Princeton’s course on how marginalized scientists can produce “different ways of knowing”

The class below, found on the Princeton University course website, asks two questions:

1.) Is science gendered, racialized, ableist, and classist?

and

2.) Does the presence or absence of women (and other marginalized individuals) lead to the production of different kinds of scientific knowledge?

 

Do any of you doubt for a moment that the answer to both questions is “yes”? (My answers to both would be “no”, since while some scientists may be bigots, science itself cannot be, as it’s simply a method for producing knowledge.) And I’d argue against anyone who claims that different sexes or ethnic groups will produce “different kinds of scientific knowledge”. Maybe they’ll ask different questions, and if that’s what Catherine Taylor means, fine, but there are already plenty of women scientists who ask exactly the same type of questions, in the same way, as do men scientists. Check out Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier’s work on CRISPR/Cas9, which builds on work by a whole community of scientists of different sex and nationality. Doudna and Charpentier approach molecular biology in exactly the way everyone else does.

In fact, if the answers to the course’s questions were “no”, there would be no need for such a course. What we have here is a semester-long exercise in confirmation bias.

Evelyn Fox Keller, in her biography of Barbara McClintock, A Feeling for the Organism, argued that McClintock, in finding mobile genetic elements, was expressing a female quality of empathy, of letting the organism (in her case corn) tell you what’s going on (see here for a precis of that thesis).  I did not find Keller’s thesis convincing, as I have never seen—nor did I see in McClintock—a distinctively female way of approaching research. (Note that Keller is an editor of one of the course’s texts.)

That is not, of course, to claim that science is a male-oriented way of doing research, despite the fact that science was, because of sexism that limited the opportunities of women, developed largely by men. The tools that produce truth—hypothesis testing, criticism, interrogating nature, and falsification, and so on—have been developed over the centuries by trial and error: seeing what techniques give us reliable knowledge. Those methods aren’t, and cannot be, limited to or characteristic of one sex. We use what works, not what flatters particular sexes, ethnicities, or classes.

But I digress. The course above is an embarrassment for a school of Princeton’s reputation. It is simply social-justice propaganda that will distort science for ideological ends. It’s dubious scholarship, a waste of the students’ tuition money, and unlikely itself to produce new knowledge. It will produce clones that parrot Clune-Taylor’s ideology.

It’s taught by Catherine Clune-Taylor, a postdoctoral research associate in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton. (In general, I don’t favor courses being taught entirely by postdocs.) Her thesis at the University of Alberta was ““From Intersex to DSD: A Foucauldian Analysis of the Science, Ethics and Politics of the Medical Production of Cisgendered Lives.” Enough said.

99 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Sub

  2. chris
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    The word that springs to mind to describe this course is claptrap.

  3. Posted December 5, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Would you explain your parenthetical comment: “(In general, I don’t favor courses being taught entirely by postdocs.)” Isn’t everyone with a PhD a postdoc?

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      No, what I meant is that in general I think courses should be taught by faculty rather than postdocs, with postdocs being people doing a 1-2 year research assistantship with someone BEFORE they apply for jobs as professors. Courses should be taught by regular faculty who have some experience (“adjunct faculty” are in general treated poorly and given low wages and no benefits; I’m not sure that position should even exist.)

      • Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        I agree about adjuncts. In 1990-92, I taught as a half-time adjunct in a Dept. of Criminal Justice and had to negotiate a somewhat decent salary. The main benefit from my teaching (from my vantage point as a practicing defense attorney and ACLU cooperating attorney) is that I brought a much different perspective to students who were mostly going to become cops and probation officers. Regular faculty members were mainly oriented toward police perspectives.

      • Posted December 5, 2018 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        “I’m not sure that position should even exist.”
        + 1

      • Matthew Moran
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        Somebody interested in academia has to get experience teaching eventually. I taught an entire class as a graduate student. Sure, it probably wasn’t my best work ever, but you have to start somewhere. A post-doc clearly has the knowledge to teach a class.

