Scientific American continues to push ideology alongside science

November 2, 2022 • 12:15 pm

There’s no longer any doubt that one of the main missions of Scientific American involves not the dissemination of science, but pushing a “progressive” Democratic ideology on its readers. What this has to do with science is beyond me. In fact, it has nothing to do with science; it has to do with the editor, Laura Helmuth, publishing op-ed after op-ed that agrees with her own political views, as evidenced by her tweet below.  My own offer to write an op-ed arguing against the infusion of ideology into science was rejected by Helmuth, so there’s no pretense that the magazine welcomes a diversity of opinion.

Here’s one tweet, which points to the op-ed below it:

This is the article, which you can read by clicking on it (you may have to sign in, but it’s free). While I agree that we need some form of affirmative action (but dither in my mind about the nature of that action), I disagree that venues like Scientific American should be taking stands like this, as well as refusing to consider arguments at odds with their own op-eds. After all, many who push against affirmative action (John McWhorter is one example) do NOT use “race science” (aka “scientific racism”) to justify their stand:

This article immediately brings up white supremacy as a prime mover of opposition to affirmative action, despite the fact that a majority of all ethnic groups asked (white, black, Hispanic, and Asian) say that race should not be a factor in college admissions. Are these minority opponents also white supremacists? A quote from the piece:

Scientists play a crucial role in assuring equitable access to colleges and universities. Education is fundamentally an issue of human rights, and affirmative action in admissions is one tool in a larger strategy to address social injustices and shape the future of scientific research. Yet white supremacy, whether systemic or interpersonal, is still deeply ingrained in society, leading to financial and social disadvantages for nonwhite students. As scientists, we must fiercely defend affirmative action, if we wish for equity in science and in U.S. society.

The piece also makes the dubious argument that “systemic racism” is baked into science itself. Anyone actually in science knows that this is untrue. Scientists are desperate to hire minority faculty and accept minority graduate students.

As scientists, we need to improve the public’s understanding of systemic racism as an unjust social, political and legal power structure, as well as that there are no innate “deficiencies” in nonwhite people. Clearly, we will need more than 25 years to achieve such a goal.

The piece goes on to rehash arguments about why scientists like E. O. Wilson were racists because they associated with racists, and winds up calling for “centering Black and Brown students in educational law and policy.”

Affirmative action is rooted in the Civil Rights Movement, and its advocates intended to rectify overt and systemic injustices toward Black and brown students. However, leaders of primarily white institutions have altered race-conscious admissions to emphasize the importance of maintaining “critical masses” to promote “diversity” within a primarily white student population. Campus and admissions policies tailored to white students reinforce racial hierarchies and maintain the supremacist ideology that initially prevented Black and brown students from participating in higher education programs in significant numbers. We must center Black and brown students in educational law and policy to maintain and strengthen the original tenets of affirmative action, in addition to upholding it as status quo.

There is no discussion, of course, of course, of lack of equal opportunity as a cause of “inequity”. At the end, the authors (quoting geneticist Joseph Graves) suggest massive reparations in education if affirmative action is overturned. I don’t disagree entirely with their solution below, but, as some readers have suggested, the solution involves far more than throwing money at education, which hasn’t proven that efficacious:

“Should the SCOTUS overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, thus essentially ending affirmative action at historically white institutions of higher education, they must simultaneously order that all states who violated the 1879 Plessy v. Ferguson decision by siphoning funds away from black education to support white education must immediately pay those pilfered funds into black public-school districts and HBCUs. Furthermore, they must order that going forward, a moon-shot level investment in the infrastructure of HBCU/HSI/MSI and Tribal Colleges must be put in place to meet the need for equitable education for non-whites in the United States.”


In this new article below, the author argues that the Court’s ruling in the Dobbs case upholds white supremacy because people of color suffer more from restrictions on abortion than do whites. I disagree with the Dobbs decision, of course, and am more “pro-choice” than most Americans:  don’t think that 6 months of gestation should be the upper limit for allowing abortion. What I disagree with is that that opinion belongs in a science magazine, which also refuses to publish contrary opinions. (Shouldn’t a science magazine, if it does intend to engage in politics, entertain diverse and conflicting points of view?)

Black and Latinx communities proportionally have higher rates of abortion than white people, a consequence of structural and systemic barriers in health care and society more broadly. People of color are making decisions about the future of their families without equitable access to living wages, jobs, and reliable food and housing. Their families face the living legacy of redlining and housing segregation, along with inequities in education access, all of which limit their movement and upward mobility. Mass incarceration and our flawed justice system disrupt families, their participation in the workforce and their contributions to society and voting. Widespread police violence destroys families, and Black parents fear police brutality before their children are even born.

