BRUSSELS A researcher claims there has been an IQ decline in France linked to large-scale migration from North Africa. He has co-written a book about the global decline of intelligence, stating a relationship between ethnicity and cognitive abilities. And he argues that humans can be divided into subspecies, a cornerstone of white supremacist ideology.
He was also cited, among other academic references, in a manifesto written by the teenager motivated by racist views who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, last month.
Despite his own extreme views, the researcher, Michael Woodley a 38-year-old British man has been affiliated with Vrije Universiteit Brussel, one of Belgiums leading universities, and his controversial work was originally undertaken as he studied at some of the worlds most prestigious academic institutions.
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The discovery that the gunman had cited Woodleys work shocked many academics, who said they hoped it might now force institutions to confront questions about their responsibility toward society, academic rigor and the space they give to extremist ideas.
Alex Mas Sandoval, a Spanish researcher in population genetics at the University of Bologna, said he was appalled when he heard that the Buffalo gunman had tried to use science to justify his actions.
Scientists involved in the field of population genetics and other related areas were concerned about the misinterpretation of our findings, he said, adding that he had scrutinized the manifesto for all references to his field.
In most cases, the killer decontextualized scientific conclusions, he said. But, he added, one person cited by the gunman stood out for his extreme views: Woodley, whose expertise is in plant ecology but whose work also includes research in human genetics and intelligence.
Woodley has been explicitly racist, said Sandoval, who started an online petition to get the British researcher suspended and his doctoral degree revoked. Woodley has received degrees from Columbia University and from Royal Holloway, University of London. He has a history of spreading racist, white supremacist theories, Sandoval said, adding, He is questioning a consensus based on decades of research.
Vrije Universiteit Brussel last week suspended its relationship with Woodley after Sandoval started his petition and a Belgian newspaper published a story about the researcher. In a statement, the university said it was shocked that an element from a paper by Woodley had appeared in the manifesto of the Buffalo gunman. A scientific committee from the university will now investigate Woodleys work to decide on any further steps, it said.
Woodley declined to comment, but Francis Heylighen, director of the Leo Apostel Center, an interdisciplinary research institute at the university with which the British academic has been affiliated, described him as absolutely devastated by the turn of events.
Heylighen said the center did not have a position on Woodleys theories, as he has published dozens of highly technical articles in a variety of respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals, which people who lack the specific scientific expertise would find very hard to evaluate.
At the core of Woodleys article cited by the gunman is an argument that human beings can be scientifically divided into subspecies. One table in which he compared humans with a number of animal species, including jaguars and leopards, was used in the Buffalo gunmans manifesto.
Theories such as the one Woodley asserted have long been a mainstay of pseudoscientific attempts to justify slavery, colonialism and Nazism that have been widely rejected by contemporary mainstream academics.
Woodleys academic interests over the course of his career have been eclectic, including papers on ways to communicate with the dead and intelligence in parrots, in addition to human genetics and intelligence.
A spokesperson for Royal Holloway said that Woodley completed a doctorate in plant ecology there from 2007-11 and that his 2010 article referenced by the Buffalo gunman was written and published in a personal capacity. The article described the authors affiliation as School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London. Elsevier, a major, mainstream academic publisher that produced the journal that printed Woodleys article, declined to comment.
Angela Saini, a British journalist who wrote a book called Superior: The Return of Race Science, said Woodley was a fixture in a group of far-right academics she researched, centered on an academic journal called The Mankind Quarterly, which has been accused of promoting scientific racism and in which the researcher has been published.
I do think things have changed in recent years, partly because of political discourse, Saini said. And with the rise of ethnic nationalism and the far right, we have become more aware of just how risky, how dangerous these people are, she said, adding, They gained a huge following over the years.
Vrije Universiteit Brussel declined to answer questions about who began the relationship with Woodley in 2013 and for what purpose. According to the universitys records, Woodley was a speaker at a seminar in April, but the video of his appearance is missing from the official website, which features the recordings of the three other speakers.
And on Woodleys personal website, sections about his research and media appearances were removed over the past week.
Woodleys status as an affiliated researcher meant he was not paid by the Belgian university, and it remains unclear how he financed his work.
One of his papers mentions that funding was provided by the Unz Foundation, a nonprofit organization run by Ron Unz, a software entrepreneur. Unz founded The Unz Review, a far-right website criticized by the Anti-Defamation League as hosting racist and antisemitic content. Woodley refers to himself as an Unz Foundation Junior Fellow in several other publications.
Im independently funded, and the person who independently funds me is not going to withdraw my funding because Im involved in political research, Woodley told Stefan Molyneux, a white-supremacist blogger with whom he appeared in a video in 2019. As a matter of fact, hes more likely to give me more funding because of that, so Im very lucky.
Multiple Vrije Universiteit Brussel employees expressed outrage over the fact that no one at the university had raised the alarm over Woodleys views.
Karen Celis, a political scientist at the university, said she was shocked when she read Sandovals petition. It is the actual opposite of what we stand for, she said. It made me wonder: How come, if it was known in certain circles, the alarm bells did not go off?
She added: Our university stands for humanistic values: freedom, solidarity, justice, inclusion. We also stand for free research, but sometimes there is tension between the two, and to me, it is clear which side we have to stand on.
Our university stands for humanistic values: freedom, solidarity, justice, inclusion. We also stand for free research, but sometimes there is tension between the two, and to me, it is clear which side we have to stand on.
Facts and verifiable science don't matter to these dingbats.