Ideological distortions of biology

July 23, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’m making a list of the ways that biology—and evolutionary biology in particular—has been distorted, censored, or even affected these days by ideology. Here’s a short list of ten examples that struck me, and I invite readers to add others. I will be using some of this material in the future, but now I’m just gathering thoughts and crowdsourcing any that I haven’t had. I’m not going to argue in detail about these claims here (though I will comment); I’m just making a list. There are many readers who are biologists, but I think most people are aware of some incursions of ideology into biology.

A.) The denial of animal “sexes” in biology, particularly denying the claim that biological sex in humans is about as binary as it gets.

B.) The denigration of evolutionary psychology as a discipline, mainly the claim that it’s a worthless enterprise. This amounts to admitting that while our bodies bear traces of our ancestry, our minds and behaviors don’t. (Yes, I admit that the field has been sloppy, but that’s not the same thing as saying it’s worthless.)

C.) The claim that “race” (I prefer “ethnicity”) is purely a social construct with no biological value and containing no biological information. I don’t believe in “races” as they were classically conceived of by Carleton Coon and others, but humans are genetically different from place to place, and those differences contain information of value in tracing our ancestry and our movement around the globe from Africa.

D.) The insistence by some anthropologists that we shouldn’t even try to determine the sex of ancient bones, much less their “ethnicity”. (I discussed this the other day.)

E.) The notion that indigenous “ways of knowing” (while they may contain practical knowledge) are not only superior to scientific (i.e. “colonialist”) “ways of knowing” but also contain claims about ideology, morality, legends, and word of mouth that are as reliable as modern science. My main example of this has been Mātauranga Māori.

F.) The denigration of famous evolutionary biologists of the past for failure to conform to modern ethics or beliefs (Fisher, Galton, Darwin, etc.) Some of these claims carry weight, but most, I think, don’t, unless most people of those eras were already more morally enlightened than the demonized biologist.

G.) “Blank slateism”: the view that human variation isn’t much influenced by variation in our genes (this is not the same thing as evolutionary psychology, which itself is a kind of blank slate-ism involving the past). Blank slateism is coupled to the view that humans are almost infinitely malleable simply by changing their environments.

H.) DARWIN WAS WRONG. Of course he was, about many things, but as I said in a comment this morning, it’s amazing how much he got right. We hear a lot about what he got wrong these days, but have you seen any articles saying that “DARWIN WAS RIGHT”, and noting what he did get right?

I.) The field of biology, and especially evolutionary biology, is at present structurally racist—that is, there are built-in features of the field that have been put there to hold down minorities. (This is different from asserting that there are racist biologists.)

J.) The attempt to minimize or censor data showing differences between biological sexes in athletic performance, and the claim that there are no genetically-based behavioral differences between men and women on average.

That’ll do for now. Thoughts?

 

91 thoughts on “Ideological distortions of biology

    1. One might indeed wonder whether any “wokester” has ever actually read Pinker’s magnum opus, The Blank Slate, or even understands the meaning of the term “Neo-Lysenkoism.”

  1. Race is biologically determined. Anthropologists define ethnicity as culturally determined. A Han Chinese is Asian by race, Han Chinese by shared culture with other Han Chinese. A Hopi Indian is Native American by race, but a Hopi shares culture with other Hopis, not Iraquois.

    1. Other people have repeatedly told me that you can often tell a persons’ ancestry even more precisely than “Asia”, or “Africa”. For example, that one can identify certain facial features from someone who lives in Korea versus China or Japan. Those in Africa often have even more distinct features, based on where they live.

      1. I can pretty much distinguish a Pueblo Indian like a Hopi from a Navajo or Apache by facial features, though they are both Native American by race. The groups are also distinguishable linguistically, which is cultural.

    2. I’m glad you posted this Jean. I, too, have tried to convince Jerry not to use “ethnicity” as a substitute for “race”, thus far to no avail.

      1. This seems to be a common problem. “Race” and “ethnicity” are used interchangeably when the terms denote different things. As a researcher who did work with one ethnic group within a racial group comprised of several, the failure to understand the difference really grates on me, particularly among folks whose ideas I respect and should know better!

  2. *Whew* That is a sweeping summary!
    There is F’ (F-prime): The effort to change species names that are based on olde taxonomists because they held racist views that were common in their time.

