Luana Maroja on the ideological threat to biology

November 7, 2022 • 10:33 am

The conference on academic freedom at Stanford included a panel on  STEM with chemistry professor Anna Krylov from USC, Mimi St. Johns, an undergraduate in computer sciences at Stanford, Luana Maroja, Professor of Biology at Williams College, and me.  Luana (who’s written on this site before) and I were to handle biology, and we divided up the task beforehand.  Luana teaches undergrads as well as doing research, and so is able to observe the current impact of ideology on both areas.  She thus had a more personal take on “the existential threat” of ideology to biology, and Bari Weiss, who was in the audience, published Luana’s remarks on Bari’s substack site. You can see them for free below (but subscribe if you read often); I’ll give a few excerpts:

Luana’s intro recounts her “woke tipping point,” which happened to be hearing an authoritarian proclamation by—who else?—Reza Aslan:

As an evolutionary biologist, I am quite used to attempts to censor research and suppress knowledge. But for most of my career, that kind of behavior came from the right. In the old days, most students and administrators were actually on our side; we were aligned against creationists. Now, the threat comes mainly from the left.

The risk of cancellation at Williams College, where I have taught for 12 years, and at top colleges and universities throughout this country, is not theoretical. My fellow scientists and I are living it. What is at stake is not simply our reputations, but our ability to pursue truth and scientific knowledge.

If you had asked me about academic freedom five years ago, I would have complained about the obsession with race, gender and ethnicity, along with safetyism on campus (safe spaces, grade inflation, and so on). But I would not have expressed concerns about academic freedom.

We each have our own woke tipping point—the moment you realize that social justice is no longer what we thought it was, but has instead morphed into an ugly authoritarianism. For me that moment came in 2018, during an invited speaker talk, when the religious scholar Reza Aslan stated that “we need to write on a stone what can and cannot be discussed in colleges.” Students gave this a standing ovation.  Having been born under dictatorship in Brazil, I was alarmed.

Then the two areas of danger: teaching and research. Luana dwells on something I alluded to in my bit: the misguided denial of the sex binary, a fundamental observation in animals that is not only instructive about evolution, which repeatedly produces two and only two sexes in animals, but also enlightens is the very basis for sexual selection, which is responsible for a lot of the differences between males and females in animals.

The restriction of academic freedom comes in two forms: what we teach and what we research.

Let’s start with teaching. I need to emphasize that this is not hypothetical. The censorious, fearful climate is already affecting the content of what we teach.

One of the most fundamental rules of biology from plants to humans is that the sexes are defined by the size of their gametes—that is, their reproductive cells. Large gametes occur in females; small gametes in males. In humans, an egg is 10 million times bigger than a sperm. There is zero overlap. It is a full binary.

It goes on, but you can read for yourself. Luana does, however, highlight how this denial on teaching, which has a humorous sidelight:

In psychology and public health, many teachers no longer say male and female, but instead use the convoluted “person with a uterus.” I had a colleague who, during a conference, was criticized for studying female sexual selection in insects because he was a male. Another was discouraged from teaching the important concept of “sexual conflict”—the idea that male and female interests differ and mates will often act selfishly; think of a female praying mantis decapitating the head of the male after mating—because it might “traumatize students.” I was criticized for teaching “kin selection”—the the idea that animals tend to help their relatives. Apparently this was somehow an endorsement of Donald Trump hiring his daughter Ivanka.

Yes, one distraught student did somehow connect Trump and Ivanka with kin selection!

The ideological basis of this distortion? It’s the attempt to validate the diversity of gender identities by claiming there’s a diversity of sex as well. But there’s not: sex is binary while gender, which is more continuous, is bimodal, with most gender identities grouping at the male and female sociosexual roles but with many identities in between. Still, one shouldn’t confuse biological sex and gender, which, unlike sex, is a human social construct based on one’s individual choices.  The bimodality of sex is a biological fact that says exactly nothing about the moral rights of individuals of different genders.

And then there’s the effect on research, with ideology not only limiting access to data but also what what you can publish. Be your results true or not, some journals won’t consider them at if they see potential for psychological “harm”:

But the field that is most directly affected is research related to humans, especially those dealing with evolution of populations.

