I’m acquainted with Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of Science, because my colleague Luana Maroja debated him and then wrote about it afterwards (you can see the debate video here and Luana’s post-debate interview with a National Association of Scholars person here). Thorp, like every other big-time journal editor, is woke. You can see that in the magazine, but also in the debate with Luana. Writing about the debate at the Heterodox STEM site, Luana said this:
What Thorp does not seem to realize is how offensive it is when it is argued that inclusiveness requires special accommodations, such as lowering the expectations for people who “look like me.” I described my experience of participating in a training session for a hiring committee at the college where I now teach. During this session, we were told that “we cannot expect as much from Latina women [as from white men], because they have more obligations towards family,” something I found incredibly insulting, as if I don’t have the agency to decide how to balance my own time just like anyone else. Other initiatives in the name of inclusiveness, such as chasing microaggressions, are even more negative and damaging to the individuals who internalize this concept – imagine that you adopt the microaggression mindset and live your life thinking that the world is turned against you. Consider this not-that-hypothetical scenario: you walk and wave to a student and the student does not wave back to you. You have two choices: you might decide that this was a personal microaggression due to who you are, or alternatively, you might conclude that the student simply did not see you. Only one of these two views can lead to a good life and mental health.
In many instances during the conversation and in his writings, it is clear that Thorp subscribes to a Woke worldview. He believes in the value of diversity, but assumes that the diversity can be attained only by lowering the bar for women and minorities, and that “inclusion” can be achieved by excluding white males. Ironically, at least twice during the conversation his comments revealed that he does not consistently apply this logic. Prior to the conversation, when we all showed up on time, he commented that we did so “because we are all scientists” – this ignores the fact that my culture (Latina Brazilian) does not respect punctuality, and that I had to learn to do so for my own benefit. He then pointed out that, “as scientists we were the first to run with our complete AP calculus tests to our teachers in high school.” Well, in Brazil I had a third-world education… I did not have the opportunity to take calculus until I was in a PhD program at Cornell. I certainly did not study AP calculus in school, and if I had dared run waving a completed exam to the teacher, I would be sure to never to have friends again… It is a pity that the topic of culture was not discussed more in this conversation – I imagine Thorp’s view would be that “all cultures are equal in their outcomes”, when they clearly are not.
In the end, I was unsure if Thorp is a true believer in the need to lower standards in the name of inclusion, or if he plays a game, where he is a white savior. It is hard for me to understand why some people, with all good intentions, fail to see the obviously damaging effects of their ideologies and actions. Lowering standards and expectations hurts the most vulnerable of us; it does not help science or the people that such actions are intended to help — and I hope we can start pushing back hard against this damaging ideology.
Well, Thorp is still riding this horse, as we can see in his “editor’s blog” that went up at Science yesterday. There he created a special post to go after our paper “In defense of merit in science“, as well as after Pamela Paul’s NYT column describing the paper. In fact, these are the only two links he gives in his piece. Click to read:
His point, which could be expressed much more succinctly, is the claim that a more diverse group of people can do better science than a less diverse group. In fact, it’s more than that: he argues implicitly that a more diverse group of people can do better science without having to lower the bar for judging science or scientists.
It’s clear that by “diversity” Thorp means “racial diversity”—as that’s the one example he gives—but he may mean gender diversity as well. He gives a nod to “viewpoint diversity,” but it’s clear that he doesn’t mean, “let’s get more conservatives and poor ‘first generation’ students into science.”
But first, for reasons best known to Thorp, he makes The Argument from Humanity”: he thinks that people like the 29 of us who wrote the merit paper don’t recognize that scientists are human beings, and that this somehow blinds us to the virtues of diversity:
It has somehow become a controversial idea to acknowledge that scientists are actual people. For some, the notion that scientists are subject to human error and frailty weakens science in the public eye. But scientists shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge their humanity. Individual scientists are always going to make a mistake eventually, and the objective truth that they claim to be espousing is always going to be revised. When this happens, the public understandably loses trust. The solution to this problem is doing the hard work of explaining how scientific consensus is reached—and that this process corrects for the human errors in the long run.