  3. We have all encountered bits and pieces of these ideological distortions. Seeing them presented as a grocery list is a distressing glimpse into the future of science if these misapprehensions continue to grow. Thank you for pushing against the tide.

  4. Here is another: the notion, rife in “decolonize STEM” verbiage, that because the scientific revolution was roughly contemporaneous with the beginning of European colonialism and the African slave trade, that therefore Science in general is associated with or complicit in the latter activities. One could just as logically argue that the invention of the French horn and the bassoon is connected with the slave trade; or that the European voyages of exploration brought about the climate change of the little ice age of ~1560 to 1650.

  5. Creationism, “intelligent design” and the claim that animals/organs are too complex to have evolved, deserve a place on the list.

    The denial that genes affect people’s IQ (and other behavioural and personality traits) is covered under “blank slateism” but likely deserves its own entry.

    1. If I’m understanding what Jerry is looking for, it seems to be more ideological distortions within the scientific community. Anyone espousing intelligent design is not a scientist but a promoter of religion.

      Otherwise, I’d nominate anti-GMO as another ideological entry. But that’s also not based on science.

    2. So true! Modern scientist do summersaults to avoid recognizing the importance of IQ and its link to genetics.

  6. I was going to mention Lysenkoism or neoLamarkism – but I was beaten to it. I’d suggest NAMA (h/t Stephen Jay Gould). No Alternative Magisteria meaning ‘every other magisteria’ including science is subordinate to the political enthusiasms of the moment.

  7. Veganism and antispecism can also be considered as distortions of biology. These two convergent philosophical positions are leading to such sentences I found on the Web 14 years ago (when preparing my farewell lecture on “the evolution of the relations between humans and other animals”):

    “One thing is certain, the predation is horrible and we must try, if it is possible, to remedy it. It is our duty as sensitive humans with increasingly greater intervention capacities. Sterilization campaigns should therefore be considered to gradually eradicate predators, except if genetic manipulations aimed at giving them other eating habits are possible.”

    1. My wife is a former vegan, vegetarian and now most accurately pescatarian. I feel like we settled on the notion that some people can thrive being vegan or vegetarian and others simply don’t. Most likely this can or eventually will be, determined through genetic profiling.
      Her oncologist (she’s a cancer survivor) urged her to add an animal protein to her diet about 2x / week. She has eliminated all dairy products from her diet.
      Predation may or may not be horrible but certainly factory farming is a disadvantage to the environment and the lives lost to it. I apologize I may not fully understand your comment, but it seems there is a place for veganism, vegetarianism and at the least not making our first choice in sustenance based upon our ability to forcefully breed, medicate and slaughter other beings in large numbers. Reducing our dependence on animal proteins (without complete elimination) seems to be a reasonable survival strategy. thanks, Steve

      1. Steve, I mostly agree with you, and certainly so in the question of the abuses of factory farming. But I don’t want to eliminate tigers (and other felines) or to modify them to feed on cauliflowers. Veganism and vegetarianism are perhaps debatable, but this debate must be strictly restricted to the human species.

        1. If you eliminate predators, you will have a population explosion of their prey. I live in New England, where there was once a native species of mountain lion called the Eastern Puma. The last known one was killed in Maine in 1938. Since then, the white-tailed deer population has grown so large that the government is importing western cougars in an attempt to keep the deer population manageable. If you’re going to sterilize the predators, you’ll need to do the same with the prey (“One doe, one faun?”).

        2. Ok we are in agreement and more so when I understand that there is a movement to eliminate natural predators? I was completely unaware that that even existed. Tigers are tigers.
          this from Katey is a pretty succinct way of describing what we try to adhere to.
          “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals.”
          and I’ll utilize this sentence as well from Katey to describe the direction we would happily move towards.
          And finally This from you, Mr. Hausser is also well written and most agreeable.
          enjoyed this conversation.

          1. I wouldn’t really call it a movement. It’s more of a fringe element outside mainstream veganism (which, like all ideologies, must be tempered with rationality and pragmatism. Otherwise it’s religion).

