'Feminist' Study: Objective Truth, Scientific Method Are Sexist

women in science lab

Real misogynists used to argue that women couldn't understand things as well as men could. This patronizing view is both insulting and false, but now it has reemerged in a new way — so-called feminist professors arguing that science itself is misogynist because it deals in objective truth.

That's one of the daft arguments in "Are STEM Syllabi Gendered? A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis" by the University of North Dakota's Laura Parson, published in The Qualitative Report at the beginning of this year. While Parson admits that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) syllabi do not have "overt references to gender," their language "reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging."

Here's what she means in attacking such a "chilly" view of knowledge:

Syllabi promote the positivist view of knowledge by suggesting that there are correct conclusions that can be drawn with the right tools:

  • "A critical thinker considers all available evidence with an open mind and uses appropriate techniques to analyze that evidence and reach a conclusion (Lower level geology)."
  • "The main goal is to attain knowledge and comprehension of major concepts and techniques of organic chemistry (Upper level chemistry)."

As these examples show, the STEM syllabi explored in this study demonstrated a view of knowledge that was to be acquired by the student, which promotes a view of knowledge as unchanging. This is further reinforced by the use of adverbs to imply certainty such as "actually" and "in fact" which are used in syllabi to identify information as factual and beyond dispute (Biber, 2006a; 2006b). For example, "draw accurate conclusions from scientific data presented in different formats" (Lower level math). Instead of promoting the idea that knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge, the syllabi reinforce the larger male-dominant view of knowledge as one that students acquire and use make (sic) the correct decision.

Parson seems to be arguing — in an academic paper, no less! — that in STEM fields, knowledge should be seen as "constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view." There's one way in which science is constantly changing — it is always adapting to new evidence. But this is not what Parson is arguing. She wants a student to be able to define inconvenient facts out of existence, to be able to interpret the evidence to mean whatever the student wants it to mean.

There's just one major problem with this: If science and technology were defined in this way, they would not work.

Do you really want the engineer who designs your 747 to think that airplane design is up to his or her own interpretation? That there are no scientific laws about how to make the plane fly, except whatever view of truth he or she "constructs"? I would not trust such a person with looking after my iPhone, much less my life at 40,000 feet, and no rational woman I know would either.

This isn't sexism, it's common sense. In science, technology, engineering, and math, results matter — even minute calculations often make the difference between success and failure, poverty and prosperity, life and death. Something either works or it doesn't, and in order to figure out what does and does not work, you need to understand the way things actually are, not the way you'd like them to be.

Next Page: Where this "feminist" relativism comes from, and why it's insulting to women.