Are we “scientific fascists”?

December 2, 2020 • 1:15 pm

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.

50 thoughts on “Are we “scientific fascists”?

  1. Ridiculous on its face. I note as well that the author is the same dude who has been calling out black people who practice wrong-think.

    My definition: scientific fascist (n) – one who attempts to use reason and logic to debate the undebatable.

  2. Scientific fascism? Scientific chauvinism seems a more apt label for what the sweating professor is endeavoring to describe — and he is as misguided in his analysis as he is in his nomenclature.

  3. Jerry, Jerry, my poor amigo. Based on your comments, I assume you are the kind of Neaderthal who would deny that gravity is a fascist, even though gravity forces all races and ethnicities to follow its “truth,” regardless of their lived experience. It’s people like you who would drag us back into the old days, just when we are on the threshhold of a new Dark Ages, where our tribal allegiances and biases will free us from the Enlightenment yoke of shared humanness and universal rights and truths.

  4. “You’re so vain, you probably think this methodology is about you…”

    Empirical claims about lived experiences, safe spaces, etc. are as subject to rejection in favor of the null hypothesis and demand for burden of proof as any other claim. This doesn’t mean science is against such ideas, it just means science isn’t going to give woke hypotheses a free pass, because no hypotheses get a free pass.

    I also completely agree that most of his quotes are examples of personal opinions, not scientific research outcomes or scientific method statements. Though it’s pretty disturbing that he views “here are the fallacies in this claim” as being an attack-by-dismissal. So, we are not supposed to bring up or discuss the fallacies of someone’s arguments?

    1. That’s exactly his point — you (scientists) are not supposed to bring up or discuss the fallacies of someone’s (anyone’s?) arguments. You’re supposed to swallow it all without comment and if you don’t you’re being a fascist to him.

      Loved your opening lyric.

  5. Well that was a waste of 20 minutes. Almost all of his arguments amount to nothing more than whining that a bunch of people disagree with him and very little of his foolish nonsense had anything to do with science.

    I see in today’s Hili Dialogue that Titania has a few words for Mr Graham.

  6. At the risk of belaboring the point, the scientific fascist is only ever interested in using science to push back against social justice ideas.

    At the risk of jumping to a conclusion, I’ll say this sounds like someone’s reading malice into the ordinary situation of a critic specializing in a particular area.

  7. In terms of this “Ibram Kendi is a low IQ individual”, I offer you these few minutes from Drs. Glenn Loury and John McWhorter on Dr. Kendi.

    1. Man, listening to these guys talk makes me think that not only are they extremely intelligent, but their discussions have so much more joy and vivid enthusiasm than the “woke” people, who are always dour and/or angry and/or shouting down their opponents with nasty epithets. Regardless of their ideas, these two seem to genuinely enjoy discussion and debate. That’s another huge difference between them and their “woke” opponents. And they never raise their voices about their opponents, call them names, or even seem to be angered by them.

      They enjoy the intellectual pursuit. They enjoy debate. They enjoy discussion. They find joy in the inquiry discussion of knowledge. What a contrast.

    2. And I’d like to note that they even argue with and question each other. They don’t just reassert each others’ ideas or agree constantly just because they feel that they’re pursuing the same larger goals. They really find joy in debate, discussion, and even disagreement.

      I had a friend in law school who was a complete conservative, but he was like me: he was very intelligent and articulate, and he enjoyed civil discussion and debate with people who both agree and disagree with him. We would go to hockey games and spend the many hours, from the train ride to the pregame to the game to the ride back discussing economics, abortion, etc., and disagreeing about nearly everything. But because we were both civil and enjoyed the pursuit of knowledge through debate, we could spend hours debating each other and enjoy every minute of it. And, sometimes, we even helped change each others’ minds or, at the very least, weaken our confidence in our views.

      I often wonder what the people sitting in the seats nearby in the arena thought of us.

      1. I think the most significant benefit of being able to have discussions like that is that the experience tends to make it harder to dehumanize “those people.” Just as spending some time living among a quite different culture.

        1. Yes, it’s critical. That’s one of the reasons I’m always advocating for empathy when it comes to the vast majority of people who, say, voted for Trump. I know plenty of Trump supporters, but I don’t know any of them to be bad people. I think most of them are misguided, but not deplorable, racist, sexist, etc. Being online a lot really skews people’s views of those with whom they disagree.

          Oh well. Nothing I can do about it but continue to advocate for being kind to others.

            1. You’re right to point out that I used the term “bad people,” which really isn’t an appropriate term to ever use, especially in a conversation about politics and viewpoints.

