Scientific American goes defensive; tries to pretend that every social justice screed is a “science story”

November 10, 2022 • 10:00 am

UPDATE: Reader Enrico called this article to my attention; it’s very relevant to Scientific American’s claims here, which it doesn’t support. Click to read (and subscribe if you read regularly):

Ritchie parses the many meanings of this slogan, but here’s the one that Scientific American appears to use:

The first point they might be making is what we might call the argument from inevitability. “There’s no way around it. You’re being naive if you think you could stop science from being political. It’s arrogance in the highest degree to think that you are somehow being ‘objective’, and aren’t a slave to your biases.”

But this is a weirdly black-and-white view. It’s not just that something “is political” (say, a piece of research done by the Pro-Life Campaign Against Abortion which concludes that the science proves human life starts at conception) or “is not political” (say, a piece of research on climate change run by Martians who have no idea about Earth politics). There are all sorts of shades of grey – and our job is to get as close to the “not political” end as possible, even in the knowledge that we might never get fully get there.


The old saying goes that “all science is political”, a saying that is true only if you stretch the meaning of either “science” or “political”. I’m baffled, for instance, to understand how my work on the genetics of hybrid sterility in Drosophila is political. But don’t worry: the ideologues will find a way to make it so. “You’re doing your work in the milieu of a culture,” they’ll babble, “and decisions about what to fund and publish are explicitly political.” Blah blah blah.

But this trope has just been taken up by the editors of Scientific American, which, as you know, has gone “progressive leftist” (aka “woke”) over the last couple of years. I’ve called them out on this a number of times (see all my posts here)—not only for littering a science magazine with politics that are irrelevant to the magazine’s original mission, but also for doing so in a silly way. The silliness has involved, for example, accusations that Gregor Mendel was a racist and a pompous rant about why the term “Jedi” was inappropriate for social justice work (“JEDI” had been use to stand for “Justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion”). Finally, the magazine has made editorial claims that are either dubious or false (see here for some), including the equation of inequities with structural racism.

Several people have gone after the magazine for its transformation into an arm of wokeness. Besides me, they include Michael Shermer, who wrote over 200 columns for the magazine, but was given a pink slip because he was deemed ideologically impure (see his video on the issue here).

Now, apparently stung by the criticism, the editors of the magazine have written an editorial explaining their wokeness. The title below tells the tale. Every story, they claim, is a science story, including stories about social justice. (What they should have said is that “every social justice story is a science story.”) Either way, their defensiveness doesn’t address the fact that people read the magazine largely or entirely for the science, and can get social justice rants in a gazillion other places.  And in response to the criticism of both inappropriateness and scientific accuracy, they promulgate still more scientific inaccuracy and then blame the criticism on—yes, you got it—”wealthy white men”.  When reader Barry read this defense, he asked me: “Did Scientific American write this as a response to you?”  Well, I’m not the only objector, but I think I had a role in it, and for that I’m pleased.

Click to read:

Here’s their defense:

Critics sometimes tell us that Scientific American has strayed from what might be called “classical science content” and is wading into subject areas where we don’t belong.

This claim bubbles up most often when we publish stories related to social justice or human rights—on the research supporting health care for transgender people, for instance, or abortion as basic medical care. A Twitter user replied to an opinion piece against forcing trans girls to play on boys’ sports teams by writing, “You should probably move everything back to science, facts and stats and leave the ‘wokness’ [SIC], narrative skewing and agenda setting behind. It’s not good for your credibility.”

And in response to a recent job listing that described our commitment to diversity and inclusion, someone else tweeted: “Advancing DEI & Social Justice is not something any truth-seeking institution or organization should prioritize.”

These detractors are telling us to “stay in our lane,” that scientific inquiry is a pure, clean, completely objective enterprise, and that what we publish should be devoid of politics or the perspectives of people who are affected by the culture of scientific research. But the truth is that science is relevant to every element of society, including policy and politics.

As a publication committed to explaining the world around us, that means that every lane is our lane.