            As a new vegan who was coming to terms with the fact that my goal of reducing harm to animals was not being met by vegetarianism (egg-laying hens and dairy cows suffer the most, and my consumption of those products actually increased as a vegetarian), I came across abolitionist veganism, which is what the elimination of predators stems from, I believe. There are a lot of antiscientific views espoused by many of those adherents. And a strong element of what I would call assholery that turns off a lot of people who are otherwise interested in reducing the suffering of animals and trying to find a way to do so (pragmatic veganism advocates whatever works for individuals to do so, and that might include reductionarianism as first steps, because it IS difficult to change your entire way of eating, shopping, clothing, etc). But abolitionist vegans scream ‘baby steps are for babies!’ I don’t think this is helpful for most people.

            But I don’t keep up with current trends in vegan advocacy so much, or even the news about how bad it is for animals, since it effects me terribly. I try to focus on a lot of the positive progress, because there has been a lot. Though I can’t say my weight progressed positively with the advent of the ubiquity of vegan junk food. 😉

    2. I always refer back to the original definition of veganism, and ignore the more “critical theorizing” of it (as I do with many other disciplines):

      “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals.”

      I feel in that simple definition, there is a reasonable framework that can be adapted to different situations. With that in mind, I interpret such extreme meddling in the lives of wild obligate carnivores that do not share our human morality and philosophizing as exploitation (not to mention the horrendous cascade of consequences on the ecological landscape that would ensue, and cause even more suffering).

      However, domesticated carnivores that we keep as pets poses a challenge, as feeding them requires us to breed and slaughter other species. We are choosing who is more valuable, in effect. I have hope this problem (and others) will be resolved with the commercial availability of lab cultured meat. After 20 years of vegetarianism and then veganism, I have no desire or taste for meat myself, but I would happily feed a “cruelty free” version to some kitties!

  8. I am still looking for some reference/citation where, in science, in particular biology or medicine, the term “binary” was used in a specific way to describe biological sex, or mating types (which I think is what this general category is called). Is “binary” the language used in that literature?

    That is to distinguish from loose use of the word “binary”, in an off-hand way, or by _analogy_ to binary computation, where either a zero is in the exponent of base two, or a one.

    Or perhaps it is simply meant as one of the other definitions of “binary” now found in dictionaries.

    1. … Or of course, “nonbinary”. Which is not a widely used or specific scientific or mathematical word as far as I am aware.

    2. I ran a JSTOR search of “binary” + “sex” within journals of the biological sciences: this was the first example (out of around 5,500):

      D. Crews, “Binary Outputs from Unitary Networks”, Integrative and Comparative Biology 53.6 (2013), 888-894 (if you have access to JSTOR, it’s at https://www.jstor.org/stable/26369454).

      The article speaks repeatedly about sex as a purely binary phenomenon; the interest of the author is why, despite this, one finds the phenomenon of behaviors associated with one sex being present in the other sex. It looks at the processes by which binary sex develops, and concludes that although sex is binary, modern vertebrates are (I quote) “fundamentally bisexual in nature”, with the differentiation into a sexual binary caused by particular developmental pathways that vary between species.

  9. addressing A, C, I , J,
    please correct me where my vocabulary is lacking or incorrect, or my logic is faulty.
    That there are binary sexes ( tertiary ?)
    I can understand – male , female, hermaphrodite.
    There is a variety of genders – assigned male – expressing as female, assigned female expressing as male etc, etc I can understand – it’s all chemical and when you mix the soup you get mostly THIS and THAT but sometimes in a particular instance you get ThISS. That doesn’t devalue ThiSS, just suggest it’s less common.
    There is a great variety inherent in sexual attraction.
    When you mix in the complexities of gender, sex, sexual attraction it ends up a really wide spectrum, I would imagine in the shape of a bell curve,
    The discrimination against the less populated communities is REAL. It’s expressed in healthcare, laws, legislation, housing, employment, civil rights etc ad nauseum.
    We as a society address these inequities in a haphazard, clumsy manner.
    Example; My daughter should not HAVE to compete against a biological male, who has transitioned, to female, in a sporting event. BUUUUUT that biological male, presenting female, SHOULD have access to support for their talent in the same way my daughter may have.
    We, as the wealthiest civilization in history, with the most access to information ever (especially scientific information) should be able to figure out solutions, alter course when necessary and make society equitable, if not completely equal.
    With the question of racial inequalities I could accept that certain genetic traits afford a small population of humans a deficiency or ability in certain areas. What I can’t accept is that the outward expression of such cannot be altered or magnified with an investment of time, resources, individual attention.
    Which leads me to the scare word “Capitalism”. I can’t figure out the causes of such obviously detrimental ideas as racism, misogyny, prejudice without going back to capitalism. Even the obviously ridiculous beliefs as espoused by religions seem to lead back to a profit motive, either power or money. –
    Forgive me if I haven’t been clear – not classically educated but incredibly curious.
    Steve

    1. Forgive me for my lack of understanding, but you’re most certainly not clear.
      I cannot make head or tail of your post, but then, I’m just a simple human critter.

