“Jeopardy” shows that the Woke have won

December 16, 2021 • 1:15 pm

I received an email from reader Paul Topping, and I thought it was both amusing and sad. I have his permission to post it, so I’ll give it to you just as I got it:

My wife and I watch “Jeopardy!” regularly. This last Tuesday, they had an answer and question that might amuse you. This week and last they are doing their “Professors Tournament” which, obviously, features college professors. This question/answer was the “Daily double” in the first (single) Jeopardy part of the show.

Answer:

     Biologist T.H. Huxley was a renowned defender of this theory & in 1893 famously lectured on it ‘& Ethics’

Contestant (English Prof from Penn State U, Hester Blum):

     What is eugenics?

Host:

    Sorry, the question is “What is evolution?”

I don’t think this contestant was well-informed on science. She laughed out loud when the subject for Final Jeopardy was introduced: Physics.

When I wrote Paul that this was both sad and funny, he responded:

t’s interesting but not surprising that someone would know just enough science to name scientists to cancel but not much beyond that. If it’s any consolation, she lost the contest.

It would be an English professor, wouldn’t it? (Or a sociologist or cultural anthropologist!)

I’ve written about T. H. Huxley (“Darwin’s bulldog”) several times, and about how his reputation has been unfairly besmirched. Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, for instance, has been renamed because the University deemed Huxley a racist. Now T. H. seems to be more associated with eugenics than with biology, abolitionism, or science education. And he was NEVER a proponent of eugenics!

70 thoughts on ““Jeopardy” shows that the Woke have won

  1. Let’s hope that this is just a person who knows nothing about science, maybe someone with a faulty memory about scientific terms. I don’t think this one incident means that the “woke” have won, but maybe that their influence is far bigger than they deserve. They need opposition, especially from we who consider ourselves liberals and progressives, and there are a lot of us.

    1. The “wokesters” and the “wokerati” face relatively little opposition and one imagines that they realize how much fear they engender in any and all who criticize them. They now occupy the commanding heights of the culture (the means of academic, cultural, and journalistic production), and even, to some extent, of the economy, with The Great Awokening having managed to influence even corporate America. The battle against this new faith (totalizing and totalitarian) will be long and hard indeed.

      1. Bull. People who create demonizing names for their opponents, and then paint with broad brushes, are less concerned with rational thouht than with retaining status quo power structures.

        It doesn’t matter if you shut down a conversation by shouting “Liberal!” “Racist!” “Islamophobe!” or “Woke!”

        The intent is the same. Trivializing a position, and ending discussion by pejorative.

        Communist! 😉

        1. Are no positions worthy of trivialization? Also… does it not matter that the term originated with the people at whom it is directed?

          1. > Are no positions worthy of trivialization?

            I haven’t found any that are. ‘Anarchist’ is a great example. People use it as an insult, without actually considering the philosophy behind it. People used to engage in serious thought about the matter; now they don’t. Now consider just how monotheists have trivialized the term ‘atheism’. Are you content that a third of humanity is trivializing you? How does that inhibit your ability to interact with them?

            > does it not matter that the term originated with the people at whom it is directed?

            My understanding is that the people who are currently identified as ‘woke’ did not originate the term. Either they misappropriated it, or someone else misappropriated it for them.

            I don’t have a clear and consistent standard for what terms I am comfortable reclaiming.

            1. I think you are simply incorrect as to the usage of “woke”. Before it was used in the derogatory sense it was widely used by those who we target with the word now. That’s just how it happened.

              As for your position on “trivialization” (which I would extend to include “ridicule”) I suggest you look further. At least as far as those who advocate for a flat earth.

              1. And, in my understanding, before that, it was used exclusively in the African-American community to mean ‘safe and paying attention’. So the term did not originate with the people whom it currently describes today.

              2. Source for the following excerpts :

                https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woke

                Excerpts :

                “”Wake up Africa! Let us work towards the one glorious end of a free, redeemed and mighty nation.” —Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions (1923)[3][4][5]”

                “Black American folk singer-songwriter Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly, uses the phrase near the end of the recording of his 1938 song “Scottsboro Boys”, which tells the story of nine black teenagers accused of raping two white women, saying: “I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there – best stay woke, keep their eyes open.”[9][10]”

              3. “Woke” originated in Black English but was adopted and spread more widely by those who we now refer to, derisively, as “woke”. It was in wide use in university communities like the one I live in. I have friends who still use it as a term of respect. I still have to explain that “woke” is not a good thing.

              4. Again, GBJames, your question was:
                > does it not matter that the term originated with the people at whom it is directed?

