The inanities of Scientific American—almost all within just one year

January 26, 2022 • 1:00 pm

I’m tired of beating up on Scientific American, even though the magazine saw its best days years ago and is superannuated—it was founded in 1845 and has published work by 200 Nobel Laureates.  No, I’m not going to say that—I’ll let someone else do it. That someone is Peter Burns, who, at Medium, wrote the article below (click on the screenshot to read it):

There’s not a lot new here, as Burns just reiterates that Sci. Am. published the much-discussed hit piece on Ed Wilson, calling him a racist (Gregor Mendel was also tarred with that label) only a few days after Wilson died. I know of no evidence that Wilson was a racist, though some hint darkly that they will produce that evidence. And surely Mendel was not a racist. He might have been an ageist (see below), but I’ll eat my hat if they dig out evidence that the friar was dire.

Burns goes through Monica McLemore’s ludicrous hit-job, but says about the same thing I did, so you can read for yourself.  He did dig into McLemore’s links, though, and here’s a bit of Burns worth reading:

You really should read that study; it’s an all-time classic of conflating science with ideology—and yet its inanities are taken seriously!

Before I go, I want to do two more things. First, make a joke (at bottom) and second, give a list of all the ludicrous pro-“elect” articles (I’m reading McWhorter’s book) that have recently appeared in Scientific American, as well as articles that are purely ideological and have nothing to do with science.  The Wilson hit-job was not a one-off thing. The bits in bold below link to my posts, and in plain text to the Sci. Am. articles. These are just articles I’ve written about that were called to my attention by readers; I don’t read the rag, and I’m sure there are others. I’ve not included the Wilson hit piece, which I discussed here.

1.) Bizarre acronym pecksniffery in Scientific American.Title: “Why the term ‘JEDI’ is problematic for describing programs that promote justice, diversity, equity, and Inclusion.”

2.) More bias in Scientific American, this time in a “news” article. Title: “New math research group reflects a schism in the field.”

3.) Scientific American again posting non-scientific political editorials.Title: “The anti-critical race theory movement will profoundly effect public education.

4.) Scientific American (and math) go full woke.  Title: “Modern mathematics confronts its white, patriarchal past.”

5.) Scientific American: Denying evolution is white supremacy. Title: “Denial of evolution is a form of white supremacy.”

6.) Scientific American publishes misleading and distorted op-ed lauding Palestine and demonizing Israel, accompanied by a pro-Palestinian petition. Title: “Health care workers call for support of Palestinians.” (The title is still up but see #7 below)

7.) Scientific American withdraws anti-Semitic op-ed. Title of original article is above, but now a withdrawal appears (they vanished the text): “Editor’s Note: This article fell outside the scope of Scientific American and has been removed.”   Now, apparently, nothing falls outside the scope of the magazine!

8.) Scientific American: Religious or “spiritual” treatment of mental illness produces better outcomes. Title: “Psychiatry needs to get right with God.”

9.)  Scientific American: Transgender girls belong on girl’s sports teams. Title:  “Trans girls belong on girls’ sports teams.”

and one more for an even ten, as I’m not going to spend another minute doing this:

10.) Former Scientific American editor, writing in the magazine, suggests that science may find evidence for God using telescopes and other instruments. Title: “Can science rule out God?

Is ten enough to show you where the magazine is going? I’m surprised that the sub-editors don’t quit en masse. After all, these article were all published within the last three years.


Let me finish by recounting a joke I made in my first post defending Mendel that several authors have now claimed for themselves. This is what Burns says:

Seriously, how was Gregor Mendel a racist? This guy spent his entire life in a monastery in Brno (in what is now the Czech Republic) observing peas grow. Unless he wrote somewhere that yellow peas are racially superior to green peas, I don’t see why his name was on the list.

