A new “Heterodox STEM” group

January 1, 2022 • 11:00 am

The Heterodox Academy (HA) is a loosely-affiliated group of academics whose purpose is stated on its website:

Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan collaborative of 5,000+ professors, educators, administrators, staff, and students who are committed to enhancing the quality of research and education by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.

What this means, I gather, is that the Academy is a place where virtually no speech is taboo; and we all know that academia is ridden with societies and journals, as well as departments and professors, that consider some subjects as “undiscussable.”  At the Heterodox Academy you can voice your opinions relatively free from worries that you’ll be cancelled.

I haven’t been following the HA’s doings as a whole, but I see that they have a number of “communities”: subgroups where people can discuss issues in their particular academic field or geographic area (e.g., sociology, humanities, philosophy, classics psychology, California, Canada, Australia, and so on). Readers may be interested in participating in their field or geographic region, and the field that most interests me is Heterodox STEM (“Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”).  It’s at the link in the first line of this paragraph, one of the whole list of subgroups. Here’s a summary of what it’s about:

 

They have a Substack site here, which is a place to share writings, and if you subscribe by giving your email (I think), you can read the first article at the link below. You may have to join the group first, but try clicking on the site and subscribing.

The article written anonymously, and given the disapprobation falling upon those who criticizes DEI initiatives (you’ll know the story of Dorian Abbot), you’ll see why. I don’t know who wrote it, and it isn’t me. But if you want to see how those swimming against the tide of wokeness in STEM are thinking, do have a read (it’s short).

The beginning:

Over the past several years, there has been an increasing push within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for what has been dubbed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).  After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, which was filmed for all to watch in horror, DEI became the main focus of nearly all aspects of STEM communication.  You would be hard pressed to find a single university STEM department, professional organization, or publication that did not loudly signal their commitment to DEI, with their action plans to “do better.”  While the goals of this movement certainly sound admirable, the actions taken to achieve them are doomed to fail and have harmful consequences.  Whether this is due to the shortsightedness of well-intentioned people or a cynical and intentional attempt to destroy academia is less apparent.

There are many examples one can choose from to illustrate this fact, however in the interest of space, I will stick to several of the most prominent in recent news.  Dalhousie University in Canada recently advertised a tenure-track position in biological chemistry that is “restricted to candidates who self-identify in one or more of the following groups: Indigenous persons, persons with a disability, racially visible persons, women, and persons of a minority sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”  This ostensibly is an effort to increase the diversity of the faculty at Dalhousie University, which is an admirable goal, but the unintended consequences should be obvious.  To begin, a common complaint from non-white and female students or faculty is that at some point they have heard something along the lines of, “you were only accepted/hired here because you’re (identity group).”  This minimizes or flat out ignores the hard work and effort that people put in to reach their positions.  It should be clear as day that the discriminatory hiring at Dalhousie will further reinforce this sentiment among the hired professor’s peers.  It is also insulting.  The underlying assumption made by this policy is that if straight white men (the only group not mentioned in the allowable group) are allowed to apply, it will unfairly hurt the chances of those mentioned because they cannot compete.  I find it odd for a vocally “progressive” institution to echo the sentiments of right-wing twitter trolls, but here we are.

. . and it continues with other examples, ending with a list of ways we can fight the encroachment of wokeness in science.

I endorse a lot of what’s in this article, but not everything. My post is here is simply to call the program and its site to your attention in case you want to participate. I don’t how if it’s a “safe space” for dissent, and of course if you use your real name, you’re leaving yourself open for “cancellation.” I have joined, and post under my own name, but I find that my own website serves me better for expressing my own views than posting on the newsgroup. But I do make occasional contributions (sometimes just calling attention to posts here), and am really interested in hearing what other people have had to say.

Again, if you want to join, email one of the three directors (I haven’t listed them here because I’m loath to put email addresses on my site, but you can find them at the link above.)

I give these caveats for the same reason that the Heterodox Academy exists: you can get in big trouble these days for merely saying what you think, even in a rational discussion. And it’s simply not on to bring up certain ideas, even if they’re true.  That’s of course terribly inimical to free expression, but the HA is a place where such expression is encouraged.

22 thoughts on “A new “Heterodox STEM” group

  1. HxA STEM has a limited membership:

    “At this time, the moderators of this HxCommunity invite colleagues working in academia, education, and research institutions across the globe. This group is not yet open to students and postdocs.”

  2. One additional, quick thought. There was an against-DEI-document-in-STEM letter sent around last year. I believe it was started by an English professor in Texas? Adam (last name)? Sadly, signing the thing amounted to having my Inbox spammed again and again and again. Guessing a subset of the folks in that other anti-DEI group may be part of HxA’s new group. I found the other group insufferable and discourteous (rudely ignoring clear requests not to be spammed) despite being in general agreement with the premise…

    Hope this HxA STEM group is more professional.

  3. Thanks for letting us know. I am already a member of HxA, and have now
    joined the HxA STEM sub-group. Those with an advanced case of emeritis, like me, are not involved in hiring decisions and day-to-day practices in our old institutions, but we can send references and links—such as to essays at this site, and elsewhere, such as Anna Krylov’s powerful JPCL article. Some of these links have generated controversy, confirming their significance.

  4. The problem is {white men} hiring committees. The group, {white men}, tends not to be able to sufficiently evaluate the talents and learning of ~{white men}. A better solution than restricting employment to ~{white men} would be to ensure the hiring committee included ~{white men}.

      1. So, your argument against the DEI programs is that bias in hiring doesn’t exist? I have anecdotal evidence from watching it happen in a University Department, but research bibliography on that topic is huge.

