn’t allow this to happen. Look at us calling out this terrible behaviour,” and so on.

I think about it. If they want to be considered legitimate persons or institutions, you should be upright rather than be kept upright. Somehow, cleverly, the public relations of that environment made it such that it is a win-win for them.

So, if you take the case of giving these signifiers of ethical purity in awards ceremonies, you look good. You are fighting the moral fight. You are fighting the good fight.

But then you get called out as an institution with the highest-ranking people and most famous people in the industry for sexual misconduct by the outside of the institution, then the institution has the gall to then come out and say, “Look at us now calling out all of this behaviour.”

They were not right, to begin with. They were kept upright. I do not think that that then makes it morally legitimate as a position or a set of actions that are ongoing.

Mehta: Yes, it is like the metronome. We went from one side and then went to the exact opposite side, so we went one kind of dysfunction to another. No one can be morally virtuous 100% of the time.

The way I see it. People give money to people who are poor. I like to think that is something that we would do out of the kindness of our hearts rather than “I have done this and now I must get the world to praise me for it.”

They likely get tax write-offs for it as well. I do not think the public really buys that. It is politically correct to state that in a public setting, but I think that is partly what has happened. It is the double-standard to it.

So, you went from not having that much credibility to having even worse credibility. It will be interesting to what happens with the movies and what will sell and so on. It is hard to know for sure.

I anticipate, though, that people are getting turned off by a lot of what is being generated from the fields that are dominated by people with one perspective because it was as bad if you think many years back where things were primarily on the Right.

That had its own problems as well. Hopefully, it will get some form of tipping point, where we can swing towards the center and get to the center point and maybe work our way from there rather than have the pendulum swinging back and forth.

That is always going to be counterproductive in one group’s favour over another.

3. Jacobsen: I want to focus on some of the other academic issues now. This is happening more in the United States than in Canada, but it has happened in Canada. Where speakers will be invited and then that platform will be taken away from them, I believe this is called de-platforming.

Other times, the student activists will have a technique of simply bringing in a crowd into an auditorium or a conference center, or something like this, and then yelling the speaker down so the speaker cannot be heard.

Now, I know FIRE (Foundation Individual Rights in Education) is an organization in the United States, which has tracked some of these from 2000-2014, in the United States at least – where there are about 2,600 universities.

There are about 100, public-private combined, in Canada. In raw numbers, it will not happen as much in Canada. Per capita, it may happen at some parity. With that as a background, I wanted to get your thoughts on the phenomena of de-platforming in some campus censorship.

In other words, what do you think is its prevalence? How bad do you think it is? And so on.

Mehta: It is hard for me to answer that question because, unlike the States, we do not have the equivalent of FIRE. We have the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. I will admit that I am a member. So, that will bias me in terms of saying that that they do good work.

I do have to be honest and open about that. I am also a member of the Heterodox Academy in terms of viewpoint diversity. So, full disclosure is important. However, we have instances of what happened at Wilfred Laurier when they wanted to invite Daniel Robitaille.

In my talk, I did document some events that had happened within the last year in Canada. But there is another technique that used as well. It is not called no-platforming. It is “let us just make sure we can control the messaging.”

What happened at Acadia, I think it was last year? It was Marie Henein who was giving a talk about Bishop’s. It was broadcast through a livestream to the other Maple League universities: Acadia, Saint Francis Xavier University, Bishop’s, and Mount Allison.

Anyway, we had the live stream on Acadia on a Friday night. In terms of the publicity, it was sent as an attachment on the emails. You look at the emails. It would be a big piece of paper, like this, then the name would be this big.

That is what the posters look like when they are on campus. The most discrete kind of publicity for that talk. Then, on top of that, the talk was followed by a panel chaired by a women and gender’s study professor and the panel were people pretty much from our union, and people involved in the gender study program.

It was all people who were going to think the same way and have it in a hush tone because “oh, we cannot talk about this Marie Henein because she had defended Jian Ghomeshi and there might be people who are sensitive.”

It was the strangest type of publicity for a talk. It was “let us make sure there was a debrief.” If I did a panel, I would invite someone like Christie Blatchford [Laughing], right? Someone who covered that from a different angle.

It was very like “these are children and we have to protect them.” I found that rather interesting.

4. Jacobsen: I find that unfair. I see that as one viewpoint set protections. That seems unfair and against the spirit of an academic environment. Can you recall another case? For instance, based on your speech on free speech in universities.

Mehta: I found that interesting in terms of the publicity because the student newspaper was the one hosting me for that, but they just kept calling it a panel or a discussion. They did not put my name to it or say what it was about.

Even when I said, “You have rather misleading and imprecise posters.” That was summarily discounted. It did not stop the interest. I had somewhere between 45 and 50 people in the room and another 250 people who listened to the live stream.

I think a lot of people there were surprised. I think they did not know what to expect. I guess knowing that my audience was going to be towards the Left-leaning side. I think that helped.

I used that information to frame how I would get the message because I wanted to win them over. Then the question and answer period, only two or three faculty members showed up – and solely for the purpose of attacking me.

The students were open for the most part. It is the small groups on the campus that are the most vocal. For instance, when I brought up the wage gap, only a few got upset and irate. The others were wondering what was going on.

Jacobsen: These are the 1-in-50s. These are the Mensa level of obnoxiousness [Laughing].

Mehta: Yes.

Jacobsen: I want to focus on students now. So, if a student is coming into an environment where they make an argument, then they receive some epithet or are given an ad hominem attack to shut them up. They may have fewer means through which to protect themselves.

For example, if a European-Canadian student in the university environment takes something like the Hopi notion of not truly owning the land but caring for the land in conversation with someone of First Nations or Cree descent, the young First Nations student in conversation may have different views but given the campus culture simply calls the European-Canadian “racist.”

It stops conversations.

Mehta: If you are doing a study in which you’re comparing Canadians to South Africans, then it is a cross-cultural study. But if we do that within the Canadian or American context, then it suddenly becomes a study of race differences. I said, “Why don’t we talk about these as cross-cultural differences?”

If we talk about across countries, it is a cultural difference; but if we talk about in a country, then it becomes about race. What I think is that we are talking about cultural differences within Canada or the United States, we are talking about cultures clashing.

Then we can then have these honest and difficult discussions. Such as, why are poverty rates higher or lower among some groups and not others? If we talk about that as a cultural difference, then we can make some headway.

5. Jacobsen: Do some students, though, not have protections against the early parts of this question? Where the discussion isn’t mainstream in that way, in other words, the headway has not been made and the students may be afraid to speak out.

Mehta: Yes, what I was talking about there was not individuals but groups, it is the average. This is what we’re seeing. That is the way I introduced heritability of race. It is a population index. It means nothing.

What we need to do is test the individual and see where they lie, that is what we do with IQ. It is returning to that frame of reference. It is not the individuals, but the group differences. So, we see how we can shift that group difference, so that rates of being arrested or whatnot.

Why is it in this group that happens to have a label in it? It is trying to undo years of how we have been framing that debate. I think this is the proactive interference at work. It is very basic first-year psychology principle.

We can talk about that and compared to swimming correctly. I learned to swim with unilateral breathing. It is hard to do bilateral breathing. Everyone gets that. If we put that in the context of race, suddenly, it is culture now.

The defenses go up. It is trying to unlearn a bad habit that we have had ingrained in us for God knows how long, right?

6. Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, professor Mehta.

Mehta: Yes, my pleasure, I hope that was helpful.


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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Psychology, Acadia University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 1, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at

[3]B.Sc. (Honours), University of Toronto; M.Sc., McGill University; Ph.D., McGill University.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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