In other words, they are free to editorialize about anything they want, for our world is an empirical world and thus everything in the world is “scientific”. But this misses the two relevant points above: people don’t WANT in-your-face wokeism in a magazine devoted to popularizing science, and, second, their editorializing is purely one-sided (they rejected my offer to write an op-ed) and makes dubious claims. I’ll give you one of those claims in a minute. But shouldn’t op-eds in a science magazine, even if you have to run them, allow for different points of view. Why not a column explaining why E. O. Wilson and Gregor Mendel were not racists.

I’m not doubting that science has implications for morality. If you think abortion is okay up to the point when a fetus becomes viable, then determining when it’s viable, which will change with medical advances, can affect your views of abortion. I’m objecting to both the inclusion of one-sided editorials as well as the poor research and dubious claims that to into them.

Here’s one of the “important social issues” that they claim to clarify in their article (this was not from an op-eds):

A recent feature article we published challenged some of the popular perception of Viking culture as male-first, might-always. Michèle Hayeur Smith, an anthropological archaeologist at Brown University found that Viking women controlled the production of tradable textiles, making them economic leaders in this society that is romanticized by white supremacists and incels (which stands for “involuntary celibates” and is an identity claimed by misogynist groups).

You can judge the “importance” of this finding, but note the emphasis on “white supremacists”, “incels” and “misogynists”. This isn’t pure science: it’s using history to reinforce an ideology.  They also justify the history of their magazine, and their endorsement of Biden:

And here’s one item that’s misleading:

Using data-driven reasoning and analysis, science has solved problems and given us answers to major societal questions. For instance, after sequencing the human genome in 2001, the researchers who analyzed our strings of genetic code showed there were no significant differences among humans corresponding to racial categories. This helped change the narrative around the inherent meaning of race—that it is a social construct, not a biological one.

Even “self described race” by Americans has a biological meaning but, more important, such an idea leads to the rejection of geographically distinct populations as having any relevant biological differences, which is not true. (I don’t use the word “race”—I prefer “ethnicity”—because “race” is misleading, wrong in its classical construal, and also has a fraught history, but even in its classical misleading usage it has some connection with biology, for self-identified “whites,” “blacks”, “Hispanics” and “Asians” can be distinguished by a subset of genes with nearly 100% accuracy.).

There’s more:

In 2020, the editors of Scientific American endorsed Joe Biden for president. A Twitter user said: “Getting political means getting biased and a magazine that has ‘Scientific’ in its name should not be biased.” In truth, we have a long history of weighing in on divisive political issues. In April 1950, the magazine was set to publish an article written by physicist Hans Bethe (who had worked on the Manhattan Project) that was critical of the development of the hydrogen bomb. When the federal Atomic Energy Commission got wind of the manuscript, agents burned all 3,000 copies of the issue that contained the article. More than 30 years later, we published technical criticisms, also by Bethe and other physicists, of a space-based missile defense system known as Star Wars.

Note that they mention twice that they’re responding to Twitter users! Yes, of course Trump was odious, but he was not odious for scientifically-related reasons, but for moral and political ones—political considerations that had little to do with science.

But below is the most telling paragraph in the piece, the one where they say that people like me are telling them to “shut up”—a form of censorship. And those people are old rich white men (what race, sex, and wealth have to do with it is beyond me). Yes, I am criticizing them for polluting their magazine with irrelevant political views (many of which I agree with), and for writing wonky editorials. I am not censoring them! My view is that, as a science magazine, they should be institutionally neutral, like a university. Why? Because infusing science with woke ideology, and implying that the former justifies the latter (or vice versa) will serve only to reduce the public’s respect for science. Remember, horrible though it is, nearly half of Americans like Trump and other Republicans. Is it worth associating progressive Leftism with science in a way that makes people see science as a political venture, many losing respect for it, at the expense of educating people about science?

Scientific American has made its decision: parade its progressive Leftist virtue while turning many off the magazine, and perhaps off science in general. But the old rich white men (LOL) will not be silenced either, for everyone has a right to criticize the magazine. Criticism is not censorhip, for crying out loud!