As an example: The NIH now puts barriers to access to the important database of “Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP).” The database is an amazing tool that combines genomes (the unique genetic makeup of each individual) and phenotypes (the observable characteristics of each individual) of millions of people. These phenotypes include education, occupation, health and income and, because the dataset connects genetics with phenotype at an individual level, it is essential for scientists who want to understand genes and genetic pathways that are behind those phenotypes.

The NIH now denies scientists access to this data and other related datasets. Researchers report getting permits denied on the grounds that studying their genetic basis is “stigmatizing.” According to one researcher, this happens even if the research has nothing to do with race or sex, but focuses on genetics and education.

But why is education attainment any more stigmatizing than health? Especially when all individuals in the database are anonymous? Given the large genetic variation between individuals in a group and the large environmental effect on phenotypes (especially those related to education), are results for the group level even that relevant?

Learning about what differentiates education attainment and occupation is more than an academic curiosity. Understanding the genetic pathways behind phenotypes might help us find solutions and help struggling children.

The denial or rejection biological truth affects two areas of evolutionary biology most of all: the idea that there are differences between groups, and the fact that differences between individuals, and averages between groups, might have a genetic basis.  Ideologues reject both because difference implies ranking, and this supposedly implies superiority/inferiority, which in turn implies bigotry. And the notion that individual or group differences might be partly based on genes somehow makes them easier to reject than if they were cultural.

The facts are the facts, but why on earth should we judge the worth of a human or group based on biology?  That’s an example of the “appeal to nature”, a fallacy that, in short, says “what we see in nature is what should be a model for behavior for humans.” This is bogus in two respects. If we base equality and worth of people on observations of nature, our morality then becomes contingent in biology, and is malleable to any alterations in what we know about nature. Further, what we see in nature is not always good, with many things far from models of human behavior. Nature is red in tooth an claw; there’s murder, theft, forcible copulation, and a whole host of things we want no part of.  In fact, the appeal to nature already assumes a preexisting morality based not on biology but on other factors: preference, reason, utilitarianism, and the other bases of ethics. What is happening when we claim that all groups are identical in a given trait or traits, that all people within a group are identical for traits , and that there are more than two biological sexes, is the reverse of the “appeal to nature”. Instead of asserting that what we see in nature gives us guidelines for how to behave, the ideologues reverse the fallacy (which remains a fallacy): how we decide to behave in humans tells us what we must see in nature—and if we have to distort nature to see what gives us comfort, well, distort it we must.

This distortion is, as Luana emphasizes: an existential threat to biology—and to science in general. Her closing:

The censors and gatekeepers simply assume—without evidence—that human population research is malign and must be shut down. The costs of this kind of censorship, both self-imposed and ideologically based, are profound. Student learning is impaired and important research is never done. The dangers of closing off so many avenues of inquiry is that science itself becomes an extension of ideology and is no longer an endeavor predicated on pursuing knowledge and truth.

63 thoughts on “Luana Maroja on the ideological threat to biology

  1. Luana Maroja was fantastic at the conference. So strong, so clear.

    Students are traumatized by the mating habits of the preying mantis, but they are OK with destroying the careers of their professors? It’s a topsy turvy world.

    1. I remember a news segment that featured an undergraduate angrily demanding that a speaker at a conference be punished for his views, then later fearful and weepy that she might be sanctioned for her extreme behavior, and how this might affect her academic record and (gasp) her future career opportunities. All said without apparent irony or personal reflection.

      She was a kid, barely out of adolescence! One thing I find most infuriating about the wokeist movement is the harm it does to trusting, naive kids who are taught to judge and hate before they learn to think, as well positively discouraged from actual thinking. How can kids like that ever recover from their “higher education”?

      I contrast that young woman’s story with my own experience as a young Mormon missionary (currently atheist – I grew out of it) taught to try to love and refrain from judging others, to judge my own faults first. Mormon doctrine is certainly wrong on most points, but as a formative experience I now see mostly benefit. “Judge not”, “love one another”, “do unto others as you want them to do to you”- what a golden set of values to inculcate into a young mind! In hindsight I don’t regret my religious upbringing; it even gave me a chance to see first hand the differences between science and pseudoscience as I studied religious apologetics I never would have otherwise come into contact with. I’ve come to believe that one doesn’t come to a deep understanding of what science *is* without a comparable understand of what science *isn’t*.

