Although I’ve severed any personal communication with Lawrence Krauss, I don’t think that someone who did bad stuff should have their ideas or writings completely ignored forever. Ergo, I present this short piece by Krauss that was just published in Quillette (click on screenshot). It emphasizes the universality of science.
By “universal values,” Krauss could mean several things. First, the development of empirical investigation, though it reached full flowering in the West, occurred throughout the world, including China and Arabia, though progress slowed considerably in the latter two places.
Second, what one discovers in science is pretty much independent of your sex, race, or ethnicity. Now there may be a few exceptions to this dictum. I’ve always thought that progress in understanding sexual selection in evolutionary biology was promoted by female researchers, who emphasized the role of female choice in this subset of natural selection. But I have to add that Darwin himself, who originated the theory of sexual selection, also emphasized female choice in animals (in his case, preference for male “beauty”). Further, progress in understanding and modeling female choice has been made by many men as well. And that’s about the only perspective where I think a “diverse” panoply of investigators has led to scientific progress based on “viewpoint diversity”. Of course we want diversity in science because to get the best minds, ergo the fullest understanding of the universe, we have to cast our net widely, looking for talented investigators from many places, and of all genders and races.
But that in itself is not a reason to promote diversity in science. Rather, it’s a reason to look for talent everywhere and ensure that everybody has an equal chance to study science from the outset. (The latter, of course, is not the case.) For, with the possible exception of “female-centric” views of sexual selection, I don’t think there are ways of studying the world that are specific to particular genders or ethnicities. While it’s true that indigenous peoples have hit on folk remedies that have proven useful to the world (aspirin and quinine come to mind), this is really the result of empirical investigation (what plants work to help people?), and has to be confirmed with double-blind studies unique to modern science. If scientists have suppressed indigenous knowledge or the aspirations of minorities because of bigotry, that is not inherent in science itself but is the fault of flawed human beings.
Finally, as emphasized by Krauss and a gazillion other people, truth is truth, wherever it comes from. Just as there are no group-specific “ways of knowing” different from science’s empirical toolkit, there is no “truth” about the universe that is specific to a given group. That last trope, of course, is a staple of postmodernism, which sees scientific truth as the simple outcome of which investigators in science have power.
Krauss emphasizes this by describing a physics seminar scheduled at the University of Oregon and promoted by the Divisional Dean of Social Sciences. The seminar was mysteriously canceled, but here’s the original announcement reproduced by Krauss:
Title: Scientists vs. Science: Race, Gender, and Anti-Intellectualism in Science
Abstract: Black thought can help us free science from the white supremacist traditions of scientists. Scientists vs. Science will use Black feminist and anti-colonialist analyses to show that white supremacy is a total epistemic system that affects even our most “objective” areas of knowledge production. The talk hinges on the development of the concept of white empiricism, which I introduced to give a name to the way that anti-intellectual white supremacy plays a role in physicists’ analysis of when empirical data is important and what counts as empirical data. This white empiricism shapes both Black women’s (and other) experiences in physics and the actual knowledge produced about physics. Until this is understood and addressed directly, systems of domination will continue to play a major role in the practice of physics.
This is nonsense, of course, with the worst part being the notion that the “objectivity” of science is merely a reflection of white supremacy, even in areas like physics (the seminar was, of course, by a physicist, whose name isn’t given). This physicist did one other questionable thing:
I happened to attend another online talk by this individual, in this case a physics seminar. Each slide shown also included a reference to a different racist incident that had happened in the US. Speaking to other colleagues after the seminar, I wasn’t the only one who questioned the appropriateness of this political commentary from beginning to end in a seminar on dark matter, as would I would have equally squirmed had each slide quoted a different lie uttered by Donald Trump when he was President. Yet none of us spoke up at the time to raise any concerns.
In general I object to this fusion of science and politics, whether it be in the classroom or the seminar room. The way I feel about that is expressed at 2:35 in this monologue by Ricky Gervais when he hosted the Golden Globe awards last year.
And this leads to Krauss’s conclusion, somewhat anodyne, that “we need to be more vocal up front in our critical assessment of nonsense emerging in academic science settings.” Well of course! But the seminar above shows how deeply and how well the termites have dined on the edifice of science, and there’s considerable opprobrium attached to even criticizing woke nonsense like that above. But nevertheless, we will persist.