February 27, 2024

A data scientist promoted by right-wing activist Christopher Rufo, the Manhattan Institute think tank and other conservatives as an expert critic of former Harvard President Claudine Gay, he co-authored several papers in collaboration with a network of scholars who were broadly criticized as eugenicists. , or scientific racists.

Rufo described Jonatan Pallesen as “a Danish data scientist who raised new questions about Claudine Gay’s use – and possible misuse – of data in her PhD thesis” in an interview published last Friday in his newsletter and on the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal website was published.

He did not tell readers that a paper with Pallesen’s own statistical work in collaboration with the eugenic researchers was subject to sharp expert criticism for its flawed methods, and was characterized by another academic critic as white nationalism.

The revelations again raise questions about the willingness of Rufo – a major ally of Ron DeSantis and powerful culture warrior in Republican politics – to cultivate extremists in the course of his political crusades.

The Guardian emailed Rufo to ask about his repeated platforming of extremists, and asked both Rufo and the Manhattan Institute’s communications office whether they checked Pallesen before publishing the interview. None responded.

In Rufo’s interview, Pallesen is characterized by Rufo as one of the “outsiders” willing to criticize Harvard from outside its walls, a group that also includes himself and Substack blogger Chris Brunet. Pallesen then claims “very basic” errors in Claudine Gay’s PhD dissertation and a paper based on it, related to her claim that the election of Black representatives reduces white voter turnout.

Rufo later asked Pallesen what the perceived lack of academic criticism of Gay’s work said about “the state of the academy as a whole,” and Pallesen replied, “Research that matches sober claims tends to find easier acceptance.”

Neither he nor Rufo mentioned the searching criticism of Pallesen’s own statistical reasoning after he published a paper with three fringe writers whose work was compared to discredited forms of eugenic racial science.

The 2019 paper is titled Polygenic scores mediate the Jewish phenotypic advantage in educational achievement and cognitive ability compared to Catholics and Lutherans. It argues that the high cognitive abilities of Ashkenazi Jews are “significantly mediated by group differences in the polygenic score” – that is, genetically caused. They speculate that “culture-gene co-evolution” may influence “Jewish group-level traits” such as high cognitive abilities.

The basis of the paper was an interpretation of publicly available data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, one of the longest running population surveys in the US.

Pallesen’s co-authors were Emil Kirkegaard, Michael Woodley and Curtis S Dunkel.

The paper was demolished in direct response from academics from universities including Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Wisconsin, who wrote that “researchers have for some time cautioned against using polygenic scores for comparisons across racial/ethnic groups, and a closer look at the data results [in Pallesen paper] offers another illustration of why”.

The lead author of the article criticizing Pallesen’s paper is Jeremy Freese, a professor of sociology at Stanford. Freese was also part of a team that integrated genetic data into the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study—the same data on which the original paper was based.

In a phone conversation, Freese said that “we were moved to write something because the paper seems to be confusing correlation for causation in a question that obviously deserves more care”.

Freese added, “The problem we pointed out didn’t take a detailed interrogation to spot.”

Aaron Panofsky is the director of, and a professor in, UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics, and one of the authors of the paper How White Nationalists Mobilize Genetics, which includes the Pallesen co-authored article in its survey of the misuse of genetic data by scientific racists.

Regarding the paper’s claims about Jews’ innately high intelligence, Panofsky said it was a persistent trope under white supremacy that “fits into a larger narrative about Jewish conspiracies and the idea that Jews are behind the scenes of the world’s problems control”.

The paper Pallesen co-authored repeatedly quotes Kevin MacDonald, a retired psychology academic whose anti-Semitic publications argue that Jews engage in a “group evolutionary strategy” that explains their financial and cultural successes, and that anti-Semitism is an understandable response to this phenomenon.

A man looks into a camera
Kevin MacDonald, a professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach, seen here in 2012, argued that antisemitism is understandable. Photo: Sam Gangwer/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Panofsky added: “The other three authors – one of them is a psychologist and I don’t think the others have relevant degrees. But Pallesen has degrees in biology and statistical genomics. He should know better.”

Indeed, Pallesen’s co-authors on this and other papers are not all trained social scientists, and some are notorious advocates of a revived scientific racism.

Emil OW Kirkegaard is a Danish writer with a degree in linguistics – not a biological or genetic field – and no higher degree. He is a self-described eugenicistexpressly advocates “racial science”and is a senior fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research (UISR), an organization led by Richard Lynn, who is the Southern Poverty Law Center classify as a white nationalist.

