Storm Clouds Over Science

Carol Iannone

Exactly when did we realize that science is not immune to political correctness? Perhaps it was the incident in 2005 when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, said at a conference that innate differences between the sexes might explain the lack of proportional representation of women in the sciences, especially at the higher end. Although a great deal of data exists supporting Summers’s remark, along with a great deal of common observation, so loud and persistent was the protesting outcry that Summers eventually had to resign his presidency.

Of course, there had been and have been other instances of men of high repute forced out of their positions for being too forthcoming, but here was the president of Harvard, no less, and a world-class economist in his own right, taken to the woodshed not over a carelessly voiced opinion but for an observation backed by abundant documentation. What happened seemed the opposite from “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The emperor is clothed, but evidently we have to say that he is naked.

Maybe this is nothing new. It wasn’t called political correctness in the past, but societal pressures could also function coercively back then. They laughed at Columbus. Galileo was kept under house arrest. Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who insisted that doctors should wash their hands when tending women in childbirth, was pounded and persecuted and died in an asylum for the insane.

Still, those errors were corrected and maybe were understandable from the perspective of their own time. To the naked eye the world does appear flat. Not everyone had Galileo’s telescope. And Semmelweis’s theory didn’t make sense to the medical community until germs were discovered.

Today’s insistence on sexual sameness seems rather a step beyond previous blindness to what turned out to be verifiable empirical truth, and it stands to upend common experience to an alarming degree. We can already see many developments—and may well wonder what further ramifications loom—arising from the insistence that men and women are exactly the same in all attributes and that any disproportionality in their social and professional outcomes must be due to deep-seated discrimination or some type of arbitrary, unthinking, absentminded cultural disposition.

Probably at least partly in response to Summers’s fateful comment, STEM schools have been laboring to increase their numbers of female students in hopes of proving him wrong. For example, according to Melissa Korn, “Colleges Move to Close Gender Gap in Science,” in the September 26, 2017, Wall Street Journal, Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts “stopped requiring applicants to submit SAT and other standardized test scores a decade ago, on the belief that success on such tests skews against women and underrepresented minorities.” Moreover, “This year [WPI] also funneled more money into financial aid for women and minorities, reallocating funds it historically spent meeting families’ appeals for merit awards, and launched a program giving five, $20,000-a-year scholarships to [the high school science club] Girls Who Code alumnae.”1

All this has doubled the number of women applying to WPI, and yet “they still made up just 25% of all applicants for the current first-year class,” although 43 percent of this class is female. Perhaps that is good enough for now? Not on your life. These less-than-50 percent figures are only “a sign that the pipeline problems begin early in the K–12 educational system. WPI and other schools are reaching out more aggressively to young women with summer robotics programs and coding camps to engage them in the field—and to recruit prospects to their schools specifically.”2

For its part, Carnegie Mellon “has tweaked the message it sends to prospective students in a bid to broaden its appeal, emphasizing that engineering students can minor or double major in fields such as French literature, as about 30% of required coursework can be taken outside engineering, math and science.”3

I’m certainly not against bringing more women into STEM (remember how every other woman from the Soviet Union seemed to be a mathematician?) or promoting humanities courses in STEM disciplines, but isn’t all this effort itself a sign of differences in men and women who, left to their own proclivities, produce different outcomes? Is this necessarily the best use of what different groups have to offer in a free society?

And what about the actual focus of the STEM disciplines themselves: to promote progress and implement advances in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As with the military, one puzzles at the deflection of an institution’s vital and original purpose into achieving 50/50 male/female representation. (The truth is, science education is deficient throughout our educational system. In her new book, The Education of Eva Moskowitz: A Memoir, charter school entrepreneur and innovator Moskowitz reports how inadequate her AP physics teacher was even at the prestigious and competitive Bronx High School of Science. He turned up drunk sometimes and would fall asleep at his desk, so she “ended up learning physics from the Russian émigré students in this class who for some reason seemed to know it all already” [emphasis added]).4

And yet we must rely on experts who are often caught out misleading us. Nutritional guidelines that emerged years ago to raise alarms against consuming animal proteins resulted in a rise in carbohydrate intake and what is now being called an epidemic of obesity. Did anyone warn at the dawn of the sexual revolution that increased sexual activity outside of marriage, especially with the widespread addition of practices promoted by the Marquis de Sade, would lead to viruses that can cause cancer? And that we would be compelled into vaccinating eleven- and twelve-year-olds against their future erotic indulgences?

Yes, science has real-world implications, and so the importance of our first special section in this issue, “Unsettled Science,” in which we present a clutch of today’s carefully guarded scientific taboos and the scientists willing to violate them for the sake of truth. The scientists we feature did not endure the sufferings inflicted on Columbus, Galileo, and Semmelweis, but they have had their share of trouble.

“James Enstrom vs. UCLA: Terminating Environmental Debate” is by a new contributor, Peter Bonilla, vice president of programs at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. When epidemiologist Enstrom disagreed with the consensus on the amount of fine particulates in the environment that constitute a health hazard, he was hounded and harassed and eventually terminated. With FIRE’s help, his lawsuit against the university was settled in his favor.

Edward J. Calabrese, professor of toxicology in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, relates the story of how he gradually uncovered false statements in the 1946 Nobel lecture of Hermann J. Muller in “Societal Threats from Ideologically Driven Science.” At a time when concerns about atomic radiation were rife due to the dropping of the bomb on Japan, Muller made statements in his lecture about the dangers of low levels of radiation, the inaccuracy of which he was surely aware. The linear no-threshold (LNT) dose-response model for the biological effects of nuclear radiation continues to hold sway in public policy despite serious and persistent challenges to its accuracy.