The relevance of this to his point is obscure, but it gives him a chance to diss our paper and also drag Charles Darwin in as a racist and sexist, even though an accomplished one. Note that the link he gives below is to our merit paper, which he mischaracterizes as making the claim that science is “not subject to human influences”. He appears to be making an argument that judging science and scientists on merit is at odds with the view that scientists are human and flawed. This is a false dichotomy that makes no sense. Then he goes after Darwin and brings in race:
A raging debate has set in over whether the backgrounds and identities of scientists change the outcomes of research. One view is that objective truth is absolute and therefore not subject to human influences. “The science speaks for itself” is usually the mantra in this camp. But the history and philosophy of science argue strongly to the contrary. For example, Charles Darwin made major contributions to the most important idea in biology, but his book The Descent of Man contained many incorrect assertions about race and gender that reflected his adherence to prevalent social ideas of his time. [JAC: I’m curious about the “gender misconceptions”.] Thankfully, evolution didn’t become knowledge the day Darwin proposed it, and it was refined over the decades by many points of view. More recently, pulse oximeters that measure blood oxygen levels were found to be ineffective for dark skin because they were initially developed for white patients. These examples—and countless more in between—reveal how much work needs to be done to strengthen the scientific community and the public understanding of the process.
Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species also contains many errors not based on race and gender misconceptions. Of course Darwin was flawed, a man of his time who, by the way, happened to be more liberal on issues of race than most of his peers (he was an abolitionist). But that’s not even relevant to our claim that science should be judged on merit. We surely do not subscribe to the view that everything Darwin said was right because he was a good scientist: we judge what he accomplished on its merits. For a counterexample, he got genetics wrong, though it didn’t matter for most of his views. Only the last sentence above gives Thorp’s real claim: that better science can be done by diversifying the scientific community.
He expands on that in the next paragraph by ignoring a question that’s bloody obvious: if we are to diversify science by lowering the bar to entry (as Thorp apparently admitted during the debate), and downgrading merit to bring in more “diverse” people, then it’s obvious that our conventional ideas of “merit” must be given lower priority. Luana notes this above. Thorp’s question, “How is diversity a threat to scientific rigor and the merit of discoveries? is in fact discussed in our paper. Our argument is not that diversity per se is a threat to merit, but that the drastic lowering of standards needed to attain full equity in science is a threat to merit. And we all recognize this. That is why, for example, grad schools are abandoning SATs as requirements for application, and why med schools do the same thing with MCAT tests.
What is likely is that diversity is promoted in science by people like Thorp primarily not primarily to improve science itself, but to make up for past wrongs done to members of minority communities (a form of reparations), to create better role models for underrepresented groups, to make scientists “look more like America,” or because diversity itself will create better science. In fact, the last point is what he maintains in the next paragraph:
A monolithic group of scientists will bring many of the same preconceived notions to their work. But a group of many backgrounds will bring different points of view that decrease the chance that one prevailing set of views will bias the outcome. This means that scientific consensus can be reached faster and with greater reliability. It also means that the applications and implications will be more just for all. How is this a threat to scientific rigor and the merit of discoveries? Unfortunately, we’re nowhere close to achieving these goals. Science has had enormous trouble building a workforce that reflects the public it serves. And now, numerous state governments are trying to make it more difficult, if not impossible, at the public universities in their states, and even within the scientific community, there are efforts to derail the idea that it matters who does science.
Talk about monoliths: the huge majority of scientists already share one viewpoint: the liberal democratic one. In academia as a whole, surveys show that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans varies between five to one and fourteen to one! This is, of course, makes academia completely unrepresentative of America as a whole politically. Should Thorp be calling for this kind of diversity, too? No, because it’s not the right kind of diversity.
