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Academic Freedom To Deny the Truth: Beyond the Holocaust

By Robert M. O’Neil. Full text here.

The concept of academic freedom is so widely accepted and well established that it may even subvert a commitment to truth, and this freedom cannot be casually disregarded despite a speaker’s dissonance with scientific precept. So it was with Myron Ebell, then-President-elect Trump’s choice to lead the EPA transition team, despite the nearly universal disdain for his unconventional views on environmental issues. His espousal of wholly discredited views about global warming and climate change might nevertheless warrant some deference. As an academic—although not a scientist—Ebell’s views are arguably entitled to deference through the doctrine of academic freedom, no matter how far they stray from common sense or the pursuit of truth.

This Article explores the concept of academic freedom within a small but notable group of widely quoted and publicized “deniers.” That group includes, for example, a handful of widely discredited academics who consistently deny the existence of events such as the Holocaust and mass shootings. Such figures can incite controversy within the scholarly community over the scope of protection afforded by the concept of academic freedom. Through case studies of notable “deniers,” this Article surveys truth denial in academic spaces, examining both instances of denial and the varied reactions to it by academic administrations. It then highlights several critical distinctions between these instances of truth denial and concludes with an examination of several other troubling academic freedom scenarios.