The identarian attack on science: Postmodernism strikes back.

By its very nature Social Justice and in particular the activism that permeates throughout the movement is antithetical to science. These departments who cultivate such ideas are deridingly, but arguably fairly described as “grievance studies”, they underpin Social Justice and are heavily influenced by postmodernism. This philosophy is deeply critical of meta-narratives such as science, suggesting that subjective opinion has more value than empirical evidence. It is useful to view the onslaught on science via the social justice movement as a postmodern assault. Primarily, because numerous theories surrounding identity politics originate from postmodernism, examples being; intersectional feminism and critical race theory.

It is reasonable to imply that postmodernism perceives science as another tool for social control. Postmodern guru Jean-François Lyotard postulated that there was an “interlinkage between the kind of language called science and the kind called ethics and politics”. Lyotard used this idea to reject science’s claim to any objectivity, by coupling the knowledge science produces to politics and thereby power. This can be condensed into two postmodern critical statements against science;

  1. Science is unable to produce any objective or truthful statements about the physical reality, therefore, cannot lay any claim to universal applicability.
  2. Scientific enquiry is not a value or interest free pursuit of truth that is independent of local culture constraints, rather it is inspired by hidden ideological motivations.

The question must be asked; why is the social justice movement, using postmodernism as an blunt instrument, to pursue science so vigorously? Heather Heying, former evolutionary biology Professor at Evergreen College and wife of Bret Weinstein, simply explains that science seeks truth and truth isn’t always convenient for this movement. This siege on science manifests in two primary ways; firstly there is an external attack on the credibility of science, followed by a secondary insidious infiltration of science via feminist/social justice ‘researchers’.

heather heying
Heather Heying

The predictable first battle for identarians began in the arena of the social sciences. Given that the social sciences investigate areas of complexity such as human interaction and society, it would make perfect sense that this would be postmodernism’s first port of call. Science searches for objective truths, but this is decidedly more difficult given the unpredictability of humans. Nevertheless, the Scientific Method should still form the cornerstone of any social science. To complicate matters, social sciences often have to perform a balancing act between objective truths and interpretation. The more objectivity a research paper entails, the more trustworthy it will be considered. In contrast, if an over reliance on subjectivity is evident, this could inevitably lead to an increase in confirmation bias, with a very real danger of producing erroneous results and the potential to be harmful to society.

The erosion of social sciences due to a concerted postmodern tide started roughly in the mid 20th century. This was characterised by a shift on the see-saw from objectivity to subjective experiences. This change in approach ushered in the concept of multiple realities. In contrast, objectivity increasingly took a ‘back seat’ leading to social sciences being at odds with objective natural sciences. Postmodernism at one stage was only a small part of the social sciences and was primarily utilized as a differing lens in which to interpret the world from, such as from a feminist standpoint. In recent times postmodernism has been catapulted into the forefront, becoming one of the predominant methods in which to view society. This change has spawned whole departments deeply attached to a singular and myopic philosophy.

Postmodernism and by association identarian beliefs are detached from reality. In colleges around the western world Social Justice is purported to be a distinct academic field, presenting with a set of established truths. It could be argued that Social Justice is little more than postmodern speculation anchored by en vogue ‘theories’ such as Intersectionality. Worryingly, these ideas are being touted as a set of universal beliefs accounting for the entirety of the human experience. With this postmodern input Social Sciences appear increasingly interested in tearing down current ideas and objective truths, rather than understanding them. It is an ideology drowning in subjectivity, divorced from the Scientific Method and marooned on self absorbed intellectual islands.

Most of the blame must go to the teaching staff, who are exploiting their students in an effort to propel their own agendas. Many Social Science students will leave college without any firm grasp of the Scientific Method. Students are taught that ‘lived experience‘ is truth, whilst encouraging them to discover what is referred to as “my truth”, which to you and me is commonly known as an opinion. In these hotbeds of wild ideas, good grades are attained by mirroring back to the educator their favoured ideology, without any requirement to critically think. Students indoctrinated in “right think” are generally ill prepared for the outside world, as their entire education is chiefly formed from a particular perspective.