  4. DrBrydon
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    It’s a shame we don’t have the complete reading list. I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t a single book or article on the list that presents a view different than that of the instructor. I would also think that a course like this should be taught by an actual scientist, or someone with a background in the sciences. Clearly this is another example of trying to marginalize fact in pursuit of political goals.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      For anyone at Princeton, it looks like there is a nice course on the Historiography of Science (HIS 595), which would probably be more rewarding.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I would also think that a course like this should be taught by an actual scientist, or someone with a background in the sciences.

      Yeah, it’s a joint Gender & Sexuality Studies / American Studies course, the latter dep’t being essentially SJW Studies.

      cf.
      https://ams.princeton.edu/undergraduate/american-studies/courses

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 5, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Xyz-‘studies’, I consider a red flag. Rarely anything truthful or even remotely useful comes from that.

        • Christopher
          Posted December 5, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          XYZ, PDQ, as we said when I was a kid…probably not what they mean though.

          And for those not raised in the midwestern US in the ‘80’s, it meant: “eXamine Your Zipper, Please Do it Quietly”

          • Nicolaas Stempels
            Posted December 9, 2018 at 5:48 am | Permalink

            🙂

        • Posted December 5, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Yes, my first thought: “Gender and Sexuality Studies?! – Enough said.”

          I think the academic community must think seriously how to eradicate these parasitic structures and to make sure they stay eradicated.

  5. Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Looking at Catherine Taylor’s webpage she has no background in actual science, her background is in philosophy and gender studies.

    The problem with many philosophers of science is that they don’t know much about actual science, and so get the nature of science very wrong.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Generally philosophers of science these days do train in the relevant background. From what I can tell this is insufficient, since people still go off the deep end. EFK, on the reading list for this course, is one example – she was a physicist, so her (for example) nonsense about Schrodinger and the history of thermodynamics should be better informed.

      IMO, “feminist philosophy” is an oxymoron – philosophy is universalistic. (Which is not to say that feminists – of any sex or gender – may not wish to focus here rather than there.)

    • Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:20 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure about philosophy of science in general but I took a peek at some philosophy of physics journals and they seem legit, so I assume philosophy of specific fields of science should be better.

      -Ryan

      • Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Philosophy of physics is one of the oldest, most technical of the subfields. At the better places (University of Pittsburgh, which is now sort of not quite in the first tier, but was regarded as instrumental in the creation of subfields in the philosophy of science) they generally require minimum MSc level training in physics before doing the PhD in philosophy of physics, if I recall.

        Some work in philosophy of physics is basically theoretical physics with a historical take. (I personally do not think there is a dividing line between philosophy and science anyway, but in PoP the wuzzy line is effectively non-existent.)

        (Disclaimer: I am not a philosopher of physics.)

  6. Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Here is my issue with these things. You can’t say both that there is no difference between the sexes and that women, and/or “marginalized” people, provide better insights. Which is it? The message seems to be, “We are the same but I’m better.” A person who pursues a career in science thinks like a scientist. They use the same methods, unless they have an agenda. Lest we forget the feminist view on glaciers.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      You can’t say both that there is no difference between the sexes and that women, and/or “marginalized” people, provide better insights.

      You can when 2+2=5.

      Regarding dogma and the Regressive Left, Tertullian’s credo quia absurdum is in full force.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      It’s called “difference feminism.” Men are more rational and logical, but women are more intuitive and empathetic and that’s equally important! Women will be *empowered* through difference feminism because men are no longer setting the standard.

      If you think this doesn’t sound like feminism, it sounds like old fashioned sexism with spin — then I think you’re right. And so do many other feminists; it’s a deep divide in the movement.

