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Nathan Cofnas

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Nathan Cofnas is an American philosopher and PhD Candidate in Philosophy at Oxford University. He is known for controversies surrounding his debate with Kevin B. MacDonald and a paper titled "Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry".[1]

Controversy surrounding debate with MacDonald[edit]

In March 2018, Cofnas published a critique of Kevin B. MacDonald's anti-semitic, white supremacist conspiracy theories in the journal Human Nature where he concluded that MacDonald relied "on systematically misrepresented sources and cherry-picked facts".[2] The paper was popular, being downloaded more in a single month than the rest of the journal's articles typically get in a full year.[3] Cofnas' article prompted a response defending MacDonald from Edward Dutton, a theologian and anthropologist affiliated with eugenicist Richard Lynn's Ulster Institute for Social Research (which also published Cofnas's now withdrawn 2012 book).[4] Dutton's response was rejected by Human Nature, and was instead published by Evolutionary Psychological Science.[5] The attention prompted by Cofnas's paper was itself commented on. Anthropologist Robert Boyd of Arizona State University described the topic itself as "totally toxic", Steven Pinker described MacDonald's and Dutton's arguments as "extraordinarily weak", while Aryeh Tuchman of the Anti-Defamation League said that the renewed attention falsely implied that MacDonald's antisemitic tropes have academic legitimacy.[3]

Controversial paper in Philosophical Psychology[edit]

In December 2019 Cofnas published a paper defending the study of group differences in intelligence in the journal Philosophical Psychology. As reported in Times Higher Education, an editors' note "acknowledges that the article 'certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ', but says its inclusion was based on 'philosophical and scientific merit, rather than ideological conformity'".[6]

A petition spearheaded by Mark Alfano, Associate Professor of philosophy at Macquarie University, argued that Cofnas’s paper “disingenuously argues that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics,” and asked the editors of Philosophical Psychology for an "apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three)".[7]

An article in Inside Higher Ed discussed the controversy, quoting biologist Joseph L. Graves as stating that there would not be a problem with Cofnas' defense of free inquiry if it were "being done in a way that adheres to what we really know about the genetics of complex traits," but that instead the paper is predicated on unrealistic assumptions which would require researchers to "grow human beings in controlled ways" in order to even assess.[7] Cofnas, for his part, is quoted as saying, "I wrote about this because it's important, and if we fail to deal with these issues I believe the long-term consequences could be disastrous".[7] Philosophical Psychology editor Cees van Leeuwen resigned in protest after an internal dispute concerning the publication of a criticism of the editors' decision to publish Cofnas' article.[8]


  1. Weinberg, Justin (20 January 2020). "Scholars Object to Publication of Paper Defending Race Science". Daily Nous.
  2. Cofnas, Nathan (2019-03-01). "Is Kevin MacDonald's Theory of Judaism "Plausible"? A Response to Dutton (2018)". Evolutionary Psychological Science. 5 (1): 143–150. doi:10.1007/s40806-018-0162-8. ISSN 2198-9885.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Schulson, Michael (June 27, 2018). "Kevin MacDonald and the Elevation of Anti-Semitic Pseudoscience". Undark. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  4. Woodley, Michael A. (January 2013). "Reptiles with a Conscience: The Coevolution of Religious and Moral Doctrine. By Nathan Cofnas. Pp. 523. (Ulster Institute for Social Research Press, London, 2012.) £30.00, ISBN 978-0-9568811-5-1, paperback". Journal of Biosocial Science. 45 (1): 141–143. doi:10.1017/S0021932012000351. ISSN 1469-7599.
  5. Dutton, Edward (2019). "Jewish Group Evolutionary Strategy Is the Most Plausible Hypothesis: a Response to Nathan Cofnas' Critical Analysis of Kevin MacDonald's Theory of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth Century Ideological Movements". Evolutionary Psychological Science. 5 (1): 136–142. doi:10.1007/s40806-018-0158-4.
  6. Grove, Jack (2020-02-04). "Philosophers Clash over Race Science Paper". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Flaherty, Colleen (2020-01-23). "An Intelligent Argument on Race?". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  8. Weinberg, Justin (2020-06-24). "Controversy at Philosophical Psychology Leads to Editor's Resignation". Daily Nous. Retrieved 2020-06-25.

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