Rather than considering certain ideas such as “Intersectionality” and “White Privilege” as opinions they are purported to be objective truths. Once in contact with the real world, students find that these beliefs can be met with strong opinions that run counter to the 21st century teachings of Social Science. This lack of preparedness is played out on Social Media everyday, as these identarian disciples are ill equipped to debate in a logical manner. Suddenly they discover that people are dismantling their firmly held beliefs, that were obtained in a safe college echo chamber. This for them will feel like personal abuse, these exchanges often culminate in ad hominem attacks in return, such as “Nazi”, “Alt-Right” and “Misogynist”. None of this partisan anger helps to encourage dialogue or an exploration for “the truth”, but in fairness exponents of “grievance studies” are clearly not interested in objectivity or discourse.

For now, we will make our departure from the Social Sciences and look at how the Social Justice movement has attempted to make inroads into the Natural Sciences. Increasingly, the attack on the Natural Sciences has been performed from the inside, rather like a virus attacking the host cell. As Heather Heying stated, identarians are compelled to attack science, purely because it is in conflict with their own belief system. SJW’s including feminist lobbies have spent decades trying to increase the amount of women taking part in STEM. Not only that, but it would appear that there has been a concerted effort from the identarians to change the way science is conducted and moreover the value in which we place upon it.

Once you delve into the murky waters of postmodernism you will discover that many ideas or theories appear to lose value. In this universe you can pick and choose your ‘truths’ as you see fit. An area that ‘gender feminists’ fight to the death on is, the concept of gender being a social construct. This is despite mountains of evidence on the contrary, which I have discussed in depth in previous ramblings. In an attempt to strengthen the feminist claim, ‘feminist scientists’ have tried, with some success to add scientific weight to their ideology. The paper that I will highlight is Daphna Joel’s article published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America. This in summary asserts that the differences between men and women’s brains are negligible.

Daphna joel
Daphna Joel

I’ll start, by stating that this paper was taken on face value by the New York Times, The New Scientist and most liberal media outlets. Joel was even invited to talk at TEDx Jaffa. You’ll be pleased to know that this paper has since been thoroughly reviewed by her peers. To begin, let’s make it clear what Joel claims in this paper.

  • Brains of individual males and females show very little internal consistency in their combination of “male-typical” and “female-typical” features.
  • Overlap between male and females in the distribution of anatomical traits in specific brain regions is so large, that it calls into question the very idea of gender differences in brain structure.

Firstly, let us keep these findings in perspective, the study only suggests that the structure of the brain is “mosaic”, nothing pertaining to functional differences between men and women. In response to these claims Giudice et al starts off by drawing attention to the questionable methodology. Giudice states that the paper employs an unduly strict criteria for “internal consistency” (brain differences) but a lax criteria for “substantial variability” (brain similarities).

To demonstrate Giudice offers an example using a fictional male, who we’ll call Bob. Bob is tested on a number of sex typical preferences for leisure activities, these are; boxing, construction, golf, scrapbooking, using cosmetics and playing video games. He has no interest in scrapbooking and cosmetics, but is passionate about boxing, construction and golf, however, Bob also does not care for playing video games. Using Joel’s guidelines Bob’s profile would be classed as “substantially variable”, therefore, offered as evidence to display Bob’s brain as a “mosaic” of male-typical and female-typical features.

With regards to the second claim in Joel’s paper, it was noted that the original study did not test how well varying brain features predict a participants sex. Giudice did complete the testing using Joel’s original data, finding that an individual’s sex was predicted through brain features between 69-77% of the time. Furthermore, the multivariate overlap of male and female features based on Joel’s data was a moderate 42% on average, which was considered not high enough to invalidate the idea of overall brain structure differences. Another study by Chekroud et al conducted a multivariate analysis of structural MRI’s for 1566 participants, concluding that “whole brain patterns in brain morphology (structure) can reliably discriminate sex”.

At this juncture it would be fair to mention that despite Joel’s heavily publicised paper, discrepancies between male and female brain morphologies have been comprehensively demonstrated and published in a 2014 meta study. This list is long, so I will leave the finer details of the study here. The point I’m trying to make is Joel’s paper was founded on ‘cherry picked’ data and more than questionable research methods. Not only did it receive a pass from the media, but it was championed by them and declared as a breakthrough in science. It has been thoroughly demonstrated, although contentious in ‘gender feminist’ circles, that biological sex differences do exist. These findings could be used in a positive way to improve health and public policy. Regrettably, politics and ingrained ideology repeatedly obstruct useful science.

