2022 Templeton Prize goes to Nobel-winning physicist Frank Wilczek

May 13, 2022 • 8:00 am

The Templeton Prize, now worth $1.3 million, was initiated by the hedge-fund magnate Sir John Templeton (1912-2008) to award accomplished people of faith.  As its Wikipedia entry notes, the prize originally went solely to religionists like Mother Teresa (now a saint) and Billy Graham, but has recently morphed more and more into a prize given to those who unite spirituality and religion with science (Sir John’s view was that the more we learn about science, the closer we get to God—not to some apophatic and abstruse deity like “love” or “nature”, but to a real personal-type god.) Here’s a bit about the annual prize from Wikipedia:

The Templeton Prize is an annual award granted to a living person, in the estimation of the judges, “whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” It was established, funded and administered by John Templeton starting in 1972. It is now co-funded by the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and Templeton World Charity Foundation, and administered by the John Templeton Foundation.[1]

The prize was originally awarded to people working in the field of religion (Mother Teresa was the first winner), but in the 1980s the scope broadened to include people working at the intersection of science and religion. Until 2001, the name of the prize was “Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion”, and from 2002 to 2008 it was called the “Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities”. Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims have been on the panel of judges and have been recipients of the prize.

The monetary value of the prize is adjusted so that it exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes; Templeton felt, according to The Economist, that “spirituality was ignored” in the Nobel Prizes. As of 2019, it is £1.1 million. It has typically been presented by Prince Philip in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

The list of prizes at the Wikipedia site shows this morphing, and the latest recipient: theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek, continues the trend (last year’s recipient was Jane Goodall). As far as I can see, Wilczek is basically an agnostic who pays lip service to “God” as meaning “everything in the world.” Wikipedia notes, “Wilczek was raised Catholic but later ‘lost faith in conventional religion’. He claims no religious tradition, and has been described as an agnostic but tweeted in 2013 that ‘pantheist’ is ‘closer to the mark’.”  In other words, he’s a “none.”

Well, that’s good enough for me so long as he isn’t engaged in promulgating any kind of faith (belief without evidence), which he isn’t (see below for more).

Wilczek was born in 1951 and is listed as “The Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Founding Director of T. D. Lee Institute and Chief Scientist at the Wilczek Quantum Center, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), distinguished professor at Arizona State University (ASU) and full professor at Stockholm University.. That’s a lot of positions! But the big deal is that he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2004 for work on the strong nuclear force, but he also has distinguished accomplishments in other areas of physics. He’s somewhat of a physics polymath.

You can see a collection of videos about Wilczek and the Templeton Prize on the JTF site. They don’t show any visible strain of religiosity, conventional or otherwise, and a Scientific American interview with him, though playing up the “God” angle in its title, has nothing to say about a deity (click to read).

I’ll give just two Q&A’s  from the interview here:

Congratulations on receiving the Templeton Prize. What does this award represent for you?

My exploratory, science-based efforts to address questions that are often thought to be philosophical or religious are resonating. I’m very grateful for that, and I’ve started to think about what it all means.

One kind of “spiritual” awakening for me has been experiencing how a dialogue with nature is possible—in which nature “talks back” and sometimes surprises you and sometimes confirms what you imagined. Vague hopes and concepts that were originally scribbles on paper become experimental proposals and sometimes successful descriptions of the world.

Well, when you read on, those “questions that are often thought to be philosophical or religious” turn out to be questions about science. The rest of his answer says nothing about a god, but defines Wilczek’s spirituality as the feeling he gets when his squiggles on paper that turn out to be correct representations of reality. But in that sense many theoretical physicists, like Dirac, Schrödinger, and Einstein, were “spiritual” too. The word is emptied here of any of its numinous significance.

One more.

You don’t now identify with any particular religious tradition, but in your 2021 book Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality, you wrote, “In studying how the world works, we are studying how God works, and thereby learning what God is.” What did you mean by that?

The use of the word “God” in common culture is very loose. People can mean entirely different things by it. For me, the unifying thread is thinking big: thinking about how the world works, what it is, how it came to be and what all that means for what we should do.

I chose to study this partly to fill the void that was left when I realized I could no longer accept the dogmas of the Catholic Church that had meant a lot to me as a teenager. Those dogmas include claims about how things happen that are particularly difficult to reconcile with science. But more importantly, the world is a bigger, older and more alien place than the tribalistic account in the Bible. There are some claims about ethics and attitudes about community that I do find valuable, but they cannot be taken as pronouncements from “on high.” I think I have now gathered enough wisdom and life experience that I can revisit all this with real insight.

If “God” means “thinking about how the world works and how that conditions our actions”, then we’re pretty much all religious.! I can live with that definition. His second paragraph not only disses the Bible, but touts a form of humanism as well as downgrading Earth, much less humans, as a special locus of God’s concern and action.

The rest of the interview is about Wilczek’s science, and is by far the most interesting bit.

 

This year’s Golden Steve nominees for motion picture achievement

April 1, 2022 • 9:00 am

My nephew Steven’s website now has only about one post per year: his list of the “Golden Steve Awards”—both nominees and winners for Steven’s best movies of the year. In the post below (click on screenshot), you can see his nominees from this year, but in the post below I list only the Big Six categories plus “Best Foreign Film” (the latter for the reason given below).

The winners from each of the categories below will be announced on April 10.

My nephew cannot be described as modest, but he knows his onions, so I’d pay attention to his choices and view them if you can.

I quote Steven’s introduction to the nominations

Far and away the most coveted of motion picture accolades, Golden Steves are frequently described as the Oscars without the politics. Impervious to bribery, immune to ballyhoo, unswayed by sentiment, and riddled with integrity, this committee of one might be termed in all accuracy “fair-mindedness incarnate.” Over 165 of the year’s most acclaimed features were screened prior to the compilation of this ballot. First, some caveats:

1) Owing to a lifelong suspicion of prime numbers, each category comprises six nominees, not five.

2) A film can be nominated in only one of the following categories: Best Animated Feature, Best Non-Fiction Film, Best Foreign Language Film. Placement is determined by the Board of Governors. Said film remains eligible in all other fields.

3) This list is in no way connected with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—a fact that should be apparent from its acumen. Please look elsewhere for Oscar analysis.

Best Picture

Drive My Car
The Lost Daughter
Pig
The Power of the Dog
Red Rocket
The Worst Person in the World

Best Director

Sean Baker, Red Rocket
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
Michael Sarnoski, Pig
Joachim Trier, The Worst Person in the World

Best Actor

Nicolas Cage, Pig
Clifton Collins Jr., Jockey
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Winston Duke, Nine Days
Hidetoshi Nishijima, Drive My Car
Simon Rex, Red Rocket

Best Actress

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Isabelle Fuhrman, The Novice
Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza
Brittany S. Hall, Test Pattern
Renate Reinsve, The Worst Person in the World

Best Supporting Actor

Richard Ayoade, The Souvenir Part II
Anders Danielsen Lie, The Worst Person in the World
Mike Faist, West Side Story
Vincent Lindon, Titane
Will Patton, Sweet Thing
Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Best Supporting Actress

Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
Ann Dowd, Mass
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Toko Miura, Drive My Car
Ruth Negga, Passing
Suzanna Son, Red Rocket

And I’ll add this category, since Steven mentions if below.