      1. Nicolaas – yeah I guess that first I can be a clumsy writer and second maybe it doesn’t translate well ? Is there a specific question I can try to clear up?

        1. How are you defining “genders” as opposed to “sexes”? How is gender displayed other than as stereotypical manners and behaviours through which men and women express socially acceptable forms of masculinity and femininity? If a girl prefers playing with trucks rather than dolls is that an expression of gender? Or is it just personality?

    2. I’m pretty sure there’s no hermaphroditism in humans. The many DSDs that exist, each in tiny numbers, are specifically related to one sex or the other.
      That has nothing to do with the fashionable concept of ‘gender identity’ which, while claiming to be the cause of the greatest oppression, actually has most govt departments, schools, hospitals, & corporations in their grasp.
      Yes, trans rights activists could have campaigned for fairness for both girls/women and trans women – but that’s not the route they took, and we’re paying a heavy price: women losing jobs, expelled from social media, refused a voice at the top tables, men present in women’s facilities in prisons, changing rooms, hospital wards…. That was a positive choice. They don’t want fairness, they want to BE women.
      I don’t want this to become another thread about sex and gender, because the original post is far too interesting. However, the ‘most vulnerable group’ narrative can’t go unchallenged.
      (UK position)

    3. Stephen,
      I’m late to te party – but wanted to say that your post was VERY clear.
      In fact, as I read it, I was wondering at my astonishment at such a clear, inquiring, good faith post.
      The example of your daughter shows a healthy, balanced, non-idelogical approach.
      Just wanted to assure you that being unable to make ‘heads or tails’ of your post is not a real thing.
      Keep posting.

  10. For C), my feeling is that the concept of “race” as reproductively isolated populations was once much more correct than it is now, due to increased mobility and intermixing. And it will continue to diminish. So, more important historically than currently.
    For F) I believe you should champion Darwin in this regard, but maybe steer away from his cousin.

    1. All of my four children are of ‘double blood’, my oldest one has a Southeast Asian mother, the 3 other ones have South African Khoe and Bantu ancestors. I’m sorry to mix up the nice categories, but that is how it is. You are perfectly right. (no, I’m definitely not planning to have more children, or rather: I’m definitely planning to have no more children).

      1. My own children are all mixed race too. But again, it’ll be a long, loong time before eg. Japan becomes noticeably blended. Even here in Americ you’ll have pockets of ‘purity’ for many generations to come (eg. the Amish).

  11. K. Jumping on the Epigenetics bandwagon with claims like ‘my grandmother’s broken heart caused my depression and obesity’.

    1. Agreed. The trendiness of epigenetics (often espoused by people who for various reasons oppose the Modern Synthesis) needs to be called out.

      1. Deepak Chopra had a book published in 2015 called Super Genes. It’s a good example of this trendy misapplication of epigenetics. In it, Chopra and his coauthor claim that “you are not simply the sum total of the genes you were born with… you are the user and controller of your genes, the author of your biological story”. According to them, you can make certain lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, meditation, sleep) to “guide your own evolution” and ‘mindfully’ alter your own genetic makeup for the better. It includes language about ‘cells and genes being wise’, and references relatively new, complex biological topics, such as the microbiome, in order to woo readers – much like Chopra does with quantum mechanics. I tried reading it, but I could feel my patience waning and my life shortening with every paragraph.

          1. Oh boy, thanks for directing me to the post. I should’ve known that Professor Coyne had already addressed that nonsense. What a doozy of a comment thread!

  12. You can’t prefer ethnicity over race because they are two different categories. Race is a biological category, equivalent to subspecies, even though nobody really uses that term when it comes to humans. Basically, it’s a description of a population that has had a significant degree of reproductive isolation in the past, while remaining interfertile with all other human populations (i.e. still part of the same species, as per the prevailing definition of that term).