When we look at a research paper, it’s important that we note any biases from either the individual or any associated professional ties the author may have. Joel announced that she had no conflicts of interest in her 2015 paper, however, this declaration considering her area of study, appears a little disingenuous. Daphna Joel is heavily influenced by feminism and observing science through this lens. For example she regularly discusses the prospect of feminist neuroscience. Further to this, contrary to having no vested interest, Joel is a member of ‘The neurogenderings network‘. This group states;

“Neurogenderings Network is a transdisciplinary network of neurofeminist scholars, who aim to critically examine neuroscientific knowledge and to develop differentiated approaches for a more gender adequate neuroscientific research. Feminist neuroscientists generally seek to elaborate the relation between gender and the brain beyond biological determinism, but still engaging with materiality of the brain”.

Clearly (cue sarcasm) Daphna Joel and colleagues had no pre-conceived agenda while conducting their studies or critiquing the current body of knowledge. Once recognised, her affiliations begin to shed light on to why it appears she commenced her research with the conclusion and worked backwards. For me, one of the tell tale signs was her uncharacteristically (for a scientist) bold claims. The headline in the New York Times read, “Can we finally stop talking about ‘male and ‘female’ brains”? The answer I suspect is, probably not. These are not the words of an objective scientist diligently following the evidence. The general point of science is, you start with a hypothesis and proceed to disprove this idea, not manipulate the study to bolster a closely held belief.

Recently, medicine has also been on the receiving end of criticism. It has often been accused of being a hegemonic structure of power, while no more valid than Reiki or Homeopathy, implying that all therapeutic methods are equally valid. A postmodern paper by Holmes et al argued that evidence based medicine (EBM) was an example of “microfascism” and proved that health sciences are colonised by a specific research paradigm, which in turn prevents alternative forms of knowledge to surface. In this paper their central criticism is the legitimacy of randomised controlled trials (RCT’s), which are internationally accepted as the highest level of evidence. Alternative forms of ‘knowing’ that the authors allude to, generally manifest in an area called ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM).

Many enthusiasts of CAM are openly anti-science, they claim that the Scientific Method misses the point of CAM and doesn’t account for cultural diversity. Another claim is that scientific testing is only one of the many ways of knowing and is not necessarily the best. Contrary to this assertion, clinical effectiveness is a falsifiable hypothesis applicable to all interventions. In other words, it simply aims to ascertain whether a particular treatment works or not.

Alternative research methods have their uses, concentrating on anthropological and sociological aspects using for example; intuition or somatic perception. These ideas may well help us understand patients’ beliefs about health, illness and the body, but they cannot inform us which treatment is the most effective for a given condition. The most conclusive evidence available proves that a modality such as ‘spiritual healing’ works as a placebo response. A placebo response essentially is fine and can be powerful, however, all treatments conventional or unconventional possess some form of a placebo affect. It is surely logical to suggest that having a treatment that possesses a physiological effect would be more beneficial than relying solely on a placebo. Forgive me if I appear to be stating the obvious here.

Science is continually under attack and closely regulated by identarians, but they rarely claim that targeted studies are poorly conceived or that the results are questionable. The objections are mainly concerned with the subject matter studied or the identity of the people performing the research. One such contentious area is the ‘Greater Male Variability Hypothesis’. In simple terms, this suggests that more men occupy the outer reaches of intellect on either end of a distribution ‘bell curve’ than women. Darwin observed these traits in many species throughout the animal kingdom, with reasonably consistent evidence being reported in species as diverse as; wasps, orangutans and humans. As a basic observation, there are significant differences in the number of men compared to women in; Nobel laureates, music composers and chess champions, but on the flip side, men make up the majority of homeless people, suicide victims and prison inmates.

Theodore Hill, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Georgia Tech University sought to discover why this variability occurs. His paper was written with Sergei Tabachnikoff, Professor of Mathematics at Penn State University and was due to be published early 2018 in the Mathematical Intelligencer.  Margaret Wikler, the editor, was untroubled by this potential controversial topic and proceeded to give it her blessing. However, almost immediately after posting a preprint on their website, the duo encountered the Women in Mathematics group (WIM), who warned them that this paper could be damaging to aspiring young women. All efforts by Professor Hill to discuss the content with WIM were ignored.