But the main flaw of this paper is threefold. First, Thorp gives no evidence that more diverse groups produce better science. My brief review of the data shows that there is some evidence that diverse groups can produce better results, but also that there is evidence in the other direction as well. (I am ignoring the very real possibility of ideologically-based publication bias here). But Thorp’s claim above is not that, it is that you can have the same criteria of merit and also increase diversity. It’s the “you can have your cake and eat it too” argument. And this would hold if the increase in scientific progress accompanying a more diverse group of scientists more than compensates for the decrease in standards necessary to attain that diversity. And there is simply no evidence at all to support this. It’s telling that Thorp cites our paper and Paul’s column, but simply asserts that “different backgrounds. . . increase “scientific consensus”. If we really had good confidence that diversity actually increased the quality of science being done, then nobody would have a problem with boosting diversity!
Further, Thorp’s near-explicit claim that racial diversity will boost scientific quality is somewhat patronizing, as it assumes that Hispanics as a group, or blacks as a group, have an outlook on the world that will improve science more than other kinds of diversity: political diversity, viewpoint diversity, diversity in upbringing, whether one’s parents went to college or not, and so on. Looking at individual viewpoints and merit seems to me a better way than simply diversifying science to “look more like America.” If you want diverse viewpoints, find people with out-of-the-box viewpoints and hire them, but don’t assume that pigmentation or ethnicity automatically confers diverse scientific views that will push the field forward. The best way to push science forward is to give everyone equal opportunity and judge science and scientists on their merit. We haven’t yet accomplished the former, which is Task #1, but we can hold onto our standards of merit.
There is an empirically-based argument to be had about whether more diverse scientific groups produce better science. But we have no data to support that, and Thorp cites none. I can cite data on both sides, which means that there is no real consensus (some of the “pro-diversity” results, for instance, are based on mathematical simulations rather than real humans, while others are based on short-term problem-solving tasks in psychology laboratories). If the first claim proves to be true, then there’s another discussion to be had: what types of diversity produce the best science? Do we need more Republicans? More people on the autism spectrum? Is it not possible that conservatives or people who are slightly autistic could ask questions just as different from mainstream scientists as, say, scientists of color? Why is ethnicity or gender the form of diversity claimed to best improve science? The answer, of course, is that we don’t know that, and the question itself is a diversion. Diversity is really being promoted for the same reasons it’s promoted in every field: as a form of reparations or to increase equality or equity.
Finally, even if diversity of one type or another advances science, we need to show that the erosion of the meritocracy required to make the field more diverse is more than compensated for by the net increase of scientific progress produced by having more diverse scientists. We aren’t even close to knowing that, and I doubt, given the kind of data we’d need to show it, that we ever will.
So Thorp is just blowing smoke, and also bringing in an irrelevant claim that somehow our failure to see scientists as humans has drastically hurt science. That, in fact, is how he ends his post:
Scientists should embrace their humanity rather than pretending that they are a bunch of automatons who instantly reach perfectly objective conclusions. That will be more work both in terms of ensuring that science represents that humanity and in explaining how it all works to the public. But in return, society will get better and more just science, and it will allow scientists to immerse themselves in the glorious, messy process of always striving for a greater understanding of the truth.
Here he’s arguing against something that no scientist maintains. Maybe the layperson thinks that scientists are a bunch of automatons, but we scientists know better. But most important, Thorp never explains how our recognizing that we are fallible humans (which we already know!) will suddenly boost the progress of science.
What bothers me most is that the editor who controls what may be the most powerful and important science journal in the world is incapable of making a coherent argument, or laying out what data would be needed to support his claims. He is very big on assertions and very short on facts. Is that the kind of science editor we want?
38 thoughts on “Holden Thorp, editor of Science, goes after our merit paper”
I read the Science piece yesterday, and after reading the first section (below), I concluded that Thrope was arguing a straw man. Below is the part that told me I was reading a straw man argument.
