More on the ideological coopting (and erosion) of science

November 4, 2023 • 12:30 pm

This time it’s a chemistry course at Rice University. Here’s the poster. (The “the study of Black-Life Matter” tells you that this is purely ideological.)

The description.

AFROCHEMISTRYThe Study of Black-Life Matter (CHEM 125) is debuting this Spring ’24. In this interdisciplinary course, students will explore the intersection of racial justice and chemistry. We will approach chemistry using a historical and contemporary African American lens in order to analyze science and its impact. In addition, we will be using chemical concepts to better understand Black life in the US. As we consider not only what science is being discovered, but also ask why, how and by whom, etc., this course will empower students to consider approaches to STEM that enhance community impact. CHEM 125 is open to students from all disciplines, regardless of STEM or African American studies background (and counts towards AAAS minor). Preview the course Wednesday Nov. 8, from 7-8pm at the MCC. Reach out to Dr. Brooke Johnson [email redacted] if you have questions.

Is it even possible now to keep ideology away from science, and to refrain for coopting science to advance your own personal “progressive” principles? Although students get credit for this in the AAAS minor at Rice (African and African-American studies), could one could get science credit as well? I hope not. Regardless, it pollutes science by conflating it with “progressive” activism.

Here’s how the course violates academic principles by urging specific political action:

. . . . . this course will empower students to consider approaches to STEM that enhance community impact.

Now what, do you suppose, does that mean?

And what does it mean to “use chemical concepts to better understand Black life in the U.S.”?

On Brooke Johnson’s faculty page, which describes her as a “preceptor” in the DEI office, it says this:

Dr. Brooke Johnson joined the DEI team as a Preceptor after obtaining her Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University (‘23). Rice alum (‘17) and former Rice track athlete, Dr. Johnson is passionate about the intersection of science and social justice and using her unique experiences to teach, support and inspire diverse students.

I thought about making a satirical version of the poster touting either “Latinochemistry” (actually, “Latinxchemistry”) or “Judeochemistry”, but it’s not necessary. The announcement above doesn’t need satire.

h/t: Anna

66 thoughts on “More on the ideological coopting (and erosion) of science

  1. TL;DR Marxism Trojan Horse.

    “Social Justice”

    Never is a definition if this sacred language given.

    But one thing is clear : the study of law is not required, because that would perpetuate systems of oppression or dehumanization.

    “community” : where is this community? When did it form?

    Just because people own dogs does not mean dog owners form a Unified community which any given dog owner speaks on behalf of.

    “passionate” : radicalized.

    “unique experiences” : radical activist adventures

    “diverse” : sufficiently radicalized to join the march through the institution.

  2. Well, in the spirit of this week’s MIT debate on systemic racism in STEM, I would give Dr. Johnson the benefit of doubt. If the systemic racism is, as it appeared from the debate, simply the society racial attitudes that keep young African Americans from pursuing careers in STEM and not something inherent to the STEM disciplines themselves, Dr. Johnson’s “approaches to STEM that enhance community impact” could simply mean enhancement by getting more kids interested and confident in STEM studies and careers. Her Princeton bio points out that she is a first generation college student and varsity athlete from Houston…local to Rice. This makes her a pretty ideal candidate to talk a out these issues. Discussing what science is being discovered: why, how, and by whom means that she can talk about the full range of scientists historically and today, emphasizing that though under-represented, black scientists are NOT absent from the discipline. “Chemical concepts to understand black life in America”? That one beats me, but if I were in Houston or it were webcast, I would surely be interested. I think it is more likely a good thing than bad and we should encourage Dr Johnson in her efforts.

    1. If that’s true why doesn’t the course title and description just say that? The poster implies that this is a science course, what you’re describing wouldn’t be, it would be sociology and politics.

      1. “If that’s true why doesn’t the course title and description just say that? ”

        Because that is how cults work.

        Maintain a condition of low information.

        Only at the Inner School have the adepts demonstrated sufficient willingness for praxis.

        The Queer Family works like this too : usually, they say “be who you are”. We wonder what more there is behind it that only the gnostic wizards can tell us – a few will be “curious” enough to sign up (or whatever).

    2. ” “approaches to STEM that enhance community impact” could simply mean enhancement by getting more kids interested and confident in STEM studies and careers. ”

      This is Motte and Bailey strategy – by design.

      The Motte is easy to defend. The Bailey is Marxist indoctrination – here, possibly Freireian pedagogy – e.g. generative themes like the story of Percy Lavon Julian, or any chemist or scientist – but not to teach history, but to sufficiently conscientize the adepts for radical activism (“community impact”) by emphasizing how dehumanizing society was in the past, and how it must be overthrown.

