The sciences are going to die

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My parents were both physicists, specializing in astronomy. My mother went to MIT and Harvard, my father Harvard.

Neither came from a privileged background. My mother (RIP) grew up the child of a single mother and had a deadbeat dad whom I never met. She hailed from Henryetta, OK, a town that even then was dying.

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My father came from a lower-middle class family. He is ethnically Jewish, and was enrolled at Harvard despite quotas that at the time limited the number of Jews who could be admitted (the same is done to Asians today).

They retired as privileged, well-regarded scientists, financially secure. That only happened because their chosen field was meritocratic and driven by a dedication to objective reality. Physics–all hard science–is about discovering the underlying reality. If you grew up around scientists you quickly came to see that the weirdest human beings with bizarre quirks and even unpleasant personalities could thrive if they were exceptional scientists.

That world is for the most part gone. In some ways to the good–good scientists got away with petty jealousies and even nastiness–but mostly to the bad. Being a great scientist is simply not valued as much in the academic world. As science became a corporate activity (and by this I mean more based upon collaborative teams, not specifically a business group) relying on grants, institutional support, and peer review it became less about excellence and knowledge and more about being a member of the club.

Now the club includes the DEI crowd, who rule over everything in our culture. The collective nature of science was a blow to creativity and intuition, but the collectivism of the academic enterprise and the rule of DEI communists is killing science off. Engineering will, I hope, remain a going concern because bridges collapsing is an existential threat to us all, but the search for knowledge is being tossed aside in favor of a new Lysenkoism.

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Pledging allegiance to the DEI ideology is now a necessity if you want to be a member of the club. Worse, basic knowledge is being suppressed. Literally suppressed, in favor of a Narrative™ that promotes “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.”

Bari Weiss published a disturbing article at her new journalistic enterprise “Common Sense,” which I highly recommend. I subscribe and you should too.

The article is an edited version of a presentation given by Luana Maroja, a biologist who teaches at Williams College (I considered going there before choosing Carleton College lo those many years ago). It presents a very disturbing, if unsurprising picture of academic biology.

And not just academic biology, but also the National Institutes of Health and medical schools.

If you had asked me about academic freedom five years ago, I would have complained about the obsession with race, gender and ethnicity, along with safetyism on campus (safe spaces, grade inflation, and so on). But I would not have expressed concerns about academic freedom.

We each have our own woke tipping point—the moment you realize that social justice is no longer what we thought it was, but has instead morphed into an ugly authoritarianism. For me that moment came in 2018, during an invited speaker talk, when the religious scholar Reza Aslan stated that “we need to write on a stone what can and cannot be discussed in colleges.” Students gave this a standing ovation.  Having been born under dictatorship in Brazil, I was alarmed.

Soon after that, a few colleagues and I attempted to pass the Chicago Statement—what I viewed as a very basic set of principles about the necessity of free speech on campus. My shock continued as students broke into a faculty meeting about the Chicago Statement screaming “free speech harms” and demanding that white male professors “sit down” and “confess to their privilege.”

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By now we are all familiar with the suppression of free speech on campuses, so that hardly surprises any more. It is as disturbing and dangerous as ever, but it has been a fact of life at colleges and universities for years. And while the Humanities fell long ago, making scholarship ever more difficult, it has not until recently threatened the enterprise of doing basic science.

That is no longer true.

Let’s start with teaching. I need to emphasize that this is not hypothetical. The censorious, fearful climate is already affecting the content of what we teach.

One of the most fundamental rules of biology from plants to humans is that the sexes are defined by the size of their gametes—that is, their reproductive cells. Large gametes occur in females; small gametes in males. In humans, an egg is 10 million times bigger than a sperm. There is zero overlap. It is a full binary.

But in some biology 101 classes, teachers are telling students that sexes—not gender, sex—are on a continuum. At least one college I know teaches with the “gender unicorn” and informs students that it is bigoted to think that humans come in two distinct and discrete sexes.