“Scientific research is a social process that occurs over time with many minds contributing. But the public has been taught that scientific insight occurs when old white guys with facial hair get hit on the head with an apple or go running out of bathtubs shouting “Eureka!” That’s not how it works, and it never has been.”
The above is not at all what the “public has been taught.” Every day we read in the popular literature and media about scientific contributions by people of all sorts. It may be true that we learned the apocryphal story about an apple falling on Newton’s head, but we never learned that science was exclusively the province of white old men. Nonsense. Scientists themselves surely do not buy the narrative that Thrope is peddling. More nonsense.
Because I was fuming about the straw man nature of the editorial, I did not question the other claim that Thrope makes, namely that science is better served by a diverse set of practitioners. This may or may not be true, but it needs empirical verification.
In times of existential threat—a war, the climate crisis, a pandemic—we will be blind to color, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. We will look to scientists of the highest rank for solutions: scientists of merit.
re ‘But the public has been taught that scientific insight occurs when old white guys with facial hair get hit on the head with an apple’….no doubt referencing Newton. The portrait of 46 yo Newton by Godfrey Kneller shows no sign of facial hair. Newton noted ‘by thinking upon it continually’ was his road to discovery of universal gravitation, not as an instantaneous response to an apple drop onto his head. Furthermore Newton was an autodidactic, who as a young man gained mastery of his math by plodding hard work. It seems to me there is far more ‘scientific’ variability among individuals within a racial group, than between such groups, but I have not seen data on this.
Actually, I see more and more scientists depicted in todays movies and tv series being female and/or non-white, with the occasional skinny white male autist-nerd (or female – e.g. “Zeph” in the SF series Killjoys from 2015-2019) dug out of the drawer.
One prominent exception are dubious or evil scientists, which still tend to be older white men. Just my anecdotal impressions.
This is more about virtue-signaling than diversity in academia. Does Thorp have any evidence to support the claim that greater racial and sexual diversity somehow improve the quality of scientific research rather than simply that the more people doing it the better?
Evidence? What do you think this is – a scientific argument?
It’s a Sociology experiment, which is, as we know, a “discipline” whose main purpose is to make Economics look good.
I blame the termites.
Thorp’s editorial is pretty insulting by insinutating that you (Anna Krylov, PCC, etal) made silly arguments that you never made, and ignoring the good arguments that you did make.
Anyhow, it’s obvious that more viewpoint diversity is sorely needed in many areas of science. Much of the social sciences, for example, are a write-off owing to unquestioned blank-slatism and denial of genetic influences.
As for racial diversity, well, it would be a good thing in its own right (everyone should be welcome to become a scientist, if they have the ability), but I don’t think it would improve the quality of science much.
It seems to me that the argument that a more diverse group of people can do better science than a less diverse group — and that weakening the criteria of “merit” won’t effect this — is being subconsciously addressed to scientists in the late 18th and 19th century (and even later.) Back then, it was a “gentleman’s pursuit,” and one needed a degree from a prestigious university if one wanted to be taken seriously. Obviously, qualified people were excluded because of their sex or race. There were those who, on their own, had done research or come up with ideas which were ignored by the formal academies. There were those who never had a chance to develop their interests by being offered a scientific education in the first place. And, of course, back then there were areas of inquiry which were overlooked because the upper class either wasn’t aware of them or thought they weren’t important.
If I had to make Thorp’s case, I would try to do so in the best possible circumstances. Therefore, I choose to be a Person From The Future in oh, let’s make it 1820. The arguments practically write themselves and — even better— I can use many explicit and convincing examples.
There were those who, on their own, had done research or come up with ideas which were ignored by the formal academies. There were those who never had a chance to develop their interests by being offered a scientific education in the first place.
Exactly. I just read about a Trilobite expert that was the first to discern (arguably) “punctuated equilibrium” Rudolph Kaufmann post WWII (though he did have a scientific education). During the Nazi regime, after years of important field work (yes, he was in the FIELD) he sleeps with a prostitute, contracts VD, gets treatment and his doctor turns him in as an “unregistered Jew”. It’s a tragic story about love and loss and his obsession with Trilobites that was cut short by his murder by Nazis. Just another terrible loss the Nazi’s inflicted upon the human race.