    3. Bat, I reaize your motives are charitable, but when students get to college, and instead of taking regular chemistry but “football chemistry” to catch up, it’s too late for them to study advanced chemistry, much less to become a chemist. And I strongly doubt that they’re really going to learn much about chemistry per se. How could that fit into all the ideology. Finally, shouldn’t see be exciting students about CHEMISTRY ITSELF instead of this patronizing method of connecting it with one’s race. As a few readers said, I think this is a form of soft bigotry: giving “relatable” and “social justice” to students in lieu of science, assuming the students can’t handle the latter.

      The real solution is to get students in the pipeline MUCH earlier, so they don’t come to college science courses completely unprepared.

      1. Thanks Jerry. I totally agree with the ideal goal of much earlier as I have several times urged in this space that prek-2 and k-12 be the major focus. But in this case she has a potential audience of kids who have made it into college and maybe need a slight pull or push into STEM. The course does not, as I read it replace any real chemistry of a STEM major; it does count as a course in an African studies minor. So it broadens that “studies” minor content a bit and may catch some potentially qualified students who fell out of the pipeline during K12. As I read it, if one of her students does decide to take a STEM major, she or he would still need to take the full catalog of real science, math, and engineering courses. This course is not even a “football” science option in a science major.
        In any case such was my interpretation of what I read and I am pleased that a real chemistry PhD from a major research university chem dept is teaching it as opposed to an education major who read some chemistry books.

        By the way, when I was looking at major requirements at some Virginia colleges a few years ago, many still had freshman course options that were less demanding, but those “football” options such as noncalculus physics did not count toward a STEM major, though did appear to count for science education majors. Now some states allowing science education majors instead of actual science majors to teach K12 IS a crime!

        Bons travels and appetite!

  3. Rice is a private university so they can do what they want with their donors’ and their undergraduates’ money. But hiring a chemist into a faculty job with little research experience and no postdoc training is taking a big chance.

    Jerry wrote earlier about the University of Washington Psychology department hiring a black candidate in 2023 based on race. When I looked at the department web page, the only other black assistant professor is this person ( who joined UW in the same year she received her PhD (2022), had no postdoc experience, and has only 3 published research articles (including no published 2023 articles since taking up her job).

    I’m all for fairness and for giving black scientists an equal (even a little more than equal) look in university jobs, grad school admissions, and other opportunities. But not hiring the best person who applied does a disservice to everyone who depends on that person’s job performance, including all the students who will take that person’s courses for the next 30 years. And it has the corrosive effect of denigrating other black people in STEM who didn’t ride the JEDI gravy train and instead earned a faculty job on merit.

  4. Sadly, this is not the first one of the kind — see, for example, here:
    My favorite quotes from the latter:
    The course explores “the development and interrelationship between quantum mechanics, Marxist materialism, Afro-futurism/pessimism, and postcolonial nationalism.” “To problematize time as a linear social construct,” the paper says, “the Copenhagen interpretation of the collapse of wave-particle duality was utilized.”

    What is shocking is complacency of the chemistry faculty. How can they allow this farce to go forward?

    1. Anna, I am always critical of that mishigas myself, but I just think that the Rice situation is different. It is an attempt to build the pipeline.

  5. And in light of the recent massacre in Israel, it is shocking to see a course celebrating BLM — an organization openly supporting HAMAS.

  6. Folks: as a preceptor, I think that she is hired as more a dean-type person, not research faculty. I think it it damn good that she can model a first generation college grad with a Princeton PhD in chemistry for the kids back in the ‘hood. I personally hope that after doing a couple of years of this she gets a post-doc or industry position in chemistry because it would increase her profile in modeling success in field (yes i used the f-word). But in any case she seems to be an antidote that Luana and Erec spoke of on the Negative team at the MIT debate.

    1. Thanks Jim. Yes maybe. At Canadian universities a preceptor is a kind of clinical instructor, sometimes a research supervisor (e.g., undergraduate honours theses), but not an administrator. Whatever a preceptor does at Rice, her group identity shouldn’t matter.

      1. Yeah…don’t really know, but a very low level instructor rather than adjunct or full faculty or tenure track faculty is the point I was trying to make…apparently badly!

    2. I mean it’s great for her that she was afforded this opportunity, and I agree with your general point that a great researcher is not necessarily a good teacher. However, if they were seeking a dean-type person, how did they know that she was the best fit?