Even medical schools and the Society for the Study of Evolution have issued statements suggesting that sexes are on a “continuum.” If this were true, the entire field of sexual selection would be baseless, as its bedrock insight lies in the much larger female investment in reproduction, explaining the demonstrated choosiness in females (who have more to lose) and competitiveness in males (the “abundant” sex in most species, one male can fertilize multiple females). Published papers (see here, for example) ask us to be “inclusive” by limiting the sex discussion to the few species of algae and protists (such as amoebas) that have equal size gametes—even when that has no relevance to any animal or vascular plant.

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Biologists know that what they are teaching is fundamentally a lie, but for the most part they have succumbed. Both their interest in doing science and their own financial interests dictate that they go along with the lies lest they be kicked out of the profession. And it’s not like there are vast numbers of places they can go. Being a tenured professor is one of the greatest jobs in the world, and there isn’t a surfeit of jobs to move into.

What can be said, studied, or taught is now dictated by DEI bureaucrats and censorious students indoctrinated into a cult. If reality conflicts with ideology, ideology wins every time.

Another hot button is teaching about heritability. Students are often happy to hear that there are genes for sexual orientation, but if you teach that most human personality traits, and even school achievement, have a heritable component, they start to squirm. The same is true for population genetics. While the history of science does contain baseless and shameful assertions about race, we know that it is true that human populations, say over distinct geographic areas, have differences in allele frequency. Many of these differences are deeper than just skin color and relevant to health and well-being. Imagine the consequences of this lack of knowledge in medicine. After all, many genetic diseases vary between populations, for example, sickle-cell anemia among African-Americans, cystic fibrosis in Europeans, and Tay-Sachs disease among Jews.

But it has become taboo in the classroom to note any disparities between groups that are not explained as the result of systemic bias.

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Not being able to discuss heritability is one of the most bizarre manifestations of this ideology, because heritability of certain characteristics lies at the root of DEI itself. On the one hand race is clearly a heritable trait: you not only inherit your skin color but also all the history that happened to one’s race. You are literally divided into camps based upon genetic traits such as skin color. Being White means being privileged; being non-White makes you a victim. The actual circumstances of one’s life matter not at all.

Don Lemon, who makes millions a year, is a victim; my Mother, born poor and fatherless in Henryetta, OK, population 5,600, was an oppressor. That is considered indisputable by the DEI crowd.

Yet other heritable characteristics clearly can’t exist, because admitting it would open the door to racism or something. The facts follow the ideology.

Worse still, data itself is now hidden lest it reveal inconvenient facts, or at least fuel inconvenient speculation.

…an example: The NIH now puts barriers to access to the important database of “Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP).” The database is an amazing tool that combines genomes (the unique genetic makeup of each individual) and phenotypes (the observable characteristics of each individual) of millions of people. These phenotypes include education, occupation, health and income and, because the dataset connects genetics with phenotype at an individual level, it is essential for scientists who want to understand genes and genetic pathways that are behind those phenotypes.

The NIH now denies scientists access to this data and other related datasets. Researchers report getting permits denied on the grounds that studying their genetic basis is “stigmatizing.” According to one researcher, this happens even if the research has nothing to do with race or sex, but focuses on genetics and education.

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Yes, the NIH has collected data and has chosen to hide it, violating one of the basic principles of modern science. It does so because it fears that somebody might discover facts that undermine the currently accepted ideological commitments of the people at the top.

What does this all mean? You already know it: not only can you not trust the people who say “trust the science™,” but you can trust the actual science less and less. What is published is ever less reliable because it must accord with ideology. This is the essence of Lysenkoism.

What we know of as modern society is the product of the scientific revolution. The two pillars of the West are Athens and Jerusalem, meaning Western rationalism and Judeo-Christianity. The latter was killed off at the turn of the last century, and the former is almost dead.

What will be left is…what exactly? Certainly a poorer society spiritually and economically. But perhaps no society at all. As the collapse of the Roman Empire, with all its faults, left a millennia of darkness in Europe, the collapse of the West may do the same.

It will not collapse in our lifetimes, but it is almost certainly coming unless we up our game.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024
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