Can you believe this?:

Telling us or scientists or other science writers to “stay in our lane” is a tactic to silence people with relevant expertise from weighing in on divisive issues. In some cases, the criticism attempts to maintain the power of wealthy, white, male members of society. This criticism comes most often when we report on science relevant to the health and well-being of disempowered groups, suggesting it is not a pure rejection of the fact that there is science behind social issues. Science is everywhere, and we at Scientific American are going to continue to cover the science relevant to social justice and the most vital questions facing human society.

53 thoughts on “Scientific American goes defensive; tries to pretend that every social justice screed is a “science story”

  1. When I was in college, I had lunch with a couple of History professors, who started talking about ridiculous oral exam questions (for Phd candidates) they’d heard. One was: Name any event between 1500 and 1800 that is not explicable by the Rise of the Bourgeoisie.” The trick was that, according to Marx and his disciples, that was the ONLY explanation for post-Medieval History. Same here.

    1. Since Marx pursued several cases of and explanations for the rise of the bourgeoisie itself, the “trick” you cite seems like a shallow understanding of Marx.

  2. their defensiveness doesn’t address the fact that people read the magazine largely or entirely for the science, and can get social justice rants in a gazillion other places.

    Spot on. I am tired of everything turning into a performative virtue-signaling event. I want bland, apolitical, secular transactions. It’s funny; as a Westerner who has lived in a Middle Eastern theocracy, I was able to live more apolitically and secularly than I am in the West.

    I want to walk into a fast-food restaurant and order a burger, without having to find the corporate social values posted, or find a bible verse on the packaging. My mantra here is that the tactics of the New Right are emulated by the New Left 10-20 years later. Both sides are pressuring everyone to participate. Apparently, they think people can’t be their ‘authentic selves’ if they do not constantly talk about their religious and political values.

    As an aside, my favorite brand of pork rinds (Brim’s) is printed with bible verses. I wish they quoted Leviticus 11:7.

  3. That Sci Am piece is an example of intellectual dishonesty, deliberately conflating facts and values. They produce editorials that take sides on contentious issues and which push particular values, then, when challenged that science tells us facts, but does not prescribe values, they reply that facts inform issues, including contentious issues.

    That’s entirely correct, science and factual information do indeed inform contentious issues, but no amount of so doing produces a prescription for values. (They are getting their values from their wokeness, not from the facts.) Thus, their defence is a deliberate missing of the point.

    A technical criticism of the viability of a missile system is simply not the same sort of thing as taking sides on whether trans girls (i.e. males) should play on boys or girls teams.

    1. In the words of German physicist and science educator/popularizer Sabine Hossenfelder:

      “science does not say anything about what we should do. What we should do is a matter of opinion, science is matter of fact.
      Science tells us what situation we are in and what consequences our actions are likely to have, but it does not tell us what to do. Science does not say you shouldn’t pee on high voltage lines, it says urine is an excellent conductor. Science does not say you should stop smoking, science says nicotine narrows arteries, so if you smoke you’ll probably die young lacking a few toes. Science does not say we should cut carbondioxide emissions. It says if we don’t, then by the end of the century estimated damages will exceed some Trillion US $. Is that what we should go for? Well, that’s a matter of opinion.
      Follow the Science is a complete rubbish idea, because science does not know the direction. We have to decide what way to go.”

      Sabine Hossenfelder: Follow the Science? Nonsense, I say. Sept 2020, 4 mins

  4. Regarding their complaint about being told to “stay in our lane,” isn’t it the point that they shouldn’t be in any lane? – they should be neutral.

  5. It gives ammunition to right-wingers who suspect that Science is a left-wing force.

    Regarding their complaint about being told to “stay in our lane,” isn’t it the point that they shouldn’t be in any lane? – they should be neutral.

      1. Thanks, Gus. The brilliance of my aperçus isn’t always appreciated — especially by my family and sometimes (I’m sure) by my fellow commenters here. 🙂

  6. I can’t help but remind readers that back in August the editor of Scientific American chose not to publish your rejoinder criticizing their coverage because allowing you space would be “kicking down.” You can read that exchange here:

    By worrying that such a rebuttal would be “kicking down,” the editor must mean that rebutting would so easy as to be cruel or embarrassing to the authors or to the magazine. If that is the case, she *knows* that what she is publishing is garbage.

    Apparently this standard remains in effect.