    Ethnicity is not biological at all. It’s cultural. While you can certainly find races strongly correlated with ethnicities, that’s due to common origins – when you have a population of largely reproductively isolated people, it stands to reason that the prevailing culture will also be distinct. But cultures spread much more fluidly than genes, and ethnicity spreads well beyond racial lines. The most prominent example in the United States is Hispanics, which is an ethnicity that covers several races. The common cultural aspect is Spanish cultural descent – most prominently the language, but also other aspects of that basal culture. There are white, black, and mestizo Hispanics all over the place.

    Latino is another ethnicity that is not confined to a specific race. It isn’t even a discrete ethnicity, as it includes both Hispanics and Brazilians, the latter culturally descended from Portugal, not Spain.

    Beyond that, there are many completely different ethnicities within a single race, as well, if you take a broader view of the latter (i.e. “white” people, which isn’t actually a single race, but is treated as such by most). British, German, Danish, French, Italian, etc. All very different ethnicities, with what is largely considered a single race.

    1. What are the prospects for biologists converging on a threshold value for a “significant degree of [extrinsic] reproductive isolation”? I think a consensus would be hard to achieve for cases that don’t involve major genetic differentiation (e.g. fixed differences).

      1. Why would one need to define such a threshold? The size of genetic differences between groups (however defined) is on a continuum, whether they matter depends on what question you are looking at. The differences in allele frequency between Ashkenazi Jews and Italians, although tiny compared to the huge differences between Mbuti and Papuans, may be important for decisions to screen for Tay-Sachs.
        Even the differentiation into different species is not binary, starting with small fitness losses for hybrids, and ending with complete intraspecific sterility with a lot in between.

        1. My point is that categories are easy to define for discrete differences (e.g. fixation of a chromosomal translocation), but no consensus is likely to be achieved over how to define categories when the differences consist of minor shifts in intermediate frequency. Given a lack of consensus for the foreseeable future, best to regard “race” as not so fundamental a term in human biology, though it remains fundamental in studying chromosomal races of mice and other cases.

  13. Neuroendrocrinology is beginning to understand the biological mechanisms behind gender dysphoria. The differentiation process of the genitals is different from the differentiation process of the brain.

    Therefore it is an ideological distortion to say that gender dysphoria is just social contagion. It even seems to me that people claiming it is just social contagion have never even googled “biological basis of gender dysphoria”.

    1. I don’t know the data (could you cite some), but I don’t think anybody, including Abigal Shrier) believes that all gender dysphoria is due to social contagion. But there are certainly cases which suggest there is a social influence. And don’t forget that there can be a gene (biology)/social interaction. The point is whether taking irreversible steps will always lead to an improvement in the lives of children who say they are transsexual.

      Also, could you cite anybody with any reputation that says that ALL gender dysphoria and desire to transition comes from “social contagion”?

    2. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that there’s a social contagion element to gender dysphoria? It depends on the individual, of course.

      What the Far Left can’t seem to process is simultaneously acknowledging that certain conditions are to be avoided but, if one can’t avoid them, then society shouldn’t stigmatize those who share the condition. They focus on the latter by pretending the former doesn’t exist. We should seek solutions to gender dysphoria that don’t involve transitioning but still acknowledge that it occasionally may end up as the best choice. Once someone has made that choice, we should help them navigate that choice and live their life while acknowledging that they still may experience some negatives.

  14. The idea that humans are blank slates (item G) was fairly discredited more than 50 years ago as it became obvious that the behaviorist tradition of psychology was unable to account for complex human behaviors (also pigeon, rat– all intelligent animals). In even such prototypical experiments as training a rat to navigate a maze for food, if one way to the food is blocked the rat finds another. If the experimenter severs motor nerves to the rat’s legs the rat figures out how to roll through the maze to get the food.

    Young animals, humans included, actively explore their environment, constantly practicing what they learn. Human children are pre-wired, for instance, to learn their native language, and actively pursue their program. I well remember my oldest son, age three, sitting under my desk as I played a computer game, then when I inadvertently uttered the word “darn”, practicing saying “darn” for hours afterwards- he could tell this was a word of particular importance. My youngest son didn’t speak until age 3, then started speaking in complete sentences. This is not the expected behavior of a “blank slate”.

    The blank slate idea has been so thoroughly discredited for so long it’s amazing people can still take it seriously. It just shows yet again the danger of living one’s life in an intellectual bubble.