  7. Robert Laven
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    q) How successful were female scientists in the 1800’s?
    a) less successful now that many barriers to women science have been removed

    q) how successful were black scientists historically in america, south africa etc?
    a)less successful than now when racism is less overt

    before sexism and racism were diminished, we missed out on many many great minds and potentially great scientists because of these barriers.

    the fact you think examining to see if lower, more subtle barriers still persist and hold back science is not worthwhile says more about your critical thinking than it does about this course.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      You clearly didn’t read my post, or this site. I’ve always maintained, and still do, that some scientists are bigots and that limits the opportunities of some groups. But that’s not what this course is about. It’s about whether SCIENCE itself is bigoted or oppressive, and whether marginalized groups have different ways of knowing.

      Your comment is uncivil, a Roolz violation. The fact that you didn’t read the post but make an irrelevant comment about bigotry of some people shows more about your ideology than it does about your ability to read a post.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      the fact you think examining to see if lower, more subtle barriers still persist and hold back science is not worthwhile says more about your critical thinking than it does about this course.

      When the result of the inquiry you endorse leads to declaring Boyle’s Law to be misogynist, the ‘barrier’ that has been passed is one from sanity to sheer lunacy.

    • dd
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Robert, How successful were scientists in Africa other than South Africa.

      Middle East?

  8. Steve Pollard
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Science itself is of course not gendered etc (shades of some of the authors satirised in Sokal and Bricmont!); but aspects of it can be. For instance, there have been some recent reports (can’t put my finger on them at the moment) of systematic bias against women-led teams when research grants are awarded. But something tells me that this isn’t the sort of issue this course is interested in doing anything about.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      The Heather Douglas stuff (no relation known to me) is on this subject, sort of. This “inductive risk” stuff claims that because certain findings may disproportionality affect the marginalized, risk should be reevaluated to reflect their concerns.

      This is correct *for technology*. As usual, a failure to appreciate science-technology distinctions is at root of a lot of mischief.

    • Diane G
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes. While we’re justifiably decrying idiocy like the course in question, we shouldn’t forget that there’s both Science the Ideal and Science as Practiced, and that the latter is always vulnerable to human foibles.

      • Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Indeed, and the work that drives me the most crazy is the stuff that looks incredibly interesting and relevant (e.g., overcoming biases of and selection of investigators, etc.) and then degenerates into subjectivist blather as the “cure”.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Shouldn’t the questions be formulated with a “how”? And a “show how”? How about a “ Why or why not? Discuss.”?…

    … is it really true or false?

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      I forgot: the question needs “define “science”.

  10. freiner
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    It would be nice to think they include Susan Haack among their readings, if only the last half-dozen or so paragraphs of “Epistemological Reflections of an Old Feminist” (also appears in her “Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate”)

    https://reasonpapers.com/pdf/18/rp_18_3.pdf

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      One would hope this would work as a “countermeasure”, but in my experience it generally results in “heel digging” on the part of the people on the other side of the debate.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Good find. Now I understand why Keith Douglas says feminist philosophy is an oxymoron. He’s still wrong, but maybe he just meant feminist epistemology, and phrased it badly.

      • Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        No, I mean the whole hog.

        I’ve seen “feminist logic”, “feminist metaphysics” etc. proposed as well. The world is the same, so the latter is oxymoronic (rather: leads one immediately to subjectivism, which is self-defeating and politically a gift to the worst authoritarians). The former is even weirder – logic is content-free (form only), so it makes no sense. (The stuff is *actually* about complaining about potentially sexist examples when *teaching* logic, which is a legitimate concern, but the didactics of a field are not its content. This is the same as the problems with subjectivist misreadings of special relativity, as it happpens.)

        • Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

          But dude. Ethics is part of philosophy, and “feminist ethics” is no oxymoron; hence neither is “feminist philosophy”.

          • Posted December 7, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

            Feminist ethics is also an oxymoron, for the same reasons – universalism.

            • Posted December 8, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

              Feminism is primarily an ethical position. “Women are people too”, as the T-shirt would have it.

              • Diane G
                Posted December 9, 2018 at 4:21 am | Permalink

                Precisely.

            • Posted December 8, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

              And for that matter, int the context of ethics, universalism is an ethical position.