    1. If they had listened to constructive criticism years ago, they wouldn’t be in the mess now of having to mechanically shore up dikes that hold no water. Debate & criticism- take those out and what remains most definitely is not science.

      This just reinforces my view that whatever else “critical-” theories may be, they are parasitic.

  7. One charitable way to understand the writing & publication of that editorial is to think of it as a response to sunken costs. This editorial is the least expensive intellectual response to the obvious criticisms raised here and elsewhere about loss of objectivity, ignoring of evidence, and rejection of reason. Now that the editors have started down the social justice path, it’s too hard to go back to objectivity, and there are too many incentives to carry on toward full-blown political advocacy. The only way to make good on the editors’ previous investments in #metoo and the 2020 racial reckoning is to keep writing about things like “health care for transgender people.” Plus this path is easy to follow: this editorial practically writes itself so long as the editors stick to this kind of handy rhetorical phrase, and don’t think too much about the science of transforming depressed gay autistic teenagers into life-long medically dependent amputees. I truly feel sorry for Laura Helmuth and her colleagues: they’re stuck on an intellectual water slide that they can’t get off and now have to convince themselves is both good and useful.

    1. it’s too hard to go back to objectivity, and there are too many incentives to carry on toward full-blown political advocacy

      It should actually be fairly easy. I’ve been suggesting that we fragment all multi-purpose/diverse-purpose institutions into legally distinct single-purpose/narrow-purpose entities.
      * Fast food restaurants should serve food (or an approximation thereof), not social or religious values.
      * Scientific magazines should report on science – not teaching methodologies, not society (didn’t we have the same conversation about a biology magazine two weeks ago?)
      * Universities should focus on liberal arts OR science OR business OR engineering.

      We had relatively secular commercial institutions for a solid century; we need to retain apolitical commercial institutions, too.

      Interested parties are free to attend multiple universities, read multiple magazines, and join multiple special interest groups (SIGs). My favorite aspect of one of my larger groups is the dozens of SIGs we have where members can address their narrow interests without being cross-pollinated/spammed by other special interests. We’re already overloaded with information. This helps cut down on the overload.

    2. “I truly feel sorry for Laura Helmuth and her colleagues: they’re stuck on an intellectual water slide that they can’t get off and now have to convince themselves is both good and useful.”

      I have to unwillingly disagree. True believers like Helmuth (I assume this isn’t all an act) have long ago found peace with their mission of promoting DEI to the world. Plus given her PhD in a scientific field, she is undoubtedly under the illusion that she grasps what “science” is all about- an unfortunate misunderstanding of many with advanced degrees in some STEM field. Plus the DEI ecosystem is rich with well paying opportunities for folks once they’ve done their damage elsewhere, like Meredith Raimondo of Oberlin College / Gibson’s Bakery fame stepped right into the position of Vice President for Student Affairs at Oglethorpe University.

      The damage these types do is commonly referred to in the DEI world as “speaking truth to power”.

    3. Lee, I agree with you about the damage these folks do, and I resent them for the same reasons you do. But I also find those folks pathetic and sad, and I feel sorry for them. Especially someone like Laura Helmuth with a STEM PhD. Her crossing over to the dark side is sad for her and a loss for us. Of course nobody else has to share my view.

      Linguist, people in universities like our “universal” nature. My scientist colleagues and I could do without our business school (or repurpose it as a very large org psych department in the humanities), but we would go to the barricades to keep liberal arts and engineering in the same institution with the sciences.

      1. Mike, I understand your comment, and I generally agreed with it in another era. (Generally agreed, but not absolutely: I wouldn’t have wanted my university to have a school of theology or astrology. I have taught a a university that had one, and it permeated everything. Academics do need to decide whom they are willing to teach alongside and whom they are willing to lend credence to.)

        At this point, though, the PC crowd is clearly fighting for the soul of the institution – and they’re winning for now. I’m sure the pendulum will swing back towards libertarianism, maybe in a generation’s time. For now, though, my only question is how to salvage what we can. When we look at an entity (whether a car, a human body, or a government), where it is clear that there is a spreading infection (rust, cancer, corruption), we can either try to a) heal the disease, b) cut it out, or, c) as a final measure, salvage what we can. This is too deeply embedded in administration now (the fish rots from the head), so it looks like Option C is the only viable option for many universities today.