Best Foreign Language Film

Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
A Hero (Asghar Farhadi)
Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodovar)
Petite Maman (Celine Sciamma)
The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier)

When I asked Steven what he thought of the “offcial” Oscar awards, he said this:

I don’t agree with any of the main winners, and would nominate only Campion. CODA is predictable, feel-good pabulum. Its win derives from a ranked balloting system in place since 2009, in which voters order their choices from 1-10 instead of checking the box of their favorite film. As such, it’s better to be everyone’s second or third choice than divisive (and possible to win without a single #1 vote). But of course nearly all great films are divisive, and middle-of-the-road picks like The King’s Speech, Argo, Green Book, and now CODA are black marks on the Academy’s record.

A rare bright spot was the victory of the truly exceptional Drive My Car. It’s the first Japanese film ever nominated for Best Picture, and a most deserving choice for Best International Film.

And here are the Rotten Tomatoes ratings (click on latter to read critics’ reviews):

A woke and fearful scientific society removes the names of famous scientists from all its awards

February 15, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Like every other evolution, behavior, and ecology society, the American Society of Naturalists (ASN) is going woke—engaging in performative acts that do nothing to deal with inequality but sure do a lot to flaunt virtue.  This time, however, they’re getting ahead of the curve, for they’ve decided that all their annual awards—and there are six of them—will be given different names no longer connected to well known scientists. I suppose that’s because one of those awards is the “E. O. Wilson Naturalist Award,” and, as you may know, Wilson has been accused of racism.

Here’s their official announcement (click on screenshot):

The rationale sounds bizarre: take the names off awards because it’s the recipient who should be honored, not the person after whom the award is named. But that’s unconvincing: everyone covets an award named after a famous person in the field. I remember when the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) started the Dobzhansky Prize, named after my academic grandfather Theodosius Dobzhansky. Designed to honor a young evolutionary biologist of outstanding accomplishment, I coveted getting it, but alas, I did not (however, two of my students and one of my grandstudents got it). At least to me, receiving a Dobzhansky Prize would have been much more satisfying than getting an “Outstanding Young Researcher” award. Why? I suppose it’s because some of the cachet of the name adheres to you too: I would have liked to have seen myself as an academic descendant of Dobzhansky (which in fact I really was). That’s why I’m proud of having gotten the Richard Dawkins Award. Though I can’t come close to his cachet, it’s an award for science, reason, and humanism, and if it were called “The Science, Reason, and Humanism Award” it wouldn’t have the same luster.

I see, by the way, that the SSE still has a few named awards, like the Stephen Jay Gould Prize, last given in 2019 to my ex-student Mohamed Noor, the W. D. Hamilton Award, last given in 2019 as well, and the Thomas Henry Huxley Award. Knowing that Huxley has already been canceled in some places for insubstantial accusations of racism, and knowing a little about Hamilton’s background, I suspect that those two prizes will be de-named, leaving only the Stephen Jay Gould Prize. And if there’s only one, better re-name that one, too.

I suspect that the real reason that the six ASN awards are being renamed (or rather, de-named) is because of fear that names might be “canceled” in the future on the grounds of racism. Why else would they say this:

Some awards will continue to commemorate individuals in their descriptions, as the ASN remembers the Society’s past while also working for a more inclusive and equitable future. The Council recognizes that removing names from awards is only a minor step towards dealing with the systemic problems in our fields. We are currently evaluating how to best use society funds to support more substantive initiatives to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, and will announce first steps at the annual meeting in June 2022. New names for Society awards will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

In other words, taking the names off the awards will somehow make society more inclusive and equitable. This is the height of performative Wokeism, because it accomplishes exactly nothing. In fact, it erases some admirable histories that should be better known. Let’s take a look at the list of ASN awards whose formal names will be changed. Below I’ve left the links up to the six awards named after people—awards that will soon be given some boring names.

AWARDS

Posted on 

The American Society of Naturalists confers several awards each year to honor scientists of great distinction. The membership of the awards committees can be found here.

Sewall Wright was a famous theoretical population geneticist who, to my knowledge, hasn’t yet fallen victim to the mob, although his name is going off the prize, too. We already know about E. O. Wilson, damned, with meager evidence, as a racist. Jasper Loftus-Hills is a sad story: the ASN notes,

The American Society of Naturalist’s Young Investigator Award is in honor of Jasper Loftus-Hills, a young scientist who died tragically 3 years after receiving his PhD. This award goes to applicants who completed their PhD three years preceding the application deadline or are in their last year of a PhD program.

Lofus-Hills died in a car accident, and it’s my understanding that his family helped endow that award. Imagine how they’ll feel when his name is removed!

Ruth Patrick was a pioneer in limnology and botany, one of the earliest outstanding women ecologists. She won a slew of awards in her own right and did pathbreaking work in assessing environmental health using indicator species. She was given the National Medal of Science in 1996, and it baffles me why she wasn’t elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Further was the only one of 58 founders of SSE who was a woman.

Julia Platt was another women who achieved at a time when women were very scarce in science. As the ASN itself notes:

Julia B. Platt (1857–1935) had credentials to impress. She studied embryology at Harvard in 1887 and then conducted research at Woods Hole, Bryn Mawr, the University of Chicago, Radcliffe, Hopkins Marine Laboratory, and at several German universities. She received her PhD in developmental biology in 1898 and then published 12 articles in just 10 years, including one in The American Naturalist in 1899. Most notably, she showed that neural crest cells formed the jaw cartilage and tooth dentine in salamanders. This conclusion was rejected by her contemporaries, who believed that only mesoderm formed bones and cartilage. It took 50 years for her hypothesis to be confirmed. Despite her depth of training and her productivity, she landed none of the academic positions for which she applied. Platt then wrote, “Without work, life is not worth living. If I cannot obtain the work I wish, then I must take up the next best” (quoted in Zottoli and Seyfarth 1994). She moved to Pacific Grove, California (where the American Society of Naturalists has recently held its stand-alone conferences), and became its first female mayor. She is noted for initiating marine protected reserves that were crucial for the survival of the California sea otter (Palumbi and Sotka 2012).

Here’s a smart and accomplished woman who had trouble getting her work accepted, most likely because of her sex. Her name deserves to stand—both for her achievements and to hearken back to the time when a woman with academic aspirations had a hard time making a go of it. So two women who deserve to be known will, in effect, be “erased”. Nobody’s going to bother to look them up if their names aren’t on the award, even if they’re given a footnote on the website. Must we revise history so we can forget how women were discriminated against in science? When half the awards are named after women—as they would have eventually had been if these societies weren’t de-naming everything—you’d forget there was a time when a good woman scientist couldn’t even get a job.