    1. I’m not sure that the behaviorists really believed in the blank slate. They just thought it was scientifically unprincipled to speculate on what animals were thinking. As Steven Pinker says in his new podcast on the subject, they did anyway but in whispers, not in their scientific papers.

      I’m sure a lot of non-scientists still believe in the blank slate. Even scientists make more subtle errors in this dimension. Many artificial intelligence workers seem to think that babies know nothing about language at birth, presumably because they can’t talk and couldn’t possibly know their family’s language.

      1. Sorry in advance for the longish response to your response, but this is a hobby interest for me. 🙂

        I’m sure Pinker is right that a lot of researchers privately believed there is more to behavior than can adequately described in purely physical terms. It’s not even possible to talk coherently about a behavior such as rendering help to a stranded motorist without invoking ideas like goals, beliefs and intentions. I believe it was the emergence of the field of cognitive psychology that put such previously un-analyzable constructs as concepts, knowledge, mental imagery and creative reasoning on firmer scientific footing.

        As for the AI researchers – while I think the analogy between mind/brain on the one hand and software/hardware on the other is illuminating as an illustration of how a physical system can support abstract information processing, I think it can be overdone. Humans aren’t passive platforms for running software. They are goal-directed, intentional, and born with a brain sculpted by natural selection to enable its bearer to quickly get up to speed with what it needs to know to survive and thrive in its world.

        I think a useful analogy can be drawn between a human’s readiness to learn language, and a beaver’s readiness to learn all it needs to know to build a dam. Dawkins argued that the dam is as much a part of the beaver’s extended phenotype as the beaver itself, and I would argue that the same could be said for a learned language. That doesn’t mean the human child doesn’t need to learn the language; it just makes the language more learnable.

        1. I don’t know anyone serious in AI that thinks humans have a software/hardware divide like digital computers. There’s nothing fundamental about that divide anyway. Both software and hardware are computational mechanisms that can be readily converted both ways. We often simulate hardware in software and convert software into hardware. It is purely a practical concern. Of course, in sci-fi books and movies they talk about downloading the contents of someone’s brain and uploading it into a machine or vice-versa, but that’s just fantasy. On the other hand, if we can implement an AGI in software we will be able to do things like that between computers.

          I like the beaver analogy, but I think the built-in facilities for dam-building and language go way beyond just making them learnable. I suspect everything is there but the dam/language itself. When a child grows up, she is mostly just exercising built-in abilities, waiting for them to mature, and fine-tuning them to her environment. There is so many parallels between human languages, speech patterns, etc. and so little time and opportunity to learn from scratch.

  15. You will recall several days ago the now notorious exchange between Senator Hawley and Berkeley Law Professor Dr. Khiara Bridges on whether men could get pregnant.

    Dr. Bridges holds a PhD in Anthropology from Columbia. I googled it and could only find the abstract which is not that long.

    Read it and look at how the abstract incorporates a couple of the points in the present entry.

    https://anthropology.columbia.edu/content/reproducing-race-pregnancy-racialization

  16. While this list covers the basic sins of the Left, it leaves the errors of the Right largely undocumented (except for the Darwin Was Wrong item, which comes from both the Right and the Left). Climate science gives us plenty of examples of the Right’s tendency to view science through an ideological lens, for instance.

    1. I don’t think think of this as a contest. I know of reasonable people who would hold their noses and vote for Trump a second time rather than have their children taught to disrespect their country and feel ashamed of the color of their skin. The illiberal left has painted targets on the backs of all democrats, and the Right is just running with it.

    2. The appropriate response to the scientific predictions for climate change is inherently ideological as it involves social and economic policy decisions that require choices among competing values. People right, left, and centre weigh the values differently in terms of how much economic dislocation ought to be inflicted on their fellow citizens in the attempt to achieve such scientifically informed targets as 1.5 C of warming and who the winners and losers ought to be. They also vary in how much economic pain and geopolitical risk they believe the OECD countries should endure when its main economic rivals, China and India, have revealed by words and deeds that they are not playing the game. And then there’s the wild card of Russian gas that no one saw coming. None of that is “climate science” narrowly defined.

      China’s actions with coal-fired electricity are every bit as factual as measurements of accumulated global temperature anomaly. Predictions about the consequences of both are not facts until they happen.

