July 13, 2020

THE IDEOLOGICAL CORRUPTION OF SCIENCE: In American laboratories and universities, the spirit of Trofim Lysenko has suddenly been woke.

In the 1980s, when I was a young professor of physics and astronomy at Yale, deconstructionism was in vogue in the English Department. We in the science departments would scoff at the lack of objective intellectual standards in the humanities, epitomized by a movement that argued against the existence of objective truth itself, arguing that all such claims to knowledge were tainted by ideological biases due to race, sex or economic dominance.

It could never happen in the hard sciences, except perhaps under dictatorships, such as the Nazi condemnation of “Jewish” science, or the Stalinist campaign against genetics led by Trofim Lysenko, in which literally thousands of mainstream geneticists were dismissed in the effort to suppress any opposition to the prevailing political view of the state.

Or so we thought. In recent years, and especially since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, academic science leaders have adopted wholesale the language of dominance and oppression previously restricted to “cultural studies” journals to guide their disciplines, to censor dissenting views, to remove faculty from leadership positions if their research is claimed by opponents to support systemic oppression.

In June, the American Physical Society (APS), which represents 55,000 physicists world-wide, endorsed a “strike for black lives” to “shut down STEM” in academia. It closed its office—not to protest police violence or racism, but to “commit to eradicating systemic racism and discrimination, especially in academia, and science,” stating that “physics is not an exception” to the suffocating effects of racism in American life.

While racism in our society is real, no data were given to support this claim of systemic racism in science, and I have argued elsewhere that there are strong reasons to think that this claim is spurious. The APS wasn’t alone. National laboratories and university science departments joined the one-day strike. The pre-eminent science journal Nature, which disseminates what it views as the most important science stories in a daily newsletter, featured an article titled “Ten simple rules for building an anti-racist lab.”

At Michigan State University, one group used the strike to organize and coordinate a protest campaign against the vice president for research, physicist Stephen Hsu, whose crimes included doing research on computational genomics to study how human genetics might be related to cognitive ability—something that to the protesters smacked of eugenics. He was also accused of supporting psychology research at MSU on the statistics of police shootings that didn’t clearly support claims of racial bias. Within a week, the university president forced Mr. Hsu to resign. . . . As ideological encroachment corrupts scientific institutions, one might wonder why more scientists aren’t defending the hard sciences from this intrusion. The answer is that many academics are afraid, and for good reason.

This sort of thing completely undercuts the rationale for public-funded higher education.

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