Does Science Need Diversity Training?
One would think science would be concerned with facts, not with what special interest group searches for them.
Like every other institution, Big Science is catching the D&I bug (“diversity and inclusion”), worrying about whether special interest groups are getting their fair share. The special interests are not just racial minorities and women, but lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identity groups. Surprisingly, religious toleration is not mentioned in the rainbow menu.
“There is growing evidence that embracing diversity — in all its senses — is key to doing good science,” a Nature editorial on Sept. 16 begins. “But there is still work to be done to ensure that inclusivity is the default, not the exception.” It begins with a sad story of how a “gay scientist” perceived intolerance from his peers. Then, though, the Editors ask if it matters:
Scientists, of course, should not be judged by their sexuality. The principles of research — reliance on data, rigorous experimentation and respect for evidence — do not cluster by any of the ways that humans choose to define themselves and each other. Gender, race, ethnic background, social status, wealth, nationality, age, skin colour and sexuality are as irrelevant to doing science as a person’s musical taste or dietary preference. Or are they?
There is no place in science (or outside it) for prejudice. But there must be a place for diversity, and there is growing evidence that such variety is a key ingredient for doing good science. Much of that evidence is discussed this week in a joint special issue of Nature and our sister publication Scientific American.
“Religion” as a category is noticeably absent from their long list of identity factors. It is nowhere mentioned in the article, though often included in other lists of anti-discrimination factors. That’s a striking omission, considering the editors are “embracing diversity – in all its senses.” Apparently, diversity of theistic worldviews is not valued by Nature’s editors. Does this imply that they might find intolerance against theists to be acceptable in the scientific community?
In the feature article about diversity in the same issue of Nature, M. Mitchell Waldrop has a lot to say about appreciation for homosexuals, but his only mention of “religious” people is negative: those are the ones who discriminate, in his portrayal. One out-of-the-closet gay scientist notes, “some of the more religious, socially conservative students in his research group became noticeably reticent around him.” So while Nature indicates no obligation to respect the theistic or philosophical views of scientists, it has no compunctions about casting the “religious, socially conservative” identity groups in a bad light. World progress, according to Waldrop, is measured by how rapidly nations embrace homosexuals.
LGBT Science: That view of progress is even more vocal in an article on Medical Xpress headlined with common D&I buzzwords: “LGBT bioethics: Visibility, disparities, and dialogue,” meaning, give homosexuals more visibility, address any real or perceived disparities, and talk about it. Anyone opposed to the redefinition of marriage had better get out of the way of this opening salvo in the name of science:
Despite the legalization of same-sex marriage in 19 states and the District of Columbia and an executive order to prohibit federal contractors from discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, LGBT individuals face tremendous hurdles in access to health care and basic human rights. A special report published by The Hastings Center, LGBT Bioethics: Visibility, Disparities, and Dialogue, is a call to action for the bioethics field to help right the wrongs in the ways that law, medicine, and society have treated LGBT people.
Does “society” include the scientific community? Clearly so; one of the contributors to the special report is “a transgender bioethicist who explores the role of science in the search for identity by transgender people.” No exemptions; scientists had better feel guilty about how they might have treated LGBT people, too (this article, it should be noted, is posted on a science website). The Hastings Center president is not just releasing a scientific study. She’s on a mission. She “calls on the scholarly bioethics community to do much more to rally health care leaders and policy makers to ensure the human rights of LGBT persons.” What those rights entail is not clarified in this article, but is equivalent to “civil rights” in some sense.
Evolutionary racism: A hand-wringing book review in Nature struggles with “genetics under the skin.” Nathaniel Comfort reviews three books, the controversial one by Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History (see 8/10/14), another by Michael Yudell, Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the 20th Century, and the third by Robert Wald Sussman, The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea. “Is race biologically real?” Comfort asks. “A clutch of books published this year argue the question. All miss the point.” And what is the point? Not genetic arguments about whether race is real, but “human social equality.” Surprisingly, Comfort thinks race is obviously real. How, then, can he get science to ignore it?
A full-throated, intellectually rigorous anti-racism must critically assess both biological and cultural evidence about race. It must acknowledge that no work on race science can be free of ideology — and, precisely for that reason, it must not place historical actors before a moral green screen showing an image of contemporary values. Rather, it must set the stage for each scene with meticulous, empathetic historical detail. Such work would allow the scientific study of ‘racial superiority‘ — inherently grounded in subjectivity and bias — to fall on its own sword.
This seems a strange way to get racism to commit suicide. How can it help to recount racist history with meticulous detail? How can that “allow a scientific study” of racial superiority? How can it free his own approach from ideology, if no work on race science can be free of ideology? It would seem hopeless to remove the green screen. Comfort is amazingly insistent about what science “should” do or “must” do. Where he gets his moral foundation on which to preach is not obvious.
Alien rights: Talk about diversity. In his new book The Meaning of Human Existence (reviewed by Tim Lenton in Nature), Edward O. Wilson asks his readers to imagine aliens. The boy-Christian-turned-atheist father of sociobiology, E. O. Wilson now preaches meaning devoid of human free will. Lenton summarizes the sermon:
Surprisingly optimistic that brain-activity mapping is going to solve the riddle of human consciousness sooner rather than later, Wilson feels that we will be left clutching the sensation of free will, which he thinks is just an adaptation necessary for our sanity. If the resulting nihilism does not lead us to despair, the way forward will be to unify the sciences and humanities to reach a higher state of human “meaning”.
