This article from Medium floated into my ambit, with a title was guaranteed to lure me like a mayfly lures a trout. The author, Roderick Graham, is an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and has his own eponymous website.
The main point of his article is to outline a set of ideas and behaviors that he calls “scientific fascism”, which appear to involve the use of data, reason, and logic in a way that attacks Graham’s favorite ideas about social justice. It’s the combination of “scientific” and “fascism” that intrigued me.
Click on the screenshot to read:
Graham gives a definition of scientific fascism that guarantees that it will fulfill the secret mission of its adherents:
I offer this definition of scientific fascism:
“Scientific fascism is a body of ideas characterized by the desire to erase the unique experiences of minority groups, obedience to a narrow view of science, and a dismissal of people who disagree as being devoid of reason or intelligence.”
. . . . and as part of the definition he includes these behaviors practiced by “scientific fascists”:
The scientific fascist adopts as their tools of choice science and reason. The purpose of using these tools is only ever to mount an attack on the ideas underpinning social justice activities. These ideas include “lived experiences”, “safe spaces”, “white fragility”, “heteronormativity”, “systemic racism”, “toxic masculinity” and “microaggressions”, to name a few. This is one of the qualities that separates scientific fascism from scientism. Scientism is an extreme belief in science. [JAC: no it’s not!] Scientific fascists, on the other hand, are using science and reason for the political goal of pushing back social justice activism.
Now of course science and reason can be used to criticize any ideology or idea, be it Critical Studies, other aspects of social justice, liberalism as a whole, the ideology of Republicans, Communism, and so on. But Graham uses the term “scientific fascist” only for those who use science and reason to attack social justice—and his conception of it—which already shows that the two words of his mantra “scientific fascist” have been construed more narrowly.
But he’s dead wrong in his second quote, for the purpose of using “science” and “reason” is NOT “only ever” to mount an attack on social justice, or to try to “maintain social inequalities and erase the experiences of minority groups from public discourse.” But you could, of course, use science to see if safe spaces work, or if there is such a a thing as implicit bias, but somehow I don’t think Graham would favor that kind of science. He’d rather use “lived experience”—those people who say that they require safe spaces and have been victims of unconscious bias.
By Graham’s definition, then, scientific fascists are identified by what they do, not by the fact that they use reason and science in an authoritarian way (whatever that is; how can data be non-authoritarian?). Ergo Graham is not being profound when he says stuff like this:
At the risk of belaboring the point, the scientific fascist is only ever interested in using science to push back against social justice ideas. Within academia, knowledge production is varied. Professors in history, law, business, and theology, just to name a few, use many different approaches to producing knowledge within their field. Scientific fascists are not interested in those fields unless they attempt to speak to the experiences of minority groups.
Well, we can argue about whether business, law and theology are “ways of knowledge production”, unless they use scientific (i.e., empirical) methods. But under Graham’s definition, someone who criticizes theology and its dictates for being irrational and nonscientific is not a “scientific fascist” unless she is going after social justice aspects of theology, like God’s supposed dictates.
The above gives us a hint of how Graham says is the best way to counter scientific fascists: use LIVED EXPERIENCE. We all know the fallacies of generalizing from anecdotes—through anecdotes, multiplied through, say, a scientific poll, can become data. But Graham doesn’t talk about that. Rather, he’s referring to someone who uses their “lived experience” to produce knowledge by generalizing from it.
So what do “scientific fascists” say? Graham has a little list. Here are some examples of how we (I suppose I’m one of them) use science to attack social justice. We supposedly make statements like these:
“…the desire to erase the unique experiences of minority groups…”
- “I believe in the Englightenment [sic] principles of individual liberty.”
- “Why must you always put people in groups. I am an INDIVIDUAL!”
- “What kind of ‘lived experiences’ do trans folks have? What is an experience if not lived?”
- “All Lives Matter”
Only the first statement has anything to do with science, but none of these statements involve using science to do down social justice. They are statements of preference that do not involved data. Let’s throw these in the circular file and move on to how we supposedly misuse science:
“…obedience to a narrow view science…”
- “Sociologists are a bunch of left-wing communists, and you cannot trust their research.”
- “Critical scholarship is a cancer in our society and must be removed from our universities.”
- “These studies departments — women’s studies, queer studies, black studies — they produce no real knowledge.”
- “Critical theory is unfalsifiable.”
The first and second statements are not science, construed either narrowly or broadly, but are slurs, that don’t involve data. (I suppose you could test whether sociologists are all “left wing communists”!)
The third statement is one that can be debated so long as you define what you mean by “knowledge”. I would claim that, in general, Critical Studies departments aren’t usually in the business of producing knowledge (though some practitioners are), but are in the business of pushing an ideology and burnishing people’s self image.
The last statement, too, is worth debating, because perhaps Critical Theory, unlike the structure of DNA, evolution, or the cause of malaria, might indeed be unfalsifiable. I have yet to hear an adherent to Critical Studies outline what could falsify it. But in truth, although these statements may be made by scientists who are used to a certain level of rigor in their experiments and conclusions, they do not stem from science itself.
And this is how we supposedly use science to “erase” minorities and our purported opponents (by the way, if you see the word “race” or “harm” in a screed, head for the hills):
“…and a dismissal of people who disagree as being devoid of reason or intelligence.”
- “Ibram Kendi is a low IQ individual.”
- “Here are the fallacies in this claim.”
- “Black folk are being told there is racism by liberal elites (but there really isn’t).”
- “The woke are irrational and illogical.”
Good Lord! First of all, you’d have to be a low IQ individual yourself to claim that Ibram Kendi is a “low IQ individual.” You may not like his ideas, but you can’t take issue with the fact that the guy is smart.
The second claim is indeed a use of reason and logic to attack an argument. There’s nothing wrong with it, nor does it dismiss people as being devoid of reason or intelligence. In fact, the statement itself is a use of reason and intelligence to address an argument, not to impugn anyone.
I don’t quite get the third statement. One may argue about whether “structural racism” is pervasive (and argue, based on its definition, whether it is), but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who says that there is no racism. The data even show it, reflected in the differential rate of traffic stops by police, which, since the black/white difference narrows at twilight, is surely based on anti-black racism.
As for the last statement, well, it may be true in some instances—indeed, like this article itself, which attacks science and reason not for their supposed lack of value, but because they’re supposedly a tool of racism.
After reading this article—and I draw to a close, for discussing it involves too much “emotional labor”—I realized that it has nothing to do with science at all. It is an attack on those who use reason and logic to go after the social-justice ideas that Dr. Graham embraces. The word “fascist” is in there simply as a pejorative: someone who argues against those who want to restrict immigration, and who uses the same kind of authoritarianism and data would not, I suspect, be called by Graham a “scientific fascist”.
You might entertain yourself by thinking of related names that characterize people like Graham, but in the interest of reducing my peevishness, I’ll refrain.