              5. “… those who advocate for a flat earth.”

                The ideas of a flat earth have been *Included* alongside the greatest discoveries, has been treated with *Equity* as to the means of evaluation of such *Diverse* cosmological thoughts and expression, doing all ideas *Justice* in the marketplace of ideas, and the conclusion has been formulated : bullhonky.

        2. Exonym: a term used to describe a third party that the third party neither recognises, nor uses itself.

          Liberals accept the label “liberal.” Racists use “white supremists.” But if we’re going to talk about Islamaphobes and the “woke,” I’m not sure there’s any term they recognize and use to describe their group as such. Instead, they’re “reasonable,” “moral,” “fair,” “normal,” or other terms that aren’t actual labels.

          Before we can argue about what positions a group holds, who’s in it, and whether they’re right or wrong, we ought to have a name for that group, If they’re not providing it, I think it’s permissible to come up with one.

          1. > Liberals accept the label “liberal.”

            Very true, whether those self-acknowledged liberals be on the Right (Australia), on the Left (US), or Libertarians (Everywhere else in the world). Watching both the Right and the Left try to take my label from me has been disheartening.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Party_of_Australia

            > If they’re not providing [a label], I think it’s permissible to come up with one.

            ‘PC’ is perfectly adequate. I don’t want to participate in stealing a label from another demographic.

            1. Is the fear irrational? As in fear of the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia)?

              Then that would be perfectly sound.

              However, a rational fear of 13 would simply be “fear of the number 13”.

              I’m not sure there is another word for rational fear.

              1. I don’t think the fear is irrational, for the religion I am fearing has consistently created more than its fair share of problems.
                It would be irrational if I hated or feared all Muslims, or even all people of Muslim ancestry (I don’t).
                I think, however, that we do not need to split hairs about the meaning and origin of words. The word “Islamophobe” was of course coined in order to shame critics of Islam into silence and means just that, a critic of Islam.

    2. I agree, and the professor may have been steered toward her answer by the “& ethics” connection.
      I watch bits of the show, but I am glad I did not see this exchange. I would have spewed out my beer or wine.

    3. I don’t see a logical connection between her incorrect answer and “wokeness,” either. She might even be aware of the work of Julian Sorell Huxley (1887 – 1975), an English evolutionary biologist and eugenicist—he was president of the British Eugenics Society from 1959 to 1962—and inadvertently confused the two Huxleys. I agree that the excesses of “wokeness” should be opposed, but I think linking her answer to wokeness is unwarranted.

      1. You are clearly unaware of the Woke movement’s attempts to dump and vilify Huxley for being a racist. Look at the question: T. H. Huxley and his quote on evolution and ethics. Not J. S. Huxley.

        Does that satisfy you. I believe my answer is more parsimonious than yours.

        1. I’m aware of creationists’ disdain for T. H. Huxley, but admittedly I have not encountered others’ efforts to label him a racist. I’ve subsequently looked for any comments by Professor Blum on eugenics. The only one I found was in her twitter account at https://twitter.com/hesterblum/status/1371132512219594752 where there is a reference to anti-trans legislation and eugenics and a link to a Slate article titled “The New Wave of Anti-Trans Legislation Sure Looks a Lot Like Eugenics” at https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/03/anti-trans-legislation-eugenics-sports-puberty.amp. She mentions she has a trans child in another tweet in the account.

    4. I don’t think this one incident means that the “woke” have won

      The Woke won’t have won until the answer to the question is eugenics.

      Edit: I needed to read the reply directly below this. Emily has already made the point.

  2. Don’t you think that if Jeopardy has stated the answer was “eugenics” then the Woke would have won. Maybe someone on the science-questions staff added this question on purpose as a public service, in reaction to the brouhaha at Bellingham. Trying to look on what’s left of the bright side!

    1. Yes, once I heard the contestant’s answer I held my breath hoping that it was considered incorrect.

      I haven’t noticed much wokeness on Jeopardy. They clearly have thrown in more questions about Black and brown authors, history, and culture in recent years which is ok. IMHO, they haven’t overdone it. On the other hand, they have had Dr. Oz and Mayim Bialik as hosts which might be more than a coincidence.

    2. Maybe someone on the science-questions staff

      Do games shows like this (I don’t think this one crosses the Atlantic, yet) actually have a Q-&-A staff? Generally they outsource the problem to specialist companies.
      I think that the well-known Kevin Ashman of the “Eggheads” house team runs one such company.
      (EDIT : he has worked as a question-setter – for BoB. I must be thinking of one of the other portfolio of major quizzers. Clearly I’ve disqualified myself from the job.)

