Of course in a free country people can express such views as that this or that student is stupid. But they ought not to do so, especially when there is a chance they might be overheard. And one reason why they ought not is that, as Saul says, it is bad for philosophy. (There are words people can use other than 'stupid,' I mean, and a Princeton graduate student is unlikely to be stupid in fact.)In an essay on implicit bias in the forthcoming book “What Needs to Change: Women in Philosophy,” Ms. Saul recalled the terror of overhearing faculty members at Princeton, where she earned her Ph.D., casually sort graduate students into “smart” versus merely hard-working — or worse, “stupid.”Women, she said, are more likely to be categorized as “stupid,” to the detriment of the field as a whole.Fear of being labeled not smart “is bad for philosophy,” Ms. Saul said. “It makes you not want to take risks.”
The second example is from a Financial Times article on climate science. The whole thing is well worth reading, but this part stood out to me:
In the wake of the “Climategate” and “Glaciergate” controversies four years ago, a raft of inquiries eventually found no evidence of serious wrongdoing, let alone anything to raise doubts about the IPCC’s conclusions. But the scientists remain the target of a vigorous group of critics sceptical about their work. They have been branded “criminals” (Britain’s Lord Monckton) guilty of “massive international scientific fraud” (US senator James Sensenbrenner) who should commit “hara-kiri” (US pundit Glenn Beck) for duping the world with “snake oil” (former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin).
Free speech is one thing, but the free market in opinions has an ugly downside (although I don't know that Beck's and Palin's positions can even be called opinions, i.e. things they actually believe). It might be the least bad way to do things, but there is a lot to be said for rational and civil debate (and for good old-fashioned shutting up) rather than the (conscious or otherwise) manipulation of opinion through rhetoric and the abuse of access to a large audience.This has had an impact on the people doing this latest IPCC assessment, according to several of the scientists interviewed for this article. “I see it in the tension in the author team,” as they check, recheck, then check again all their work, said David Vaughan. “I think there is a point at which that kind of stress can become difficult to manage,” he added, explaining it has made IPCC work “a very cumbersome, slow process”.