Following this, the National Science Foundation (NSF) requested that the authors removed any acknowledgement of funding from NSF. This was prompted by two Professors at Penn State University claiming that the paper was “promoting pseudoscientific ideas detrimental to the advancement of women in science”. Later on the same day editor-in-chief of Mathematical Intelligencer Marjorie Senechal withdrew her acceptance of the paper after being challenged by “several colleagues” stating that this paper would provoke “strong reactions”. She clarified that the research had received no scientific objections, but her decision was based on the response the article may elicit.

The U-turn was performed by the journal following a complaint by a senior professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago, Amie Wilkinson. After some back and forth with Senechal, Wilkinson recruited her father, a famous psychometrician and statistician to add academic weight to her disapproval. Long after the Mathematical Intelligencer rescinded the paper, Wilkinson continued to trash the journal and the editor-in-chief through social media. Due to mounting pressure co-author Sergei Tabachnikoff withdrew his name from the research paper, in order to protect his job.

WilkinsonIASWynne2019
Amie Wilkinson

Professor Hill eventually had the paper published via the New York Journal of Mathematics (NYJM), only for it to vanish from the online journal three days later. As it turns out, one of the editorial board members was Benson Farb, who is married to, yep Amie Wilkinson. It transpired that Editor-in Chief Mark Steinberger was effectively blackmailed into pulling the paper by half of the journal’s board led by Farb. Not satisfied, Professor Wilkinson continued her moral crusade, directing her vitriol at the NYJM and the editorial board, threatening to ‘unfriend’ them on Facebook if they did not sever ties with editor Igor Rivin. All this appears more like the insane actions of an angst ridden teenager, rather than a senior professor and yet it worked.

This isn’t the first or I suspect the last time that scientists have been professionally attacked for researching subject matters that identitarian’s consider ‘out of bounds‘. A published study at Brown University concluded that the “exceptionally rapid growth in cases of transgenderism among children and teens is very likely the result of a ‘social contagion'”. This outraged transgender activists, who attempted to discredit the author and the methodology, without really scientifically critiquing it. The article was subsequently pulled by Brown, with many academics since accusing the university of caving in to this group. Ensuring certain potentially uncomfortable areas of study are off limits and the fact identarians are monitoring the boundaries of acceptable academic inquiry is severely disturbing. If you would like to make your own mind up about the paper, feel free to click the link for the original article.

This directs me to my final area of discussion, which I acknowledge is at the more extreme end of science denial. The incident occurred at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. A young student there declared “science is a product of western modernity and should be scratched off”. She continued suggesting science needed to start again through an African perspective, which would include witchcraft.

It could be argued that this assault goes beyond colonialism, as these people seek to tear down universalism. It is true that the majority of scientists during the Enlightenment were white middle class men, but the knowledge that was uncovered goes far beyond identity. Mathematical equations and scientific principles are universal, theories only persist if the results hold, regardless of the place or person doing the testing. This desire to decolonise science is to dismiss all intellectual or social advances that have gone before. A relationship to truth, universal relevance, or intellectual worth are now considered secondary to the identity of the author, with the most oppressed carrying the greatest weight of opinion. Sadly, this movement is supported by lecturers in varying departments throughout the academy. No doubt, we are in the midst of a huge shift towards relativism, which ultimately will stifle any intellectual or scientific advances.

I am sure I will get a reasonable amount of pushback on this article, primarily because I will have been seen to ‘pick on’ the left, while giving the right some sort of critical immunity. Firstly, I will make the point that I have been deeply scathing of the right’s anti-science credentials in previous articles, principally with regards to climate change. We know that the right are just as wilfully blind when the science doesn’t match their ideology as much as this portion of the left are. Specific areas of science denial for the right include; climate change and the anti-vax campaign. However, it’s worth mentioning that this offensive on science by groups who proclaim to be on the left is seldom mentioned. I’m relatively sure that this is a comparatively small group who oppose science, but the problem, nevertheless, still persists.

It is duly noted that the right tend to become increasingly concerned when any scientific developments interfere with the rich making ever more money. This often results in aggressive lobbying, for example, the fossil fuel industry convincing democratically elected officials to follow the money, while turning a blind eye. The left in contrast get ‘hot under the collar’ when their pre-conceived societal ideologies are challenged by ‘inconvenient data’. Make no mistake science is facing a two pronged attack, with both sides more than willing to denounce empirical evidence to protect their ‘truths’. This erosion of the Scientific Method is a regressive measure, destined to transport society to pre-modern times, which effectively helps nobody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s