Communities of color deal with barriers to health care and insurance and face racism and discrimination when they seek care, including narratives that blame people for social conditions that were created by the system. Worse yet, Black pregnant people face alarmingly high rates of pregnancy-related deaths in the hands of our health care system. Voter suppression and widespread attempts to disenfranchise communities prevent them from having a voice in transforming these structures that unjustly constrain them. This will beget further laws and restrictions that limit their rights and freedom—a modern manifestation of the separate-but-not-equal ideology of the Jim Crow era.

With these structures in mind—structures that primarily work to perpetuate barriers and poor outcomes for people of color—one thing about the Dobbs decision and the antiabortion movement becomes quite clear: this orchestrated attack on abortion rights sits within the grand plan that this country was built upon—the violent and oppressive maintenance of white supremacy.

I wouldn’t doubt that minorities suffer more from restricted abortion than do white people, but I question whether the Dobbs decision itself, and the people who support, it are motivated largely by white supremacy.  There is, after all, the view, motivated largely by religion, that abortion is murder. I disagree with that line of argument, but how can the author psychologize the motivations for abortion opponents and argue for a conspiracy against people of color—a “grand plan based on maintaining white supremacy”—when antiabortion bills prohibit abortion for everyone?


Finally, should you be in doubt about how to vote next week, Scientific American is here to help you! Click on the screenshot to read:

Their message, in short, is “Vote Democratic”! Again, I agree with many of the authors’ stands, save this claim:

The science on transgender care in youth shows such care is safe and affirming, and that withholding it can seriously harm trans children’s mental health—including increasing their risk of depression and suicide.

The science on transgender health care shows no such thing. We don’t know if puberty blockers are safe (they’ve been relegated to clinical-trial status in some European countries), the science says nothing about the value of “affirmative” rather than more empathic and objective care, and there is no convincing data showing withholding affirmative care (as opposed to giving other inds of care) harms the mental health of children with gender dysphoria (the data that do exist are full of flaws).

Here’s Lee Jussim’s response to editor Helmuth’s tweet about this article.

In my view, Scientific American has become pretty much of a joke. Yes, it still publishes science pieces, and some of them are even decent, but it’s taken upon itself the job of pushing “progressive” Democratic politics. Give me a good reason why magazines that are supposed to popularize modern science shouldn’t remain viewpoint neutral on issues of politics, morals, and ideology.  They are not, after all, newspapers.

How do readers let it get away with that? Truly, if you still subscribe to this magazine, shame on you.

28 thoughts on “Scientific American continues to push ideology alongside science

  1. I think we need highly credible scientific magazines that aren’t driven by progressive agendas. However, in order to do this, we need big names in science to found them, or they won’t be taken seriously. They’ll be viewed like Quillette (which I’ve written for) is viewed, as race science. We need big-name progressives who aren’t ideologues to partner with moderates / centrists to get this done.

    On a related but separate note:

    Though I’m a ghost there, I monitor Twitter like a hawk. To Ceiling Cat: I hope the moderators of the event in CA do not permit questions from those who are livestreaming the event. It was announced that it would be livestreamed. I know there are people attending the livestream who are there just to sabotage it.

  2. How do readers let it get away with that? Truly, if you still subscribe to this magazine, shame on you.

    I’m not sure if moderate readers know how to change anything. The New Right and the New Left know how to mobilize votes and push cancel culture. I don’t think moderates have anything similar (especially when many of them are deciding whether to join the New Left against the New Right, or vice versa). I’ve never seen a collective boycott by the Great Center. All they can do is vote with their feet and unsubscribe; unfortunately, any magazine they gravitate to will suffer the same attacks and policy shifts. I know: I’m always the buzzkill.

  3. So they write a whole op-ed defending “affirmative action” as necessary to prevent “white supremacy” oppressing “nonwhite students”, without mentioning even once that “affirmative action” acts mostly to keep out Asian-Americans. Or do they think that Asian-Americans count as “white”?

    1. All are encouraged to read a very interesting piece (just posted on SubStack) by David Lat, a lawyer who happens to be both gay and of Filipino ancestry, not that his identity should matter to the substance of his ideas. The essay is entitled “Affirmative Action Is Going Down, and It’s a Good Thing, Too”, and it is argued very well indeed.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation. The Lat essay is excellent…very thoughtful and thought-provoking. It will give you a new concept: visual diversity, — and will let you see the role of ‘visual diversity’ and how differently it affects Asians and those of European ancestry.

  4. Recently here in Toronto the specialty public schools admission policy is being changed from a application process to a lottery process to get more students from underrepresented communities into these schools. While I don’t care too much about the specialty schools for arts and athletics, I do care about the specialty academic schools.

