There are few conversations more dangerous, more riddled with landmines, than the seemingly innocuous subject of sexual dimorphism. Despite mountains of evidence, ideologues in pursuit of equity will go so far as to say that not even biological differences exist between the sexes. But in this subject, there is one topic above all others that could spell the end of an otherwise bright and successful career: the Greater Male Variability Hypothesis. Those who dare write on the subject find themselves the target of surreal campaigns to have their works erased from journals without review or comment, and their lives judged by courts of public opinion which refuse to let the defendant speak in his own defense, or even hear what is being said about him. If one dares question the intersectional feminist narrative in academia, their works and their lives are at great risk of being dropped down a memory-hole.
This was the experience of Theodore Hill, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Georgia Tech, after he sought to find scientific explanation for why males in many species are more variable than their female counterparts. A few months before James Damore had his memo on Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, based partly on the variability hypothesis, twisted out of context to be sure he was fired for wrongthink, Hill began working on a simple mathematical argument, based in biology and evolutionary theory, as to why such variability would exist. What should have been an otherwise uncontroversial and straightforward journal publication, though, would soon cross the eyes of a censorious ideologue, leading to months of attacks on everyone who had so much as seen the publication, ending with the article being shoved down a memory hole, so that it should never be seen again.
A memory-hole is a small chute leading to an incinerator, from George Orwell’s oft-quoted 1984. Winston Smith, the protagonist of the story, describes them as follows:
In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.
The metaphor is quite clear: it is censorship, the destruction and removal of any information contrary to the interests of those in power. The memory hole, in Professor Hill’s case, took the form of women harassing and threating the journals which intended to publish the paper, and the people who had worked with the professor on the paper. It began with the Penn State chapter of Women in Mathematics, who had written to his co-author, Sergei Tabachnikov. They warned that publishing the article could “be damaging to the aspirations of impressionable young women,” who might “see someone wielding the authority of mathematics to support a very controversial, and potentially sexist, set of ideas.”
For many of us, the language used by the Women in Mathematics is quite familiar. It grew into a scandal where Tabachnikov was harassed until he had no choice but to remove his name from the publication. Accusations of bias, sexism, and even parallels to academic racism were levied against him, and his career was put at risk. When Hill wrote to the Women in Mathematics to address any of their concerns over the logic or conclusions of the paper, however, none responded.
Within a few days, the foundation which had funded the research requested their name be removed from the paper. The journal which had previously accepted the paper for publication rescinded that acceptance. One of the women in the University of Chicago’s chapter of Women in Mathematics named Amie Wilkinson, Hill would later learn through Freedom of Information requests, had made it her personal goal to assure this paper would never see the light of day. “Mathematicians,” as Hill wrote in his article for Quillete looking back at the events of the past year, “are usually thrilled if even five people in the world read [their] latest article. Now some progressive faction was worried that a fairly straightforward logical argument about male variability might encourage the conservative press to actually read and cite a science paper?”
But as Hill would later find out, the paper wasn’t rejected over a logical argument. Amie Wilkinson had written to the journal to complain, without having ever read the paper herself. Instead, she had her father – a statistician – write a strongly-worded letter dismissing the article. She began a campaign of condemning the journal and its editor-in-chief on Facebook, inciting her friends to action against the journal long after the paper’s acceptance had been rescinded. Eventually, just to prevent this one woman from destroying the lives of others over a single publication, everyone had no choice but to back out.
And it would happen again with a second journal. The editor of the New York Journal of Mathematics reached out to Hill, having heard about the paper from Tabachnikov, asked him to produce a new draft for publication and he quickly submitted it. The paper was refereed quickly, and set to be published in the 23rd volume of the journal. But within a week, the paper had vanished. Instead, a completely different paper, by completely different authors was found where his article had originally been published. The use of the word “memory-hole” has been no exaggeration; there was no rescinding notice. There was no public disclosure of retraction. His paper had just been disappeared from publication, and he was now unable to sign a copyright form asserting the paper had not been published elsewhere.
Amie Wilkinson had her husband write a defamatory letter filled with falsehoods to the editor of the New York Journal of Mathematics, accusing the editor of “violating a scientific duty for purely political ends” by publishing Hill’s paper. Wilkinson and her husband contacted half of the members of the board of directors at the New York Journal of Mathematics, convincing them to say they would leave the board and harass the journal until it died, if the editor did not pull the article. “Faced with the loss of his own scientific legacy,” Hill writes, “he had capitulated. ‘A publication in a dead journal,’ the editor offered, ‘wouldn’t help you.’”
But the attacks did not end there. Wilkinson maintained her campaign of social destruction on social media. When Hill wrote to the President of the University of Chicago to complain about Wilkinson’s misconduct, it was turned against him without consideration, twice. Once described as the “Free Speech University,” the University of Chicago was now protecting a woman whose primary goal was the censorship and bullying of the ideas held by someone with whom she disagrees.
When a person in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was purged, it was not uncommon for Stalin to direct his censors to remove people from photos, and destroy every copy of the original photo. History would be rewritten, to assure that person did not exist. One of the most famous cases of this was the so-called Vanishing Commissar, Nikolai Yezhov. The loyal Bolshevik was a friend of Stalin’s, and rose through the ranks of the Party until he became a secretary in the Central Committee. He even authored the paper which became the ideological basis for Stalin’s Purges, before being promoted to People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs, the head of the NKVD. And after directing others to arrest or murder hundreds of thousands of people, he was soon accused of disloyalty, and was purged himself. Not long after, he began disappearing from photos taken with Stalin. He was nearly disappeared from history, through censorship and terror.
These days, censorship puts on a much prettier face. The terror is not of gulags, but of losing one’s livelihood and reputation to accusations of bigotry – one cannot be employed in many highly-skilled fields, once they have received that black mark. And if they cannot go after you, they will go after anyone connected to you; your family, your friends, your co-workers, even a publication which has promoted your work in the past will be targeted until they repent for being associated with a heretic. But academics are nonetheless censored. Forbidden knowledge cannot be discussed; the mere mention of the difference between males and females could spell the end of an academic journal. And we are all the lesser for it.
(Prof Hill’s paper was eventually uploaded to the Cornell University archive system, known as arXiv. It can be found here: An Evolutionary Theory for the Variability Hypothesis)