An American professor’s “impulsive” tweet correlating obesity with the ability to do a PhD has led to some interesting developments.
On Sunday, the scientific community on Twitter was abuzz with reactions to a rather strange tweet posted by @matingminds.
“Dear obese PhD applicants,” said the tweet, “If you don't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.”
Now perhaps if @matingminds was just another fat-shamer on Twitter, it would’ve gone unnoticed. But he isn’t. @matingminds is a well known evolutionary psychologist named Geoffrey Miller.
After a wave of outrage in the following hours, Miller deleted the tweet and apologised for his “idiotic, impulsive, and badly judged tweet,” but the damage it seems was done.
What people found especially disturbing was the fact that Miller is a professor at University of New Mexico and New York University, and has – according to his CV – served on admission committees before.
This means that Miller has in the past held the responsibility of admitting/rejecting student applications. Has body shape been one of his criteria all along? At least that’s what some of his peers and fellow academics are worried about.
And that was the essence of the email written by Chris Chambers, Cardiff University-based psychologist and neuroscientist.
“I would like to know the extent to which this statement reflects the policy of UNM psychology regarding the appointment criteria for PhD students… I would also like to know what assurances you can provide that his previous student appointments were not based upon the body mass index of applicants,” Chambers says in his email to the University of New Mexico on Monday.
There was an overwhelming support for Chambers on Twitter, and he has promised to post UNM’s response to it, if they do respond that is.
As of now UNM has only posted a general response on their website, in which they reassure that Miller’s tweet “in no way reflects the poli¬cies or admis¬sion stan¬dards of UNM.” They also say that Miller insists that the tweet “was part of a research project” – a claim that the Twitter community is understandably sceptical about.
I say “understandably sceptical” because Geoffrey Miller is not new to criticism. He is known as a prominent supporter of a particularly controversial field of science called “eugenics”.
Wikipedia calls eugenics a bio-social movement that “practices to improve the genetic composition of a population, usually a human population.”
Basically the movement suggests that we encourage people with more desirable traits to reproduce, and reduce lesser desirable traits to produce offspring. The idea is that eventually the human gene pool can filter out unwanted traits like low intelligence, or physical unfitness.
The idea is absurd on several levels, but proponents of eugenics like Geoffrey Miller (whose book The Mating Mind is about a phenomenon called sexual selection) call the Western world “stupid” and “short-sighted” to “nurse their anti-hereditarian political correctness to the bitter end”—all opinions that have made Miller quite unpopular in some circles.
It appears today, that Miller has locked his Twitter account. Unless he approves your request to follow him, you can’t access his tweets.
Existing followers may be relieved to know they are still free to unfollow him.
(Nandita Jayaraj writes about her encounters with the strange and interesting. You can send her feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also tweet her @nandita_j)