    The choice of a lottery (weighted by community) is that it offers a solution both the left and right would support. The left like it because it gets an immediate balance by community. The right like it because they don’t need to spend any more money on public education and would prefer to send their children to private schools.

    I would prefer spending more money on public education (raide my taxes) in the communities that are under represented in the specialty academic schools with additional help, encouragement and test prep. to get them into the programs. The process will cost money, and will take a few years to show results, but it’s, in my opinion, the best way to address the imbalance because I know there are students in those communities that need and can excel in those schools. They just need a bit of extra help to get there..

  5. The arguments about “white supremacy” and “systematic racism” make no sense unless you understand that both of them are viewed as part of Capitalism; so as long as we have a capitalist system even people of color will be tools of white supremacy and systematic racism will be the underlying cause of everything. Obviously, if we don’t assume that our social structure is an emanation of the way we organize the means of production, it seems silly to say that Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians are racist for opposing affirmative action. These arguments are only proxies for the ultimate argument, one that has already been rejected, and would be now, if its promoters were honest about their goal, which is the destruction of bourgeois democracy and capitalism. They assume racial equity will be the outcome, but ultimately they don’t care. And when we hear them screaming about the threat to democracy, we shouldn’t assume that they mean the same thing we do, and we should remember that Lenin felt true democracy would be realized under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    1. “[T]he threat to democracy” currently facing the United States is that the Republican Party has forsaken all commitment to majority-rule democracy in favor of seeking permanent, managed minority rule.

      The GOP has been pursuing this goal for some time now through ruthless legislative gerrymandering at the federal and state level, the aggressive use of voter suppression measures, and the cold-blooded wielding of parliamentary maneuver (such as keeping the SCOTUS nominee of a Democratic president from receiving so much as a meeting with even a single Republican member of the senate judiciary committee for the nearly a year during which that nomination was pending). These have proved effective tools for the GOP to advance its objective, particularly when combined with the inherently anti-democratic nature of the electoral college and of representation in the US senate, and given Republicans’ current supermajority on the US Supreme Court.

      Now, however, the threat to US democracy has increased exponentially. In the upcoming midterm elections, the Republican Party has hundreds of candidates running for office who have espoused the baseless lie that the outcome of the last presidential election was determined by (nonexistent) massive voting fraud. Some of these GOP candidates are running for state offices — governor, secretary of state, attorney general — that would put them in a position to reject the slate of electors legitimately selected by a majority of voters in their states in the next presidential election and to substitute in their stead electors committed to casting their EC votes for the candidate of the office-holders’ choosing, and they have pledged to exercise such power to this end.

      If these election-denying candidates are elevated to such offices in the upcoming election, and if the US Supreme Court adopts the so-called “independent state legislature theory” in the case Moore v. Harper pending before the Court this term, the Republican Party will have all but accomplished its objective of establishing permanent, managed minority rule.

  6. Is there a certain irony in the current critique of scientific journals for being ideological from those who previously complained about apparently post-modern critiques of scientific journals for their ideological function? Perhaps we are only aware of ideology when we do not ourselves partake in that ideology.

    1. You clearly didn’t read my post: I share much of the “ideology” espoused in the Scientific American articles. As for your calling out “irony”, it makes no sense; in both cases science is infused with ideology and in both cases I criticized it.

      But I see you claim superiority to everyone.

    2. I loved the critical look at the science process as it was, not as it pretended do be, by perceptive post modern humanities scholars/sociologists of science. The current ideology is an ideology that has lost any touch with reality, humour or irony, and cannot critique anything, least of all itself, because it is about belief and sacrilege, not about seeing or improving the world or of analyzing the way minds and ideologies work in interpreting reality. Your last sentence is of course true, it’s part of the general human inability to see oneself critically from the outside or apply equal standards. That’s why we need free enquiry and scholarly discussions to get the bigger picture and force everyone to question the interpretation they so fervently believe in. Also, in acamedia, we learn to differentiate between data/observations and interpretation (to the degree this is possible).
      The problem is that we now have one extreme dogmatic worldview that tells challengers of its fact basis that they are immoral and unenlightened and refuse to even debate them or publish them on that ground. The conformity the ruling dogmatists enforce is so extreme that only very disagreeable people or extremists on the other side as a rule will publicly oppose them. If the left lets Republican morons, hate mongers and religiots be the only ones who oppose the woke dogmas, it’s their version of society we get when the great backlash comes.

  7. I think articles that take a political view have a place in popular science magazines, if they are applying real science to the issues of the day. If this happens to align with a political party’s stance, so be it.

    For example, I think it is perfectly appropriate for a popular science magazine to point out the seriousness of global warming and to call out climate change deniers, if they do so with real data. This will almost always argue against Republican positions on these issues, but that’s fine.

