"Decolonizing" science

(N.R. Fuller/National Science Foundation via AP)

Our Western Elites™ are obsessed with promoting suicide, but usually it is the suicide of someone else.

But in the case of Nature, the British science journal, it is their own suicide that they are rushing toward. A once proud journal that was widely held to be the most prestigious in the world, Nature’s editors have decided that Western science is vastly overrated and should be “decolonized.”


If there is one thing science is not, it is colonized. Science, as we currently understand it, is a wholly European invention of recent origin. No colonizing required. Westerners as far as I know didn’t invent rational thought, but they did invent the scientific method.

Of course that is not to say that either the pursuit of truth or using empirical methods is exclusively Western–it is not. The pursuit of truth is presumably universal, and reliance of empirical experience or not varies over time periods, geography, societal, and individual temperaments.  It’s certainly not the case that Westerners are naturally more scientific than, say, Asians or Africans. There are African scientists and crystal worshipping hippies.

I am more inclined to listen to the former on scientific matters than the latter, with whom I might have a beer and a toke watching the sun set. Hippies are probably on average more fun than scientists, but the latter probably have a better take on the age of the universe or the half life of U-238.

Science as a method was invented in Europe a few hundred years back. That’s just a historical fact. It is a product of a time and place, and has persisted because it is a particularly useful tool for understanding the world and enabling us to manipulate it. Its practice doesn’t depend upon race, gender, or any particular body type. It just requires a human brain and a willingness to follow a method for inquiring about the world.

Nature’s editors don’t see it that way, and in the process it has decided to sacrifice science itself to wokeness. Science itself is racist, sexist, homophobic…invent the isms and science is involved. It is time to decolonize science–and by that they don’t just mean recruit a more diverse group of scientists.


Decolonizing science


Science is steeped in injustice and exploitation. Scientific insights from marginalized people have been erased, natural history specimens have been taken without consent and genetics data have been manipulated to back eugenics movements. Without acknowledgement and redress of this legacy, many people from minority ethnic groups have little trust in science and certainly don’t feel welcome in academia — an ongoing barrier to the levels of diversity that many universities claim to pursue.

The need to wokify science is absurd on its face. Science is a tool, not a person with morality. Something can be scientific while being hideously immoral (testing the pain tolerance of babies through experimentation would seem to qualify, for instance). Scientists themselves can be moral or immoral, and we certainly know that scientists often use the authority they gain from their profession to promote immoral activities or falsehoods. Eugenics is based upon scientism, if not science itself. Mengele styled himself a scientist. In fact there is a lot of debate about using his and other data that Nazis gathered on biology.

If you haven’t grown skeptical about the ways scientists abuse their authority in recent years, you are blind. And, of course, science tells you little to nothing about morality, although it can inform moral calculations.

Science is just a method, and scientists are fallen human beings. But science, no matter what you say, has not been “colonized.” If anything science is European and everybody else has been invited to colonize within its boundaries. Good. The more scientists the better.


This distinction matters for a reason: Nature’s editors and their ilk are ashamed of science’s European roots and want to dilute the method because of this. They want to import others ways of knowing into science, and that is not all right. It destroys science. When the University of Minnesota had their White Coat ceremony they specifically referred to respecting indigenous medicine, which is insane. We need doctors, not witch doctors.

Ecologists need to improve how they incorporate varied perspectives, approaches and interpretations from the diverse peoples inhabiting Earth’s natural environments. The five shifts are: the individual need to decolonize one’s mind; understand the history of colonization and how it shaped Western ecology; facilitate access to and dissemination of data; recognize diverse scientific expertise; and establish inclusive research groups. Although it can be difficult to make reforms given how resistant institutions are to change, we are optimistic because we have received invitations to speak on these issues. People are ready for these conversations.

If the claim is that scientists should listen to nonscientists, this should be uncontroversial. Science is one way of knowing, not the way of knowing. I keep saying science is a tool because that is all that it is. A world filled only with scientists doing science would be a much poorer one.

Art, philosophy, craftsmanship, poetry, music and countless other human activities and attitudes bring their own kind of knowledge and wisdom. My own father is both a physicist and an artist. He has published books of his photographs alongside the poems of a Native American author because they, too, reveal something profound about the world.


Science, in fact, brings no wisdom to the table at all. It brings a certain type of knowledge of the physical world. Important knowledge, but hardly complete.

Many of the claims about scientists being racists or ignoring the human beings they study have in fact been borne out. The Tuskegee experiments in which racist scientists performed awful medical experiments of black men were vile and immoral. But the quality of the science itself is utterly unrelated to that fact. That is determined by the quality of the experiments themselves. The morality of the scientists themselves is unrelated.

When I hear a scientist or philosopher of science rhapsodize about indigenous wisdom I don’t always scoff. It is quite possible that witch doctors have discovered some compound that has a beneficial biological effect. But that does not make burning incense to placate spirits scientific or even wise. It is a clue that we can explore scientifically. Witch doctors may be fine human beings with accumulated wisdom, but they are not scientists.

The problem here is simple: Nature and the woke scientists are making science subservient to an ideology, rather than incorporating the results of science into a moral structure. The knowledge not only becomes subservient to a “cause”–that is unavoidable because we all have moral commitments–but the knowledge itself becomes unreliable because the “cause” can demand it. Inconvenient facts get suppressed; methods become sloppy; truth is determined first, and everything is made to bend to it.


This is tossing the baby out with the bathwater. Because the baby happens to be white and European.

Nature has decided that their political agenda supersedes their scientific mission. I suppose that is their right. But in doing so they should also lose their authority on matters scientific.

If they become The Nation, that is a loss to mankind. Because in addition to political magazines we need science journals, and we are losing one of the best.

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