“Straight Talk about Climate Change” by MIT emeritus professor of atmospheric science Richard S. Lindzen is the best exposure of climate alarmist manipulations you will read anywhere.

In “The Journal Impact Factor (JIF): Science Publishing’s Miscalculating Metric,” Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva supplements a Spring 2017 AQ article in which he and his co-author highlighted problems in the ongoing citation of scientific literature that has been found erroneous and even sometimes been retracted (“Compounding Error: The Afterlife of Bad Science”). The JIF is yet another corrupting factor in science publishing, an imprecise measurement that ranks journals overall instead of evaluating the merit of individual articles.

Rankings are certainly doing their share of mischief. As Naomi Schaefer Riley points out in the October 2, 2017, Weekly Standard, the U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges begun thirty years ago “has completely altered the field of college admissions.” The rankings calculate points for “selectivity,” for example, so that colleges began to encourage “more students to apply (even if they weren’t really qualified) so that schools could claim they were being more selective and admitting only a tiny percentage of applicants.” The real life result for the college aspirant? “Many students these days apply to more than a dozen schools; a couple of decades ago it might have been only three or four. You can blame the U.S. News for that.”5

We round out the science feature with “Global Warming and Climategate,” an excerpt from NAS’s 2015 report Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism, by Rachelle Peterson and Peter Wood. The excerpt gives both sides of the climate debate and also relates the Climategate scandal in which scientists were caught fudging the findings in order to support their thesis of global warming. Clearly these scientists did not heed Richard Siegmund Lindzen’s caution in his article for this issue: “Science is a mode of inquiry rather than a belief structure.”

Regular articles include a fascinating foray into alternative history marking the hundredth anniversary of the Great War in our pages, “Should World War I Have Been Fought?” by the indispensable Victor Davis Hanson. There were two paths open to Europe and the West at the dawn of the twentieth century and into modernity, and if the Allies hadn’t opposed German intentions at that time, we might be on the other one.

“Administrative Bloat at the University of Kentucky: A Case Study on Retention,” by J. David Johnson, raises questions about how colleges are structured nowadays, administration fat and faculty lean, as layers upon layers of bureaucracy are added to increase student retention.

In “Go Sell It on the Campus: Beach Books Update,” David Randall reports on the latest NAS study of books assigned to rising freshmen before their first semester. Randall, who also provides this issue’s Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest, finds the selections are as ever promoting “social justice,” namely, progressive activism.

A second special section, “Free Speech on Campus Today,” begins with another valuable entry from George R. La Noue, “Promoting a Campus Culture of Policy Debates,” based on a study of viewpoint diversity at ninety top campuses that he and a small team of graduate students carried out, measuring such aspects as invited speakers and extracurricular events. Saying that there is a lack of debate diversity almost overstates its importance in the minds of college administrators, for whom cultivating students to be informed on issues of national and domestic policy is no longer even a passing thought. But as La Noue points out, college is for the most part a buyer’s market these days, and he offers many suggestions for how that circumstance can work for a change to the advantage of those wanting to bring honest intellectual discourse to campus.

Althea Nagai gives some specific recommendations for how the campus could create internal structures that would protect academic freedom for both students and faculty in “Going Beyond Proclamations: Implementing Free Speech Principles.”

Gerald J. Russello’s review essay, “What’s Wrong with Free Speech?” looks at a slew of books: What’s Wrong with the First Amendment? by Steven H. Shiffrin; Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the Fear of Knowledge, by Joanna Williams; Free Speech on Campus, by Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman; Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, by Timothy Garton Ash; and Free Speech after 9/11, by Katharine Gelber. Russello questions whether the conception of free speech as constitutionally understood, embedded in a particular understanding of the human person and the belief in truth, can survive the assaults of postmodernism.

Daniel Asia reviews Kevin Carey’s The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, yet another proclamation of the wonders of digital education. New contributor William M. Briggs makes us chuckle over antics in math education today in his review of The New Math: A Political History, by Christopher J. Phillips, and Critical Mathematics Education: Theory, Praxis, and Reality, edited by Paul Ernest, Bharath Sriraman, and Nuala Ernest. Battling Our Decline: Classics, the Culture Wars, and Beyond, by Eric Adler, occasions Bruce S. Thornton’s lively account of how the culture wars have affected the classics. Peter Wood reviews A History of Anthropology as a Holistic Science, in which Glynn Custred evokes the ideal potential of his discipline instead of its shabby, shopworn reality.

Biologist Heather Heying deserves the last word here. She and her husband Bret Weinstein resigned from their teaching positions after the uproar over his refusal to participate in the no-whites-for-a-day event at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Writing in the October 3, 2017, Wall Street Journal, Heying sees what is happening on campus, and also in K–12 education, as “a culture war between science and postmodernism.” What she calls the “revolution on college campuses” seeking “to eradicate individuals and ideas that are considered unsavory, constitutes a hostile takeover by fringe elements on the extreme left.” The “battle for equity” may sound benevolent, but is really “a highly virulent social pathogen, an autoimmune disease of the academy. Diversity offices, the very places that were supposed to address bigotry and harassment, have been weaponized and repurposed to catch and cull all who disagree. And the attack on STEM is no accident. Once scientists are silenced, narratives can be fully unhooked from any expectation that they be put to the test of evidence.” When all is said and done, Heying writes, “What may not be obvious from outside academia is that this revolution is an attack on Enlightenment values: reason, inquiry and dissent. Extremists on the left are going after science. Why? Because science seeks truth, and truth isn’t always convenient.”6

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