Finally, there’s the Ed Ricketts Award.  If you know Steinbeck, you know the ecologist and marine biologist Ricketts, who collaborated with Steinbeck on the famous book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, a book I devoured when young (Ricketts’ name isn’t on it). Ricketts also was a good writer in his own right, producing the famous popular book Between Pacific Tides about intertidal ecology.  His lab, which I think now serves as a gathering place for biologists, still stands in Monterey near the Aquarium, at 800 Cannery Row (Steinbeck, of course, also wrote Cannery Row, whose hero “Doc” was modeled on Ricketts).

If you were a young biologist, wouldn’t you like to put the words, “Recipient, Ed Ricketts Award, American Society of Naturalists” on your c.v.”? Yes, Ricketts liked his drinking and carousing, but that’s not a banning offense.

So, we have a mass erasure here, and for no good reason. The explanation—that it furthers diversity, inclusiveness, and equity—doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not only will the erasure not do that, but they are erasing two women, one of whom was ostracized in science, as well as a young scientist cut off in his prime.

I am not convinced that having named awards discourages minorities from becoming scientists, an argument I sometimes hear. After all, you don’t become a scientist because you hope to win an award. And by the time you do, it’s too late: you’ve accomplished something! Further, two of the six awards are named after women who were minorities in their own time. If they want to make the awards more inclusive, why not name an award or two after an accomplished member of a minority group? As time goes on, the list of names suitable for such awards will grow.

Neither am I convinced that they’re taking the names off awards because that detracts from the honor of the awardee. The most likely explanation, which pains me if true, is that they don’t want social media mobs to find out that some of the awards are named after people who, by modern moral lights, didn’t pass muster (E. O. Wilson has been one of these, though I can’t cast him out of the pantheon). It’s ineffably stupid to rewrite history by putting into footnotes those accomplished scientists whose every word didn’t comport with the ideology of AOC.

h/t: Nick

Head of Swedish Academy announces that Nobel Prizes will be awarded solely for merit, without gender or ethnicity quotas

December 20, 2021 • 10:00 am
I can’t say I disagree with this announcement, by Goran Hansson, that the Nobel Prizes will continue to be awarded for merit alone and not for fulfilling quotas involving gender and ethnicity. Click on the article from BBC News to see the story, below which we’ll look at another piece on “quotas.”

For some time there have been complaints that there has not been “equity” in Nobel Prizes: that too few women and people of color have won them. These inequities could result from several causes, or a combination of causes, but the one that’s always touted by those who complain is existing structural bias and discrimination. (See this article in Nature for such indictments by two powerful women in science, though it doesn’t mention the Nobels.) The equation of inequities in representation with ongoing bias is a pillar of Ibram Kendi’s ideas on anti-racism.

But there are two other reasons besides structural bias in science.  One is that the dearth of women and people of color reflects past discrimination, so that only now, with biases diminishing towards zero, women and people are color are entering the pipeline to achievement—but haven’t yet reached the stage of professional accomplishment that would garner a Nobel.

The last explanation is a difference in preference coupled with comparative advantage.  It’s well known that, at least in some Western countries, women score as well as men on science achievement tests, and score better than men in reading. That is, women are better overall than men. This means that any lack of achievement of women scientists cannot be due to a comparative lack of scientific ability. Rather, researchers have suggested that women prefer going into the humanities because they are better at it, and want to do what they’re better at (“comparative advantage”). Alternatively it may be that STEM fields simply aren’t as attractive to women as to men. All of these are suggested in the BBC article. (I don’t know any such data on people of color, but of course in the U.S. black and Hispanics score lower than whites and Asians on tests of reading, math, and science.)

But let me quote from the BBC piece:

The head of the academy that awards the Nobel Prizes in science has said it will not introduce gender quotas.

Goran Hansson, head of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said they want people to win “because they made the most important discovery”.

Since its inception in 1901, 59 Nobel Prizes have gone to women. [JAC: There have been 975 prizes total. The 59 Prizes to women involve 58 women as Marie Curie won twice.]

Maria Ressa was the only woman honoured this year. Marie Curie was the first woman to get the prize – and remains the only woman to get it twice.

“It’s sad that there are so few women Nobel laureates and it reflects the unfair conditions in society, particularly in years past, but still existing. And there’s so much more to do,” Mr Hansson told the AFP news agency.

“We have decided we will not have quotas for gender or ethnicity,” he said, adding that the decision was “in line with the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s last will”.

“In the end, we will give the prize to those who are found the most worthy, those who have made the most important contributions,” he said.

I think that’s a fair decision. If they had decided to fulfill quotas, that would mean giving prizes not to those who make the most important contributions, but to help even out a disparity in sexes and races. So, for example, the 2020 Medicine and Physiology prize shared by Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna was an excellent choice (and one that cut out male competitors), for their work was highly important by anyone’s standards. Nobody can say that these women were chosen to achieve gender parity!

We’ll focus on gender, as we have more data on that, and this is the focus of the BBC article and most complaints about disparity in Nobels.  It’s true that women haven’t received half of the Nobel Prizes over time, and this can be explained by all three factors above, but largely because, due to bias or oppression in the past, there simply weren’t that many women in science (or in literature). I think most of us recognize that this gender bias is disappearing rapidly; indeed, universities throughout the West are trying very hard to recruit women professor and students. But there’s still a disparity in STEM participation. This may or may not  change much in the future (though it’s certainly changed during my lifetime!), but whether we’ll ever achieve gender parity in academic representation—or Nobel Prizes—is something I don’t know. All we can do, and must do, is offer everyone equal opportunity to enter the scientific pipeline, and avoid gender or racial discrimination within the pipe.

More from the BBC and Hansson:

And while more women are being recognised now compared to previous decades, Mr Hansson said, that number was increasing “from a very low level”.

“Keep in mind that only about 10% of the professors in natural sciences in western Europe or North America are women, and even lower if you go to East Asia,” he said.

However, the scientist said they would “make sure that we have an increasing portion of women scientists being invited to nominate, and we will continue to make sure we have women on our committees – but we need help, and society needs to help here”.

“We need different attitudes to women going into sciences… so that they get a chance to make these discoveries that are being awarded,” he added.

Again, the last statement implies structural bias against women, but where are the data that there are “different attitudes to women”? There is no consistent data showing discrimination against women in STEM hiring or grant-getting; in fact, one can cite research showing both sides.  In the absence of consistent evidence, all we can do is avoid personal bias and offer equal opportunities. Note that Hansson also mentions the severe dearth of women in the natural sciences in Asia, Europe, and North America.

When Charpentier got her Prize, she hoped the award would encourage women to go into STEM, but she also noted a comparative lack of interest of women in going into STEM.

From the BBC again:

Last year, scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna became the first two women to share the honour when they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the tools to edit DNA.