If Wilson’s message is believed by Nature’s editors, it would appear hopeless to worry about diversity and inclusion. Nobody has the free will to make such choices. Why is it surprising for E. O. Wilson to be optimistic? He, too, would have no choice in the matter. If free will is an illusion, why try to unify the sciences and humanities? Did Wilson choose to write a book saying free will is a mere sensation, not a fact? How could he know it is an adaptation necessary for our sanity? How could he define sanity?
David Tyler, a professor at Liberty University, attempted to insert a little sanity in a Comment to the article:
Tim Lenton is right to use the word “nihilism” to describe Wilson’s agenda. He is also right to question the title of the book, saying “What Wilson is after is really a deeper understanding of human existence.” It seems to me that what we have here is a repackaged scientism, that claims to explain “meaning” but ends up emptying it of content. Human consciousness is supposed to result from neural firings; free agency is an adaptation to keep us from going mad; salvation is achieved by emulating imaginary aliens. Sociobiologists start with the presupposition that ants and other social animals are “model systems” to understand human existence, but that starting point is never justified – only asserted.
Maybe Nature can score some D&I points for reproducing Dr. Tyler’s comment, even if they never allow those in his identity group (conservatives & theists) to write for the magazine.
Theists elsewhere are still a persecuted group. Evolution News & Views thinks the University of Washington could use a little sensitivity training, seeing that their biology professor David Barash openly attacks the religious views of students each semester when he gives “The Talk” about how the theory of evolution destroys their beliefs. In another article for Evolution News & Views, Paul Nelson gives some tips for students facing discrimination by hard-core biology professors.
No human being should be disrespected or discriminated against, but western society has become obsessed with identifying certain “identity groups” as needing special protection, while ignoring others. This is very unscientific. The fallacy of this exaltation of “tolerance” can be seen in the following logical analysis:
The Impossibility of Tolerance, by David Coppedge
It is impossible to be tolerant of everything, else one would be tolerant of opposites (love and hate, truth and lies, war and peace, good and evil). Those appreciating your tolerance for their sexual orientation, for instance, would be offended at your tolerance of those who are intolerant of it. Tolerance, therefore, necessarily implies intolerance (e.g., intolerance of the intolerant). Yet if one is intolerant of intolerance, then one is by definition intolerant. (Note that love and righteousness are different, because they imply the existence of evil; it is intuitive one cannot love hate or call evil righteous. Tolerance has no such distinctions.)
To respond that certain groups cannot be tolerated (whether racists, homophobes, creationists, or people who believe Jesus is the only way to God) is not only to be inconsistent, but to make an arbitrary distinction within a universal virtue (tolerance). In logic, if you are inconsistent or arbitrary, you can prove anything, thus undermining your appeal to logic. Tolerance is thus a self-refuting value system if defended rationally. It can only be defended as an arbitrary, emotionally-laden preference.
In practice, it usually results in tolerance of certain groups (e.g., moral relativists) and intolerance toward other groups (e.g., those who believe in truth or absolutes). Example: Students at some universities have violently protested against military recruiters on campus, screaming the most vile things at them through bullhorns and vandalizing their exhibits, because in their view the military is “intolerant” of gays. In 2008, a protestor in an angry crowd of homosexuals grabbed a cross out of the hands of a gentle, elderly woman, threw it on the ground and stomped on it, presumably because he considered all Christians intolerant. The intolerant behavior was rationalized on the basis of tolerance, thereby refuting the very meaning of tolerance, which is to have a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those with differing opinions.
Tolerance is thus impossible, despite its intuitive appeal and the warm feelings some people have toward the word.
The Editors of Nature have fallen for a very unscientific premise by getting hung up on “Diversity and Inclusion.” Why are they not pushing back against this blatant political correctness? Science should be intolerant of “political correctness.” Its principal value is the generation of reliable knowledge of nature. They should say, “Look, we don’t care who you are, what your genitals look like, or what you do with them; just do good science, OK? We have no obligation to treat you special because of some perceived identity crisis. Just do good work and you’ll earn respect as a scientist.” Scientists should value honesty, wisdom, and the facts. If every scientist did that, there wouldn’t be any problem. Instead, they, too, are falling prey to cultural trends, powerless to say, “Science has nothing to do with gay marriage; got it? Get outta here and go back to work!”
Your editor saw this happening at JPL in 2007-2008, when a new “Diversity & Inclusion” department was set up on lab. Everybody had to take a silly quiz, with 20 prefabricated cartoon-rendered scenarios about how to show respect for diversity, such as not calling a Christmas Party a Christmas Party but a Holiday Party. Most of the scientists and regular folk saw this as kind of dumb, but few had the guts to call out the D&I department for its selective moralizing except for a few choice comments on the internal forum. This is how the D&I advocates get their way, running roughshod on conservatives and theists by borrowing theistic values of love and respect to beat them over the heads with it.
Let the D&I advocates get their values from E. O. Wilson. At least they would be logically consistent for a few seconds as their logic sinks like quicksand under their feet.