  11. Jon Gallant
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    When Catherine Taylor concluded her Gender Studies studies in Alberta and came down to Princeton, NJ, can we assume that she travelled by a different way of flying?

  12. BJ
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    You know what strikes me more than anything about this kind of crap? How America-centric it is. Let’s forget for a moment that we do indeed have many female scientists and scientists of various ethnic backgrounds within the US; even if we didn’t, do these people not realize that there are scientists all around the world doing work that gets published and used? No, I guess to acknowledge that would be very inconvenient, as it would demonstrate that they don’t “produce other ways of know” or somehow different scientific work.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Do any of you doubt for a moment that the answer to both questions is “yes”?

    Isn’t there some corollary to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines applicable to questions asked in college course descriptions?

    Well, there should be.

  14. Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Once a university dedicates an entire department to “Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS)”, the ship of woo has sailed. Gender and sexuality should have been a Sociology course or two at most. Of course, I’m a white male patriarch so my opinion is next to worthless.

    • Christopher
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Well, naturally. Don’t you remember that MLK quote arguing against equal and civil rights? “…judge them not by the content of their character, but the color of their skin and their genitalia”.

      I don’t think anyone would deny scientists have in the past attempted to use science to “prove” racism or sexism, but being self-correcting, subsequent scientists have moved past those earlier errors. Sexism and racism have no place in science or in society, be their origins from either part of the political spectrum or any race or sex or gender.
      It’s sad but true these days that two wrongs don’t make a right, they do however make the Control Left.

  15. Christopher
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve asked this question before but never get an answer. Are there any worries that constantly telling women or minorities that they will be discriminated against ? Are “we” building into the next generations a self-destruct button of Stereotype Threat? How many potential scientists will turn away from the discipline because they are growing up being told that sexism and racism will stand in their way and that every failure or setback they experience will be due to sexism or racism rather than any lack of preparation or whatever on their part?

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      It’s a real danger. Letting your young kids walk by themselves to school is now considered “child abuse” in some US cities even though child abductions are down since those wonderfully safe earlier times. Everything is being made scary now.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 5, 2018 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

        I fervently agree. We’ve got the same nonsense here in NZ, (and probably all developed countries), egged on by sensationalist TV ‘news’ that siezes on every single incident. Hence all the monster 4WD SUV’s clogging the roads and polluting the atmosphere as the mumsies drive their kiddies to school.

        Pink Floyd said it several decades ago –

        Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true.
        Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you.
        Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing.
        She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing.
        Mama’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm.

        cr

    • Curt Nelson
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Great point.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      I think I know why you don’t get answers.

      First question: this question is not finished.
      Second question: No.
      Third question: How can anyone answer this?

    • Diane G
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Better to be warned in advance than disillusioned in practice…

  16. Roo
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m genuinely curious as to what examples they present. As a mental exercise I’m trying to come up with a situation where you could produce conflicting empirical data based entirely on differing paradigms. I can see how focusing on different aspects of the same situation would be possible, maybe even to the point of running into a “face / vase” situation (i.e., two observations that are verifiably true but difficult to observe at the same time), but can’t think of anything that would be true empirically in one framework and not another.

    If one wants to kvetch about empiricism – which, admittedly, I sometimes do – the obvious route is to point out that in real world application, it relies on dualism and materialism, which are unprovable propositions and only deals with a particular realm of human experience. The very empirically minded, after all, can in turn kvetch that it’s silly to put too much emphasis on subjective experience, but unless they are a super hardcore behaviorist, they can’t really deny that you are *having a subjective experience. They can, however reasonably deny that you have your own alternative empirical *facts. You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts and all that.

  17. Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Raw scientific data (instrument readings, prevalence statistics and the like) do not tell us much about the world. It is the *inferences* from that data that constitute our understanding of nature. The problem is that any body of data that has an appreciable degree of complexity can support multiple inferences. Most of them are absurd or wildly non-parsimonious, but sometimes there are competing inferences that are simultaneously plausible.