It was the first time any of the science prizes had been awarded to two women without a male collaborator also listed on the award.

At the time, Prof Charpentier said: “I wish that this will provide a positive message specifically for young girls who would like to follow the path of science… and to show them that women in science can also have an impact with the research they are performing.”

She added that there was “a clear lack of interest in following a scientific path, which is very worrying”.

I’ve given my position many times on this site. I favor some forms of affirmative action in academia for minorities, including women (they’re actually more numerous than men), though settling on how to structure that affirmative action is tricky. The affirmative action I have in mind involves accepting students in colleges and universities, and in hiring faculty.  But these preferences should, I think, stop once someone is hired, and they should certainly not apply to awards and prizes. Thus I think the Nobel Committee’s statement is appropriate, though I’m not sure why they made it. Could it be that public pressure was bearing down on the Academy?

Again, all one can do in the face of the latter is to be sure that everyone is made aware of the excitement of science and then to avoid bias. As the following article states, we need to ensure equal opportunity, not equal outcome, for equal outcomes assumes that all groups have identical preferences or interests.

I love this photo of Doudna and Charpentier. I think this is in Stockholm when they got their prizes, but I can’t be sure. It does show some joint award, though, and the affection between the two women, who weren’t really collaborators but independent researchers.

There are those who think that there should be no affirmative action in any aspect of science—that hiring, promotion, funding, and awards in STEM be solely on the basis of merit. One of these is Lawrence Krauss, who wrote the following piece in a recent Quillette (click on screenshot to read):

 

Now Lawrence is talking about disparities between men and women in funding by NSERC in Canada and other countries, not in hiring or awards, but the principle he sets forth is one I agree with:

The standard of “fair access” that NSERC planners set out here implies a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between mandating equality of opportunity—which is desirable—and mandating equality of outcome. The latter would lead to overt identity-based discrimination against members of groups whose applications, in some cases, would otherwise be successful under a purely merit-based approach. That a major research-funding agency is promoting such a misunderstanding in regard to policy formulation is an issue of some concern.

Where I differ from Krauss is that I favor equality of opportunity above the college-admissions or academic-hiring level, but also some tweaking of outcomes (a bit of equity) to bump up minorities at both levels. Once people are hired, again, the affirmative action should stop. (It goes without saying that I don’t think grossly unqualified people should be admitted to college or hired for professor jobs, as that does nobody any favors.)

Krauss notes that the funding disparity between men and women in Canada (and Australia) is immediately imputed to systemic sexist bias at the present time, but gives data showing that the difference is explained completely by different career stages of grant applicants. At early stages, funding is roughly equal between men and women, but at senior stages men get more funding. But that’s solely because there are simply more men at senior stages of their careers. Here are the data of grants given in Australia and what Krauss says about them:

A bar chart included in a previous Nature article on this subject shows the total value of grants awarded to men and women in 2019, categorized by seniority quintile. In the first (most junior) quintile, women actually were awarded more grant money than men got. In the second quintile, men had a slight edge. This edge grew substantially in the third and fourth quintiles, leading up to a massive difference in the fifth (i.e., most senior) quintile, which shows the most senior male scientists being awarded $81 million, compared to just $21 million for the most senior female scientists. This means that, of the money going to senior scientists, women got just over 20 percent.

The caption: “Male (red) vs. Female (green) Investigator Grant recipients in 2019, by applicant seniority.”

Krauss’s analysis:

The latest Nature article concludes with a quote from Teresa Woodruff, an obstetrician and advocate for women in science at Northwestern University. She describes the data as a wake-up call to funders, who now should “address the issues.” But the Nature analysis glides over one of the more obvious issues lying in plain sight: As the 2019 article showed, there tends to be fewer senior women (just 17 in 2019) applying for grants, as compared to senior men (75). In 2021, the numbers were similar: According to Nature, “at the most senior level … there were about four times more male than female applicants”—an 80/20 male-female applicant split that corresponds almost exactly to the $81 million/$21 million split in awarded 2021 grants.

This pattern has an obvious explanation: There are simply more men than women in the senior ranks of Australia’s health and medical researchers—a fact that shouldn’t surprise anyone, since most scientific fields were, until just a few decades ago, almost entirely dominated by men. Thankfully, this era is over, and Australia’s medical schools achieved gender parity in admissions a long time ago. Thus, one might expect that the funding of male and female medical researchers at the junior level would be roughly even, while being progressively more skewed toward men among older generations—which is exactly what the data reported by Nature shows to be the case.

While this is the kind of data regularly adduced to show structural sexism in STEM, the explanation is not nearly as insidious.

Finally, Krauss makes a more general statement that goes beyond funding:

We have gone down this road before, when strict quotas were placed on Jewish scientists within my own academic sphere, physics, as a means of excluding Jews (including very nearly, future Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman) from US graduate schools. Today, we properly regard such policies as shameful, both for discriminating against individual human beings and for misdirecting society’s scientific resources. Medical science is a life-and-death endeavor, and decisions about how that science should be funded must be based on the quality of research proposals, not the skin color or sex of those submitting them.

The comparison with Jews isn’t really apposite, however, as Jews were discriminated against: the quotas were the maximum number of Jews allowed to be admitted.  The minority group, in other words, was discriminated against. What Krauss is attacking here are quotas against the majority group that favor minority groups. (I suppose you could see this as a “male quota”).

And I still favor preferential admission and hiring of minorities (but not grossly preferential, is as happening in California) as a form of reparations for past discrimination and, as Charpentier noted, to provide some role models. Again, we should accept only qualified applicants, and any deficit in training can be addressed with mentoring or tutoring.

All applicants for jobs or admissions, however, should exceed some bar decided as “qualified for the slot”. What that means is above my pay grade, but surely far more qualified people apply to America’s best colleges than get into them.

I know the arguments against affirmative action, but I won’t try to counter them now.

h/t: Anna

Professor Phoebe Cohen of Williams College nabs the Lysenko Award for the Suppression of Academic Speech

October 29, 2021 • 10:30 am

Dr. Phoebe Cohen would just be another academic laboring away at woke Williams College (she’s an associate professor of Geosciences and department chair) if Michael Powell of the New York Times hadn’t mentioned her in its article on MIT’s deplatforming of University of Chicago Professor Dorian Abbot. Cohen was quoted as not only favoring deplatforming Abbot, but deplatforming anybody who opposes a school’s DEI program and, most invidiously (see my post here), Cohen dismissed intellectual debate and rigor as products of a white patriarchal culture (my emphasis in NYT quote below):

Phoebe A. Cohen is a geosciences professor and department chair at Williams College and one of many who expressed anger on Twitter at M.I.T.’s decision to invite Dr. Abbot to speak, given that he has spoken against affirmative action in the past.

Dr. Cohen agreed that Dr. Abbot’s views reflect a broad current in American society. Ideally, she said, a university should not invite speakers who do not share its values on diversity and affirmative action. Nor was she enamored of M.I.T.’s offer to let him speak at a later date to the M.I.T. professors. “Honestly, I don’t know that I agree with that choice,” she said. “To me, the professional consequences are extremely minimal.”