      1. Sorry to self-reply. I didn’t mean to imply that the values that remain with me today from my early religious upbringing are specifically Mormon, or even Christian. As has been aptly said, anything particularly good in Christianity isn’t specifically Christian, and anything specifically Christian isn’t particularly good. I just meant to say that, in my own case, many of the values I learned from my religious upbringing are good and worth keeping. And that I fear for the myriads of students being taught to judge others without also learning to judge themselves. They are being taught in an environment without humility, empathy, or moral imagination.

  2. Six months ago, Lee Jussim (Rutgers) posted on SubStack (UnsafeScience) a very interesting and extremely thought-provoking piece entitled “The Radicalization of the American Academy”, which ought to be read by everyone concerned about the malignant influence of The Great Awokening on research and scholarship and about the importance of freedom of expression.

  3. A research area that is sorely needed is on the biological basis of gender identity and attraction. Why do I think I should be a male, and why do I like girls? Why does this other person know they are a trans female “in the wrong body”? Its really fascinating that there should be something anatomical or whatever that causes these mental certainties.
    It used to be that research proposals on this would be opposed by conservative legislators. Now I bet it would be lefties reviewing proposals at NIH.

    1. I think the latest fad of a multiplicity of gender identities is simply a fancy new expression for plain old personality.

      But personality is, like, so 20th century or whatever lol.

      1. I think there is quite a range of non-traditional identity claims out there. But meanwhile there really are gay people and straight people. Trans and cis, and people who are somewhere in the middle. There are also pedophiles — that being illegal and all, but I don’t think its a choice. The reason is that the non-binary behaviors can start to appear in very young children. Sometimes, they “stick”, and sometimes they don’t so much. But there is something going on that drives our identities and attractions and it would be valuable to learn about how that works. One benefit is to show that non-binary people aren’t making it up.

        1. Age I think is significant for this.

          Maybe 25 is relevant. That paper on development – I don’t have the ref.

        2. The problem with deciding whether “non-binary” people are “making it up” or not is that the scale we use to measure all gender identities — including the non-binary — reinforces the sexist binary of Masculine and Feminine.

          Let’s agree there’s a genetic propensity for women to be more nurturing than men. William is a boy who loves baby dolls. We can look at this and say that William is a boy who shows us that men can be nurturing too. Genetic differences between the sexes aren’t absolute, there’s plenty of overlap. There’s nothing unmanly about a boy liking dolls.

          Or we can say that William may not be a boy. They’re non-binary, or perhaps they’re a girl. It’s up to William to decide and tell us, we explain to him. Or them. Or her.

          William isn’t making up the fact he likes dolls. But presenting him with the option of considering that and deciding if maybe he isn’t a boy after all is something we made up.

          1. One assumption that seems to be common in this discussion is the idea that kids spontaneously come to the realization that they were born in the wrong body.
            From my experience, that is rarely the case. They are targeted for trans indoctrination. I have read leaked discussions of school employees discussing what characteristics to look for in kids that will predict that they will be more susceptible to indoctrination.
            Not surprisingly, kids who exhibit preferences and behaviors even tenuously linked to the other gender are targeted.

            Every parent of a trans kid asks themselves a lot of questions. For those with kids whose behavior never gave any hint of sexual ambiguity, one of the key questions is “Why did they choose my kid?”. To the best of my knowledge, my child was selected because of Hello Kitty. We spent a lot of time in Japan when our kids were young, and my youngest always liked Sanrio characters, along with Ultraman and Kamen Riders. He loved going to Pokemon World. If he wanted to wear a Hello Kitty backpack to school in the states, that was fine with us. I never really thought of it as a marker of gender, especially since the kid was three when he developed an interest in that stuff.

            But that illustrates how random this is. It has nothing to do with actual physical or psychological sexual ambiguity, or with any history of trauma. If they pick your kid, and have access to them for a long enough time before you discover what they are up to, there is a good chance that your kid will end up trans.
            If your kid has a good credit rating, and spends enough time in a timeshare presentation, they might sign up for a condo in Orlando.
            If evangelicals have access to them, they might well end up saved.
            Adults frequently fall prey to the last two examples. Kids are much more suggestible, especially if they are being pressured by an authority figure.

          2. I tend to agree. We could and perhaps should expand the range of looks and behaviors that we can express ourselves with, without having to become something we are not.
            There is nothing unmanly about a boy liking dolls or a myriad of other interesting areas of exploration. That is something the modern world has given us. Considerable independence from traditional roles and expectations, if we want. In a lot of areas anyway.