        I’m sorry that this post has this much emotionally loaded language. I’ve given up hope for the next decade or two, and am wondering how to save what can be saved.

        1. “At this point, though, the PC crowd is clearly fighting for the soul of the institution – and they’re winning for now.”

          I know it can seem that way, but I feel a certain amount of hope, for the following reasons:

          1- Wokeism really is a house of cards. Their story falls apart once you start asking the right questions, avoiding the rhetorical traps they lay (e.g. apologizing for hurting the tender feelings of privileged student-babies) and learning effective ways of showing that their emperor is most truly naked.

          2- Somewhat counter-intuitively, pushing such raw anti-science could, if responded to correctly, be used to open people’s eyes to a better understanding of science itself. When I came to understand why Freudian “psychodynamics” is not science, when I could juxtapose real science with the religious apologetics of my upbringing, when I was finally able to verbalize what is it that makes science science and pseudo-science pseudo-science (sorry for the verbal gyrations), that is when I began to understand what science is all about. Sometimes you really do need to experience the darkness to know and love Sagan’s “candle in the dark”.

          1. Lee, I appreciate both points, but disagree on a deeper understanding of human nature.

            Their story falls apart once you start asking the right questions

            That is absolutely true. I don’t trust their PC followers to ask the right questions. That will only help to wall off those of us who ask questions (as I am doing now) from those who do not.

            pushing such raw anti-science could, if responded to correctly, be used to open people’s eyes

            Very true. I just don’t trust that people will open their eyes.

            This further underscores my point that we should look into fragmenting our institutions.

    4. Yes, Ms. Helmuth is in a difficult spot as you say, having started down this path. But there is a solution other than continuing down that same path. She can resign and regain her reputation. Or she and the editorial board could grow a backbone and rededicate the magazine to the mission of presenting science to the general audience. Editors come and editors go, and with them, the tenor of the magazine changes. This can be fixed if the magazine wants it fixed.

      1. Unfortunately, credibility built up over decades can be lost in a relative instant with people like Helmuth aboard. It’s like the proverbial case of finding out that there is a tiny bit of dog poop in a batch of brownies. Not only is the whole batch ruined, even the pan is suspect- who would want to eat brownies baked in a pan known to have once contained dog poop?

        I don’t think this is something SciAm can just “move on” from. It will take an admission of fault, a repair plan analogous to scrubbing the brownie pan with bleach, and a period of probation to prove they have changed, all with the understanding that if they slip up again, all bets are off. There are only so many second chances.

  8. I still have a pile of those old mid-90s SciAm issues stacked up somewhere. I attribute a lot of my interest in science, and of having trained as a scientist, and actually conducting scientific research today as my day job, to having read Scientific American when I was a teenager. The format was clean and clear, the writing was exceedingly good (NB I’m not a native English speaker, so I also learned English reading the articles) and the illustrations were wonderful. At the turn of the century they decided to change gears and become trendy and just make money, what a colossal loss that was to science enthusiasts around the world. Nothing gets older faster than ‘trendy’, those old issues are so authoritative today as they were when they came out. These days I take SciAm as seriously as I take, I don’t know, The History Channel.

    1. My memory is that the old Scientific American often had essays by leading researchers. In molecular biology, I think the late Charlie Yanofsky did some Sci Am articles, and I dimly recall that there were pieces by Francis Crick and others. Not any more. The current Sci Am, trumpeting that “every lane is our lane”, no longer appears to have
      serious active researchers in its now so-voluminously-claimed lanes.

    2. My father was an engineer and SciAm subscriber. I was really into the space program and used to read the magazine every month. I have very fond memories of the conversations that we had about the articles on space and other topics. My curiosity and questions followed – “Dad what’s an atom”, things like that. When I grew up, I subscribed and continued to read the magazine every month.

      I noticed the magazine change a few years ago. It broke my heart. The science articles were dumbed down and not as interesting. (insert identity politics group) History Months were the worst, 10% Science, 90% identity politics.