What, she was asked, of the effect on academic debate? Should the academy serve as a bastion of unfettered speech?

“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.

Oy, does that get my kishkes in a knot! It’s not only dismissive of the only way science can move forward (how does she do science—by feelings?), it’s dismissive of every woman and every non-white person who tries to advance knowledge using the very methods Cohen decries.  What an extraordinarily stupid thing to say to a NYT writer! If she uses this philosophy in her classes, I weep for her students.

Now, however, Cohen is getting a taste of her own medicine, as those words she uttered have redounded upon her. In Wednesday’s NYT column by John McWhorter, “Wokeness is oversimplifying the American creed,” which defends Abbot and others who have been “cancelled”—like University of Michigan professor Bright Sheng—there are several mentions of Dr. Cohen in an unflattering light.

I’m less concerned with the particulars of Abbot’s case here than how it demonstrates our broader context these days. I refer to a new version of enlightenment; one that rejects basic tenets of the Enlightenment, as exemplified by Prof. Phoebe Cohen, chair of geosciences at Williams College, who downplayed Abbot’s apparent disinvitation with the observation, as reported by The New York Times, that “this idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism” — the idea, presumably, that the widest possible range of perspectives should be heard and scrutinized — “comes from a world in which white men dominated.”

. . .Clearly some cogitation is in order. Yet it appears that Abbot was barred from a more august podium out of an assumption that his views on racial preferences are beyond debate. Even though he was to speak on an unrelated topic. This “deplatforming” — if we must — was, in a word, simplistic.

Simplistic, too: Cohen points to a time when white men, exclusively, were in charge. Yes, but the obvious response is: “Does that automatically mean that their take on intellectual debate and rigor was wrong?” The implication that the questions Abbot raised are morally out of bounds forbids basic curiosity and rational calculation and stands athwart the very purpose of the small-L liberal education that universities are supposed to provide.

Twice in the New York Times in a week! Now that is infamy! What’s also interesting about this is McWhorter’s discussion at the end of Wokeness as a religion, a religion that Phoebe Cohen appears to espouse.
McWhorter:

Note also the eerie parallel between the conceptions of original sin and white privilege as unremovable stains about which one is to maintain a lifelong concern and guilt. Religions don’t always have gods, but they usually need sins, which in the new religion is the whiteness that supposedly bestrides everything in our lives.

There is a pitchfork aspect to how this way of thinking is penetrating our institutions of enlightenment. With an unreachable pitilessness, a catechism couched in an elaborate jargon is being imposed almost as if sacred: privilege, decentering, hegemony, antiracism. Nonbelievers, sometimes even agnostics, are cast out, leaving a cowed polity pretending to agree. This is a regrettable kind of religion, aiming to run the state. That’s not how this American experiment was supposed to go.

The only thing that will turn back this tide is a critical mass willing to insist on complexity, abstraction and forgiveness. As a Black man, I am especially appalled by the implication that to insist on these three things in thinking about race issues is somehow anti-Black.

Finally, Cohen, apparently unable to resist speaking to reporters and oblivious about how she looks, said this to the Boston Globe:

But Phoebe Cohen, one of Abbot’s critics, applauded the university’s decision.

“I did not actually call for the cancellation of the lecture, although now that it’s happened I support MIT’s decision to do that,” said Cohen, an associate professor of geosciences at Williams College and a former researcher at EAPS. Cohen said that arguments like Abbot’s discourage greater minority participation in the STEM specialties — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

”Underrepresented faculty and students have spoken out repeatedly about how harmful this kind of language is, and how it makes them feel like they have no place in STEM,” Cohen said. “I have colleagues who are negatively impacted by this language…I chose to believe them.”

Didn’t call for cancellation of the lecture? She might as well have if you look at what she said to the NYT above: she was “one of many who expressed anger on Twitter at M.I.T.’s decision to invite Dr. Abbot to speak.” Also note the emphasis on “harm” which is matched, as you’ll see below, by her emphasis on words and offense as “violence.” And any minority student who gives up participating in STEM simply because Dorian Abbot was invited to give a STEM lecture that has nothing to do with Abbot’s views of DEI needs some therapy.

If you don’t think Dr. Cohen is an acolyte of this “religion”, have a look at this column she wrote in the Williams student newspaper (click on the screenshot). While Cohen is right to decry sexism and racism, she’s wrong to say that it’s pervasive at Williams, or to insist that “violence, both physical and emotional, happens to our students, faculty and staff”. (She needs to understand that words and offense are not “violence”, and I’m not aware of any physical violence at Williams.)  But what makes her an acolyte of Wokeism is her self-flagellation at the beginning of her letter: her admission that she’s afflicted by the Original Sin:

 

Cohen’s opening confession:

I am white. I am racist. I am not proud of this fact, but I have accepted it. Acknowledging that I am racist helps me to become, I hope, less so. I catch my instinctive thoughts and ask them why they are there. Why am I feeling annoyed, fearful, dismissive in this moment? When someone in my community at Williams tells me they feel unsafe, and my first instinct is skepticism, I know that it is a fallacy to say that I’m skeptical because of my training as a scientist. Instead, it is because I don’t want to believe that my colleagues are racist, sexist, transphobic. Not believing it doesn’t make it true. I am a white person raised in a racist, white supremacist country. Every day I have to make a conscious decision to fight against that and to challenge my own thoughts and biases.

Are Cohen’s colleagues at all disturbed by her characterizing them as “recist, sexist, and transphobic”?

She goes on to describe the nonexistent violence at Williams, and says that we must believe those who claim that it happens. I’ve been following Williams for a while, and haven’t seen racism, much less “violence” at the college. There have been one or two racist incidents like odious graffiti, but they appear to have been hoaxes. Williams is about the most antiracist campus I know, second only to Evergreen State and Middlebury. Yet people like Cohen don’t realize that they’re smearing the reputation of their own school by insisted that it’s infested with bigots.

This reminds me of something John McWhorter said in his column today, which hasn’t yet been published (I get the newsletter):

I don’t completely trust white guilt. It lends itself too easily to virtue signaling, which overlaps only partially, and sometimes not at all, with helping people. I recall a brilliant, accomplished, kind white academic of a certain age who genially told me — after I published my first book on race, “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America,” two decades ago — “John, I get what you mean, but I reserve my right to be guilty.” I got what he meant, too, and did not take it ill. But still, note that word “right.” Feeling guilty lent him something personally fulfilling and signaled that he was one of the good guys without obligating him further. The problem is that one can harbor that feeling while not actually doing anything to bring about change on the ground.