    It hardly seems far-fetched to to think that people of different backgrounds might reach different conclusions in proposing and assessing inferences–maybe not so much in physics but a lot more in, say, biology. Certainly in my field (law), studies show that judges of different backgrounds almost systematically reach different conclusions about inferences that are drawn from similar bodies of factual and legal data. If that can happen when people’s lives lie in the balance, it surely can happen when they do not.

    The idea that most important knowledge is based on inferences, not raw data, is unsettling. It tends to undercut the certainty we’d like to have that scientific knowledge is reliable because it rests on highly reliable raw data. Unfortunately, the reliability of the raw data is not a guarantor of the conclusions drawn from it.

    The acquisition of reliable raw data is science par excellence, but the interpretation of data is more like art.

    • Roo
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I totally agree with all of that, but I think using the term *different* kinds of knowledge, rather than ‘incorrect’ or ‘biased’ makes all the difference in the world. There have been studies showing how doctors will interpret the same symptoms and test results differently depending on the patient – I think there would be almost unanimous consensus that these are things we should want to know about and that these kinds of biases do exist. But we would say they are prone to making *incorrect* conclusions in some cases, not simply ‘different’ ones.

      Of course there are some questions that are so complex that we may never know, at least not for eons, who is correct or incorrect – but someone still *is* correct, presumably, we just can’t suss out who it is. Perhaps the wild wacky world of quantum physics or some such thing is an example to the contrary, but outside of that, I can’t think of any.

      • Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        I think it depends on what’s being studied and for what reason. If one is studying influences on science, “different” conclusions seems appropriate. If one is interested in proper patient treatment, “incorrect” is perhaps better. I say “perhaps” because in many kinds of medicine, basing the results on knowledge of the patient is a good thing. After all, they say personalized medicine is the future.

        • Roo
          Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          Can you give an example of two different conclusions to the same question that are both correct based on differing paradigms, though? That’s what I’m saying here, they may indeed exist, but I can’t think of any. Excepting, again, perhaps fields such as quantum physics, where who the heck knows? (I’m not talking about two different *questions, btw – say, for example, that one patient wants to best understand how to alleviate pain during end-of-life care and another wants to know what experimental procedures will give them the best chance of surviving the same condition. Those involve two different end goals and are thus two different questions.)

          • Posted December 6, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

            I can’t think of a good example but surely there are many cases where multiple theories fit the available data. Further science is done to help decide which theory is correct, if any. I don’t see quantum physics as being different from biology in this respect, though running experiments in biology is often difficult or still leaves many questions unanswered.

            • Roo
              Posted December 7, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

              Multiple theories might *fit the available data, but that is different than multiple theories being *correct, is my point. That simply points to an absence of needed knowledge, not two correct but different empirical answers.

              • Posted December 7, 2018 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

                My point was that, until the follow-on work is done, both theories are equally valid. Its a dynamic system. In science there’s never any absolute truth, just provisional truth that may be falsified by additional data and explanation.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Well put! Now that might make for an interesting class without the gender studies bias at the start. If the data leads to gender of the scientist as a major influencer, that’s fine.

  18. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Biomedical research could have advanced with a male bias in some areas. Research on the development of symptoms for heart attacks for example had tended to give better recognition for how males experience this sort of event.

  19. phoffman56
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    The word ‘science’ in this kind of discussion is used, often confusingly, in two different ways, as briefly below w.r.t. the “Science after Feminism” course title here:

    1/ Science, as a body of well-tested knowledge of the (often approximate) truth, is surely now somewhat larger than it would have been, because many women have done good science, some of whom might not have without the admirable activities of feminists (though not ‘feminists’ of this cult).

    2/ Science, as a human activity, as a method in the basic sense, is now no different than it would have been. One can rest assured that this course will have wooly claims disputing what I just wrote. But there will not be a single example which is even slightly convincing to a knowledgeable (about science) person. It will have quotes of a bunch of meaningless generalities by Fouceault, Lacan, Derrida, even Bruno Latour, etc. Also quotes from a few of the ‘heroes’ of this unfortunate distortion of feminism, likely including ones which are utterly destroyed in detail in the book below.