      I canceled my subscription.

      1. I cancelled mine over an article in September of 2008. It claimed to refute the widely held notion that during the presidential race of 2008, McCain was hammered by the media and Obama was favored. It presented data apparently showing that McCain was indeed covered more favorably than Obama, and recounted how dozens of grad students pored over hundreds of news and opinion pieces to gather the supporting data.

        My reaction was disbelief, but I had to respect the effort, which seemed daunting. Wondering how long this effort had taken, I looked at the notes in the last paragraph, only to find that the sources were from 2007! That was the primary season, when Hillary’s “inevitability” was being threatened by the upstart Obama, and McCain the “Maverick” was being groomed as a stalking horse for her ascension!

        I re-read the article, and it was indeed carefully worded to encourage the reader to assume the fairness data applied to the soon-to-be over presidential race! Unless one read the concluding “Oh, by the way…” remarks, there was no indication that the context of the data was an entirely different political race, arguably with entirely different media motivations! The next time a renewal notice came for SciAm, I ignored it!

  9. Scientific American’s argument goes like this:

    Science is relevant to every element of society
    Politics and policy are elements of society
    Therefore science is relevant to politics and policy

    This is a classic red herring fallacy, in which irrelevant information is presented alongside relevant information in order to distract attention from the relevant information. The question isn’t whether science is relevant to politics and policy, but whether politics and policy are relevant to science. That science has significant and demonstrable bearing on politics and policy doesn’t mean that politics and policy have, or should have, significant and demonstrable bearing on science. E.g., scientific findings about climate change should definitely influence politics and policy about climate change. But politics and policy about climate change should never influence the science of climate change.

  10. I don’t agree that Trump was “odious.” I thought he was an excellent president, especially considering the forces that were arrayed against him.

    1. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. My opinion is that you’re CENSORED. I hope you will afford me the same entitlement.

    2. I’m curious whether you would expand. Set aside Trump’s public persona and character. Also, set aside his court nominees: these will prove a longstanding contribution or detriment, one’s political views depending. (And the credit or blame may rest more with McConnell than with Trump.)

      Are there any policies or other decisions the effects of which outlived his administration and that you believe future [nonpartisan] historians will view favorably? (I have given up on most partisans acknowledging either his faults or successes, team depending, of course.)

      No wars instigated on his watch, perhaps, but from the outside it is hard to tell the degree to which he was determinative in this. Firmer reorientation of national security concerns toward China, maybe? (Biden seems to be a continuation of Trump, in this regard.) The Abraham Accords? Anything else?

      Perhaps I should first consult Scientific American for the definitive take!

      1. “. . .that you believe future [nonpartisan] historians will view favorably?”

        I love it that you believe there will be future nonpartisan historians. What planet are you from again? 😊

  11. Sci Am appears to be circling the drain even faster by putting out this unscientific defence of its incursions into politics.

    That’s Hans Bethe second mention on WEIT today, following the Alpher, Bethe, Gamow paper referred to in the Hili Dialogue.

  12. The Raleigh News and Observer has recently held forth in several short articles on public skepticism of science and scientists, focusing mainly on Covid. The below link lets one see one of the articles.

    Another article addresses “The Research Paper” and the specifics of running the peer review gauntlet, and states that the “impact factor” informs readers how often the average article is cited by other scientists. It refers to the high impact factor of the “most prestigious” journals, “Nature” and “Science.” (It doesn’t mention “Scientific American.”)

    WEIT has assiduously kept tabs on the increasingly woke nature of “Nature” and “Science” papers. The N&O article mentions nary a word about this wokeness, and nary a word about DEI position statements being required as part of applications for funding from funding entities. And of course nothing is mentioned about the biological basis of sex and what could possibly rationally justify skepticism about that basis.

    1. Scientific American has never been a primary science journal that publishes novel and original research. It used to publish excellent review articles aimed at readers who do not engage with the primary literature of the subjects.