The final ignominy: Louis K. Bonham at the Minding the Campus site has bestowed on Cohen the first “Minding the Campus Lysenko Award,” named after the charlatan agronomist Trofim Lysenko, who screwed up Soviet genetics for decades with his false and falsified theories of “vernalization.” Because Lysenko didn’t follow the scientific method but was resolutely supported by Stalin, millions died of famine,’ and good Russian geneticists, like Nikolai Vavolov, were imprisoned or killed.  The award thus dishonors those who suppress academic dissent, like Cohen. From Bonham:

The moral of Lysenko is that suppressing academic debate and dissent for political reasons yields bad science, bad scholarship, and inevitably bad results. It can even lead to the collapse of nations. The genius of the scientific method and Western academic culture is that you get closer to the truth by subjecting all theories and ideas to rigorous testing and debate. When you frustrate this process because you are afraid the results might prove politically inconvenient, uncomfortable, or “triggering,” the ghost of Lysenko smiles.

Ergo:

Our winner, however, has no such excuse. While also involved in l’affaire Abbot, she is not on the MIT faculty or in its administration, so unlike Prof. van der Hilst [who got the “Dishonorable Mention” award], she was not thrust into the fray. Nevertheless, this Williams College department chair helped lead the keyboard warriors demanding that Prof. Abbot be disinvited from giving the Carlson Lecture—not because his science was unsound, or that he was unqualified, or that he had broken the law or committed a tort, but because he believes that individuals in higher education should be evaluated based on their individual merit rather than their membership in an identity group. Scandalous, I know. Apropos to the purpose of our award, when interviewed by the New York Times, our winner justified her actions thusly:

What, she was asked, of the effect on academic debate? Should the academy serve as a bastion of unfettered speech?

“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.

Trofim Lysenko would be pleased, although he likely would have formulaically dismissed the need for academic rigor and debate as being the product of fascist-bourgeois-imperialist-capitalist culture, instead of the current wokeism of “straight white men” as the source of the world’s problems.

So congratulations, Williams College Professor Phoebe Cohen, you are the first recipient of the Minding the Campus Lysenko Award for the Suppression of Academic Speech.

After all this, Cohen is now getting a taste of her own medicine, the kind of taste she says, in a piece from NBC News, that Abbot deserves.

But equating the cancellation of a school’s public lecture to censorship oversimplifies the matter, said Phoebe Cohen, a paleontologist and associate professor of geosciences at Williams College. She said concerns over whether such actions curtail free speech on campuses are overblown.

“It becomes this battle cry of free speech and academic freedom, but he has academic freedom,” Cohen said of Abbot. “He is allowed to say whatever he wants to say, and he has, but that doesn’t mean that he’s free from consequences.”

And while universities should uphold academic freedoms, Cohen said, institutions also have a responsibility to consider the communities their students and faculties are a part of.

“It comes down to who is being harmed,” she said. “Universities don’t have a responsibility to platform people who are harming others.”

Cohen, too, is not “free from the consequences” of her ridiculous views. Instead of finding ubiquitous approbation for her statements, which I guess she expected, she was criticized heavily on Twitter.  Since she won’t be fired or cancelled—and she shouldn’t be—I don’t care if the Twitter criticism bothered her or offended her. (When she strikes out with words, it’s appropriate to respond with words.) It apparently did bother her, though, for first she cancelled her Twitter account and then restricted it a few days ago:

 

Filipina and Russian journalists share Nobel Peace Prize for promoting freedom of expression

October 8, 2021 • 9:15 am

As I mentioned this morning, two journalists, who are used as exemplars of all courageous journalists fighting for free expression, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The winners are Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, the former working in the Philippines and the latter in Russia. The Committee gave them the prize for

their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.

In some sense, all journalists who follow Ressa and Muratov’s path have a share in this Prize.

The Committee describes their work:

Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.

Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years. Novaja Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media. Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ”troll factories” to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.

Ressa worked for two decades as a lead investigative reporter for CNN and her activities have landed her in trouble. The New York Times adds this:

Ms. Ressa — a Fulbright scholar, and a Time magazine Person of the Year for her crusading work against disinformation — has been a constant thorn in the side of President Rodrigo Duterte, her country’s authoritarian president.

The digital media company for investigative journalism that she co-founded, Rappler, has exposed government corruption and researched the financial holdings and potential conflicts of interest of top political figures. It has also done groundbreaking work on the Duterte government’s violent antidrug campaign.

Both of these journalists are of course putting their lives in jeopardy with their reporting, which is clearly the point of this year’s Prize: freedom of expression in the face of repression. The NYT says this of Muratov:

Mr. Muratov has defended freedom of speech in Russia for decades, working under increasingly difficult conditions.

He was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993, and he has been the newspaper’s editor in chief since 1995. Despite a near constant barrage of harassment, threats, violence and even murder, the newspaper has continued to publish.

Since its start, six of the newspaper’s journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote revealing articles about the war in Chechnya, according to the committee.

“Despite the killings and threats, editor in chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy,” the committee wrote. “He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.”

And. . . .

Ms. Ressa has faced multiple criminal charges for the way her news website Rappler has challenged the rule of President Rodrigo Duterte. Both she and Mr. Muratov, whose Novaya Gazeta newspaper has been a persistent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, work under governments that use a range of methods — from repressive legislation to arrests — to muzzle criticism.

Not just arrests in Russia, but murder. I think Muratov’s a bit safer now that he has a Prize: would Putin’s thugs dare to murder a Nobel Laureate?

Sweden is sending a message to the world at a time when freedom of expression is under siege in many places, including the U.S. and Britain. It may also be a message to those citizens who try to punish journalists and writers who produce stuff they don’t like (Salman Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo come to mind).

This is an unexpected prize, as some readers thought it would surely go to Greta Thunberg for her advocacy of work on climate change. But she’s young, and there is time.

Here are the winners:

Here’s Ressa’s reaction when she gets the call from Sweden. Sound up! You can also hear what “The Call” consists of:

Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to two for work on asymmetric catalysis (and a revised contest)

October 6, 2021 • 5:51 am

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has just been awarded to David MacMillan, born in Scotland and now Professor of Chemistry at Princeton, and Benjamin List, listed in a short Wikipedia entry as “professor at the University of Cologne and Director and Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research.” Both were born in 1968, which makes them young (52 or 53).  They have a long time to enjoy their renown! Her are their photos from the Nobel announcement:

Pictures of the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Benjamin List and David MacMillan are seen displayed on a screen during The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ announcement at the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden October 6, 2021. Claudio Bresciani/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

ChemistryWorld explains simply what the award was for:

David MacMillan and Benjamin List aren’t a complete surprise but they haven’t been top of people’s lists. We’ve commented on the inherent conservatism of the Nobel committees and how they often reward discoveries long after they made a big impact. The same goes here for asymmetric organocatalysis with the pioneering work over two decades old now. The work of MacMillan and List helped open a new vista in organocatalysis with the creation of catalysts that are selective for one enantiomer – or mirror image molecule – over another. This technology has been applied in everything from drugs to dyes for solar cells. “This concept for catalysis is as simple as it is ingenious, and the fact is that many people have wondered why we didn’t think of it earlier,” says Johan Åqvist, who is chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. One thing people definitely won’t be saying today is “It’s nice, but is it chemistry!”