      Scientifically literate people do not try to claim that “plant food” cannot warm the planet. Nor do they claim that burning any fossil fuels or using fertilizer to grow food after 2030 will end life on earth. Both these positions are motivated by ideological goals unrelated to climate science.

      The actual actions taken (as opposed to words spoken) by people across the political spectrum are pretty much the same: Zero. So we are all of more similar mind than you think.

  17. The Fundamentalist Religious Left (aka “The Woke”) are crypto-creationists. If you don’t believe the human brain evolved, then that blank slate had to be created.

  18. Cognitive differences between racial populations, and whether/how much genes play a role in these differences.

  19. An example unrelated to the current woke religion is the “Waldsterben”-(forest dieback) hysteria in Germany from 1979 to the kate 1980s. Science here has largely avoided a critical look at its role, as have the media. 1976 was a very dry and hot year, and many commercial fir plantations suffered, unsurprisingly, as firs are adapted to colder climes and would never grow naturally in most of Germany. One biologist had the idea that possibly emissions from fossil fuels could damage trees, a legitimate hypothesis worthy of research. There is no doubt — and had been known since the 19th century — that highly concentrated sulfur emission, like in the immediate vicinity of unfiltered lignite power plants, kill trees. But this was about effects of traces of noxious substances in ambient air and soil everywhere. The Greens and the media took this for a fact, not hypothesis, and milked it for all they could, painting apocalypse-like scenarios completely unrelated to the minor transient damage that had actually occurred, at a time when trees were in fact in average growing measurably better than in the past because of rising CO2. Research on the subject of “Waldsterben” was massively funded. At a conference, a biologist who doubted the hypotheses had to leave the room because of student protests. After years of research and expensive mitigation measures (some of which fortunately had secondary benefits), it turned out that non of the noxious substances under discussion were correlated with the observed tree damages at all, nor could experiments show the purported effects. It also turned out that much of what had been counted as “new type of tree damage” in the hysteria was perfectly normal variability. The method to assess damages, devised by the hysterics, was “look around you to find the most perfect tree you see, and then count everything as damaged that looks less perfect”. When politicians realized that this was nonsense, they were afraid to change the assessment protocols for fear of media and NGO backlash.
    My information comes from a very long and detailed doctoral dissertation I read a few years ago.

    1. I think the greatest improvement was the incorporation of the DDR into Germany, closing the lignite plants. The ‘acid rain’ was mainly due to lignite, and to a lesser degree, coal plants. Germany itself decommissioned coal fired plants to a great extend. Basically not for environmental concerns, but economical ones, if I’m not mistaken.

  20. Perhaps the idea of pristine ecosystems, and the consideration of exotic species as inherently negative deserves to be included in the list. Many biologists apply a kind of xenophobic nationalism towards exotic species, without considering their objective effects on ecosystems, which are often beneficial

      1. Beneficial to whom or what? I suspect there are always losers in such cases. Perhaps there have been successful corrections for past mistakes but probably many more cases where the correction fails or makes things worse.

    1. I don’t know who the “many biologists” you refer to are. The efforts I am aware of to maintain bio diverse environments favor plants that co-evolved in an area together with the insects, other plants, birds, amphibians, etc in that area, and seek to remove invasive species that thrive in those areas after being imported because local organisms cannot evolve fast enough to compete with them, leading to species expiration, sometimes even extinction, and a measurably reduced biomass. Admittedly the motivation is to prefer an already evolved rich biodiversity over future evolution that certain will continue to shape and change environments when existing species are eliminated, over a long period of time. This has nothing to do with “xenophobic nationalism”. A closer characterization would be “I like monarch butterflies and elephants an humans (living at certain temperatures), and I don’t want them to become extinct “.

  21. agreed. but all items are full of nuances and in many cases have an “exact opposite” which is as well wrong

  22. The most outrageous argument I’ve come across is that when the data confirms your theory, your theory still shows “confirmation bias” because your theory is being reinforced by something which biases you to think it is correct. WTF!

  23. Biggest one for me is around diet, and there’s a lot of nonsense that appeals to our biology as a guide to healthy eating. From the paleo diets and their keto cousins, to claims about the medicinal properties of particular foods, and everything in between. No matter the claim, there’s almost inevitably some biological basis to why we need to eat one way and not another.

    1. This is a distinction without much of a difference. Almost everybody fits into one of two modes; you could call that nearly binary or very strongly bimodal. And not, it’s not much more complicated than that–no more complicated than in fruit flies.