  13. I have heard similar arguments made about journalism: perfect objectivity is impossible, so we shouldn’t complain when Michael Moore (or the late Rush Limbaugh, or whoever) stretch the truth; they’re just being subjective, as all reporters are–as though subjectivity and dishonesty are the same thing. (Before anyone protests that people like Moore and Limbaugh are/were “just entertainers” and that it is silly to take them seriously, I know plenty of their followers who did take them seriously and got angry if you didn’t agree.)

    My response is that perfection in anything is impossible, but you are still supposed to try. Anything else is a cop-out. Perfect justice is impossible but we shouldn’t knowingly sentence an innocent person to jail–“Oh, well, it’s naive to expect justice to be perfect.”

    1. Perfection is impossible, but only with ideals like objectivity in science and justice in law can we have any hope of progressing towards those ideals. Cynicism is the enemy of progress, just as certainly as the lust for power is. Indeed, they often go hand-in-hand.

  14. I believe that New Scientist – a British science magazine at least as famous as Scientific American – has gone down the same exact road.
    But are there any science magazines that haven’t ?

  15. Yes, of course Trump was odious, but he was not odious for scientifically-related reasons

    He was odious for scientifically related reasons as well as the many other reasons. Trump and the party he represents are actively trying to undermine science in a number of areas. I think it’s perfectly valid for a popular science magazine to point out (for example) that one of the presidential candidates pursued unscientific policies during the pandemic. Although, if I were the editor, I would stop short of formally endorsing his opponent.

  16. I am not sure what Jerry Coyne means by “biological meaning”, “self-described race”, “geographically distinct populations”, “relevant biological differences”, “ethnicity” and “race” and his use of the Tang et al. papers and others that use cumulative differences in gene frequencies or other genetic evidence to conclude that pre-determined human group entities have reality sociologically or evolutionarily taxonomically.

    Yes, cumulative genetic distance information based on frequency differences between lots-and-lots of alleles of genes or other bits of genomic bits and pieces can with 100% accuracy statistically discriminate between pre-selected groups of human beings. Yes, such group allocation might be biological meaning in a forensic sense to identify the ‘racial’ sources of bits of tissue.

    However, to be evolutionarily biological meaningful taxonomically genetically requires the ability to reliably allocate unsorted, unidentified pieces of tissue to geographically demarcated groups whose boundaries are identifiable by congruent frequency distributional maps of the component alleles et al.

    With regard to the terms race and ethnicity, taxonomically, races are subspecies. The subspecies category is, with doubt, the one most mis-used and abused in the history of taxonomy.

    This was exposed unequivocally by Coyne’s and my much-admired colleague Ed Wilson – I think even before he became Dr Wilson
    Wilson EO, Brown WL. 1953. The subspecies concept and its taxonomic application. Systematic Biology 2: 97–111.
    For a more recent perspective see:
    A new approach to understanding subspecies can boost conservation
    Ethnicity is another way of portraying race in a sociological sense, but, when held to the same standard as subspecies, socio-races also fail to meet standards set by taxonomists. This is why the apartheid regime substituted the use of the term race with ethnicity in my adoptive home, South Africa.

    1. “With regard to the terms race and ethnicity, taxonomically, races are subspecies.”

      The additional problem is a confusion of technical, scientific vocabulary and “ordinary language” as the linguists and philosophers say. The linguist Anna Wierzbicka has written insightfully and often humorously on the issue, exploring such fruitful — sorry — examples as why the tomato is not a fruit, and why bamboo is not a grass. The concept “race” may have a scientific meaning, but it also has an ordinary language meaning that differs in several ways, including the fact that different cultures — even the U.S. versus the U.K. — sort races differently in ways that can change over time.

  17. I have a surprise for anyone who thinks they’ve seen it all in terms of wokeness. That’s the Sci Am article that Jerry mentioned above – about the use of JEDI in social justice contexts.

    The authors aim to show that JEDI is a ‘problematic’ term. Instead, using several thousand words they demonstrate their rich, vivid imaginations and lack of critical faculties. Mix in exrreme virtue signalling and a totally absent sense of humor, and you have the most ridiculous, humorless, inane, rudderless, woke word-salad I’ve ever read.

    It has to be one of the dumbest, nonsensical and pointless articles in the history of articles! A total waste of pixels, but it’s definitely worth reading for the laugh!

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