    The problem with the articles mentioned in the post is that nuanced scientific arguments are replaced by “argument by buzzword”; these are not science-driven but ideology-driven articles. Those don’t belong in a science magazine.

  8. Does affirmative action combat white supremacy? I think it’s more likely an excuse, justification, or a gateway for white supremacist ideology – along with several other socially harmful consequences.

  9. It’s a sad commentary on the country that we now seem to comprise a factionalized group of “identities” and not a nation. The folks who wrote those editorials see grievance and evil in everything around them, and seem to believe that the country is hopelessly aligned against them. It’s sad that we have gotten to this point in our discourse.

    Even though both pieces are described as opinion pieces and do not necessarily represent the views of the magazine itself, that the editor does not welcome dissenting views is a major problem. Ideally, the magazine would focus in science but if she is going to drive the magazine into the ideological morass, she needs to allow other voices to be heard. Her tenure at the helm has been disappointing.

  10. Absolute drek. There is no excuse.

    Perhaps others will know, but my guess is the fact that people like Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer are on SA Board of Advisors means that the board plays no role whatsoever in actually advising the rag.

  11. I mean jeez, they’re not even trying.

    I trust, and am compelled by, clear writing, clear speech, and clear ideas.


    This piece has none of that.

  12. Dear Dr. Coyne:

    I appreciate your fair-mindedness so much. I am more center-right (overall) politically than you, but I agree with you that Scientific American should stick to science and stop pushing political viewpoints. I enjoy many of the science articles in the magazine, and just kind of ignore the more political stuff. A lot of that sort of thing seems to be more in the online articles than the print edition, thankfully. (I only read the physical magazine.)

    You are an old-fashioned, fair-minded liberal, and I appreciate you. May your tribe increase!


    James Gibbs

  13. “Black and Latinx communities proportionally have higher rates of abortion than white people, a consequence of structural and systemic barriers in health care and society more broadly. ”

    In order to have an abortion one must have access to abortion. To have proportionally higher rates seems to imply at least sufficient access. Is there somehow less access to non-abortion contraceptive birth control and, if so, is it “a consequence of structural and systemic barriers in health care and society more broadly”? No doubt, no birth control method is 100% effective, but, how many pregnancies are the result of “can’t be bothered to reach for” the foam or whatever due to serendipitous arousal and the desire not to interrupt the mood?

    Perhaps I’m missing something here.

    (Maybe Herschel Walker has some pearls of wisdom to offer on this.)

    1. Violence is one thing you might be missing. A well-meaning social worker was discussing condoms with a group of low-income women, specifically male partners’ resistance to using them. She suggested trying to incorporate the slipping on of a condom into sex play. A woman spoke up, “Honey, last time I tried to ‘incorporate a condom into sex play’, Buddy broke my effin jaw!”

      And in some cultures, knocking up one’s teenage girlfriend and thus tying down her mother who will be looking after the child, is a sign of developing manhood. It takes two to procreate, but only one needs to consent.

      1. You are right, but that’s what the pill is for. You control whether you might become pregnant, the man doesn’t. Yes, condoms are also good against STD, but they are notorious for being only inconsistently used in practice among young people in unstable relationships. In my opinion, counselors should advocate for the pill.

        1. In reality, it’s not that simple. Many women, such as I, cannot take the pill for medical reasons. Adolescent girls need their parents’ permission. Low-income and underinsured women can’t afford the pill.

          We need to socialize men to accept their 50% responsibility for contraception.

  14. In the immortal words of Brother Hitchens:
    “You give me the awful impression, I hate to have to say it, of someone who hasn’t read any of the arguments against your position ever.”

  15. I’m thinking that by always skipping straight to any STEM articles and simply ignoring anything else, I’m blinkering myself to the ideology that should be obvious. But within my somewhat narrow range of interests, SA (print edition anyway) is a pretty good read.

  16. PCCE wrote “In this new article below, the author argues that the Court’s ruling in the Dobbs case upholds white supremacy because people of color suffer more from restrictions on abortion than do whites.”

    The direct quotes from the articles also use the oxymoron of “pregnant people” and “people of color lacking access…”

    WOMEN get pregnant. WOMEN suffer from abortion restrictions. Women-erasing language is so pervasive now that many of us don’t even notice it anymore.

    Women-erasing is fundamentally anti-science (as well as misogynist) because it denies the reality of biological sex. Sciam marches in lockstep with far-left woke ideologues’ misogyny as well.

    I’m an old lefty, and this appalls me.

  17. The affirmative action article sounds racist to me. Such a 19th century world of white Herrenmenschen and poor inferior “black and brown” people subjugated by them who get patronized by white do-gooders. It’s been a while since the world or at least parts of the world looked like this.

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