      There must have been loads of candidates with postdocs, and good records of teaching and research. Yet she appears to have been hired immediately after completing her PhD. I suspect her appointment had much more to do with her DEI statement than anything chemistry related.

      1. My guess and it is purely that, is that she was a known quantity, being local and having been a varsity undergraduate athlete at Rice before going off to grad school at Princeton.

    3. I showed Jim’s comment to Luana, and here’s her reply:

      “I don’t believe answers lie in identity-based courses. Science has no identity; it can be done by all. If you teach students that there is one type of chemistry for them, then it suggests that other kinds of chemistry are not for them. This will not help them learn and it is insulting to say Black students need a special kind of chemistry – not the chemistry that all students use.”

  7. “What does justice look like in chemistry?” Great question. May I suggest another one? “How woke ideology poisons everything?”

    1. “we will be using chemical concepts to illustrate how woke ideology is like arsenic in your civilization’s teapot”

    2. Justice in chemistry looks like this: Irrespective of their race and sex, the students who are good at chemistry get good grades, and the ones who are bad at chemistry get bad grades.

      1. If only that were true. These days, justice in chemistry looks more like this:

        The students who are good at chemistry get good grades, and the ones who are bad at chemistry get good grades.

    3. An obvious answer: “Justice doesn’t look like anything in chemistry. Chemistry doesn’t care about justice.”

  8. This course is in reality an insult to the Black community, In essence it promotes an underlying idea that Black students cannot progress in the disciplines of science because of a bias against them or that science itself is too difficult to master in traditional ways for Blacks. Both ideas are blatantly wrong, factually and morally. For all of us it promotes a corruption of the working science and the scientific method, the main hope civilization has of ever rising up above ignorance and unreason.

    1. >Both ideas are blatantly wrong, factually and morally.

      How do you know the second idea is wrong factually? The evidence would seem to suggest it is correct, at least as it applies to “Blacks” as culturally understood in the United States and, weirdly because we never had plantation slavery here, in Canada as well, (even if not generically to all black people in the world.) An idea can be wrong morally only if it is known to be wrong factually*. If the idea is factually correct, it can be uncomfortable or disappointing or politically dangerous. But no truth can be morally wrong. Actions taken as a result of a truth can be morally wrong. But we are just talking about beliefs and opinions here, not actions.

      What’s morally wrong here is the corruption of working science as you say. It’s not just teaching its Arts students high-school chemistry without the sweat. It’s using chemistry to destabilize society with racial grievances. But I suspect that if Rice U. didn’t have this Afro-science course, there would be so few Black students taking actual science courses that everyone would continue to be intensely uncomfortable. And Prof. Johnson wouldn’t have much to occupy her time on the DEI team.
      * Even Canada’s hate-speech laws (at least for the moment) allow belief in the truth of the speech to be a defence against a charge of uttering hate speech.

      1. I really don’t fully understand your criticism of my statement. Let me break it down:
        1) There are deliberate obstacles/bias placed within science education eg. STEM or scientific practice to impede Blacks to entry or progress in these realms…….. BLATANTLY FALSE
        2) Blacks have inherently less capability to succeed in practising science…BLATANTLY FALSE
        In my opinion it is very immorial to promote these untruths. They are not only factually wrong but such ideas when propagated only serve to discourage Blacks from entry or participation in scientific enterprise and as you say “It’s using chemistry to destabilize society with racial grievances”

        1. How do you know 2) is false, factually wrong? Or 1) for that matter, but my original comment was about 2) so let’s leave it there. How would you even find out? None of us want that statement to be true. But what if it is? Sure, it is immoral to “promote” as true as statement that has not been shown to be true. But voicing it as a hypothesis about the dearth of top-rank “Black” scientists cannot be immoral. You made the claim, twice, that it’s false. The burden of proof is on you.

          In deciding public policy about improving equity, the hypothesis has to be considered in terms of the evidence for and against, as to the likelihood that a policy initiative will be successful in delivering more “Black” scientists (assuming that is agreed to be a benefit worth pursuing, and at what opportunity cost.)

          Has anyone asked “Black” high-school students if they even want to be scientists? It’s not that well-paid and the probability of stellar success, fame, and fortune is low.

          1. No Leslie- the burden of proof is on YOU. One can not use an argument or rationale in a discussion that is essentially a racist trope without having ironclad and unassailable proof that what they are suggesting is totally valid. With the myriad of factors that could correlate to lower numbers of Blacks or women in the area of STEM such comments are wholly inappropriate.