      1. I think this binary/bimodal debate is really a red herring as it relates to the debate over gender dysphoria.

        What we call “race” is multimodal with lots of mixing – millions or billions of “mixed-race” people, yet we still generally hold that a person on one end of a continuum cannot partake of the identity of someone on another end of the continuum due to a psychological feeling alone( eg. Rachel Dolozal).

        Obviously intersex people exist, whatever the rate of prevalence. The linked article basically holds that gender identity is an innate, inborn brain characteristic, and therefore people with gender dysphoria are experiencing a type of intersex condition.

        I think the real controversy resides in this last contention due to concerns over the self-reporting nature of the condition, and views on the physiological/psychological distinction.

  24. The whole ‘social construct’ narrative is completely anti-common-sense and it’s scary how many people in academia parrot it as if it’s an obvious truth. There are clear differences between people from Asia and people from Africa and Europe etc. And I’m sure it wasn’t white Europeans that first noticed this difference and I’m also sure that white Europeans are not the only ones to think of themselves as superior because of their ancestry (e.g. the Indian caste system).
    What is funny is that race/ethnicity is much more of a spectrum (unlike sex), but trans-racialists like Dolezal are denigrated and ostracised. I’ve yet to see a coherent argument as to why transgenderism is legitimate but transracialism is not.

  25. I started my own list yesterday after this was posted, but I thought most of the examples that I came up with were too specific (intradisciplinary) or weren’t necessarily ideological distortions of biology (i.e., they were ignorant misunderstandings of ecology and animal behavior, rather than ideological distortions).

    Here are a couple that I thought of, which I hope are pertinent to the discussion:

    1) Extreme animal rights and environmental activists/ideologues often criticize the collection of biological specimens (birds, insects, etc.) – even when it’s done for research in conservation biology. I’ve personally encountered this many times, and I’ve read articles about others having the same experience over the years. If you google “Is collecting biological specimens immoral?”, a considerable number of reputable sources will explain why it is necessary for conservation research and other notable scientific purposes.

    2) As with veganism (mentioned in comment 10), certain brands of dietary/general health advice distort and misappropriate biological facts. Employing the naturalistic fallacy, proponents of the paleo diet and the raw diet claim we should eat the same way our ancestors did at certain points in our evolutionary history because those diets are ‘more natural’. They sometimes apply that fallacious thinking to their entire lifestyle too – never eating after dark, never relying on artificial light, going barefoot all the time. In their book, A Hunter Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying employ a less extreme, yet equally goofy, version of this when they suggest to “Consider your ethnicity and look to its culinary tradition for a guide to diet”.

    1. When you say “collection” here, do you mean deliberate capturing and killing of animal specimens? If so, then the use of this euphemism tells us a lot. I’m not saying that it can’t ever be justified but it seems odd to use this ambiguous word in the context of discussion of misunderstandings.

      1. Sorry to use the vague language. Yes, I mean the deliberate capturing and killing of animal specimens (specifically insect specimens in my case). It’s morally contentious and requires specific guidelines in my opinion. For instance, I don’t think that any individual should intentionally collect more than one specimen of each sex in a particular geographic range (for nonmigratory species), and I would never advise anybody to collect endangered or protected species. Another distinction: I’m only referring to specimens that are collected for research purposes; I don’t think creatures should be collected like stamps. However, some folks seem to think that collecting specimens, even it’s when done responsibly for scientific purposes, is always bad. Thanks for pointing that out. I agree that my use of the word “collection” was ambiguous and should’ve been stated clearly.

        1. Thanks. It’s too bad we can’t just collect them after they’ve died of natural causes but I can see where that wouldn’t work especially for insects.

          This is one area where a lot of progress has been made. I just got through reading about how the myth that groups of lemmings sometimes commit suicide by leaping off a cliff into the ocean got a big boost. Although they didn’t originate the idea, Disney made a nature film in which they drove lemmings off a cliff on purpose just to dramatize the myth. This film introduced the idea to a mass audience. Now movies proudly display a “no animals were harmed in the production of this film” at the end of the credits.

          Of course, we’re killing many more animals via habitat elimination and climate change. One step forward and two steps back. Or is it the other way around?

  26. Not quite on target but related… Dr Oz, Gwyneth Paltrow, et al, the distortion of science for profit.

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