The Big Picture Behind the March for Science

The March for Science (MfS) promotes and sells itself as non-partisan when there is no evidence for such posturing.  In fact, the evidence we have thus far indicates such posturing is misleading.  But there is more to the MfS than this.  The arguments among the MfS supporters have brought certain dynamics to the surface that indicate the true threat to science is not from outside (the Trump administration, whose ability to harm science is limited in extent and time), but from inside – the postmodernist ideology spread throughout academia .  And the irony is that this threat from within is actually embedded within the March.

A few days ago, TFBW nicely  summarized the situation:

Well, the whole “objectivity” thing isn’t a scientific discovery or derived from scientific research either: it’s a philosophy of science. That’s what’s potentially going to make for some interesting fireworks at this march: on the one hand, you have the dyed-in-the-wool objective types like Jerry Coyne who insist that science is science and it makes no difference what your gender, race, or politics; on the other hand you have an enormous rank and file of postmodern SJWs who insist that science is politics, and demand that there is a politically correct way to go about science. Jerry Coyne is rightly concerned that this thing is dominated by the latter mindset, and the whole thing won’t be a march for science so much as a march for a particular philosophy of science — one to which he is diametrically opposed (and yet it has nothing to do with religion).

The accuracy of this summary is supported by an article which appeared in American Scientist. It was written by Adam R. Shapiro, a research associate in the Science, Religion and Culture Program at Harvard University.  His article is fittingly entitled, ” News Flash: Science Has Always Been Political.

We can begin with more examples of the same thing we’ve been covering the last week or so. First, Shaprio clearly brings the SJW perspective to the table:

It may be true that gravitational waves don’t really care who won the last election, but the ability to discover these ripples in the fabric of reality is inseparable from the social, economic, and political circumstances within which scientists work. Scientists might rightly be worried that belief in science itself has become a partisan marker of political identity in the United States, but pretending that science stands in a position of detached neutrality is a tactic that no longer works (if ever it did.) The history of science—and the history of science and technology studies—reveals why.

Yes, we already know that many MfS supporters employ of post-modern perspective on science.

Interactions between science and politics are not new. Questions about who could be a part of a scientific community and what kind of knowledge they could obtain were a matter of political control from the very beginning.

In other words, scientific discoveries represent a fraction of reality – the fraction that just happens to support the political ideology of the discoverers.  Does Shapiro realizing he is making an argument for distrusting science when the March is supposed to be all about trusting science?

But let’s cover some new ground.  As you may have heard before,  New Atheist Steven Pinker put himself in the SJW cross-hairs:

But racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of systemic inequality are not always evident to its perpetrators. And there are many scientists—often who are already in positions of privilege and prestige—who see diversity and intersectionality as secondary concerns, separate from science itself. Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, for example, called these “distractions.  ”Twitter is rife with science-purist concern trolling, claiming that Marching for Science will “politicize” it and harden opposition to hot-button issues such as climate change research and evolution education. Criticism of the March’soriginal diversity statement (which did not just recognize the existence of diversity within science, but highlighted the benefit of diversity to the practice of science itself) led to a toned-down, more generic expression of “unity principles” that stated, “Scientists and people who care about science are an intersectional group, embodying a diverse range of race, sexual orientation, (a)gender identity, ability, religion, socioeconomic, and immigration statuses.”

You can trust the SJW are seething about this.  For example:

Okay…. so Pinker is a bigot.  Yet he must be one influential bigot, as he got the MfS organizers to back off for the time being.

Back to Shapiro:

The science-purity position argues that if Newton’s laws are true and right, his ideas are an objective truth that has nothing to do with his sexuality, race, nationality, or religion.

The “science-purity” position.  Sounds like a Harvard research associate is mocking science.

But this position (mostly advocated by people in positions of privilege afforded to them by race, gender, language background, or other identities) often conflates positions of political privilege for political neutrality.

I see.  The “science-purity” position is all about White Privilege.

Finally, let’s sit back and watch just how insightful TFBW’s comment was:

The very idea of objectivity—what it is and why it is a scientific virtue—is a concept with a long and complicated history and that includes the creation of political spaces for scientific communities and the exclusion of groups of people through the claim that they could not participate in objective rationality.

Thar she blows!  Of course if science is political, it makes sense to erase the whole notion of objectivity in science.  So when March for Science supporters demand “evidence-based policies,” we need to remember that for many MfS supporters, evidence is derived from a subjective, political agenda.

But TFBW’s insight continues to roll on. Feast your eyes on this:

From a historical perspective, imagining science as apolitical is itself a kind of political argument, advanced by scientists for the purpose of claiming a privileged virtuous position that makes them beyond the rebuke of ordinary political attacks…..For science-purists such as Pinker, who see themselves as defending science from an external attack, advocates for equality and intersectionality in science may be better than being a “denier,” but once one opens the lid to science being political, one has no moral high ground from which to distinguish oneself. The science march may be united in opposing “antiscience” abuses by the new administration, and it has attracted the interest of more than 100,000 people, but two camps are quickly coalescing: those who believe science is objective and those who know objectivity is social.