            1. I am pretty sure we have progressed far enough as a society that social order is unlikely to collapse if we let kids like the things they like, without risk of adults jumping to rash conclusions about how that affects their gender or orientation.

    2. The biological basis of Gender Identity, defined here as an inborn awareness of whether you’re male or female, is actually a hot area of research right now, with neurologists and others desperately looking for any kind of evidence that trans ppl have brains more like their preferred sex than their own. The idea is that a genetic/biological basis for Gender Identity in utero proves that trans people have assessed themselves correctly and society has no right to deny their true identity.

      The danger comes from any research which either fails to confirm this, or places a denial of one’s sex into the category of acquired behavior or attitudes formed in reaction to the environment (sexism, trauma, homophobia, AGP, etc.) Child development specialists believe we learn what sex we are (at a very young age) but build our gender identity — the way we view ourselves compared to others of our sex — as an ongoing process throughout childhood and adolescence.

      Gender Dysphoria, in which we reject our sex, is a real and stressful psychological condition usually born out of trauma or as a symptom of larger issues. At least, that was what it was generally considered before the ideologues tried to turn it into a genetic-biological core self fighting for recognition similar to homosexuality.

      1. There seems to be a few strands of woke research going on. And it’s contradictory.
        There’s:
        1. “Neuroscientist Gina Rippon has been ruffling some feathers with her research that is shattering the myth of the gendered brain.”
        Then:
        2. “In this ground breaking book, Dr Louann Brizendine describes the uniquely flexible structure of the female brain and its constant, dynamic state of change”

        I think (1) is old woke. Feminist thinking. We’ve now shifted to the female brain being a much more flexible and sophisticated organ.

  4. I’m not a biologist and I’m not asking this question for some either conservative or conversely woke reason but I thought that biologists maintain that races do not exist in humans from a biological position. I realize that socially races exist and certain communities have certain allele frequency (such as skin colour) that society uses to distinguish between societal races but that the genetic variation between what we socially call races is greater than than number of alleles that are used to define a community.
    Again this is not to make any political statement one way or another but I would appreciate comment from a biologist as to whether I am mistaken or not.

    1. (I’m not a biologist but …) the standard opinion among (non-woke) biologists is that races are indeed biologically real. That is, humans show shared-ancestry clusterings. But, that shared-ancestry branching pattern is fractal (so not countable) and the branches are fuzzy-edged (since human groups interbreed) rather than being discrete.

      In addition, the biologically real shared-ancestry clustering pattern doesn’t necessarily map well to the socially constructed racial labelling used in any particular society.

      Despite all that, genetics does tell us about our ancestry. For example, results from companies such as 23andme map very well to self-reported ethnicity.

      Yes, variation of any particular gene is greater within a grouping than between groupings, but differences in genes are *correlated* with ethnicity, so, yes, genetic differentiation between racial groupings is indeed real.

      1. Thank you for the response. I understand that there are genetic difference between racial or ethnic groupings but are those groupings minor compared to the genetic variations that occur among all humans? I’m just wondering if biologists teach that human races exist (I thought that notion was dispelled years ago). I don’t care what the woke warriors want to believe, I just care what the science says. Thanks again for you input.

        1. I think that, yes, differences between groups are indeed minor, and certainly smaller than differences among individuals within groups. So “races” are indeed biologically real, but differences between them are minor and not that important. Hence, when we’re dealing with people in everyday life we should treat people as individuals on their own particular merits and attributes.

        2. The differences between groups are smaller than the differences within groups, but that’s also irrelevant to the question of whether the average differences between groups are significant.

          And they are significant. There’s a 40+ point difference in average IQ between the best-endowed (Ashkenazi Jewish) and least-endowed (certain sub-Saharan African) ethnic groups, and this directly correlates with their academic and professional achievement. And perhaps you’ve noticed that virtually all of the top marathon runners come from Kenya or Ethiopia (which share a border and a people), or the domination of sub-Saharan Africans generally in sports that involve running? Crime statistics also show up to a 20x difference in violent crime rates between the races, depending on which races you’re comparing. Etc. All of these patterns are stable across the world. Some of those differences are hugely consequential for society and for the design of social and legal policy.