    A very thorough book on this and more generally, by Gross and Levitt (biologist and mathematician resp.) entitled “Higher Superstition:…”, despite being 25 years since publication, is right-on-the-button in these matters. It carefully looks at the several sides in which attacks are attempted by the followers of the larger cult which the cultists themselves call postmodernism and poststructuralism, attacks on science itself. This unfortunate subcult of that cult, claiming to be within feminism, being one of the sides, has a lengthy chapter to itself plus much more early and late in the book. In particular the authors are very concerned about the effects of the ‘postheads’ on many non-STEM parts of western, esp. USian, universities.

    Though they avoid their own personal politics, these authors are themselves easily seen to be in the ‘leftist camp’, if you want to call it that, among USian academics. They are not trolls from the right-wing looney bin. The postheads continually give fodder to such trolls.

    Note that this book had a large part in alerting people like Alan Sokal, of the famous Sokal hoax and later book with Bricmont. The main point here is that only a tiny minority of scientists had before that become aware of the dangers of this pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Gross and Levitt deserve much credit for the obviously enormous amount of effort that went into the book.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      This is a good start, but I think a lot more light is shed by looking at three things people call science. One, as you say, the body of knowledge or purported knowledge produced by scientists. Two, the actual process and institutions in the real world that do science. Three, an ideal platonic form, so to speak, of Science; a logic of inquiry, maybe. Needless to say, the existence of this third object is somewhat disputed.

      In the first two meanings of science, the answers to the course title questions are yes. Which isn’t to say that the proposed solutions will be sane. But y’all need to give the devils their due.

      • phoffman56
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think your remark about a third meaning to science is germane to either this type of poststructuralist faux feminism, nor to the more general overall content of the Gross-Levitt book.

        But I’d not dispute the existence of something like that third meaning, being rather sympathetic to it. It is a longstanding thorn of philosophical disputation I guess. It seems unlikely ever to be settled, maybe never to be formulated at all satisfactorily, and ‘belief concerning it’ is just a prejudice that I and others have, one way or the other.

        To be a smart-ass name-dropper, like those postmodernists, I could say it is the direct limit of the science of my first type which all the beings of intelligence ever manage to produce, anywhere in the universe (past and future if by “universe” I’m only being spatial, not space-timal)! But I won’t, even if I just did.

        However, your “purported” is not part of what I meant.

        • Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          Some people use “science” for purported knowledge e.g. scientific consensus, and some for actual knowledge. I didn’t figure yours for a “purported knowledge” meaning, but I don’t think it matters for giving the devils their due.

          Other commentators in this thread definitely leaned on the third meaning, conveniently providing an excuse not to give devils their due.

  20. Posted December 5, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    The scientific method is a tool designed by men. When we say it “works,” what we’re saying is that it does what it’s designed to do, which no one in their right mind would argue with.

    But by the same token, it doesn’t do what it was not designed to do, and one thing it was not designed to do is to tell us anything about the non-material aspects of the universe. Why? Because this is not what the men who designed it were interested in finding out about.

    Had it been designed by women would it have included those aspects in its purview? There’s simply no way of knowing, but it’s a question worth asking.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Umm. . . yes it can. There have been scientific studies of the accuracy of astrology, of the power of prayer, and so on. One can study the numinous scientifically. Not all claims about the supernatural (I prefer to use “naturalism” rather than “materialism”) can be tested this way, of course, but if you can’t test them using the empirical method (i.e., science), how can you possibly test them.

      The question is not worth asking not because it’s a hypothetical, but because there are no answers about the reality of the universe that can be tested or investigated outside the methods of science.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      What are some examples of “non-material aspects of the universe”?

      • Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        Conscious awareness, maybe? Qualia?