I won’t call him out for theft of humor, but here’s what I said in my first post:

We’ve talked about most of these people before, and yes, they had ideas that today would be considered racist, but Darwin was also an abolitionist. And MENDEL, for crying out loud? Find me one piece of Mendel’s writings that suggest that the good friar was a racist! Were green peas considered superior to yellow peas? Here we have McLemore simply making stuff up: throwing Mendel’s discoveries of inheritance into the pot with the other accused “racists.” This is dreadful scholarship, almost humorous in its ignorant assertions.

Look, the green vs. yellow trope was mine (it’s slight but it’s okay), but if you want to steal something better, here’s a trope I suggest:

Mendel found that the shape of round peas was genetically dominant over that of wrinkled peas. This is nothing more than ageism on Mendel’s part.

If you read that anywhere from now on, remember that it’s been lifted from here.  And I’ll be here all year, folks!


Round vs. wrinkled peas. Actually, the recessive “wrinkled” trait is more prized by breeders, as wrinkled peas are sweeter.

22 thoughts on “The inanities of Scientific American—almost all within just one year

  1. That ‘white empiricism’ discussion is weird (and deceptive). McLemore makes it sound like the mainstream scientific community is using the term “white empiricism” to describe mainstream science. But her own link describes it being more like some right-wing supremacist rejection of mainstream science.

    There are groups that reject relativity – but they aren’t mainstreamers. They’re mostly right-wing creationists and anti-Semites – the former doing it because it’s deemed not biblical, and the latter because they can’t abide Einstein being Jewish. You’ve also got people who reject it out of incredulity (i.e. it’s just too counter-intuitive for them to accept it).

    Mendel found that the shape of round peas was genetically dominant over that of wrinkled peas. This is nothing more than ageism on Mendel’s part.

    For those who like modern board games, there’s a 2020 worker placement game “Genotype” where you are monks investigating four pea traits (flower color, pod color, seed shape, height), trying to figure out which are dominant and recessive in different varieties or species. I give it a 7/10. Pros are that it’s got good mechanics and a good pace. Cons: a bit over-complicated, and as a ‘historical’ style board game it’s too easy to forget the theme and just play to the mechanics to be top notch. The kid (10 y.o.) likes it, but I expect it won’t get as much replay as several of our other games.

  2. That rubbish about white empiricism is courtesy of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, cosmologist and assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire. She epitomizes the “mean girls” clique of the SJW astrophysics twitterati. She’s clearly very smart, and as a black jewish non-binary woman her bona fides are impeccable; however, follow her for a while and you’ll see the mask of tolerance slip, revealing her utter disdain for her perceived socioeconomic inferiors (e.g., sub-editors, wait-staff).

  3. The long (and doubtless incomplete) list of inane Sci Am articles is very dispiriting. Thankfully, our host ended on a cheerful note with the gag about Mendel’s ageism!

  4. You really should read that study; it’s an all-time classic of conflating science with ideology

    Why am I not surprised that the author of it has too few research publications (3 lead-authored in refereed journals, only one such since under PhD supervision; link) to obtain a faculty position, were it not for her “identity”?

  5. Skip this if you dislike juvenile humour.

    But the laws of the universe do change according to skin colour. If we abandon the bifurcated logic of the pale, stale and male in favour of matauranga marginalised black women physicists, then Nicole Hannah-Jones can rev up the 1919 Project in which we will learn:

    Eddington found that E=mcHammer squared, but misinterpreted his findings;
    Sommerfeld and Kossel’s displacement law is wrong;
    Jeans’ discovery of the distribution function of particles was really his wife’s;
    Betz’s law is wrong.

  6. Jeans’ discovery of the distribution function of particles was really his wife’s;

    I can’t work out which function you’re talking about, so I’ll tackle the question of the wife – are you ascribing this work to the one whose public career was as a poet, or the one who was an harpsichordist? Both professions renowned for their basis in mathematical physics.

    1. It’s what they signed up for – I’m sure there’s a verse in the Bible that says ‘Peas on earth to all men’!

  7. The racism which McLemore found in Mendel’s laws of Genetics is obvious. First, factors which mask
    their alternative in the F1 hybrid (like yellow > green, or smooth > wrinkled) he called dominant, rather than yellow supremacist, smooth supremacist, oppressive, hegemonic, or other appropriate terms from the vocabulary of Social Justice. And the very words “dominant” and “dominance” imply power differentials and thus uphold the System of Oppression. Likewise, he called the factor (we now say allele) which is masked “recessive”, when the correct SJ term should be “marginalized”.