          Now why these differences exist – how much is genetic versus environmental – is something of an open question, but exist they do. Also, as Steven Pinker says, even if in a Bayesian/statistical sense one’s race (or sex) carries real information about the likelihoods of certain propensities, we can still choose to treat everyone as individuals as a moral principle.

          1. I disagree. There is so much difference in environment different communities are exposed to one needs to go a long way to fix the nurture before ever attributing differences to nature.

            1. Who says the nurture differences are fixable? Don’t forget unintended consequences where nurture deficits are mutable but move in the wrong direction!

              1. The nurture difference are fixable if we want them to be. If we improve the schooling available to the inner city students more of them will be the doctors, lawyers and scientists of the next generation.
                One hundred years ago they said the same thing about women and now they are surpassing men in many fields.

        3. When I was studying forensic anthropology, which is not my specific area of expertise, but was part of my curriculum, this was addressed. The basic point was that although politics even then were pushing in the direction that race is not a thing, the anthropologists duty is to use any means at their disposal to identify the remains.
          The family members waiting to see if their missing loved one is or is not the body discovered do not want a lecture on politics. They want to know if the race or sex of the remains exclude or match the missing person.
          And identification of likely race is fairly reliable, even if the only thing you have to work with was a femur.

          There seems to be a brazenness to people who want to claim that race does not exist, or that sex in humans is some sort of spectrum, even that athletic differences between the sexes is a cultural invention. Such things have been obvious to every reasonably observant person more or less forever.

          I cannot help also suspect that some people really enjoy making other people proclaim to believe things they know to be obviously false.

          1. Some people also really enjoy being the ones who reject the simple, obvious inference most people believe for the counter-intuitive truth underneath. That can be a good quality, but it does depend on being right.

      2. “(I’m not a biologist but …) the standard opinion among (non-woke) biologists is that races are indeed biologically real.”

        I don’t think that is quite true. Races are social constructions, but homo sapiens does vary geographically in certain traits, which is why genetic testing can show where your ancestors lived.

        But most racial categories, particularly vague and broad ones such as “Hispanic” or “Asian” are usually very poor proxies for the real population distributions that do exist in our species.

        1. But no-one who thinks that races are indeed biologically real thinks that “Hispanic” (as currently used in the US) is a race. There are two fairly separate questions here: (1) do the racial terms currently popular in the US map to clear and biologically real races? (Answer: pretty much, no.) (2) Are there shared-ancestry clustering that are biologically real and that can be sensibly regarded as “races”? (Answer: yes.)

      1. “The old conclusion from my boss Dick Lewontin that there is more variation within an ethnic group than between ethnic groups remains true. But there is enough genetic difference on average that, if you lump all the genes together, the small differences accumulate sufficiently to allow us to diagnose a person’s self-declared race.”
        This is what I was thinking of. But like all things in science, the answer is nuanced. There is sufficient genetic difference between ethnicities (I will use your term now) to allow people to self identify but that pales between genetic differences overall.

    2. What Coel said. Variation (at the genetic loci tested) was apparently found to be greater within a race than between races. I’m not sure what that is supposed to mean, but it perhaps means that the notion of fundamental genetic differences between races is not really true.
      An update: So I looked into this statement, and found that what is meant is that there is a great deal of diversity in what we would commonly call ‘one race’. That is, the traditional races like ‘white’, ‘black’, or ‘asian’. So ‘white people’ of northern Europe can have more differences from ‘white people’ in Italy. But meanwhile those white people in Italy can be more related to black people in north Africa. There is this nice summary that I found: https://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-01-08.htm

    3. Archaeologists absolutely know that race exists. I’m not one, but I worked around them on some pretty cool projects for years and they can tell with a high degree of confidence whether a set of skeletal remains belong to, broadly, European, African or Asian humans.

      This is so not in dispute that it’s never even discussed.

    4. Here’s my take on the issue from a few years ago: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2017/08/29/more-on-biology-and-race/

      It’s not very far from what Jerry or Coel wrote, although perhaps emphasizing different points.

      [Regular reader and noted tropical biologist Lou Jost has pointed out problems with the measure of diversity used by Dick Lewontin, which I mention in the linked piece. This is an (important) technical issue, but does not change the conceptual or empirical points made.]