        • Posted December 5, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

          Are their any qualia that reflect a non-material source that belong in science? If someone saw an unexpected red flash, for example, a material source is suspected and the experiment adjusted to record it. If an experiment made an observer fearful without explanation, we would seek a material cause assuming it was thought important to the investigators. Of course, we aren’t going to get a direct causal chain going from the experiment to the fear but that’s just because we don’t yet know how the brain works.

          • Posted December 5, 2018 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

            Oh, I’m quite sure that the *content* of qualia and conscious awareness has physical causes, but there’s no evidence I know of that their ontology or “essence” is comprised of physical entities (such as quarks, gluons, leptons, etc.). As far as I understand, consciousness and qualia seem to be made of non-physical “stuff,” even though they manifestly can be causally affected by the physical.

            FWIW, I don’t think there’s evidence that the causation goes both ways, however. That is, I know of no evidence that the course of physical events can be affected or modified by the content of consciousness, qualia or mental states–an area on which I have been writing.

            • Posted December 5, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

              In my opinion, qualia and consciousness are just how the brain feels to itself. All will be understood once we know how the brain works. Until then, I don’t see any basis for thinking it they are anything but physical.

      • Posted December 5, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Who cares? After all, they’re immaterial.

    • Davide Spinello
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      But by the same token, it doesn’t do what it was not designed to do, and one thing it was not designed to do is to tell us anything about the non-material aspects of the universe. Why? Because this is not what the men who designed it were interested in finding out about.

      Methods to “test” the non-material aspects of the universe are way older than science. Luckily the numerous female scientists can see what non-material aspects of the universe are (and probably have names for them) and focus on the material aspects. It is also possible that female scientists have internalized misogyny and therefore they use the male designed science that is better understood as a performative social construct.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Material vs. non-material is a distinction without a difference, and is heading straight towards the land “outside of time and space”.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      I think that the “design” of scientific method is objective, regardless of the intentions of its creators and developers (I guess some of them did want to study God).
      I don’t think science would look substantially different if it had been developed by women.

    • Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      But by the same token, it doesn’t do what it was not designed to do, and one thing it was not designed to do is to tell us anything about the non-material aspects of the universe. Why? Because this is not what the men who designed it were interested in finding out about.

      On the contrary, as long as something interacts with the universe, it can be investigated with the scientific method. If it doesn’t, well, no harm ignoring it.

      As for those who devised science, quite a few (if not all) were religious, at the very least theistic. Those were certainly problems that they would like to address.

  21. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Consider one of the most generally identifiable tools in science: the microscope. What does it require? Eyesight.

    Therefore

    Science is ableist.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      I know you’re being facetious, and I agree –

      Every frickin’ endeavour is ableist, physical or mental, from digging ditches to doing crosswords to carol singing to building H-bombs. If you want to do it well, you have to be good at it.

      We now have many classes for the not-so-good-at-it, mostly in sports, and that’s fine where the encouragement of the individual is significant and the output of the activity doesn’t matter. But if I go for a drive I certainly hope any bridges I cross weren’t designed by a not-very-able engineer.

      cr

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 5, 2018 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        I should qualify that – every activity is ableist in the attributes that are relevant to that activity. Which are obviously different, and of differing significance, for different activities.

        cr

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted December 5, 2018 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

          — in equally different ways!

  22. Ty Gardner
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I agree with J.C’s suggestion that this isn’t about the real presence of sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry in science historically and, to a lesser extent, today. More people, doing science by asking questions that they see as interesting and important, or just notice at all, is a good thing.
    I also agree that science is science. I consider myself disabled, via rheumatoid arthritis. This has impacted my physical capabilities and meant that, as is true for many scientists, field work came with significant pain. The science however, from study design to data collection and analysis, was science. My disability didn’t inform my science, though I could see that, had I been inclined to perform medical research, I might have had some interest in my condition and/or mechanisms of cartilage reconstruction. Thankfully others have an interest in that so I don’t have to.

  23. eric
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    1.) Is science gendered, racialized, ableist, and classist?

