In April of last year I posted about the paper below, “Observing whiteness in introductory physics: A case study” (published in Physical Review and Physics Education Research). and I wrote this (tweaked a tiny bit for publication now):
I cannot emphasize enough how bad the paper is. Have a butcher’s [look]. First, read the abstract above, and then have a look here [there was a link to the preliminary version, which is gone now].
The first paragraph sets the tone:
Critical Race Theory names that racism and white supremacy are endemic to all aspects of U.S. society, from employment to schooling to the law [1–7]. We see the outcomes of this in, for example, differential incarceration rates, rates of infection and death in the era of COVID, and police brutality. We also see the outcomes of this in physics.
. . . and in the short incident analyzed at great length in this paper. The entire paper is, in fact, a lengthy and tendentious exegesis of six minutes of observing a presentation by three physics students, seen as “a case of whiteness”:
In this paper, we analyze a case of whiteness as social organization from an introductory physics course at a large public institution in the Western United States. We use the analytic markers from Sec. II to illustrate how whiteness shows up in this context, and we identify and discuss a number of mechanisms of control that co-produce whiteness in the six-minute episode of classroom interaction. We draw on tools of interaction analysis , including discourse, gesture, and gaze analysis, to unpack how whiteness is being constituted locally or interactionally. Our hope is that illustrating whiteness as social organization can contribute to readers’ awareness of and vision for disrupting and transforming this social organization in their own contexts [56,60] and support other researchers who want to do similar analyses.
You can read it for yourself by clicking on the screenshot below, and I used it as an example of how “critical studies” was pushing science toward the drain, or at least coopting science for ideological purposes.
Lawrence Krauss also went after the paper on his “Critical Mass” Substack site, saying this:
That this got published in a peer-reviewed physics journal is what makes this so surprising. It means there is something fundamentally wrong with the system, and it isn’t systemic racism. It is sheer stupidity combined with lethargy.
The natural tendency of academics, and scientists in particular, is to ignore this kind of nonsense and focus on their own work. But once the bar gets this low, and the flood waters are rising, you can be certain a lot of nasty effluence will be flowing out as well. And with the pressing need for better physics education at all levels (that is, better ways to actually teach physics), this garbage filling up journals and taking away precious research resources means that there is less room for the good stuff.
The standards of a field are determined by the practitioners in the field. That means it is about time that physicists started doing something about it.
But rebuttal on our websites isn’t as powerful as rebuttal in a peer-reviewed journal. And that has finally happened. Three authors wrote a critique of the article, but of course the original journal wouldn’t even look at it. They then added to the critique of Robertson’s and Hairston’s paper their own analysis of the difficulties they getting the rebuttal published.
And, mirabile dictu, it’s now published. The author said:
We spent a long time trying to get a critical comment published in the journal to no avail. However, with the help of Anna Krylov we managed to get an article published in European Review, discussing the “whiteness” article, our critique of it, and the journal’s resistance to our critique.
Anna is a real force in pushing back against ideologically-tainted science! And now you can read the rebuttal/recount, published in European Review, for free by clicking on the screenshot below:
Research framed around issues of diversity and representation in STEM is often controversial. The question of what constitutes a valid critique of such research, or the appropriate manner of airing such a critique, thus has a heavy ideological and political subtext. Here, we outline an attempt to comment on a paper recently published in the research journal Physical Review – Physics Education Research (PRPER). The article in question claimed to find evidence of ‘whiteness’ in introductory physics from analysis of a six-minute video. We argue that even if one accepts the rather tenuous proposition that ‘whiteness’ is sufficiently well defined to observe, the study lacks the proper controls, checks and methodology to allow for confirmation or disconfirmation of the authors’ interpretation of the data. The authors of the whiteness study, however, make the stunning claim that their study cannot be judged by standards common in science. We summarize our written critique and its fate, along with a brief description of its genesis as a response to an article in which senior officers of the American Physical Society (which publishes PRPER) explained that the appropriate venue for addressing issues with the paper at hand is via normal editorial processes.
Read and enjoy!
In fact, this is only one of a bunch of papers in a special issue of the European Review, derived from a symposium in Israel on the dangers of ideology and politics to science. Here is the screenshot of the contents, and you can see all the papers (and read them) by clicking anywhere below. The title of the issue is right at the top:
I’ll single out three papers of special interest, to me at least. First, the paper by my Chicago colleague Dorian Abbot at the bottom is about the three “foundational” principles of the University of Chicago, which Dorian calls the “Chicago Trifecta”. Its abstract:
The purpose of this article is to discuss practical solutions to the threat to free inquiry at universities coming from the illiberal left. Based on my experiences at the University of Chicago, I propose that all universities should adopt and enforce rules requiring that: (1) the university, and any unit of it, cannot take collective positions on social and political issues; (2) faculty hiring and promotion be done solely on the basis of research and teaching merit, with nothing else taken into consideration; and (3) free expression be guaranteed on campus, even if someone claims to be offended, hurt or harmed by it. Faculty need to work together with students, alumni, journalists and politicians to get this done.
Second, the article by Ahmad Mansour points out the dangers of authoritarianism in science using his own tortuous biography, involving growing up in Israel and Palestine, and connecting that with the “cancel culture” of Germany. It resonates with the present situation going on there, and is a courageous article.
Finally, Anna and Jay Tanzman have a piece on how scientific publishing is being corrupted by ideology. The abstract:
The politicization of science – the infusion of ideology into the scientific enterprise – threatens the ability of science to serve humanity. Today, the greatest such threat comes from a set of ideological viewpoints collectively referred to as Critical Social Justice (CSJ). This contribution describes how CSJ has detrimentally affected scientific publishing by means of social engineering, censorship, and the suppression of scholarship.