Kanazawa Apologizes for "Black Unattractiveness" Article, Apparently Gets to Keep Job

Kanazawa apologizes. It's not enough.

Posted Sep 16, 2011

Looks like Satoshi Kanazawa will get to keep his job. 

If you missed the controversy back in May and want all the details, you can read my original post on this topic, but the short version is that Kanazawa, who was then a Psychology Today blogger, wrote a piece called Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?  In the post, Kanazawa claimed to present "objective" data to support the claim the Black women (but not Black men) were less attractive than women of other racial groups. This post was removed from the Psychology Today site, but interested readers can find the original post here.

Anyway, the just-released statement by the London School of Economics is likely the final word on a controversy that first came to public attention in mid-May and led to Psychology Today dropping Kanazawa from its blogger list a few weeks later. According to the statement, the London School of Economics' internal review and disciplinary hearing concluded that "some of the assertions put forward in the blog post were flawed and would have benefited from more rigorous academic scrutiny....[and] the author ignored the basic responsibility of a scientific communicator to qualify claims made in proportion to the certainty of the evidence." 

As a result of these findings, the committee determined that "Kanazawa must refrain from publishing in all non-peer reviewed outlets for a year [and]... will not be teaching any compulsory courses in the School for this academic year."

Also released by the London School is a copy of Kanazawa's apology to LSE Director Professor Judith Rees. In the apology, Kanazawa wrote as follows:  

In retrospect, I should have been more careful in selecting the title of the blog post and the language that I used to express my ideas. In the aftermath of its publication, and from all the criticisms that I have received, I have learned that some of my arguments may have been flawed and not supported by the available evidence. In my blog post, I did not give due consideration to my approach to the interpretation of the data and my use of language. [read full apology...]

In another part of the apology, Kanazawa promised not to do it again. "I give you my solemn word that in the future I will give more consideration to the approach to my work and I will never again do anything to damage the reputation of the School," he wrote in the letter's last sentence. 

On the surface, Kanazawa's apology seemed appropriately specific and contrite. He admitted to most of the main criticisms leveled against him and expressed a commitment to not engage in similar actions in the future. 

So, why do I feel entirely dissatisfied with both the letter and the outcome?

I think part of the reason is that the apology came four months after the original article, even though the criticism and public outcry began immediately. Though the statement from the London School does not say so explicitly, the timing of the apology suggests that it was forced by Kanazawa's employer. In other words, it wasn't voluntary. And if it wasn't voluntary, then why should we have any confidence that it was sincere, rather than instrumental?

Also troubling me is the fact that the apology was to his employer, not to the Black women he insulted or to the readers he misled. Yes, the London School of Economics was harmed by his action, but so were these other parties, and, unlike the London School, these groups don't have the power to force Kanazawa to do what they want.

When they are given with an open heart and perceived as sincere, apologies are powerful restorative acts. They don't undo or fix the harm originally done, but they can restore connection and begin the healing process. Unfortunately, Kanazawa's letter doesn't exude that genuine vibe. I'm not a mind-reader and don't pretend to know what is in his heart and mind, but, like many others, I've learned to read between the lines:

There's an axiom in the field of restorative justice that the more voluntary the action, the more restorative the result. It's possible that other actions may follow, but this first attempt at an apology is not at all restorative to my ears.

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