      GCM

  5. “Instead of asserting that what we see in nature gives us guidelines for how to behave, the ideologues reverse the fallacy (which remains a fallacy): how we decide to behave in humans tells us what we must see in nature—and if we have to distort nature to see what gives us comfort, well, distort it we must.” I like your language here, Jerry.

  6. Before long, the gatekeepers will realize that the phenomenon of sex-linkage violates the rule that sex is a “social construct” in the service of the system of oppression. That will of course throw the discoveries of Thomas Hunt Morgan and his students into the same disrepute as eugenics (a name which itself sounds suspiciously like genetics). When the gatekeepers learn that Morgan’s analysis of inheritance rested on the behavior of an eye color gene named “white“, that will settle matters for them. Why, Morgan’s whole system is revealed as “white empiricism”. So, We may soon expect a campaign in academia to cancel reactionary Mendelism-Morganism, as it was once called in a campaign to shape science in accord with claims of social justice in a galaxy far away.

  7. I don’t see a lot of solutions on the table, but I assume one would be to stop the NIH from enforcing its censorship of the dbGaP database. Who made that decision at the NIH. Was it a person, a committee? How would one go about reversing that policy? Am I naïve in thinking this is possible?

  8. This nonsense is being heard in court this week. The charity Mermaids, which claims to support transgender children and adolescents, is trying to challenge the UK’s Charity Commission’s decision to grant charitable status to the LGB Alliance (LGBA).

    LGBA argues that it is the only charity representing lesbians and gay men as “same-sex attracted”, because the gender identity ideology promoted by Mermaids, and other LGBTQ+ organisations, insists on only recognising “same-gender attraction” and thereby eliminates homosexuality. LGBA’s assertion that sex is immutable and that biological males cannot be lesbians, however they identify, is allegedly “transphobic”, hence Mermaids’ legal action.

    This is the first known instance of one UK charity attempting to have another stripped of this status.

    In court today, the lawyer for Mermaids said that

    LGBA approaches this with one point of view only. KH and BJ [witnesses for LGBA] said LGBA would educate the public using GC [gender critical] beliefs as facts. BJ said education must be based on facts – shouldn’t say boys can be girls and girls can be boys. We say this is not neutral.

    Not an exact quote, it is how the claim was paraphrased by the court reporting organisation Tribunal Tweets.) https://twitter.com/tribunaltweets/status/1589598643396280320

    The court hearing won’t judge the merits of the conflicting views on same-sex v same-gender attraction, just: a) whether or not Mermaids has the legal standing to challenge the Charity Commission’s decision to award charitable status to LGBA, and b) if so, whether that charitable status should be upheld.

    After Mermaids brought about the legal action, the Charity Commission launched the first stage of an inquiry into Mermaids itself after news reports about both the charity’s own activities and one of its trustees (who subsequently resigned).

    1. This is the first known instance of one UK charity attempting to have another stripped of this status.

      Non-profits are surprisingly political and conflict-prone. Many are staffed by passionate idealists who have trouble recognizing that they have deep differences of opinion with other passionate idealists in another camp. Look at interactions between non-profits with pro-drug and anti-drug views, pro-suicide and anti-suicide views, pro-life and pro-choice views, or pro-police and pro-civil-rights views. In the US, it’s always interesting to see the verbal gymnastics churches perform in order to pretend to be apolitical enough to retain their tax-free status.

      1. A lot called the Exclusive Brethren, often known as the Plymouth Brethren won a High Court appeal to be granted charity status over here (in the UK) and this was despite the fact the exclusive part of the name is true and the only people they would help is their own and then only to help spread their beliefs.

  9. I’m disappointed that Maroja’s comments (and JAC’s) at the conference were not discussed at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/11/07/stanford-academic-freedom-event-proceeds-amid-controversy This is mostly a news summary but it includes a few sentences of subtle commentary by the reporter. I think the quotes in the last two paragraphs by an anonymous attendee are the most interesting parts of this report. I hope the attendee was referring to Maroja and JAC as among “a few brave people who take unpopular positions and actually deserve to be heard” as opposed to the “many powerful public voices who deserve criticism” who were given a platform to air their grievances.

    1. Maroja’s comments (and often those of our host here) pertain not only to academic ‘freedom” but, importantly, to academic integrity—i.e., respect for empirically ascertained facts. Maybe a conference needs to be held on factuality in academia. Come to think of it, “white empiricism” was dismissed in an article, discussed on this site some time ago, which appeared in guess which magazine (it’s first word is “Scientific”). One has to suspect that a conference on factuality would be widely criticized as, uhhh, “triggering”.

