The London School of Economics (LSE) has postponed a talk on welfare by a neurobiologist due to concerns that offended disability campaigners would cause disruption to the event. A disability rights group had said on Facebook that it planned to picket the talk.
Dr Adam Perkins, a lecturer in the neurobiology of personality at King’s College London was due to discuss his new book The Welfare Trait at an evening event at the university earlier this month. The talk was to be the latest in a series on the welfare state.
However, just days before the event was due to go ahead, the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights posted notice of the event on their Facebook page, along with the comment “Jesus wept: If ever there was an event to picket and protest – this is it”.
Shortly thereafter organisers at the LSE made the decision to pull the event, citing “negative social media activity.”
Dr Perkins’s book has been seen as controversial as it seeks to demonstrate that long term welfare claimants tend to be less conscientious than the average person, and tend to have a higher birth rate than in-work parents, leading to a generational habit of welfare dependency.
His solution is to limit welfare payments in a way that makes it impossible for non-working households to have large families – the book was written before the Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to limit child benefit to the first two children in a family, but the policies floated are in the same vein.
In a positive review of the book, The Adam Smith Institute called the text “courageous and carefully researched … teeming with novel insights and highly original sweeping syntheses”, although it noted: “The Welfare Trait has thus far attracted little media attention. This is perhaps a mercy. Were it to do so, its author, Dr Adam Perkins, would no doubt be forced to confront a howling hate mob outside his office twenty-four hours a day.”
Supporters of Black Triangle certainly seem to think Dr Perkins should be confronted, and have accused him of promoting eugenics. Posting on Facebook, one person suggested he be arrested for hate crimes, while ‘Jonny Reggae’ was somewhat alarmist, commenting: “this is the start of things to come.the dsabled [sic] are in the same group as asocial and unemployed.look at the history of concentration camps.it becomes a crime just to be in these categories.read the origins of totalitarianism,at very least the last couple of chapters.is frightening to see the similarity.the target groups are in sight”
Others on Twitter called the event “nauseating.”
Nauseating. This is how the further dismantling of welfare and demonisation of claimants will be justified.https://t.co/Y8Yrd0vUTQ
— Yours, Amelia. (@foxmuffins) February 3, 2016
Dr Perkins told The Telegraph that his talk was a victim of the clamp down on free speech currently being witnessed on university campuses, but he hoped it would go ahead in time.
“It was unfortunate that my lecture at the LSE was postponed,” he said, “but the leadership of the hosting department are committed to the free and open discussion of scientific data and have promised me it will be rescheduled.
“I must add – on a personal note – that all the LSE staff who helped organise my lecture on The Welfare Trait have been open-minded and helpful from the outset.
“Everything went smoothly until the last few days before the event when some threats of disruption were received. It is difficult to judge whether such threats would be carried out.”
He explained the central argument of his book was “that if we want a sustainable welfare state that provides a safety net during unemployment but without eroding work motivation, then we need to take account of discoveries from personality research”.
And he said that the message “went down smoothly, with no heckling or any other protests, at a book launch lecture in December at Kings College London”, adding: “with more time to organise the event, I expect the discussion at LSE to be no less free, open and productive”.
A spokesman for the LSE said: “The speaker and hosting department agreed to postpone the lecture for logistical reasons.
“The speaker and organisers were aware of some negative social media activity and the postponement is to ensure the safe and smooth running of the event, once it is rescheduled.”