              But, if I was making my list for what “bad” would entail in the political sense, it would be people who support certain policies for explicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. reasons. Even then, I have to go one step further and ask whether they hold those views because they were inculcated with them views via their upbringing and perhaps either aren’t intelligent enough or have never escaped the kind of environment that fostered those views, which causes them to continue to hold them. In that case, I’m still not sure that they’re “bad,” rather than merely misguided and misled by others.

              I can use an easy example here: people in Nazi Germany. I imagine many young people were vicious Nazis ideologically, but was it their fault? Does it make them “bad” people, or just misguided? I loved the movie JoJo Rabbit because it really brought that question into sharp relief, and also because it advocated exactly what I advocate: empathy instead of simple ostracism. It had a message that people can be “forced” into terrible mindsets, but that they can also change, and that nobody but the most destructive people is completely undeserving of empathy. Hell, I empathize with most of the soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany. Most of them were just young men forced into war.

              In the philosophical sense, I suppose nobody but people who lack empathy — psychopaths and the like — and then act in ways that they know hurt others are truly “bad.” In the context of my post above, I guess the definition was just people who support policies for explicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. reasons.

    1. Yes it was. I especially liked how he portrays everyone who says anything about their own skin color as if they are saying they’re equals. I’ve never heard any white person compare their attempt to get a tan to black people’s struggle against oppression.

  8. I guess this comment section is teeming with “scientific fascists”, because they disagree in some form with the article and secretly wonder how the author managed to get a doctor title or even reached maturity while navigating traffic and other hardships of life on a daily basis. But maybe he’s a genius at work.

    One of the most “intriguing” aspects of this article is that he has defined a new type of “fascism” so that it is accurate for him to now simply call people “fascists” who disagree. He can tacitly belief he means his definition, while the public of course thinks of a completely different type of fascist. That’s probably the most woke thing I’ve ever seen. It’s truly genius how he characterises this movement so accurately. Maybe he‘s secretly a Poe?

    Let‘s suppose we took this approach in good faith. It rests in its entirety on a scheme that could be applied to any set of evidence-free views. For example, we could say a “scientific fascist” by definition is someone who doubts the “living belief” of a Creationist, or the “witnessed thought” of a Qanon conspiracy theorist, and so on. Any unevidenced belief could be justified, and his argument could adapt to any circumstance. David Deutsch, a notable “scientific fascist”, would say that this flexibility makes this approach particularily weak, if we’d give it far more seriousness than it deserves, but of course, that’s what a fascist would critisise.

    I’d close that it all is strangely hilarious but also depressing in some way; a characteristic flavour of US politics in this decade. It’s hilarious to contemplate aposematic woke “activism” that is so over-the-top idiotic and histrionic, but also depressing that a sizeable portion of the international “western” internet take it serious enough, and help it spread.

  9. “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.” Gee, I thought we used those tools because that is how one does science.

    1. He says the scientific fascist is differentiated by only seeming to care about bending their wits to social justice claims. Really it’s just that we see the harm in this sort of woke thinking that is capitalizing on availability cascades and the refusal to recognize nuance. It chills free speech by instilling fear of being branded a bigot and having one’s livelihood ruined. Other types of non-scientific knowledge systems do not necessarily result in such tangible harm. We see a different sort of societal harm than the complaints of social justice and lived experience, and for that we are apparently fascist.

    2. When he talks about science and reason, I get the impression he’s “seen through” things he’s never actually seen.

      I’d like just once for one of these higher critics of science to explain why I or anyone should believe them, without using the word “racist”.

  10. My ‘lived experience’ is that the sun revolves around a flat earth. The lived experience of medieval peasants all over Europe, and certain hysterics in colonial New England, was that certain people (disproportionately women) were practitioners of black magic and satanic rituals and needed to be burned, hanged, or otherwise horribly murdered to save the village from their terrifying evil powers. The lived experience of Ku Klux Klansmen is that Black people are inferior, a danger to the White ‘Race’, fit for nothing but slavery, and need to be terrified into abject submission. And on it goes.

    The fact that we all have very varied lives and frequently radically different experiences is an excellent basis for *rejecting* ‘lived experience’ as the dominant criterion for truth, even as in ‘my truth’ as vs. ‘your truth’—what if you outnumber me by several orders of magnitude? Why is all this not evident, especially to a member of a historically persecuted minority??

    1. I often hear people use the phrase “speak your truth” or some variation thereof. The phrase irks me because it implies that truth is different for everyone, which is a self-contradictory idea. Unfortunately, the idea of lived experience and relativism seems to have infected our culture at large, and people invoke it selectively when it’s convenient.

