Saturday, May 6, 2023

Science Is Dead, Long Live Science

John Sexton at Hat Hair writes 29 scientists wrote a paper defending merit in science. Science journals rejected it.

NY Times columnist Pamela Paul writes today about disturbing evidence that science won’t be spared from the long march of identity politics through our institutions. A group of 29 scientists including two Nobel laureates collaborated on a paper titled “In Defense of Merit in Science,” but major science journals rejected it.
A paper published last week, “In Defense of Merit in Science,” documents the disquieting ways in which research is increasingly informed by a politicized agenda, one that often characterizes science as fundamentally racist and in need of “decolonizing.” The authors argue that science should instead be independent, evidence-based and focused on advancing knowledge…

Yet the paper was rejected by several prominent mainstream journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Another publication that passed on the paper, the authors report, described some of its conclusions as “downright hurtful.” The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences took issue with the word “merit” in the title, writing that “the problem is that this concept of merit, as the authors surely know, has been widely and legitimately attacked as hollow as currently implemented.”…

“What’s being advocated are philosophies that are explicitly anti-scientific,” Anna Krylov, a chemistry professor at the University of Southern California and one of the paper’s authors, told me. “They deny that objective truth exists.” Having grown up in the Soviet Union, where science was infused with Marxist-Leninist ideology, Krylov is particularly attuned to such threats. And while she has advocated on behalf of equal treatment for women in science, she prefers to be judged on the basis of her achievements, not on her sex. “The merit of scientific theories and findings do not depend on the identity of the scientist,” she said in a phone interview.

Why did they need 29 scientists? Safety in numbers? 

The paper itself expands on that last idea, i.e. that science and its conclusions stand apart from the identity of scientists:
Scientific truths are universal and independent of the personal attributes of the scientist. Science knows no ethnicity, gender, or religion. Of course, by itself, universalism does not prevent the personal views of scientists, which are influenced by culture and society, from affecting the practice of science. Indeed, scientists have not always lived up to the ideals of fairness and impartiality in evaluating merit. In the past, scientific culture contributed to the exclusion of various groups from the scientific enterprise. For example, sexism limited women’s entry into science, and those who helped raise awareness of such issues have done science a service. However, the shortcomings of individuals or the community should not be confused with the science itself. Whether sexism prevented Cecilia Payne­-Gaposchkin from receiving credit for her conclusion that the Sun was made mostly of hydrogen is irrelevant to the fact that the Sun is made mostly of hydrogen. Although there are feminist critiques of how glaciologists have conducted themselves, there is no such thing as “feminist glaciology,” just as there is no “queer chemistry,” “Jewish physics,” “white mathematics,” “indigenous science,” or “feminist astronomy.” Glacial, physical, genetic, or prehistoric phenomena are independent of the positionality of the scientist. By prioritizing the truth value of scientific research, personal influences of individual scientists are minimized.
The paper also discusses the danger of allowing science to be dictated by political dogma, using an example from the Soviet Union.

Treading on thin ice there. Pointing out the flaws of the communist USSR won't win you any friends with the Marxists, although you can criticize Putin (a long time communist KGB man) until the cows come home, assuming they don't get nationalized.

In the Soviet Union (USSR), the aberrations of Trofim Lysenko had catastrophic consequences for science and society. An agronomist and “people’s scientist” who came from the “superior” class of poor peasants, Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics because of its supposed inconsistency with Marxist ideology. Dissent from Lysenko’s ideas was outlawed and his opponents were fired or prosecuted. Lysenko’s ideologically infused agricultural ideas were put into practice in the USSR and China, where, in both countries, they led to decreased crop yields and famine. Today, biology is again being subjugated to ideology—medical schools deny the biological basis of sex, biology courses avoid teaching the heritability of traits, and so on.
The paper goes on to offer some general criticisms of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) approaches to science.
CSJ-­driven pedagogy can be pernicious, even when proposed innovations appear benign. For example, the proposed curriculum decolonization in pharmacology involves teaching about drugs developed from folk remedies and focusing on the contributions of non-­Europeans. While such topics might be appropriate for a history of medicine course, centering the curriculum around them, as has been proposed, would be detrimental to training health professionals. The vast majority of today’s pharmacopeia is derived from the research and development efforts of the modern pharmaceutical industry; effective treatments derived from traditional medicine are rare, especially in the era of bio­ and immunotherapies. For example, of the over 150 anti­cancer drugs available today, only three are of natural origin (trabectedin, taxanes, and vinca-­alkaloids).

But that is probably the greatest thought crime, criticizing social justice theory. 

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