According to WhoIs records, Kirkegaard was the registrant of the website for UISR’s journal Mankind Quarterly between 2017 and February 2023, after which the WhoIs were anonymized. Mankind Quarterly, which like UISR was funded by the white nationalist Pioneer Fundis widely held to be a cornerstone in the recent resurgence of scientific racism.

Kirkegaard is the founder of OpenPsych network, whose journals were describe as “pseudo-scientific vehicles for scientific racism”.

Michael Woodley has a PhD in ecology, and although he claimed an academic affiliation when the paper was published, he can no longer do so. The British-born author came broad public attention when a paper in which he claimed that humans can be divided into subspecies was quoted in the manifesto of the mass shooter who killed 10 Black people outside a supermarket in Buffalo, New York in May 2022.

After the connection between Woodley’s work and the mass shooting came to light, hundreds of academics signed a petition calling for Woodley to be stripped of his academic affiliation at Belgium’s Vrije Universiteit Brussels, with a petition organizer who the New York Times told of Woodley’s “history of spreading racist, white supremacist theories”.

At the time, Woodley also claimed a connection to the Unz Foundation, which is funded by Californian software entrepreneur Ron Unz, who also publishes the Unz Review. In 2018 the Anti-Defamation League showed Unz Review’s “increasingly racist and anti-Semitic content,” in a year in which Unz himself “denied the Holocaust, endorsed the claim that Jews consume the blood of non-Jews … claimed that Jews control the media, non-Jews hate, and worship Satan”.

The other co-author, Curtis S Dunkel, is a psychologist who was affiliated with Western Illinois University (WIU) on the paper, but is billed as an independent researcher on recent publications and on the ResearchGate website. The Guardian has contacted WIU for clarification. A spokesperson said: “Curtis Dunkel is no longer an employee at WIU”, adding: “I cannot comment on the reason for his departure.”

Dunkel spoke with Kirkegaard and Woodley at the London Conference on Intelligence (LCI) in 2016, according to leaked conference schedules. Dunkel’s paper was entitled Sex Differences in Brain Size Do Translate into Difference in General Intelligence, and the abstract indicates that Dunkel claimed that women were less intelligent than men by an equivalent of an average of 4 IQ points.

The LCI conference was held in secret at University College London (UCL) between 2014 and 2017. After news of the conference’s existence – and the extremist nature of its content – was reported in 2018 by a British magazine and London Student, the UCL student newspaper. , This erupted in a mainstream media scandal. UCL rejected the conference.

A white stone building with pillars and a dome.
University College London, seen here on August 2, 2013, in London, UK, hosted the London Conference on Intelligence 2014-2017. Photo: peterspiro/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The London Student noted that 82% of known LCI attendees wrote for Mankind Quarterly, the scientific-racist journal.

Pallesen co-authored several papers with Woodley, Kirkegaard and others published in Mankind Quarterly or appearing at LCI, including Heiner Rindermann and Noah Carl. These co-authors and others like Satoshi Kanazawa have faced scandals arising from their research activities.

Asked if this network is trying to revive scientific racism, Panofsky, the UCLA professor, said: “Absolutely. It has long been a movement in the sense that there has always been a small group of scientists who have worked and coordinated very closely to keep it alive.

“There was a kind of generational turnover,” he added. “Kirkegaard is kind of one of the central figures in a network that is trying to reconstitute this movement and to connect it with far-right politics.”

The Guardian emailed Pallesen on the email provided on his resume with questions about criticism of his statistical work, the extremist entanglement of his associates and how he would characterize his own political beliefs.

He responded by effectively disavowing what he called “the Jewish paper”, claiming: “I only helped with a sub-part of the data work. I did not design the method, co-write the paper or the does not support its conclusions.”

He added: “I agree with the criticism that the paper is flawed in its methods and conclusions. I wrote to the journal and asked if they could withdraw my name from the paper.”

About his beliefs, Pallesen wrote: “I am not a white nationalist, a scientific racist or any kind of racist. I would describe myself as interested in good science.”

When pressed about why he allowed his name to be added to a paper he disagreed with, Pallesen responded with a line he attributed to ChatGPT, the AI ​​chat app: “In the context of scientific publication co-authorship should be based on contribution to the research, not necessarily in accordance with the final conclusions of the paper.”

However, Pallesen did not answer questions about posts on his X account, raising doubts about his denial of racism and scientific racism.

In recent months, he has posted views including that “Non-Western Migration for Northern European countries is morally indefensible”; “Black men have have become less criminal, but are still much more criminal than whites”; and “Even illegal immigrants can see the damage immigration is doing to Danish society”.

In addition to the interview with Rufo and City Journal, Pallesen was featured as an expert by outlets such as the Daily caller and the Daily mail.

Rufo’s pursuit of Gay is widely credited to help bring about her resignation.

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