    The McLemore/Prescod-Weinstein dialect of ideologized science-studies talk is nothing new. There was of course the Lysenkovshchina of the USSR in the 1930s-40s, although it was officially abandoned
    there in the later 1950s. But in the 1970s, at the University of Sussex a little clutch of “Science for the People” enthusiasts could be found who liked to analogize DNA to the Ruling Class, and ribosomes to
    The Proletariat. No kidding.

  8. This aways confuses me. I have been reading Scientific American in magazine form for years, and I haven’t seen ANY of this offensive stuff. Indeed, the February 2022 issue has an editorial by the Board of Editors basically blasting “wokeness” in American History curricula, and recommending more material covering the treatment of minority groups both historically and currently.
    It would really help me if all these critiques of the “failing Scientific American” could cite issues and pages, so I could see for myself.

    1. You mean THIS article?

      American History Should Teach Reality.
      Scientific American. Feb2022, Vol. 326 Issue 2, p10-10. 1p. 1 Color Photograph.
      Document Type:
      Subject Terms:
      *CRITICAL race theory
      *EDUCATION — United States
      *PUBLIC officers
      The authors emphasize the importance of critical race theory (CRT) to a fact-based education in the U.S. They cite the implication of the election of officials who opposed CRT and enactment of legislation banning CRT from school curricula in some states for children’s education. They mention the significance of lessons about equity and social justice to young people. They point out that truth and reality will be removed from education if conversations around race and society are eliminated.

      Are you nuts? Favoring CRT is not blasting wokeness; it’s favoring it. What are you talking about?

      1. Uh, did you read the editorial, or just the abstract? What they are opposed to is “propagating a falsified views of reality in which American history and culture are outcomes of white virtue.” They argue this position is bunk. They say a better approach is to present history so that “children can better comprehend why people of color are far more likely to be subjected to the ravages of pollution and climate change or how a legacy of U.S. science that experimented on Black and Indigenous Americans may have led to distrust of doctors and health care.”

        I think all of these things are undeniably true, and that whitewashing school curricula of all mention of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic bias does students a disservice. However, I’m aware that the Fox News depiction of CRT, as opposed to the position that racial biases have influenced American history, might amount to wokeness. I simply can’t believe you would regard “teaching reality” as something regrettable. “Fox News CRT” is a misrepresentation crafted to frighten those who couldn’t define what CRT was originally intended to be.

        Going back to the abstract, do you seriously WANT “truth and reality to be removed from education”? What would YOU prefer be taught, if not facts?

        1. I read the whole damn editorial. The version of CRT they present in the first paragraph is the classical one, which you apparently don’t know. Here’s the first sentence of that editorial:

          Elected officials who campaigned against critical race theory (CRT), the study of how social structures perpetuate racial inequality and injustice, are being sworn into office all over the U.S.

          That is about structural racism, which is not something everybody agrees on. Neither you nor Scientific American understand that CRT is not “there is racism, and some of it still exists.” There are many takes on CRT, but what I’ve just said is not it–and that’s the one that Sci Am uses, though it’s confused about what it’s trying to say. I strongly suggest that you read this article:

          I would not accuse the host of just reading the abstract, if I were you. I have access to the whole journal in the library and read the whole article. Have you read the posting Roolz?

  9. I took apart the link to white empiricism, too, in your post on this SciAm article. Since this only is directly mentioned, see here:

    I posted also links, and discussed Delgado & Stefancic (Crt) ages ago, which only now seem to become relevant for the mainstream. I also try to make you aware every other post that there is not just one left in the USA, but at least two fairly distinct ones (1. Occupy/Sanders, defeated and supplanted by 2. Wokeness/Sjw/Elect/successor ideology/regressives).

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