Do “more diverse scientific groups produce better science”? One good way to find out is to look at the research productivity of individual labs (PIs at universities), measure changes in research output and quality for each group before and after the adoption of explicit diversity initiatives, and measure changes in diversity of those same labs before and after those diversity initiatives. Canada has an explicit turning point that could be used for this before-after comparison: the NSERC Dimensions pilot program in 2017. Measuring within-lab-group changes avoids many pitfalls of measuring population-level changes over time. What is the correlation between change in diversity and change in the quantity or quality of research?
I think the claim, “more diverse scientific groups produce better science” would be true if you look at it as a sampling issue. If you have somewhat meritocratic system that is casting a wide net and sampling over the global talent pool then I believe the statement is true. But jettisoning the meritocratic & global brain drain part and just adding ‘diversity’ is probably not going to have the same effect. My feeling is that many diversity studies look at the first situation to justify the second situation I described.
Yes for sure. I think the results could tell us whether the diversity initiative is actually meritocratic as you described. If improving diversity does actually improve research excellence then the meritocratic mechanism would be one plausible explanation for that pattern.
I want racial and ethnic diversity in science, but I especially want systems that help marginalized groups to go to college and to get into science (if individuals want to). But my reasons have nothing to do with the vague notion that racial and ethnic diversity somehow improves science. My reasons are that the path into college and road to academia represents a big fat highway into the middle class. And I bet there is lots of evidence to support that view.
Doing stuff to get marginalized groups into science means that they and their descendants will be financially and educationally better off, and having this goal will directly translate into having more racially and ethnically under-represented groups in academia. In addition to the financial and educational benefits, it is also true that it’s important for young people to see people who look like them in academia.
So moving underprivileged people into academia because it helps them is effectively Thorp’s goal for diversity, but up front its about finances rather than diversity and meanwhile diversity piggy-backs its way in. I don’t understand why he does not make this argument since it seems unassailable.
If diverse groups produce better work, this should apply to your merit paper as its authors are quite a large and diverse group.
If scientists are as fallible as Thorpe claims, then don’t we need more merit and rigor?
Science has had enormous trouble building a workforce that reflects the public it serves.
Substitute ‘hairdressers’, ‘truckers’ or even ‘Senators’ and the idea that occupations should reflect the general public is plainly ludicrous. Not everybody wants to be a hairdresser, truck driver, Senator or scientist. Not everybody has the ability to be a hairdresser, truck driver, Senator or scientist.
Do your best to ensure that those with the desire and the ability get a fair opportunity. Some of them may be disappointed by the competition for scarce jobs, or find the remuneration too low. But ‘diversity’ has to show a benefit rather than be named as a ‘general good ‘because otherwise you may end up directing people into jobs they don’t want for the sake of the general public.
Holden Thorp is not only the editor of Science; he is a former Chemistry Chairman, Dean, and Chancellor, at UNC. He is also a notable entrepreneur, having founded two biotech companies, Xanthon and Viamet Pharmaceuticals, and was a partner in a venture capital firm. Dr. Thorp therefore represents conventional opinion in the establishment, both that of higher education science and that of the business world.
There are Marxists who claim that the entire DEI phenomenon was devised by the owners of capital to maneuver discussion away from inequality of wealth. That sounds too much like a conspiracy theory. But, however it got started, the DEIshchina undeniably does serve as a distraction from other possible subjects of debate in the socioeconomic realm.
[One example: the “socioeconomic realm” is not considered in Diversity Statements.]
Perhaps Mr. Thorp’s antagonism toward the paper was incited by the following (quoted from “In Defense of Merit in Science”):
In the journal Science, chemist Holden Thorp claimed
(ironically, without evidence) that “evidence of systemic
racism in science pervades this nation [the U.S.].”
