The Lancet goes woke

February 9, 2021 • 1:30 pm

A long time ago, when I was naive (that would be about a year!), I thought that academics who succumbed to Wokeness would reside more often in the humanities and arts rather than the sciences. I’m not sure why, except that I thought that those in STEM would not succumb as easily to irrational or incoherent ideas, and had better things to do than to spout untested theories and demonize ideological opponents. After all, postmodernism came from the humanities, not the sciences.

I was wrong. The sciences were a little late getting started, but now they’ve bought a first-class ticket on the train to Wokesville. After all, scientists, like everybody else, have a big fear of being called racists or bigots.  Now many prestigious science journals, like Science, Nature, and Cell, are publishing woke pieces like an elephant with the trots. And so the editors of the journals go along to get along, and to show the world their concern and virtue.

The latest victim, and one that’s fallen hard, is The Lancet, Britain’s premier medical journal and one of the best medical journals in the world.  I about keeled over when I saw this article (click on screenshot, pdf here).

Actually, the authors don’t seem to be medical doctors, though I might be wrong, but rather work on health policy, social justice, anti-racism or international affairs. That may explain both their use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) jargon and their recommendations, which don’t seem to have much to do with global health organizations except to indict them for racial and gender inequities. This may reflect racism, but may not. Yet why bother with the power-dynamic bits of Critical Race Theory (the authors are really big on “intersectionality”) instead of just suggesting the possibility of racism in the field—something that the authors insinuate but fail to substantiate? That is because they automatically assume that unequal representation of those in power implies current racism: the “Equity/Bias Fallacy”.

But never mind. Just reading this thing makes your head hurt, and, at the end, you have no idea what the authors want to happen except to have more diversity at upper levels of health policy. How this will help the people of the world (and it well may) is not even touched on. Instead, we are blanketed with layer after layer of CRT jargon and prods about the importance of intersectionality, which isn’t really the main issue for the kind of inequities they mention. Read it for yourself.

A few mind-numbing bits of prose (fortunately, the piece is only two pages long):

As women of colour scholars, practitioners, and educators whose work addresses race, gender, and class inequity, we recognise that it is vitally important to take a gender lens to addressing health inequities. But this gendered perspective must not be unidimensional. We now call upon our colleagues, particularly influencers in high-income countries, to meaningfully engage with critical race theory, a transdisciplinary intellectual movement to understand and disrupt systemic racism. Of particular relevance to these efforts is the concept of intersectionality, a central tenet of critical race theory coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how multiple social categorisations—such as race and gender—interact and confer interlocking oppressions and privileges.

This intentional centring of race in global health will help to achieve the mutually reinforcing goals of eradicating both racial and gender inequity. As a point of departure, we articulate the multiple racial contexts of the global health sector, with the aim of moving beyond a colour-blind gender lens.

And here’s what’s new: the authors have simply taken CRT and pasted it onto of global health organizations—as you could do with any organization:

We are pleased that scholars and advocates of global health and gender now acknowledge the importance of explicating the interlocking oppressions of gender inequity and racism, among other “-isms. For decades, the concept of intersectionality has been foundational to scholarship addressing systemic racism, most prominently in the USA with respect to simultaneous oppressions due to race and gender. Nowadays, concepts such as intersectionality are also applied to other social categories, such as religion, nationality, and socioeconomic status. However, the concept of intersectionality is a relatively new addition to the global health gender lexicon. 

They did something new! But they have to deal with an annoying observation: some countries don’t need to use CRT in this endeavor because they’re either racially homogeneous or aren’t obsessed with racial issues and “diversity”. Yam et al have an answer for them, lining up their jargon like bullets in a weapon’s magazine:

Like gender’s problematic binary of male versus female, race is a complex social construct with biological implications, the classifications of which vary across history and geography.  Globally, many societies—particularly racially homogeneous ones—do not regard race as the predominant societal fault line along which health disparities fall. But it bears reminding that global health research and practice take place in multiple, interlocking racial contexts.

So even if you don’t need to use CRT in your area, remember that it’s not the same in other places! So learn your CRT! (Note as well the authors’ gratuitous claim that the “male versus female binary” is “problematic.”) And if race is a social construct, then what are its “biological implications” for today’s health organizations?

They then present their figure, which adds nothing to the piece:

(Caption from paper): Multilayered and intersecting racial contexts in global health

Does that figure enlighten you?

The piece goes on and on and on, ending with their call to arms, which is simply “Use CRT”:

Current impassioned conversations about systemic racism present an opportunity to embrace race as an omnipresent factor influencing global health practice, research, and outcomes. This racial consciousness needs to be part and parcel of our efforts to address gender inequity worldwide. Now, more than ever, we must centre our work on people at the racial margins, in each of the intersecting racial contexts of the global health sector. Only then will we develop an essential sense of humility and self-awareness to be antiracist in our work.

Humility? That word doesn’t belong in the same article with Critical Race Theory, which is about as un-humble a theory as one can imagine. (For one thing, its advocates won’t accept anything that falsifies it, including income disparities among different ethnic groups.)

