Skeptical Inquirer discussion on our ideology in science paper

June 26, 2023 • 12:45 pm

A week from this coming Thursday, Luana Maroja and I will appear on a Skeptical Inquirer podcast for about an hour to discuss our “ideology in biology” paper and to answer questions. We’re lucky to have Robyn Blumner, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry (publisher of the magazine) as our interlocutor. (She’s also executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is connected with CFI.)

You can click the screenshot to get more information and to register. I’ve put some relevant information from CFI below, and registration, which is free, is here.  I understand that readers can submit questions during the podcast.

Fom the site:

In “The Ideological Subversion of Biology,” the cover feature of the July/August 2023 issue of Skeptical InquirerJerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja deliver a powerful and provocative warning about the dangers of trying to make scientific reality conform to the political winds. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who agrees that science must be objective and empirical—not ideological.

Join us on Thursday, July 6, at 7:00 p.m. ET for a special Skeptical Inquirer Presents livestream with Jerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja, hosted by Robyn E. Blumner, CEO and president of the Center for Inquiry. They’ll discuss how the field of evolutionary and organismal biology has been “impeded or misrepresented by ideology,” how the erosion of free inquiry in science due to progressive ideology is damaging both intellectually and materially, and, most importantly, what can be done about it. If things don’t change, they warn, “in a few decades science will be very different from what it is now. Indeed, it’s doubtful that we’d recognize it as science at all.”

Free registration is required to take part in this live Zoom event, so sign up right now.

16 thoughts on “Skeptical Inquirer discussion on our ideology in science paper

  1. The questions should be interesting. I looked at the comments on SI’s tw*tter link and they were primarily negative and very brief, consisting mostly of insults and references to this being Right-wing/fascist/bigotry.

      1. Except I have read nothing but good from peoples whose opinions I value and trust eg Dawkins Bari Weiss etc

        Cheer up the numpties screeches are irrelevant and the smart thoughtful people are on your side. They really do matter.

  2. I’m not sure that it would be wise to give PZ more attention than he deserves, but I’d be interested in hearing your response to his typically incoherent comments on biological sex.

    1. IMO, P.Z. is remarkably good at being anti-correct: when he confidently declares that X is totally wrong, and anyone who defends X is a terrible person, it’s safe to bet your house on X.

  3. Although I often have serious disagreements with your takes, I’d like to thank you for standing up against ideology. My own discipline (philosophy) is getting overrun by these zealots. Check out this paper:
    Deepl provides an accurate translation, I checked it. It suffices to read from section 4: It contains everything, a straw man of evolutionary psychology, a swipe against research into psychological individual differences (racist, of course), the denial of the sex binary, and the unfathomable claim that a disease like ADHD ought to be best understood as just another way of being, certainly not something that requires treatment.

  4. I think you should read what P.Z. Myers says about this, along with the more detailed rebuttal that he says he plans to write, because it’s important to understand these types of arguments. Nowadays, the acceptance or rejection of scientific hypotheses in certain areas is determined primarily by social dynamics, which are mostly unrelated to whatever data has been collected and published. This is how the academic consensus that sex is binary, which had been the consensus for the past century, was overturned in the space of about five years. Evolutionary biologists who support the idea of biological sex were too slow to learn the new rules of the game, and the current situation is the result.

    If you want to try to stop this type of thing, publishing articles like your recent one is helpful, but I don’t think just calling attention to the problem can ever be enough on its own. To really make a difference, you have to understand the details of how this process works, and reading what P.Z. Myers says about this will help you to understand that.

    There’s also a book that I recommend reading to better understand this process: The End of the World is Flat by Simon Edge. This is a fictional account of how the process I’ve described could hypothetically be used to undermine the hypothesis that the Earth is round. It may seem far-fetched that such a thing could happen, but the process itself is depicted in a highly believable manner, and the book realistically portrays how no scientific idea, no matter how well-established, is immune.

  5. The language PZ use against everyone who disagree with him is disturbing and also plain indecent. We do see such crazy behavior here in Europe too, also, but nowhere near the madness we see in USA and Canada. On the positive side, as a Norwegian, I think the tide is turning here. Even among the young people, more and more dare to speak out against the woke madness. The hysteric reaction from the woke mob I believe is an act of desperation because they see that more and more people resist the fear to get cancelled.

  6. The Skeptical Inquirer’s exploration of the role of ideology in scientific papers presents a fascinating and thought-provoking perspective. Science, as an objective pursuit of knowledge, should ideally be free from biases and preconceived notions. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that human beings are not immune to the influence of their ideologies, conscious or unconscious, which can subtly shape the research process.

    By scrutinizing the potential impact of ideology on scientific papers, the Skeptical Inquirer encourages a critical examination of the underlying assumptions and biases that researchers may bring to their work. This discussion prompts scientists and readers alike to question the objectivity of scientific findings and the potential implications for the advancement of knowledge.

  7. As a sort of meta point about the question of the definition of sex, I think it’s worth pointing out that for anyone who believes the behavior of all physical systems is in principle derivable from fundamental physics (which is not to say it is generally methodologically or conceptually a good idea to try to perform this reduction in practice), the definitions of all higher level categories like male vs. female are a matter of what conventions scientists find useful, not anything wholly objective. This was illustrated well by the recent decision to redefine “planet” to exclude Pluto–it’s not as if “planet” was seen as a preexisting natural kind existing in objective reality and scientists had made new discoveries about the properties of this category, it was mostly a matter of not wanting the list of planets to be overwhelmed by newly discovered Kuiper belt objects. Along the same lines, a question like “is a virus is alive” just depends on what definition of “life” scientists find most useful (though usefulness could certainly be affected by empirical findings like better knowledge of how viruses first arose), nature doesn’t force any uniquely correct definition of this concept on us.

    From this perspective, one should also agree that in principle there might be cases where different definitions of a term like “sex” might be more useful in the contexts of different kinds of research (perhaps with some modifiers like ‘genetic sex’ vs. ‘phenotypic sex’ etc.). For example, in the study of abnormal sex development in mammals including humans (Swyer syndrome for example), scientists have long found it useful to use definitions of “male” and “female” that are based on genitalia rather than genetics, and the study of intersex conditions also makes a good case for sometimes defining biological sex as a continuum even if in other contexts it is treated as a binary.

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