This brought a huge smile to my face. “Ironically without evidence” is really first-class trolling. 😀
Thank you. I am the proud author of that phrase. I was pleasantly surprised that the referees allowed it.
I never thought highly of George W Bush, nor his ability to speak the words his speechwriters wrote, but Prof. Maroja’s comments bring to mind their phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Mr Thorpes’ defensive argument seems all about that “how do I feel.. ” and not the ‘challenge’ of the paper in question. He deserves no less a rigorous rebuttle because as you say, his reach, influence by way of a science publication, it needs to be.
From other comments I gather he’s a bit of a smarty pants, self recognized as merit and now some sort of guilt, is invested in the current ideology, self preservation perhaps, but then makes a deflective arguement by fooling himself repeatedly…
What bothers me most is that the editor who controls what may be the most powerful and important science journal in the world is incapable of making a coherent argument, or laying out what data would be needed to support his claims. He is very big on assertions and very short on facts. Is that the kind of science editor we want?
Mr Thorp’s opinion piece sounds more like the kind of virtue signalling a politically savvy individual like himself would be adept at rather than a “true believer”, in particular if you contrast it with his snobbish remarks during his exchange with Luana. It is the kind of soft bigotry I frequently encountered during my studies when meeting “racially conscious” academics.
“… his book The Descent of Man contained many incorrect assertions about race and gender that reflected his adherence to prevalent social ideas of his time.”
Oh, the ideologist says that ideology is bad when it comes to science. I would call that ironic but the woke don’t do irony.
And fun to note that Holden’s editorial also “contained many incorrect assertions about race and gender that reflected his adherence to prevalent social ideas of his time.” But there’s little self-awareness in Holden’s point of view.
“Scientific research is a social process that occurs over time with many minds contributing. ”
This is a Deepity very close to “social construct” :
“Science has had enormous trouble building a workforce that reflects the public it serves. ”
This is hard to understand. Does Editor Thorpe mean the university or college should be more like a vocational-technical trade school? Or that applicants with qualifications should go to trade school instead?
“… rather than pretending that they are a bunch of automatons …”
Wow. There it is. Nice!
Adding a brief quote from Lindsay’s analysis :
“Within Social Justice, the point of labeling something a social construction is to make it malleable. If something like gender is socially constructed, then a different social context would produce a different set of outputs—here: different expressions of gender, which might not constrain people so much. Thus, we find Theorists often commenting that categorization into socially constructed categories is a site and origin of oppression …”
Thorpe -> Thorp
Oh and the pulse oximeter factoid I learned from the J. Cont. Ideas paper and we discussed here – I wonder what point Editor Thorpe was trying to make with it.
“It matters who does science.” – Holden Thorp
This is a typical expression of Critical Standpoint Theory (Epistemology), according to which…
“…knowledge stems from social position. The perspective denies that traditional science is objective and suggests that research and theory have ignored and marginalized women [and other social groups—my add.] and feminist [or other—my add.] ways of thinking. The theory emerged from the Marxist argument that people from an oppressed class have special access to knowledge that is not available to those from a privileged class. In the 1970s feminist writers inspired by that Marxist insight began to examine how inequalities between men and women influence knowledge production. Their work is related to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that examines the nature and origins of knowledge, and stresses that knowledge is always socially situated. In societies stratified by gender and other categories, such as race and class, one’s social positions shape what one can know.”
“Scientists should embrace their humanity rather than pretending that they are a bunch of automatons who instantly reach perfectly objective conclusions.” – Holden Thorp
This statement is a hot candidate for the straw-man-of-the-year award!
The Woke demand “diversity” in science, because they believe that…
“…people at the bottom of social hierarchies have a unique standpoint that is a better starting point for scholarship. Although such people are often ignored, their marginalized positions actually make it easier for them to define important research questions and explain social and natural problems.”
One of my sociology teachers at university once told me: “Being part of society isn’t a sufficient condition of being a good sociologist!”
