Nature shouldn’t have apologized for their editorial

I didn’t fully agree with Nature‘s editorial this week, which argued that instead of removing statues of scientists who did cruel or racist things, we should leave them up, and add plaques discussing why those scientists are problematic.

But I hate the response to the editorial even more. People called it offensive and said it shouldn’t have been printed, and Nature quickly capitulated:

“The original version of this article was offensive… we apologise for the original article and are taking steps to ensure that we do not make similar mistakes in the future.”

The editorial was “offensive”? Really? Can’t people just argue it was wrong, or misguided, or neglected considerations X, Y, and Z? Why do we have to label it “offensive” and say it never should’ve been printed in the first place?

I’m not claiming that it’s never valid to object to something for being offensive. If someone’s outright defending racism, then yeah, call that offensive and decry the publication that printed it.

But if someone simply has a different opinion from you about the correct way to fight racism, and we decry that with the same fervour that we formerly used to decry racism itself… that’s defining the boundaries of “opinions that reasonable people are allowed to voice in public” incredibly narrowly, in a way that makes me nervous.