And how do we describe the two camps?

In the view of scholars promoting the “sociology of scientific knowledge,” (SSK) these social realities play a much larger role in the emergence of new discoveries and theories than the ultimate irrefutable truth out there in the natural world. Scientists ridiculing this “postmodern” approach to the history and social studies of science claimed that such work was meaningless—that without understanding that science reflected and discovered an objective reality that is independent of social politics, the field could not comprehend what science does. These debates (and a few highly controversial “hoax articles”) prompted a rupture between scientists and the field of science studies called the “Science Wars.”

So let’s sit back and marvel at the deep irony of the March for Science.  The March is clearly a post-modernist, SJW invention – an expression of extreme Left ideology.  We saw this with the initial posturing that Pinker objected to.  What’s happened since is that extreme and obvious post-modernism has been toned down to attract the “privileged”  – to swell the ranks of the March with mainstream scientific names and organizations.  This then serves to increase the power of the SJW organizers and partners of the MfS, something that can be leveraged in the post-March world.

Trump will one day be gone, but the post-modernists, if they get their way, will be running the scientific community through control of its organizations and government agencies.  And just what would this look like?

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6 Responses to The Big Picture Behind the March for Science

  1. Mechanar says:

    I can tell you what that will look like it has been written down a long time ago in a little book called 1984

    If the modern world cant even agree that objective facts exist than that is the death of reason.

    Its quite easy to debunk this whole science is political junk. Now climate change is a fact but it is a leap in logic to assume that left/liberal is the only way to fight thos problem.for exampel one can argue that as soon as peak oil is reached the market will automaticly force all companys to switch to green Energy and thats why we wont have to do anything.

    Science brings the facts and people interpret them with Philosophy/religion and politics thats how it always was and should be to claim that an opinion equals fact is a Intellectual power grab

  2. TFBW says:

    And just what would this look like?

    Jerry Coyne blogging about how he misses the good old days of Francis Collins.

  3. FZM says:

    Trump will one day be gone, but the post-modernists, if they get their way, will be running the scientific community through control of its organizations and government agencies.

    Maybe things like the March for Science will help draw attention to their activities and claims. The claims seem to be pretty grand; it looks like there is some kind of assumption that a post modern perspective and approach provides access to greater and more exact knowledge of reality and the objective truth than the perspective and approaches of the other sciences (those besides sociology) themselves.

  4. TFBW says:

    @FZM:

    … it looks like there is some kind of assumption that a post modern perspective and approach provides access to greater and more exact knowledge of reality and the objective truth …

    “Postmodern” and “objective truth” are not compatible concepts. The broad assertion is that the postmodern approach results in better science, but science is politics in postmodern terms, so it really means a political improvement (improvement for people) rather than improvement in the utility of science as a means to discovery. I think that diversity can offer useful improvement, so it’s not a totally bogus cover story, but the postmodern preference for narrative over empirical evidence does far more harm than any possible improvement.

  5. FZM says:

    TFBW,

    “Postmodern” and “objective truth” are not compatible concepts.

    That’s true. I shouldn’t post late at night.

    The broad assertion is that the postmodern approach results in better science, but science is politics in postmodern terms, so it really means a political improvement (improvement for people) rather than improvement in the utility of science as a means to discovery.

    From what I can see this means moral and value judgements start to loom quite large but this raises questions because different kinds of moral and value judgements are possible; how do we decide which are the correct or appropriate ones?

    A lot of the postmodern supporters for the March for Science do seem, as far as I can tell, to have positions grounded in strong moral convictions or value judgements (the feminists, those seeking a more inclusive, ethnically diverse scientific establishment). But then from a postmodern perspective it seems accepting these kinds of claims would depend on accepting a certain kind of narrative.
    So arguments to justify them or convince others to adopt them appear to be vulnerable to the same kind of criticisms they may direct against those defending other positions; e.g. that the arguments don’t really track the truth about reality but are heavily influenced by ‘social realities’, that these arguments exclude and marginalize alternative views and so on.

  6. TFBW says:

    @FZM:

    … how do we decide which are the correct or appropriate ones?

    Sounds like you’re still working from an assumption that there is some kind of objective truth upon which we ought to converge. It’s a hard habit to shake, I know.

    … have positions grounded in strong moral convictions or value judgements …

    I don’t know if “grounded in” is the right way to look at it, but sure, they have strong moral convictions and particular values. I think those convictions and values are grounded in private intuitions, to put it charitably, and the narrative serves those intuitions without being strictly grounded in them.

    … appear to be vulnerable to the same kind of criticisms they may direct against those defending other positions …

    This sounds like an appeal to universality and consistency as some kind of virtue. They could just as easily dismiss that as the imposition of a patriarchal, oppressive, imperialist, blah blah blah there’s only so many postmodernist buzzwords I can string together and I lack the talent to make it sound sincere.

    In other words, you’re still trying to understand postmodernism from a classical sort of perspective which takes for granted objective truths, the value of logical consistency, universality, and so on. If you’re truly postmodern about it, you just stay on narrative and don’t get distracted by those things — they belong to other narratives and have no place in yours.

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