    In method? No. In implementation? Sometimes. It’s analogous to the legal system…though my personal opinion is that the legal system has more significant problems with fair implementation than science does. Still, same principle at work.

    2.) Does the presence or absence of women (and other marginalized individuals) lead to the production of different kinds of scientific knowledge?

    If Alice and Charlie both get Ph.D’s in astrophysics from the same department under the same advisor, there’s still no guarantee Alice and Charlie will research the same content of science…regardless of whether Charlie is a man or a woman. However, as long as the scientific method is working correctly, if Alice and Charlie do the same experiment they should get the same result.

    I.e. the presence of women and marginalized individuals in science will not change how nature acts, though it may change what aspects of nature we choose as a society to focus our research on.

    Non-scientists can change science in the same way, too. Put different politicians in charge of science funding agencies, and society changes what aspects of nature to focus it’s research on. I fully expect that as (uhhh…maybe I should say “if”) society gets more egalitarian and more minorities are elected to high office, that our research priorities might shift in some way we don’t currently expect or anticipate. And that will be just fine.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      I think the point is they would not be doing the same experiments. They would be doing different experiments to find the answers to different questions. We would have information about different things.
      People research topics they are interested in. And as a result our body of resulting knowledge is different.
      Do we do research on breast cancer ir prostate cancer.
      Do we research problems with pregnancies or problems from low testosterone.

      • eric
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        I forget who said this, but one observation about postmodernism is that it’s claims tend to fall into one of two categories: true but not deep, or deep but not true. It very rarely lives up to the hype of telling us something true and deep.

        The fact that different cohorts of people with different backgrounds would choose to research different things is, IMO, in the “true but not deep” category.

        • phoffman56
          Posted December 6, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, but to be blunt, postmodernism’s claims to great extent are simply meaningless word spinning. Being without meaning, they are incapable of deepness or undeepness or truth or non-truth. I’d be interested to hear with some references of some of those (few to vanishing IMNon-humbleO)which have any meaning. They will turn out to be trite or unoriginal, and usually both, I very much suspect.

          • Posted December 6, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            I agree. What are the main lessons from post modernism? As I see it, it takes Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” and carries it to extremes to the extent it loses all meaning.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      So far, priorities have shifted out of science, to “… Studies”.

  24. Merilee
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Hogwash!

  25. Peter
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    “Is science gendered, racialized, ableist, and classist?”

    Ableist? Do they really think science should be done by those not able to do science?

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      No. Using the mist qualified might not result in enough diversity. That eoulf be racist.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 5, 2018 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Every activity is ableist *in those attributes that are relevant to that activity*.

      Music is ableist in respect to tone-deafness, for example, but quite indifferent to athletic ability.

      Science is ableist in respect of reasoning ability, but (in most cases) tone-deafness would be irrelevant, as would an ability to run fast (except possibly in explosives research…)

      And so on…

      cr

  26. tandirpel
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    This is a seminar course, which means that it is structured as weekly discussion series with a very small size of 15 students, and not a lecture where the professor dictates something, or even makes a presentation on any topic. Most people I met there were quite respectful, so I am sure you would be able defend different answers to the questions in the class and not get shut down, and no one would have as preconceived notions as this post puts forward. I think this is exactly what a Princeton course sounds like; proposing a topic that is not discussed widely and making students look at disciplines from different points of view.

    Some of my favorite lecturers were graduate students by the way, who were so much better at teaching than some professors.

    • Posted December 6, 2018 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but the texts themselves are tendentious, and if the answers to the teacher’s questions were “no,” then there would be no need to be a course. Seriously, all you’re saying is that the people in the course were “respecctful”. That tells us nothing about what the course is like-certainly less than does the syllbus itself. It’s typical ideology pushing.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Read Full Article » […]

  2. […] when one war is won, the seeds for the next are sown. Over at Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne has a post up, Princeton’s course on how marginalized scientists can produce […]

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

%d bloggers like this: