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10 Jun, 2020 20:25

Self-hating #ShutDownSTEM signals the death of Science

Self-hating #ShutDownSTEM signals the death of Science

Today is #ShutDownSTEM day, wherein researchers around the world have forgone their scientific duties and instead decided to ‘Strike For Black Lives’ and, in the process, also condemned science as racist.

In doing so, it seems that the self-flagellating fancies of the Left have finally colonised the world of science. Predicted almost three decades ago by the science wars – a series of intellectual exchanges between scientific realists and postmodernist critics – the peculiar language of #ShutDownSTEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) betrays the anti-intellectual leanings of today’s science. 

The initiative follows the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota a fortnight ago, and involves suspending “all usual academic work for the day, including teaching, research, and service responsibilities,” according to the organisers of Strike For Black Lives. 

On the #ShutDownSTEM website, its organisers write how “In academia, our thoughts and words turn into new ways of knowing. Our research papers turn into media releases, books and legislation that reinforce anti-Black narratives.” The organisers then point the finger at “white and non-Black People of Color,” stating that we should take time today to “educate ourselves.” 

Educate ourselves on what is left unsaid, the broken link to the resources page takes users to a library of guilt-trip literature laden with only two books remotely related to science. A cursory glance makes one assume it is about how inherently awful I am and how others differ to myself because of the colour of their skin. 

In any case, #ShutDownSTEM betrays a certain worldview in the peculiar language it uses to accuse science of being racist. 

Its focus on ‘new ways of knowing’ and its concerns of ‘anti-black narratives’ – both vague and offered without proof – are undoubtedly postmodern in nature. After all, what do narratives – subjective by definition – have to do with the objectivity of science? 

Simply put, nothing. But to postmodernists, knowledge is superseded by narrative. It doesn’t matter if the results are true, if they go against the narrative, they are inherently haram. Worse still, these results were ascertained through racist structures, language and thought processes, making them null and void from the get go. 

That academia is perpetuating this tale should come as no surprise. Michel Foucault, by far the most cited researcher in university papers worldwide, believed strongly that language is power.

It is an idea that has percolated throughout leftist circles for decades: Saul Alinsky, community activist and author of Rules for Radicals, mimicked Foucault when he wrote, “He who controls the language controls the masses.” These beliefs are not humanist in nature, they are clearly political, and certainly not rooted in the empirical values of the enlightenment

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It now seems that STEM activists are dancing to the same tune as Alinsky and Foucault, believing instead in the power of narrative over the objectivity of science.

Sadly, this day has been a long time coming. In 1994, the book which ignited the science wars, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Gross and Levitt, 1994), described how postmodernists in academia were attacking science for constructing narratives of power. 

In their defence of science, the realists cited the obvious: “That deep scientific ideas must be comprehended, first of all, on their own terms.” At the time of the book’s writing, the internal logic of “hard” sciences – mathematics, physics, chemistry, and most of biology – meant that the bulwark against postmodernism was holding, whilst across the social sciences the damage being done was drastic. 

Robin Fox, an eminent cultural anthropologist is cited in the book as stating how his discipline was permeated by political attitudes drawn from the world of postmodern literary criticism. His scathing thoughts of the bastardisation of his beloved field are reminiscent in what we are witnessing in STEM today: 

“My own interpretation is that lazy minds are happiest with the mere voicing of opinion, or with the easy task of dressing this up to make it look plausible. In modern literary criticism they have found the perfect model of this, along with a new doctrine of extreme relativism that says that everything is only opinion anyway, to justify it.” And, before we knew it, men became women, silence became violence and science became racist. 

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On #ShutDownSTEM’s website, they conclude that today marks the day where “We transition into a lifelong commitment of actions to eradicate anti-Black racism in academia and STEM” without offering any evidence for this damning charge. This being the case, it is also the day that hard, serious science based on empirical observation became a symbol of a bygone era. 

For science – particularly STEM – is a reality-driven phenomenon, and it remains unclear if it can survive being anything different. A long time ago Nietzsche wrote that “There are no facts, only interpretations,” perhaps missing the invalidity of the statement. Today we bear witness to a new invalidity drawn from the same source, that of a science which puts subjective interpretation over objective fact.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.