      It’s cheaper than having to find, QA and check your own staff.
      It would be a brave quizzer to demand a double-check on Ashman’s work. He is scary-good, and exactly the sort of personality that would be pedantically insistent on having the eyes pupiled and the tease traversed by his minions in the question-mines.

  3. I’m glad the subsequent answer was not, for $500, “This is only a theory”

    Question : “What is evolution?”

  4. It would be an English professor, wouldn’t it? (Or a sociologist or cultural anthropologist!)

    What is “traducement of the humanities and social sciences”?

    I’ll stay with “Academic Infighting” for $200, Mayim. 🙂

  5. The prof saw “& Ethics” in the answer and got sucked right in. Priceless guerrilla activity by the show’s writers. (Hope I didn’t just get them fired.)

  6. “Eugenics” is, of course, well known as a spell cast by the demonic forces. By now, it is equally well known (to professors of English or sanctified subjects containing the words “Critical” or “Studies”) that this evil spell is somehow associated with T.H. Huxley, as well as with the names Galton, Pearson, and Fisher. This association reveals that the entire subject of Probability and Statistics is deeply suspect. Human Genetics, and Genetics generally, is doubly suspect: on the one hand through its reliance on Statistics, and on the other through its aural similarity to Eugenics.

  7. “Someone [who knows] just enough science to name scientists to cancel but not much beyond that.”

    Jerry linked to Dr. Blum’s faculty web page, where she describes her work, including writing about the literature on Arctic exploration (and her past and future trips on Arctic research ships). So this seems about right: she is science-adjacent, and has met some scientists, but is not knowledgeable about science.

    I think her mistake is forgivable: for someone in her area of scholarship, “eugenics” is all one would hear from her more woke colleagues and sources. She may not have any particular animus for Huxley. If she was asked about someone closer to her scholarship instead, like Peary trying to find the north pole, she would probably have a thought for his fame as an explorer (as well as his cancellation for maltreatment of Inuit people).

    1. “… she is science-adjacent …”

      By those lights, a sports journalist is boxing-adjacent.

      I’m not sure what that means, except that they’ll get creamed in the ring.

        1. I fear that Bialik is firmly entrenched as a Jeopardy host, as they introduce her as “the host of Jeopardy.” When Ken Jennings was on for a few weeks they introduced him as “hosting Jeopardy.”

          1. She has been hired to do prime time specials and other tournaments, like this professors one. And I hope that’s the extent of her hosting duties.

            1. That was before Mike Richards got canned. No word yet as to whether that role will continue for her, or if she will become the full time host. If they keep her doing the specials, I can live with that, but if she becomes host, I may have to give up watching the show.

              1. I tried really hard to get over what I don’t like about her hosting skills, but I can’t. I grew up watching Jeopardy and after Alex died and all the guest hosts, it was no longer a daily ritual I looked forward to. Matt Amodio’s winning streak got me back into it, and Ken Jennings coming back to host too. I don’t think she has a lot of fan support, so hopefully we won’t have to give up our trivia fix!

          2. > they introduce her as “the host of Jeopardy.”

            Have we gotten rid of the term ‘hostess´? I’m not complaining; most gendered terms have died out, aside from familial roles and noble titles. The last three standing seem to be ‘stewardess’, ‘waitress’, and ‘actress’, and even they are starting to sound dated. I miss the word ‘murderess’.

      1. I never thought of this until now :

        “_______ adjacent”, as I have ever read it, is meant to identify a relationship that A has with B, but B ends up essentially ignored as a bystander.

        “A is B-adjacent”

        Well, so is B! So what!

        What kind of language trick is going on here?!

        … thank you, I needed to get that out of my system.

        1. Sorry no language trick was intended by me. I’m sort of making fun of Blum. I like your “boxing-adjacent” analogy for a sports reporter, except that Blum is not even a science reporter. More like she walked past a gym and heard someone say Mike Tyson’s name, but all she could remember about him was that he bit someone.

        2. > identify a relationship that A has with B, but B ends up essentially ignored as a bystander.

          Yes, but it’s a question of relative size. When I see the term used, it is generally in regard to an individual being adjacent to a much larger community or field. I can say ‘Alice is geek-adjacent’, but I would not say ‘The geek community is Alice-adjacent.’ Imagine moving Jupiter close to the Sun. The two bodies would start falling toward each other – well, technically, toward their common barycenter. Still, colloquially, people would say ‘Jupiter is falling into the Sun’ and not ‘The Sun is falling into Jupiter’.

