Professors Disown Their Research on Police Shootings After It Was Cited by Heather Mac Donald

Michigan State prof joseph cesario
Michigan State University

Michigan State professor Joseph Cesario and University of Maryland professor David Johnson retracted their own research into racial disparities in fatal police shootings after conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald cited their research in her writing.

According to Mac Donald’s column in the Wall Street Journal, two researchers at the University of Maryland have essentially disavowed their own study on racial disparities in fatal police shootings after it was cited by her in her own writing on the matter.

Professor Joseph Cesario of Michigan State University and David Johnson of the University of Maryland published research based on data from 2015 that concluded that there was no evidence that race played a role in fatal police shootings.

When Mac Donald quoted the research in an op-ed on June 3, it ignited a controversy at Michigan State University. Michigan State University Professor Stephen Hsu was removed from his position as vice president for research and innovations, in part, over his decision to approve funding for the controversial research on police shootings.

My June 3 Journal op-ed quoted the PNAS article’s conclusion verbatim. It set off a firestorm at Michigan State. The university’s Graduate Employees Union pressured the MSU press office to apologize for the “harm it caused” by mentioning my article in a newsletter. The union targeted physicist Steve Hsu, who had approved funding for Mr. Cesario’s research. MSU sacked Mr. Hsu from his administrative position. PNAS editorialized that Messrs. Cesario and Johnson had “poorly framed” their article—the one that got through the journal’s three levels of editorial and peer review.
In response to the controversy, Cesario and Johnson retracted their paper. Both researchers claimed that their retraction was based on “misuse” of the study’s findings by Mac Donald.
Mr. Cesario told this page that Mr. Hsu’s dismissal could narrow the “kinds of topics people can talk about, or what kinds of conclusions people can come to.” Now he and Mr. Johnson have themselves jeopardized the possibility of politically neutral scholarship. On Monday they retracted their paper. They say they stand behind its conclusion and statistical approach but complain about its “misuse,” specifically mentioning my op-eds.
Mac Donald argued that the retraction signals a concerning trend in academia towards blind acceptance of progressive dogma. “If scientists must disavow their findings because they challenge reigning orthodoxies, then those orthodoxies will prevail even when they are wrong,” Mac Donald finished.

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