  5. In late 2021 “The Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education” became institutional policy at many Canadian universities.

    https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/principal/sites/utsc.utoronto.ca.principal/files/docs/Scarborough_Charter_EN_Nov2022.pdf

    Lots of fun observations to make about that one. The “Scarborough Charter” is enthusiastic about race-based recruitment of professors and students. But it is silent on race-based hiring of electricians, plumbers, and other working-class university employees. It’s written by and is supposed to benefit faculty members and their support staff, the people Isaac Asimov derisively called “scowlers”.

    My favourite is section 4 on creating “Accountability in teaching and learning by…providing anti-Black racism education for all members of the university or college while developing performance expectations for faculty and staff that build capacity on anti-racism and Black inclusion.”

    Totally not a cult.

    1. Yes I’m sure these things vary a lot among universities. Blue-collar workers are not obviously more or less diverse than the faculty members at my university. Black people make up <1% of the population here, and anti-Black racism is just not really a thing (or no more so than any other bigotry), but the large South Asian, Chinese, and Korean populations in my city are grossly underrepresented on the faculty and elsewhere on campus (except among students, where these families send a lot of their kids to us for a degree). I guess that's what I'm poking fun at.

  6. I hope this works out – but I had the same hopes for the University of Austin. It seems like when a group comes out opposing the leading censorship of the day, it ends up embracing the oppositional political party. We saw the same thing with anti-censorship social networks like Parlor that ended up being mouthpieces for the other side. I hope this group works out, but experience has left me cynical.

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

    1. I think this is far from being the University of Austin: it’s a discussion group and there’s plenty of dissent but it’s also very civil. I am far more enthusiastic about it than I am about that ill-fated university.

      1. Sir, I hope you’re right. Emotionally…. well, I am afraid I lack your emotional ability to be enthusiastic. Every infrastructure I see ends up being a race to the bottom – which is precisely why the Left and Right are experiencing the problems they are, The Right just seems to have hit bottom before the Left.

        Even if HA is not currently Right, I fully expect it to be adopted by the Right soon. Once that happens, I do not expect them to be consistently reliable. We saw the same drama with Quillette.

        Any of us who continue not to be aligned with the New Left or the New Right will have to cherry pick. And I hate where that leads.

  7. I hope this is a tightly controlled offshoot of Heterodox Academy. So far, many organizations like this have popped up, but they always seem to either be solely conservative or initially started with good intentions but then “captured” and made essentially obsolete by conservative leadership.

    I hope we see more organizations like this pop up over the coming year, as the more there are, the higher the likelihood that one or even a few will come out on top as nationally recognized groups that are solely devoted to reducing the extreme chilling of even moderately liberal opinions (such as entirely reasonable policy positions like being against riots, or wanting better border security) in academia. We need organizations that can fight back, not be bastions for a few right-wingers to push creationism, or actual racism, etc. Of the organizations so far, I have the most hope for this one solely because it’s connected to Heterodox Academy, and Johnathan Haidt has shown himself to be a largely moderate person dedicated to the values I actually hope a group like this will be keeping as their core values: freedom to express opinions, make higher education less “safe” and conformist, and stop the encroachment into STEM of those conformist attitudes that lead to less “popular” subjects of researched being funded, undertaken, and/or publicized.

    We live in hope…

  8. “STEM (“Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”)”

    I would like to comment delicately on the language of STEM, as I understand the need for it – but excesses abound. Two long points :

    1. “STEM” also serves as a marketing term for products and services for ages as low as three. Some companies indiscriminately slap it on toys. “STEM” also can be found on advertisements for events for kids. It is not clear what role the term “STEM” is serving for students old enough to know what many different occupations are.

    2. The “M” part – “mathematics” – is like saying “sports” – a broad variety of skills, techniques, and tools to use in many areas (applied research) as well as research for its own sake (“pure” mathematics perhaps). I have heard that the definition of mathematics is “what mathematicians do”. Similar argument might be made for “science”.

    As such, I wonder if “STEM” emphasizes _research_? Medicine is supposedly a synthesis of STEM, and is not itself STEM -or is it? If not, is medical research STEM? Is psychology STEM? They use scientific tools now.

    Apologies for diving into a nitpick over language. And I only pointed to S and M, and not very well at that.

    1. A good point. I guess, “science broadly construed” (but not science overboardly construed, i.e. including Mātauranga Māori)!

  9. I never understood why both Technology and Engineering are mentioned, since Engineering is a subdivision of Technology. Maybe the intention was simply to make a word that could be pronounced. I think it would be logical to include Medicine: this would probably have the side-effect of increasing the reported ratios of female to male students and faculty.

    1. Not necessarily. I’m seeing that about 10% of students entering the first year med school classes of English-speaking universities around the word decline to specify what sex they are, or pick “other” instead of M/F. And of course, those who pick a M/F sex might not necessarily look the part. Pretty soon all sex-based biostatistics, including criminality, will become meaningless.

      (There is an old joke that an epidemiologist is a doctor broken down by age and sex. Someday instead of a groan you’ll get a blank stare (or an angry accusation of micro-aggression.)

    2. ” . . . Engineering is a subdivision of Technology.”

      I have always assumed that the reverse is true, but at the moment I can’t adequately articulate why I’ve thought that. Engineering appears to be fundamentally about design. At the same time, it seems technologists study technique (“tech” meaning “craft” from Greek IIRC) and design/create techniques/technical knowledge/procedures/methods for technicians to employ in troubleshooting/repairing equipment designed by engineers.

      Years ago I saw a University of Tennessee College of Engineering bumper sticker: “Where Science Gets Down To Work.”

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