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Presidential Letter

June 19, 2017

Dear Colleagues,

Recent weeks and months have seen an increase in the cultural tensions in our nation—and, indeed, the world. It is not uncommon now for disagreements to escalate quickly into verbal attacks, threats of violence, and even—as recently took place in Washington, DC—actual violence. Unquestionably, this tendency has been facilitated by social media. But our digital media are only a means or instrument. More troubling is the mentality fueling the rush to attack, across the political spectrum; and that is an unwillingness to verify information, weigh arguments, and attempt to make independent, rationally-grounded judgments. These habits of mind are the very bedrock of learning and of scholarship; they are the principles on which the SCS, as a learned society, is founded and which we have a duty to uphold and protect.

We are now aware that several of our colleagues have been subjected to personal, verbal attacks and even to threats of violence on account of their scholarly views—or, in some cases, a distortion of their expressed views. Certainly, heated discussion and debate are desirable in scholarly discourse; personal abuse and violent threats have no place. In such a charged environment, some may feel hesitant even to engage in the activity of forming and testing hypotheses, activity without which new understandings cannot be created. In this respect a “chilling effect” is tantamount to freezing out the advancement of knowledge.

As a matter of solidarity with and support for colleagues who have been threatened for their scholarship or who fear threat, I am writing to re-assert the public statement issued late last year, in which our Board clearly expressed the values and principles of the SCS:

S. Georgia Nugent