EAPS department’s annual Carlson conference canceled due to comments from speaker Dorian Abbot on DCI


Abbot remains invited to present its scientific work to MIT via “alternative forums”

Head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) Robert van der Hilst has canceled the department’s annual John Carlson lecture due to controversy surrounding guest speaker Professor Dorian Abbot from the University of Chicago, and his views on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI) in academia.

Abbot remains invited to speak at MIT and present his scientific work to the EAPS department.

The Carlson Conference is organized by the Lorenz Center and aims to “communicate exciting new results in climate science to the general public”.

The directors of the Lorenz Center, Professors Kerry Emanuel PhD ’78 and Daniel Rothman, wrote in an email to Technology that they invited Abbot in January 2020 to deliver the “Climate and Life Potential on Other Planets” talk for the Carlson 2020 conference, which did not take place due to coronavirus restrictions.

Since being invited, Abbot has made his voice heard criticizing DCI’s academic efforts through editorials, interviews and now-deleted YouTube videos.

In a News week Editorial titled “The Diversity Problem on Campus,” published in August 2021, co-authors Abbot and Stanford professor Iván Marinovic wrote that DCI in academia seeks to increase the representation of certain groups through discrimination against members of other groups, violates the ethics and legal principle of equal treatment, undermines the mission of the university and undermines public confidence in universities and their graduates.

Abbot and Marinovic further stated in the editorial that 90 years ago Germany had the best universities until “a race-obsessed ideological regime came to power and ousted many of the best. academics, emptying the faculties and leading to lasting decadence, “in reference to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

They wrote that it is a “warning of the consequences of seeing group membership as more important than merit, and correcting our course before it is too late.”

After Abbot posted YouTube videos similarly critical of DCI in November 2020, members of the geophysical science community at the University of Chicago wrote a letter calling on faculty to, among other actions, denounce the videos. Abbot and the views represented. In response, the President of the University of Chicago, Robert Zimmer, issued a statement on faculty, freedom of expression and diversity to members of the academic community, writing that “faculty are free to be d agree or disagree with any University policy or approach. [of Chicago] … Without being subject to disciplinary measures, reprimands or other forms of punishment ”while reiterating the university’s commitment to strengthen its DCI initiatives.

After Abbot’s statements and views on DCI became widely known within MIT’s EAPS department, in part due to the social media posting by students, a push began in late September for that EAPS is reconsidering its invitation to Abbot to host the Carlson 2021 conference, culminating in the September 30 decision to cancel the conference.

EAPS master’s student Megan Guenther MS ’22 said in an interview with Technology this intra-ministerial discussion regarding Abbot focused on whether the EAPS should allow “someone who does not match our values ​​to represent the department” at the “open to the public” Carlson conference.

Van der Hilst said in an interview with Technology that “the abbot’s comments are deeply offensive, but within the framework of his freedom of expression. On the other hand, it puts a damper on what he is trying to do, which is to open a conversation about these issues. It is inflammatory, polarizing, and the opposite to create space for a respectful dialogue that we badly need; this gives the impression that under-represented groups have no place in STEM.

Van der Hilst added that “it is important to have speakers who are outstanding scientists and role models to make outreach events like the Carlson Conference effective” and that “we felt that we could not achieve these goals. This year “.

In response to the cancellation, Abbot wrote in an op-ed for Common Sense with Bari Weiss that a “Twitter crowd” of MIT students, postdoctoral fellows and alumni successfully demanded that he not. not invited and that the department “gave in so quickly.”

Abbot wrote in an email to Technology that “we cannot allow small groups of aggressive political activists to decide who is allowed to say what and where they can say it” and that “it is very important that people understand how cancellations are made and how scary they are to open a speech. “

The cancellation of the Carlson conference received widespread and often critical media coverage from sources such as the New York Post, News week, The Boston Globe, and Atlantic.

Van der Hilst said Technology that there are many misconceptions about the Carlson Conference decision, for example that a “Twitter mob” affected the decision making and that Abbot was “canceled”.

In an email to the department announcing its decision regarding the Carlson lecture, van der Hilst wrote that “Prof. Abbot’s scientific research remains of interest to many in the department, and the Lorenz Center will work with him to identify alternative forums in which to present his scientific work at MIT.

Van der Hilst noted in the interview with Technology that he had an initial “very cordial” conversation with Abbot upon the announcement of the decision and that Abbot had a meeting with representatives of the EAPS on October 12 to finalize an alternative date and format for his departmental interview at MIT.

Princeton’s James Madison program has since offered to host Abbot’s conference Oct. 21 at 4:30 p.m. on Zoom, the same date and time scheduled for the Carlson conference.

Thousands of people signed up for Abbot’s conference, leading organizers to request an extension of Zoom’s attendee limit to accommodate more people.

Juliana Drozd ’22, undergraduate of EAPS, said in an interview with Technology that the abbot “took advantage of the situation” and that all the publicity “amplified his voice”.

Princeton Professor and James Madison Program Director Robert George wrote in an email to Technology that “those responsible for canceling Professor Abbot’s Carlson lecture should be ashamed of themselves” and that “they threw overboard the fundamentals of academic freedom and academic integrity.”

“We further believe that every institution of higher education in the United States has an interest in preserving academic freedom at all other institutions,” George wrote.

“Abbot is welcome on campus to speak, and we can engage and discuss science and other issues that arise,” van der Hilst said.

Although the abbot asked in a Tweeter Let no one attack the “campaigners” against him, many members of the EAPS community who have publicly discussed the situation on social media have since been the target of harassment.

Van der Hilst said he was “appalled” that members of the EAPS community were singled out and that threats and threatening words were communicated to MIT police.

Towards the end of 2019, EAPS tasked Taskforce 2023 to conduct departmental surveys, organize workshops and assess other departments or institutions in order to make recommendations on, among other things, DCI’s efforts.

EAPS has since pledged to expand DCI’s efforts by appointing Professor David McGee as EAPS Associate Department Head for DCI to chair the DCI EAPS Committee and build on the work being done by the Diversity Council of the ‘EAPS, Taskforce 2023, WiXII (Women in Course 12), TIDE (Toward Developing Diversity in EAPS), and the students who wrote the EAPS DCI action plan in June 2020.

Van der Hilst again pledged to support DCI’s efforts in an email to the department on September 17, 2021 following the resignation of EAPS-affiliated Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research scientist Dr Erin Fischell PhD ’15, citing a “hostile and toxic work environment”.

Van der Hilst wrote that “we remain committed as individuals and as heads of departments with the goal of creating a department based on respect, inclusion, belonging and fairness for all of its members. , as outlined in our EAPS Community Principles ”.


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