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Who's in the Video

Debra Mashek

Debra Mashek is the executive director of Heterodox Academy, a non-partisan non-profit organization that promotes open inquiry in higher education. Mashek was previously a tenured full-professor at Harvey Mudd College,[…]
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Charles Koch Foundation

DEBRA MASHEK: A question that comes up about open letters or letters of denunciation. So if a scholar had said something in her or his work or if it's been used in a way by an external organization that some other set of scholars objects to those scholars are absolutely welcome to share their critiques. But a couple of conditions should be met. First of all, the scholars who choose to put their name on that letter should have actually read and understood what the original source material was saying. Ideally they should also be within the same subject area so they have the expertise to interrogate those claims with authenticity.

There was one recently. Noah Carl was a postdoc fellow at Oxford and his work had been used by some outside organizations. And before you know it this letter comes out denouncing his work signed by hundreds of scholars. We went through and spot checked and most of those scholars were actually not within his area of research. This letter came out so incredibly quickly that I question whether the people who chose to share, to actually put their names behind the claims of the denunciation letter had done the difficult scholarly work of reading and thinking about what Carl had actually said in his work. And then some of the claims in the letter actually didn't line up with what we were able - when we did our close reading of what was in his work we weren't able to see justification for those claims.

Letters are certainly a form of scholarly engagement. It's a way to raise concern and critique, but we need to engage in those with the same ethical principles we would in other scholarly discourse.