  9. “The Study of Black-Life Matter” is a clever title. My first impression is that this course is wacky, but it might be interesting to hear a few lectures as a fly on the wall. What is the good professor actually up to here?

    1. Yes, it might be interesting. But I can’t stop wondering how it is science. If it were an African American Studies class or poly sci or some other humanities type course, who would notice. Calling it science is placing the flag of social justice into the natural sciences. No doubt that is the intention and for me the source of concern.

  10. “…consider not only what science is being discovered, but also ask why, how and by whom…”

    That is not such a bad question- science research is costly. Whose proposals get grants and funding, and what values are represented? Who is positioned to make these influential decisions? Is the possible impact on society considered in these decisions? The study of ethics in science is well-established. Science is impacted by politics as are most if not all fields of study.

    I don’t claim those issues will be addressed by this class. The term “Afrochemistry” is enough to assume this will not be a science class, as there is no such thing to my knowledge. Do black scientists want to be known as Afroscientists or scientists?

    I might take this class if I was scared of science being too difficult but needed science credits to get my degree. There used to be “science for non-majors” classes for undergrads. You didn’t have to compete with future MDs or Phds in natural science. But they were actual science classes with lectures on scientific topics and lab work required. There was no politics involved. Amazed this course is labeled a chemistry class.

    1. By all means, they can call themselves Afroscientists, as long as long as I’m allowed to be an Angloscientist. If they object, I can only conclude that they are Afrohypocrites.

  11. “Afrochemistry” – This reminds me of what the economist Ludwig von Mises called “polylogism”, which corresponds to the postmodern logico-epistemic relativism endorsed by the Woke Left.

    “Polylogism denies the uniformity of the logical structure of the human mind. Every social class, every nation, race, or period of history is equipped with a logic that differs from the logic of other classes, nations, races, or ages. Hence bourgeois economics differs from proletarian economics, German physics from the physics of other nations, Aryan mathematics from Semitic mathematics. There is no need to examine here the essentials of the various brands of polylogism. For polylogism never went beyond the simple declaration that a diversity of the mind’s logical structure exists. It never pointed out in what these differences consist, for instance how the logic of the proletarians differs from that of the bourgeois. All the champions of polylogism did was to reject definite statements by referring to unspecified peculiarities of their author’s logic.”

    (Von Mises, Ludwig. /Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution./ New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957. pp. 31-2)

    “According to the Marxist conception, one’s social condition determines one’s way of thought. His membership of a social class decides what views a writer will express. He is not able to grow out of his class or to free his thoughts from the prescriptions of his class interests. Thus the possibility of a general science which is valid for all men, whatever their class, is contested. It was only another step for [Josef] Dietzgen [1828-1888] to proceed to the construction of a special proletarian logic. But truth lies with the proletarian science only: ‘the ideas of proletarian logic are not party ideas, but the consequences of logic pure and simple.’ Thus Marxism protects itself against all unwelcome criticism. The enemy is not refuted: enough to unmask him as a bourgeois. Marxism criticizes the achievements of all those who think otherwise by representing them as the venal servants of the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels never tried to refute their opponents with argument. They insulted, ridiculed, derided, slandered, and traduced them, and in the use of these methods their followers are not less expert. Their polemic is directed never against the argument of the opponent, but always against his person.”

    (Von Mises, Ludwig. /Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis./ Translated by J. Kahane. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951. pp. 28-9)

  12. [ for kicks I rewrote the ad to see how the meaning changes if we change the “marginalized” epistemic standpoint ]

    QUEERISTRY: Ideality Distilled From The Past* (CHEM QQQ) is debuting this Spring ’24. In this interdisciplinary course, students will explore the intersection of Queer justice and chemistry. We will approach chemistry using a historical and contemporary Queer lens in order to analyze science and its impact. In addition, we will be using chemical concepts to better understand The Queer Family in the US. As we consider not only what science is being discovered, but also ask why, how and by whom, etc., this course will empower students to consider approaches to STEM that enhance community impact. CHEM QQQ is open to students from all disciplines, regardless of STEM or gender studies background (and counts towards gender studies minor).

    *inspired by Muñoz, Cruising Utopia : “… queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future.”

    1. As an example of assimilation, normalization, and perpetuation of systemic racism, from being insufficiently conscientized, yes.

      That’s what Freire means (see my comment above) by generative theme for conscientization.

      IOW get the students angry. It’s Freire’s pedagogy.

  13. Afrochemistry…carbon is black. Makes sense. So glad I got. Ph.D in this subject so I could break it down for you all.