The article is completely useless, except to let the readers know that the editors of Lancet, by publishing it, show themselves to be Concerned. It will amount to nothing, change nothing, and says almost nothing. If the authors are trying to argue that racism exists at the higher levels of global health, let them say that clearly, deep-six the CRT, and then tell us how to efface this racism. More important, they should also tell us how greater equity at these levels will actually help the suffering people of the planet.

Sadly, this kind of stuff is being sent to me by readers with increasing frequency, and when it appears in one of the world’s best journals, I’m afraid I have to say something.

I’m done for today. Let’s move on to a cop and an owl.

37 thoughts on “The Lancet goes woke

  1. “A long time ago, when I was naive […] I thought …”

    isn’t that the little thought goblin that goads victims of the woke religion to feel they “woke” up?

  2. “…we recognise that it is vitally important to take a gender lens to addressing health inequities”.

    Does this mean that men should be vaccinated against COVID-19 before women in the same age group? Because men are more likely to die of it. No?

    1. Ha, what a ridiculous notion. In the US, breast cancer kills 19.9 women per 100,000 every year; prostate cancer kills 18.9 men per 100,000 a year. The number of breast cancer awareness campaigns, organizations, charities, etc. are too numerous to count. Every major sport even does some kind of pink thing for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. People wear ribbons, volunteer, donate money, information is all over the news, etc.

      How often do you hear about prostate cancer?

    1. It used to be that certain people asked, “Are you famous?”

      Now I suppose they ask, “Are you an ‘influencer’?”

  3. I rarely read the NYTs anymore, but came across this intriguing article: ‘Will American Ideas Tear France Apart? Some of Its Leaders Think So’ by Norimitsu Onishi. Definitely worth a read. Onishi describes the woke pushback by French intellectuals. An excerpt:

    “The threat? ‘Certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States,’ said President Emmanuel Macron.

    French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society. “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,’’ warned Mr. Macron’s education minister.

    Emboldened by these comments, prominent intellectuals have banded together against what they regard as contamination by the out-of-control woke leftism of American campuses and its attendant cancel culture.”

      1. One moment exalting the French to the next moment ridiculing the French…I am doing one of those silent belly-to-shoulder heaves…I needed that laugh!

    1. Had an argument about this with a french bloke a couple of years ago, he blamed us (anglo-saxons) for it all, I pointed out that they got their bad ideas from the french.

  4. Just reading this thing makes your head hurt, and, at the end, you have no idea what the authors want to happen…

    That description reminds me a lot of postmodern cultural studies in the ’90s. Maybe we need a new Sokal. As you said about PoMos, Jerry, the bafflegab is used to hide the main message, since in plain speech it’s either: something true, but unsurprising (‘there is racism. We should fix it’), or something surprising, but untrue (every white person is horribly racist).

    1. Maybe one author picked the first word, or the first sentence, then the second author the second, and so on, cycling around. We used to play a game like this as kids where we would write stories this way, more or less…though we came up with better material.

      1. PCC(E) could start an activity like this – I bet the readers here ought to come up with a word cloud-worthy gumbo of stratospheric intimidating sounding techno jargon that means absolutely nothing.

        Or maybe it’s just me.

  5. When I read “Instead, we are blanketed with layer after layer of CRT jargon…” my first thought was, “What the heck do cathode ray tubes have to do with this?” My brain is a bit too literal.

  6. “Like gender’s problematic binary of male versus female…” – Note that in Wokespeak “problematic” doesn’t just mean “questionable” but “inacceptable” and “intolerable”!

  7. I saw this paper today:
    “Towards Decolonising Computational Sciences”

    Reading the paper I’m struck by how incredibly formulaic this genre is. A big stink is made of the demographics of X, a long discussion on the supposed racist heritage of X, and then vague calls to “re-imagine X within an anti-colonial framework” or similar. This last point is almost never made concrete.

    1. “…and then vague calls to “re-imagine X within an anti-colonial framework” or similar. This last point is almost never made concrete.”

      All the better for creating superfluous jobs, committees, and bureaucracies. The work can never be truly finished if the parameters for its goals are never set. Even if every white collar industry had more minorities and women than the general population, they would still all somehow be working in a racist and sexist hellscape because those jobs just hadn’t been completely “decolonized” yet. What does “decolonizing” mean? Who knows! The only thing we need to know is that it definitely means more money for the people who write these “studies” and their fellow travelers.

  8. I am a regular reader of yours, and “shoot me now” is what runs through my head after so many of your commentaries.

  9. Now the damn LANCET is “all about” intersectionality, oppressive racist systems and intersectionality? What a load of garbage. Damn. Stay tuned for maybe the N.E.J.Med’s next issue: “White penises: oppressive and intersectional”

    And now an excerpt of fine emetic garbage for your dinner choking compliment:

    “Like gender’s problematic binary of male versus female, [They actually say that] … race is a complex social construct…” [and blah blah blah…”oppression”]


    psst: Guys/Girls – is Jerry an “influencer?” He does like those selfies I’ve noticed….

  10. Note citations 2, 5, and 9 in the referenced article, all published in the Lancet on similar themes of “wokeness” (less colloquially on intersectionality and addressing global health inequities). In particular, the commentary “Intersectionality and why it matters to global health” was from 2018 in the Lancet. The point is this trend is not especially new nor isolated even at the Lancet.

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