    2. ‘This is mostly a news summary but it includes a few sentences of subtle commentary by the reporter.”

      I applaud your apparent charitable and congenial nature. Unless you’re subtly indulging in a bit of subtle sarcasm, which I appreciate. I don’t think she’s being subtle at all. She can’t help making this an opinion piece, throwing aside all pretense of objective reporting.

      In a strong field of her snarky, fatuous comments:

      ‘Haidt . . . said that 2015 was a pivotal year for changing student attitudes, but that “I don’t think you’re going to find the answer in anything about the objective world.” He didn’t mention the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, which many student groups at the time said influenced their increased activism.’

      Of course, she couldn’t be bothered to also reflect on Michael Brown’s abusing/bullying a convenience store clerk a short time before cussing out and reaching into a police cruiser to attack a police officer who asked him to walk on the sidewalk instead of meandering in the street. Were these student groups influenced by Brown’s behavior/breath-taking sense of entitlement?

      She missed an opportunity to opine on the biological basis of sex. I gather that she perceived that she didn’t have a leg to stand on vis-a-vis Professors Majora’s and Coyne’s presentations.

      1. Re. Michael Brown’s abusing/bullying … cussing, etc.
        How you can be so obtuse is utterly stunning. No one has (or had) a problem with the police confronting such behaviour, detaining a person exhibiting such behaviour, calling up mental health professionals for a person in such a state; he may indeed have deserved such attention.
        The only issue is that they killed him while he was pleading to be allowed to breath. He emphatically did not deserve this treatment. And your obfuscation is nauseating.

        1. I don’t know whether the account by the commenter you are replying to has any merit. But you might wish to refrain from the obstreperous name calling considering you didn’t get the most basic facts right about the incident in question. Brown was not pleading to be allowed to breathe (perhaps you’re thinking of Eric Garner?). Brown was shot and died more or less instantly.

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

  10. While I may not disagree with their concerns which are legit, their actions are another matter.

    My mad aunt (said with respect) was a Green MP once and when talking about male/female and all the other stuff she said my description of biological male/female and psychological “insert term here” was a spot on and scientific one.

    A Green MP people, again a group I may sympathize with but feel exasperated by otherwise.

  11. “I had a colleague who, during a conference, was criticized for studying female sexual selection in insects because he was a male.”

    Wokeists make a great deal of their “standpoint epistemology”, the idea that one can’t comment on a subject unless they have had or could have some measure of personal experience with it; thus for instance that no one lacking a uterus can participate in debates on abortion. (What do they do when people with uteri reach opposing conclusions, I wonder?) In the case of insect research, I wonder why the colleague didn’t go farther and state that only female insects, of the right species, could do research into insect sexual selection.

    At any rate, the wokeists certainly don’t let this principle limit their own sweeping proclamations about the contents of others’ minds. Robin DiAngelo apparently learned how to clearly detect racism in the minds of her largely white audiences, racism invisible to the people themselves. This is reminiscent of how, years ago, clinicians practicing Freudian psychoanalysis could read the minds of their patients and explain pretty much everything, including why a patient may not believe in Freudian psychodynamics – unresolved daddy issues or whatnot. Just so, wokeism apparently provides an explanation for everything including why actual scientists regard wokeism as a fraudulent mockery of real science. We are all simply unregenerate racists, apparently.

    1. In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan makes the point of being able to “knowledgeably question authority”.

      I don’t have it in front of me, but I think he was saying _that_ is an imperative of, and sign of, an education.

  12. As I’ve ready this essay and these comments, I feel again the anger I’ve felt as I consider the march of Wokeism through this country’s institutions (and not just this country’s, of course). I hope those resisting the Woke movement will learn, if they haven’t already, the power of righteous anger. Compared with the faux-outrage of the wokeists, anger is fully justified on the part of those who clearly see how wrong and insidious wokeism is and the harm it is doing: myriads of trusting, naive students being taught to hate and judge before they even learn to think, the real social causes being harmed by those who discount the real science that alone could address those issues, the parasitic opportunism that drains the credibility of media and institutions who have worked hard to earn their credibility (think Scientific American), the providing of PR fuel for fascists as our republic rests on a knife’s edge and increasing numbers of black and brown voters move away from the Democratic party because of the insanity of the illiberal Left.