  14. Remember how we used to say science isn’t different from country to country? Or from language to language? How there was no “Chinese science” or “French Science”? I guess we can’t say that anymore because by Jove they’ve gone and done it! 😄

    1. Dialectical transformation sublates our understanding to a higher level that encompasses the interrelated essences of each, as a new entity entirely.

      If we believe Hegel and Marcuse – and I don’t, I just think it is fun to do this alchemy.

  15. While the title of the course is a bit wince-inducing, I don’t think the course will necessarily be a bad thing. I can imagine there being a number of legitimate scientific issues that might especially impact African-Americans and their environments. As an example, there is evidence that black children in America have, on average, higher lead levels in their blood than white children. It might be interesting and important to study the causes of this from a scientific perspective, as well as the impacts in terms of health and development. I don’t think a topic like this would be inappropriate for a chemistry class, even though it could arguable also be described as a racial justice issue.

    Now I don’t know if the class is going to focus on actual chemistry issues like this, or on grievances about how chemistry as a discipline is inequitable. The description of the class suggests that both kinds of themes will be covered, but there is at least the possibility that the emphasis will be on the former, not the latter.

    I’m not opposed to “politicized” science in the classroom, if the meaning of that is using genuine science to help understand and possibly move towards a resolution of hot button political issues. I wouldn’t, for instance, think it inappropriate for a class on embryology to delve into the abortion issue by examining when a foetus develops capacities one could reasonably describe as sentience. I’m opposed to politicized science if that means that genuine science is being undermined by a political agenda. I don’t think it is obvious that that is what is happening here.

    I do think this course would be inappropriate if it is a requirement to graduate with a Chemistry major. But if it is an optional course for majors, I think (depending on the content) it may be fine.

  16. I realize that Dr. Brooke Johnson is not the least bit versed in history. She should look up the term “Deutsche Physik”. Then hopefully she will recognize the consequences of an ideology trying to influence or co-opt a science.

  17. In case it seems unfair to pick on a nee professor and her tiny class, bear in mind – the radical transformation of higher education is of critical importance to some (bold added):

    Parr, et. al.
    Knowledge-driven actions: transforming higher education for global sustainability

    “Transformation is the red thread running through all the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations’ agenda for responding to global challenges facing humanity and the planet. Setting our world on a more sustainable course requires radical shifts in current development paradigms that are exacerbating inequalities and imperilling our common future. This transition is dependent on new knowledge, research and competences that only higher education institutions are in a position to provide, rooted in their historic role of service to society.”

    “In 1964, inspiring the 1968-student revolt a couple of years later, Herbert Marcuse wrote a key text against “one dimensional man”, urging universities and campuses around the world to become places that resisted reductionism. ”

    Gee, why “red”, or “radical”, or “our” – as if we have no choice? They cite Marcuse as well. I just noticed “competences” which is language in Social Emotional Learning.

    See? Marxism. I’m not using “radical” to be mean, I’m using their literature.

    Follow the money.

      1. Please, just one more note, I think I see where this went awry :

        my overt meaning is that – “picking on”, criticism, whatever we call it – IS JUSTIFIED because UNESCO is focused on transforming higher education to suit their own purposes – and thus higher education needs a vigorous defense from undue external influence.

        I am glad for this post!

  18. Steven Hassan – who escaped the Moonies – has a number of books, and he describes how the cult marketing would use emotional content to appeal to emotional types, and intellectual content to appeal to intellectuals.

    The Moonies would have conferences with Nobel Prize winners attending.

    Thus, notions of usually valued attributes can easily be used by cults – here, Marxism – to do their work to gain power.

    Follow the power.

      1. I got carried away badly – it’s interesting and important – thank you for your service with this website – I’ll do better.

  19. Surely I’m not the only person to notice that these proposed mash-ups of the rainbow pride and Palestinian flags all cover the flagpole end triangle of white/pink/blue/brown/black representing (I assume) asexual, trans, brown and black people of peculiar assumed gender and orientation. It’s the first time I have seen an actual example of trans people being “erased”!

  20. I could be wrong, but I suspect this class is going to be similar to the music appreciation classes that many US university music departments offer to undergraduates required to take a number of courses outside their core area of study — and which music department faculty have long since dubbed “clapping for credit”. This class strikes me as being a savvily marketed version of a “science appreciation” class, using all the appropriate buzzwords to ensure a full lecture hall.

    1. That sounds very optimistic. At least those music appreciation classes feature music. Reading the blurb above, I can’t detect any science content, just political discussions about it.

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