      1. The problem with “speak your truth” is not that truth is different for everyone. Each person does have different knowledge. Even when two people agree at the surface, their associations with that fact almost certainly differ. What is more bothersome, IMHO, is that people who say “speak your truth” often mean that such differences do not need to be resolved for general agreement to take place. They imply that what each person knows is a separate kingdom with its own rules and seek to keep it that way. Rational people feel compelled to align their own private knowledge with truth as it exists separate from anyone’s opinion.

        Ironically, although the Woke say that lived experience is what matters, they also insist that everyone in a racial group have the same goals with respect to power, hierarchy, and relations with other groups. They fantasize that lived experience of those in a group are shared.

  11. His entire article is a list of unfalsifiable ideas. His ideology is not only unfalsifiable, but he appears to think that that’s exactly how we should see it. It’s just religious thinking without gods. We should just have faith in the fact that he and those who agree with him are right and everybody else is wrong. Do not examine the claims. Do not use logic or reason to try and disprove anything. Above all, do not question. Just have faith.

    This guy is doing an awfully good job of “erasing” every minority person who disagrees with him. He must be a “social justice fascist,” as he’s using the language and tools of social justice to erase the “lived experiences” of many millions of minority people in just his own country.

    Sorry, I was wrong. It seems that, to people like Graham, “lived experience” only refers to things that agree with his preconceived notions of the world.

  12. Why am I reminded of the definition of sociology that I learned half a century ago? “Sociology is the study of people who don’t need to be studied by people who do.”

  13. Graham’s “cargo cult science” is unlikely to be called out by actual scientists because of their ideological sympathies. Even researchers at Cern will defend it.

    Few people know about the replication crisis and the extent of publication bias in politically hypercharged fields like sociology. Even fewer are aware of the repetition crisis, in which excellent studies will be perpetually ignored if their conclusions disappoint.

  14. My lived experience suggests that science works and is a reliable approach to ferreting out truth. That lived experience is why I had to demote previous lived experiences of a religious nature, i.e. intense religious feelings and the inclination to “bear witness” those bring about. In my lived experience, lived experiences and the conclusions they support can change over time.

    In the meantime, why should I believe this dude’s lived experiences over my own? Or more generally, how to adjudicate between any set of lived experiences when they seem to dictate different conclusions? And why am I giving weight to experiences at all- I can only believe in the truth or falsity of propositions, that is, beliefs that follow in the wake of experiences, not the experiences themselves. This guy’s epistemology seems a bit off…

  15. The definition of “fascism” according to is a political system in which a dictator or the government forcibly suppresses opposition and criticism. And the definition of “science” as I know it means truth found by using the empirical method. Science is therefore different from philosophy, and it DEPENDS upon many inputs from individuals with varied points of view. To kill dissent is to kill the very process that supports science. This is not new, as historically many scientists such as Galileo and Einstein experienced backlash for their divergence from generally accepted belief. Cancel culture, censorship by big tech (FB & Twitter) and the emotionally charged rants/attacks on people are attacks on our free society in general. We should speak out against these as much as possible.

  16. The author seems a little butt-hurt by academics who disparage his opinions by identifying a lack of rigor in fact gathering and reasoning. Apparently there are “special topics” where gut-feelings trump traditional methods.

    Speaking of which, the President-Reject has similarly disparaged those obsessed by reliance on conventional principles of rational enquiry – in fields ranging from appropriate domestic water pressures, to epidemiological risk management.

  17. I read “Ergo Graham is not deep when he says things like this” and started to nervously count the paths of my mind and the strength of my body. 😉

    This discussion brought me to another topic. For example, research by Charles Murray in the USA showed a strong, positive correlation between the amount of annual income and the level of IQ. Murray obviously conducted his research on a statistically significant sample. Another approach that fails is an unrepresentative or biased way of testing.

    For example, an attempt to assess the IQ of slaves, people in prisons, people staying in concentration camps for many years, people tortured for many years, assessing IQ during waterboarding or electrocuting the head, or waking up from sleep for many months, several times a night, it does not meet any substantial standards.

    Sometimes we are also forced to add the so-called Factor “X” (unknown variable that exceeds our intellectual capacity)

    Sorry, this is a bit off-topic, but it was all influenced by yesterday’s reading.
    Tuskegee Study – A series of unethical medical experiments conducted in 1932–1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama (United States) with the participation of the United States Public Health Service (PHS), etc. Stories of “Mengele” from the USA.

  18. The line of thought and reasoning is theoratically fantastic. Conceptualising certain behaviors is a sensible way to present the ideas, ideals and idealogies. However, nothing of such theories can have unilateral application.

  19. The author of that article could have just citied any blog-evacuation from PZ Myers in the last five years, or have just just written “there are other ways of knowing”.

    Who knew that after crushing Conservative Christian nonsense, we would have to crush a regressive return of Lysenkoist thinking on the far left.

Leave a Reply