You can see the announcement and press conference, which just occurred, on the video below (skip to 18:45 for the start; they were running late). It explains List and MacMillan’s accomplishments in more detail:

Over in Germany, the List lab has already tweeted their congratulations:

Since nobody is going to win the Nobel contest again, I’ve changed the rules to make it easier. Here are the rules for the new iteration (the old version is cancelled as there were few guesses, none correct):

Before tomorrow morning (before Prize time), guess the names of both the Literature Prize winner (announced tomorrow early) and the Peace Prize winner (announced Friday morning).  Please give one name for each category. The first person (if any) who gets both correct wins a special autographed copy of either WEIT or Faith vs. Fact with the animal of your choice drawn in by PCC(E).

Put your guesses in the comments below. This should be easier than the previous iteration, it’s but still not easy. If more than one person is correct, the first correct answer wins.

It’s Nobel Prize Week! Physiology/Medicine Prize awarded to pair for work on bodily temperature and touch sensors. Plus, our annual Guess-the-Laureate Contest.

October 4, 2021 • 8:45 am

Starting today and extending for a week, we’ll have a Nobel Prize awarded every weekday. The Physiology or Medicine Prize was announced this morning in Stockholm, and so two investigators will have been woken up early but will be very happy. Here they are with some info from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (I’ve added links):

David Julius [left below], a professor at the University of California, San Francisco and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Trustee, and Ardem Patapoutian [right], an HHMI Investigator at Scripps Research have received the award for their work identifying receptors on sensory neurons that give us the ability to monitor temperature, pain, touch, and movement of our body.

The prize was announced here and the explanation of what Julius and Patapoutian found is here or at the HHMI site.  Trigger warning: Hot peppers are involved! Here’s the official announcement (32 minutes), which gives the names and explains the discoveries as well with the explanation beginning at 2:23.

A tweet sent mr by Matthew:

Because the biology prize was announced already, it can’t be part of our annual contest to “Guess the Laureates”. Since nobody ever wins that one, I’m making it easier this year.

Look at the announcements below, and then guess the names of ONLY THREE LAUREATES, one from each of three of the five categories of your choice: physics, chemistry, literature, peace, or the economics prize. If there you have multiple guesses in a category, you can guess only one recipient. 

Remember: just give me three names and the area in which each is supposed to win. 

If you guess a name after the prize is awarded, your entry doesn’t count. So if you’re guessing in physics, your deadline is this evening, and so on.

If there is more than one winning entry (all three guesses correct), we will have a raffle for the winner. The Coyne Prize is, also as usual, an autographed copy of one of my two trade books (WEIT or Faith Versus Fact), with a picture drawn in (by me) of an animal of your choice.  I suggest that you enter (in the comments below) by the end of today.

***************

Here’s the schedule of announcements from the organization itself:

AWARDED: PHYSIOLOGY OR MEDICINE – Monday 4 October, 11:30 CEST at the earliest
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, Wallenbergsalen, Nobel Forum, Nobels väg 1, Solna
http://www.nobelprizemedicine.org
nobelforum@nobelprizemedicine.org

PHYSICS – Tuesday 5 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien, KVA), Sessionssalen, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm
www.kva.se/pressroom
eva.nevelius@kva.se

CHEMISTRY – Wednesday 6 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sessionssalen, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm
www.kva.se/pressroom
eva.nevelius@kva.se

LITERATURE – Thursday 7 October, 13:00 CEST at the earliest
The Swedish Academy (Svenska Akademien), Börssalen, Källargränd 4, Stockholm
http://www.svenskaakademien.se/en
louise.hedberg@svenskaakademien.se

PEACE – Friday 8 October, 11:00 CEST
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, The Norwegian Nobel Institute (Norska Nobelinstitutet), Store Sal, Henrik Ibsens gate 51, Oslo
https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org
postmaster@nobel.no

THE SVERIGES RIKSBANK PRIZE IN ECONOMIC SCIENCES IN MEMORY OF ALFRED NOBEL – Monday 11 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sessionssalen, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm
www.kva.se/pressroom
eva.nevelius@kva.se

Jane Goodall nabs the Templeton Prize

June 2, 2021 • 9:30 am

I was a bit queasy when I woke up this morning to see the announcement below.  It’s not that I don’t like Jane Goodall, for who doesn’t? She’s a respected primatologist, spent years finding out new stuff about chimps, and is also a conservationist and prolific publicizer of science, as well as founder of her eponymous institute. She’s also long-lasting, having turned 87 this year while remaining as active as ever (she says she travels 300 days per year!). Nor do I begrudge her the $1.5 million that the John Templeton Foundation hands out to the prizewinners, as Goodall will undoubtedly use it for good causes.

No, I was queasy because the prize was given, as it always is, to someone who conflates science and spirituality, promoting John Templeton’s accommodationist mission. Granted, the JTF’s giving it to more scientists these days (they used to give it to people like Alvin Plantinga, Rabbi Sacks, John Polkinghorne, Chuck Colson, Mother Teresa, and Billy Graham, but they’re realizing that they’d better “science up” the prize). The word “God” and “divine” has been downplayed, replaced by the eupheism “The Big Questions”.  As the Wikipedia entry on Sir John notes,

In an interview published in the Financial Intelligence Report in 2005, Templeton asserts that the purpose of the John Templeton Foundation is as follows:”We are trying to persuade people that no human has yet grasped 1% of what can be known about spiritual realities. So we are encouraging people to start using the same methods of science that have been so productive in other areas, in order to discover spiritual realities.”

If you know what “spiritual realities” are beyond something numinous and divine, please enlighten me. Were I to answer that, I’d use terms of neurology and emotion rather than anything external to the physical world.

And Goodall is really known for showing not human exceptionalism, which is what the Prize is about, but for showing our psychological and behavioral connections to our closest relatives. In other words, she’s showing that we’re part of an evolutionary continuum, and share many traits with other primates. Evolution is one Big Question that’s been answered to most people’s satisfaction. Another is that our closest living relative is the chimpanzee.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s the announcement from Templeton, or part of it:

Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace and world-renowned ethologist and conservationist, whose groundbreaking discoveries changed humanity’s understanding of its role in the natural world, was announced today as the winner of the 2021 Templeton Prize. The Templeton Prize, valued at over $1.5 million, is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards. Established by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, it is given to honor those who harness the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it. Unlike Goodall’s past accolades, the Templeton Prize specifically celebrates her scientific and spiritual curiosity. The Prize rewards her unrelenting effort to connect humanity to a greater purpose and is the largest single award that Dr. Goodall has ever received.