    I believe it is past time to set aside the fearful, pitiful pleas (“Don’t hurt me- I’ve always voted Democrat”), failing to call out the rhetorical cheats put forth as argument (e.g. being forced to apologize for a position, yielding by default with no mention of the merits of the case), and treating the advance of Wokeism as anything other than a national emergency.

    I don’t mean raised voices, but well-prepared, unapologetic truth-telling, honestly speaking truth to power. And I greatly appreciate those like Professor Ceiling Cat who work zealously to do this very thing. This is a hill worth dying on.

    BTW, this will be my last comment today. I apologize for taking up so much bandwidth.

  13. Dr. Coyne, I’m interested in knowing your opinion about this comment on the post: https://www.commonsense.news/p/an-existential-threat-to-doing-good/comment/10310406

    “You don’t ‘have to accept it’. But the reality is that your brand of secular, tolerant, “my rights stop at your nose”, liberal can not win politically against wokeness without the help of those deplorables ‘who believe in forced birth and religious creationism.’ […] So your choices are: 1) live under a Critical Theory based theocracy, or 2) hold your nose and vote for some Christians who will push back on that.”

    I think I agree with this statement. I don’t agree with the Republican party about very much, but right now they’re the only political party in the United States who has a chance at changing the current trajectory of the sciences. It may be that a lot of Democrats privately feel uncomfortable about this trajectory, but the vast majority of them never speak up about it, I guess because they’re afraid of alienating the party’s base. Do you agree that realistically speaking, changing this trajectory won’t be possible as long as the Left is in power?

  14. I think the danger of us entering a new intellectual Dark Age, with our social-justice masters telling us what is forbidden rather then the church, is not that the research won’t be done. It is that it will still carry on being done in China alone.

  15. The facts are the facts, but why on earth should we judge the worth of a human or group based on biology? That’s an example of the “appeal to nature”, a fallacy that, in short, says “what we see in nature is what should be a model for behavior for humans.” This is bogus in two respects. If we base equality and worth of people on observations of nature, our morality then becomes contingent in biology, and is malleable to any alterations in what we know about nature. Further, what we see in nature is not always good, with many things far from models of human behavior.

    I don’t have much to add, just this: the above goes right to the heart of the matter, and bears repeating.

  16. So this professor who has been teaching for over a decade got triggered by comments from a couple of students and a few people in audience in a conference? Am I getting this right? Then she promptly runs to the substacks of right wing nutjobs who call anything they disagree with as woke. They would probably call the entire field of evolutionary biology woke and dismiss it as a left wing conspiracy.

    If she was a good teacher, she would calmly and properly respond to the students in her class and ask them to articulate their reasons for comparing Ivanka to kin selection instead of getting offended. It is your job to teach these people to think critically and incorporate scientific understanding to their life. If your student misinterprets your lecture content, it is likely your fault and it is your duty to properly correct it without getting triggered or attacking the student.

    I also like it so much that she refers to “rules of biology”. What kind of an evolutionary biologist thinks that there are “rules” in biology. The definition of gamete, size of it and its relation to the sex of the species are all human defined concepts. These are not rules. That argument by itself shows that she is not a good teacher.

    One last thing; dbGAP is a database of human genetic data. NIH has put restrictions on it because human research is supposed to be sensitive and fully appropriate. Have you heard of the Nuremberg code?

    1. I don’t like calling readers names, but since you’re not going to be able to post here any more, I’ll tell you that you’re an ignorant fool. I know Luana well, and she doesn’t get triggered. In fact, I checked on your claims, and she indee responded calmly and properly to the students, even having a discussion with the “Ivanka” student in her office. There are “rules” in biology, and I spent my career working on one of them, named “Haldane’s rule”. There are a few exceptions to biological rules, but they are pretty strong generalizations.

      And no, Bari Weiss is not a right-wing nutjob. I’d look in the mirror before using the last word if I were you. Your statement about gametes is ignorant; the size disparity is real and correlated with all sorts of “secondary” sex characters.

      Finally, analogizing Nuremberg to the government’s refusal to let researchers access publicly-collected and publicly funded data is about the worst comparison you can make.

      Your arrant ignorance is evident in every sentence here, as well as your anger and incivility. You don’t deserve to post here.

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