Of course, Thorp is a fool and a marxist. Arguing with him does not good; he doesn’t believe in logic. The interesting question is why he wants more of certain racial minorities (but not others) in science. I really cannot understand this. I don’t think it’s reparations, since the logical basis for that is thin (why reward children of recent Nigerian immigrants), as is the factual basis (he’d be doing some measurements if that was his concern). So what drives Thorp and his tribe?
Similar calls for black racial preference in everything (and lenient prosecution) are heard in Canada, even though the reparations argument is even thinner here as only a handful of people were ever slaves in pre-1832 British North America. Black people in Canada are, or are descended from, voluntary immigrants. In almost all black immigration since the Civil War ended the Underground Railroad, black people have been fleeing independent majority black-ruled Utopias of their own making in the West Indies, South America, and modern-day Africa. (Many South Asians have also fled these countries.) Reparations for slavery in the U.S. or the West Indies simply don’t wash for any black person living in Canada.
Yet aside from actively recruited economic superstars who happen to be black, black people in Canada lag and fail in a pattern so similar to the United States including violent crime that it suggests cultural contagion. All other racial groups (save indigenous people) have been able to prosper in traditionally xenophobic Canada. Yet black activists are uniquely angry at us for black failure. They demand we recognize systemic racism as the cause. “Anti-racist” propaganda fills the schools. But since there has been so little really ugly official racism, they have to import American icons such as Rosa Parks and George Floyd and teach schoolchildren that they, the schoolchildren, would have persecuted these heroes in Canada, too, had they had the chance.
What I think people like Holden Thorp are trying to do is simply to institutionalize the rewarding of failure. Why I don’t know, unless the goal is to destabilize society. That is what Marxists do.
Mind like body, needs training and needs to be actively engaged to keep fit. What is happening today, is way to many youth due to the activism and social media are not focussed on pursuit of answering questions but figuring out who they are. When you don’t make merit as the standard you give no reason for people to change that habit. And therein lies the problem
It isn’t that many who favor merit don’t want diversity, they would ideally want everyone to have the same base level of opportunities, economic standards , so that world was a fair place. Many like me don’t also think we can function in a complete market driven mode, and you need to push the underprivileged by means of scholarship and funding, increased mentorship, and perhaps even create a small proportion of minority only hires/admissions. But beyond that, it should be a pursuit of excellence. Because it’s extremely important that formative years of students are driven towards engagement on the pursuit of *what* they came to study and not *who they are* while studying. And which is why journals classrooms public talks etc should stay away from such diversity driven choices.
To be honest another key problem is personality driven science. Way too much is about being a cool and visible scientist. Some of the issue also comes from the fact that there is currency in being the better PowerPoint presenter, better speaker and having better social media presence. There is very little reason the sharpest mathematical mind can teach well, the best philospher wants to make pretty slides, and the best experimental biologist writes well. Identity politics is not the only thing that reduces focusses on merit. And the fusion of the two together is the probably the most problematic.
Thorp is not only strawmanning like a world champion, but he is also an avowed motte-and-bailey enthusiast. He presents the easily justifiable viewpoint that “It matters who does science” (the “motte”), acknowledging the widely recognized influence of non-epistemic values on the scientific process, while conveniently sidestepping counterarguments to Abbot et al.’s initial claim. However, as others have mentioned here, Thorp fails to address his implicit and potentially more contentious proposition that “merit should, to some extent, be replaced by social engineering or identity-based policies” (the “bailey”), leaving it unsupported and unexamined in his tabloid-style discourse.
For what it’s worth I have written a brief rebuttal, addressing some of his fallacies, and shared it with my (pretty small) LinkedIn audience (article can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/holdens-motte-thorps-bailey-simon-lucas).
The link doesn’t seem to work for me.
Hmmm… not sure why the link is not working. Maybe this one will do: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/holdens-motte-thorps-bailey-simon-lucas?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_ios&utm_campaign=share_via