“We are delighted and honored to award Dr. Jane Goodall this year, as her achievements go beyond the traditional parameters of scientific research to define our perception of what it means to be human,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation. “Her discoveries have profoundly altered the world’s view of animal intelligence and enriched our understanding of humanity in a way that is both humbling and exalting. Ultimately, her work exemplifies the kind of humility, spiritual curiosity, and discovery that my grandfather, John Templeton, wrote and spoke about during his life.”

Investigating the “deepest questions”, Sir John’s original purpose in bestowing the Prize fund, was intended explicitly to show that the more we learned about science, the more we understood about God. Those are what Templeton calls “The Big Questions”, like “why are we here?” and “what does it mean to be human?”. (The ultimate question, which isn’t broached, is “What is God like?”)  As for Goodall’s efforts to “connect humanity to a greater purpose,” that’s just bogus. Sure, she’s shown evolutionary commonalities, but evolution is not a “purpose.” “Purpose” implies teleology, i.e., for Templeton, “God.”

Goodall’s work surely enriched our understanding of chimps far more than about humans, but did show that in many respects, such as tool-using, humans are not unique—not exceptional among the beasts of the field.  As for “humility”, I know nothing about that, though Goodall has a reputation for being nice and certainly was engaging the one time I heard her speak. But that’s not the kind of humility that Templeton means: they mean “humility” before the Great Unknown—the same way theologians are always bragging that they’re “humble”. (They’re not: they pretend to know things they don’t.)

What about Goodall? It does appear she has a spiritual side that helped her get the prize. Here’s another paragraph from the award description (my emphasis):

Dr. Goodall receives the 2021 Templeton Prize in celebration of her remarkable career, which arose from and was sustained by a keen scientific and spiritual curiosity. Raised Christian, she developed her own sense of spirituality in the forests of Tanzania, and has described her interactions with chimpanzees as reflecting the divine intelligence she believes lies at the heart of nature. In her bestselling memoir, A Reason for Hope, these observations reinforced her personal belief system—that all living things and the natural world they inhabit are connected and that the connective energy is a divine force transcending good and evil.

What? The “divine intelligence she believes lies at the heart of nature”? “A divine force connecting all living things in the natural world”? Indeed, the subtitle of her 1999 book is “A Spiritual Journey.” And I’ll readily admit that “spiritual” can be construed as “awe before Nature”. If that’s what spiritual can mean, than I am spiritual, and so is Richard Dawkins. But “divine”? That’s a different kettle of fish. And yet eleven years ago she abjured acceptance of the divine in Right Attitudes:

In the May-2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Jane Goodall discussed her spirituality: “amazing moments—when you seem to know something beyond what you know and to understand things you don’t understand—can’t be understood in this life.”

“Can’t be understood in this life.” That means it’s beyond empirical investigation. But I digress: there’s more:

When asked if she believes in God in an interview published in the Sep-2010 issue of Reader’s Digest, Jane Goodall said,

I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me.

That could simply be “evolution” or “wonder”. So why, in 2021, is Templeton touting Goodall’s acceptance of a “divine intelligence in nature”? As usual, as with other scientists like Francisco Ayala, Templeton often bestows its Big Prize on scientists who don’t explicitly say they believe in God, but are sufficiently ambiguous or waffle-y about the concept that they can slip under Templeton’s radar. And of course there are the explicit religionists who get the prize: people like Francis Collins.

Well, judge for yourself from the 9½-minute video below, and, later, from the Templeton Lectures that Goodall has signed up for:

As the 2021 Templeton Prize laureate, Dr. Goodall filmed a reflection on her spiritual perspectives and aspirations for the world and an interview with Heather Templeton Dill to announce her award. She will participate in the 2021 Templeton Prize Lectures in the fall.

In the video she mentions the soul, the Bible, “powerful spirituality” and so on, and says that “even the trees have a spark of divine energy”. The interview is definitely infused with the numinous. Granted, she says some good stuff about ecology and conservation. One telling statement, “It is just a feel of spirituality, you know, it’s something so powerful and so much beyond what even the most scientific brilliant brain could have created.” What? Where does it come from, then?

At 8:35 she resorts to a form of the First Cause argument: “What created the big bang?”

Before you give me flak for dissing a much beloved scientist, I’ll assert again that Goodall’s scientific work is exemplary and helped change the paradigm of human exceptionalism that preceded her. I admire her a lot, and clearly her life has produced on balance a great good. But that’s not what Templeton is giving her the prize for! She gets her $1.5 million for banging on about spirituality.

No, Goodall’s probably not perfect in that she evinces a weakness for the numinous, but we all have her flaws, and given her accomplishments, that a trivial one. What burns my onions is that the JTF is roping her into their stable so they can parade her as another example of someone whose work helps bring us closer to the Divine.

You can’t not like and admire this woman. The problem is that Templeton saw an opportunity to use her, and seized it.

My nephew awards his Oscar equivalents, the “Golden Steves”

April 24, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Every year my nephew Steven hands out his awards for achievements in the film industry, the “Golden Steves”.  He’s a movie critic and buff, so you should take his views pretty seriously.

And it’s that time of year. Click on the screenshot below to see this year’s “Golden Steve” nominees and winners.

Let nobody accuse my nephew of modesty, for here’s his introduction:

Far and away the most coveted of motion picture accolades, Golden Steves are frequently described as the Oscars without the politics. Impervious to bribery, immune to ballyhoo, unswayed by sentiment, and riddled with integrity, this committee of one might be termed in all accuracy “fair-mindedness incarnate.” Over 165 of the year’s most acclaimed features were screened prior to the compilation of this ballot. First, some caveats:

1) Owing to a lifelong suspicion of prime numbers, each category comprises six nominees, not five.

2) A film can be nominated in only one of the following categories: Best Animated Feature, Best Non-Fiction Film, Best Foreign Language Film. Placement is determined by the Board of Governors. Said film remains eligible in all other fields.

3) This list is in no way connected with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—a fact that should be apparent from its acumen. Please look elsewhere for Oscar analysis.

And his list of the Big Six winners. There are actually six additional categories not shown here but on Steven’s website (“Best Screenplay,” “Best Original Song,” etc), but these are the ones people pay attention to. Nominees are given and the winners are in bold. I’ve added a Wikipedia link to the winning film.

Best Picture

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Collective
First Cow
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Minari
Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Sean Durkin, The Nest
David Fincher, Mank
Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Kelly Reichardt, First Cow

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Willem Dafoe, Tommaso
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Gary Oldman, Mank

Best Actress

Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Carrie Coon, The Nest
Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Aubrey Plaza, Black Bear

Best Supporting Actor

Brian Dennehy, Driveways
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Orion Lee, First Cow
Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami…
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Glynn Turman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Supporting Actress

Charin Alvarez, Saint Frances
Gina Rodriguez, Kajillionaire
Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
Helena Zengel, News of the World

I have to say that for the first time in memory, I haven’t seen any of the movies nominated, though I did see “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and found it okay but not a classic.  I will surely see “Minari” and “Never Really Sometimes Always” now.

And if you’ve seen the movies, and have your own views on who or what should be the winner, weigh in below.