          1. “… it is generally in regard to an individual being adjacent to a much larger community or field.”

            Isn’t that obvious?

            1. I thought so. I was just wondering how else to interpret your point. I thought what you were saying was ‘Alice is Bob-Adjacent’ doesn’t explicitly mention that ‘Bob is Alice-adjacent’ is also true. How else should I understand what you wrote?

              1. ” “… it is generally in regard to an individual being adjacent to a much larger community or field.” Isn’t that obvious?”

                Is it not obvious that a single person is smaller than a “much larger community or field”, and if not, wouldn’t the accurate language for such a discrepancy – if it is one – simply be “A is smaller than B”?

              2. I’m still missing the point, then. How would you reframe things so that B does not end up essentially ignored as a bystander?

              3. George Orwell
                Politics and the English Language
                Section : “meaningless words”
                Also rules i-v, in particular :

                “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”

                “____adjacent” is thus, I have argued, a “jargon word” (phrase, really), highlighted by rules i-v (see link for the essay).

                I know it is bad form to hammer this tangent out in this post so I will end here.

                Source :
                https://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit

      2. “Those who can, do.

        Those who can’t do, teach.

        Those who can’t teach, administrate.”
        (Eyes passim.)

        1. Funny!

          But I emphasize – I am criticizing the *notion* of “____ adjacent” – as I imagine Orwell or Hitchens might… maybe Sullivan… – and nothing/no one else.

  8. I saw that. On the other hand, I think nobody on the episode, including the English prof,, knew John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. So even an English prof outside her own domain could not know something of English-language lit.

  9. It’s Hester Blum at Penn State surely. I had a quick look at web pages. She seems to me to be ‘closer’ to science than the great majority of professors of English, though her grants are not at all from science oriented institutions apparently. It appears she researches both fiction and non-fiction re Arctic matters, the 1800s and Herman Melville being among her specialties. And yet …… (Perhaps she was super nervous? I didn’t watch.)

    1. In regards to her mistakes she mentions a blood pressure spike associated with one game and comments on her Twitter account at https://twitter.com/HesterBlum/status/1468207394618499072 that “I would like very much to blame my more embarrassing wild mistakes on the blood pressure. But the truth is academia trains one for measured, thoughtful, long, considered responses, and blurting is counterproductive in both Jeopardy! and scholarship.”

    1. Prof Coyne’s email address is on the Research Interests page linked to near the top of this page. Or is it the “Author Website” (this emphatically being a website, not a blog).

  10. Off topic and tongue in cheek:

    I think my objection is that the whole format is a nonsense. If I asked “what is evolution?” The sentence “biologist T.H. Huxley was a renowned defender of this theory & in 1893 famously lectured on it ‘& Ethics’” wouldn’t tell me the answer.

    1. It is a peculiar format – and that very peculiarity may be a deliberate (or accidental, but recognised) tool for throwing acclimatised quizzers of their stride.

    2. There is a distinct magic-show element to it, isn’t there – a sort of “I wonder what answer-question pair they are looking for”-ness… “oh, they want THIS question for THIS answer, not those others, which could also be true”. Almost a music to the “correct” combinations.

      Nevertheless, I know it when I get them wrong.

    3. The actual problem type is closest to what would be called “fill in the blank” on a school test — that is, a specific word or phrase is sought, but with the added Jeopardy gimmick of “in the form of a question.” Matt Amodio nailed the absurdity of it by always answering “What’s X?” where X is the desired word/phrase, even when it made no grammatical or logical sense (e.g. “What’s Bill Clinton”). Perfectly within the rules …and Amodio claimed that it helped him concentrate on what mattered (recalling X) rather than how to phrase an appropriate question.

      1. While I understand why you would call it a gimmick, they do penalize contestants during the Double Jeopardy phase if they forget to put their answer in question form. Amodio’s scheme does make a lot of sense though.

  11. It’s worse than you think. I studied mathematics in the Huxley Building at Imperial College London. There was also a bust of the great man. I always felt that I was following in the foot steps of one of the great men of 19th century science when I was in that building. Now they have removed the bust and are renaming the building. Our society is truly in terminal decline.

  12. As a cultural anthropologist I felt I should comment both that the correct answer was obvious, and immediate, to me, and that I suspect it would be obvious to the vast majority of my cultural anthropology colleagues. But I have commented many times that it is bewildering to me that English Lit continues to be the largest academic department in many colleges and universities in the late 20th/early 21st century, at a time of remarkable scientific advancement — when at least one survey showed the average Harvard undergrad could not explain what DNA is.

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