All posts filed under: Science

Noah Carl: An Update on the Young Scholar Fired by a Cambridge College for Thoughtcrime

Quillette has been unwavering in its support of Noah Carl, a young conservative scholar who was targeted by an outrage mob after getting a research fellowship at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. After an “open letter” was circulated by a group of activist academics last December describing Noah’s work as “racist pseudoscience” and calling for an “investigation” into his appointment, we ran an editorial denouncing this witch-hunt. We published supportive comments by Jonathan Haidt, Jeffrey Flier, Cass Sunstein, Tyler Cowan, Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer, and asked people to sign a counter-petition which attracted over 1,400 signatories. Unfortunately, St. Edmund’s College did the bidding of the protestors, launched two separate investigations and last month terminated Noah Carl’s employment. We ran a follow-up piece, this time criticizing St. Edmund’s cowardly decision, and invited professors and lecturers to put their names to a letter of condemnation. That got over 600 signatures, more than the number of academics who signed the original “open letter.” Since then, Noah has received widespread support from a variety of sources. The Spectator has …

Memes, Genes, and Sex Differences—An Interview with Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams

Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham, researching the evolution of altruism and human sex differences. The philosophical implications of evolutionary theory was the focus of his first book, Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life. The following is an interview with Stewart-Williams about his new book, The Ape that Understood the Universe. Logan Chipkin: Your book begins with an alien’s perspective on modern humanity. This alien has apparently never encountered typical human behavior. How did you come up with this idea, and how did you subsequently decide which aspects of humanity to include in the alien’s report? Steve Stewart-Williams: Like you say, I kick off the book by looking at human beings through the eyes of an alien scientist: a hyper-intelligent alien scientist from a species that doesn’t have males and females, doesn’t fall in love, doesn’t have families, and doesn’t have music or art or reality TV or anything else like that. And I ask: What would such a being make of us? The short answer is …

Against Scientism—A Rejoinder to Bo and Ben Winegard

In ancient Athens, shortly after the death of Socrates, word got out that Plato had come up with a definition of man. Man, according to Plato, was “a featherless biped.” Once he heard this, a philosopher by the name of Diogenes plucked the feathers from a fowl, brought it to Plato’s Academy, and declared, “Behold Plato’s man!” Plato’s definition, as Diogenes’s antics proved, had failed. In their essay “In Defence of Scientism,” Bo and Ben Winegard’s definition of scientism suffers from a similar lack of precision. Scientism, they insist, is simply “the view that scientific attitudes and methods can enhance all modes of empirical inquiry.” This definition is misleading because no one is arguing against the use of scientific methods in scientific pursuits. Critics of scientism worry about the application of scientific methods outside of empirical fields. The great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, for example, wrote that scientism, “involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed.” Simply put, scientism is the application …

Alessandro Strumia: Another Politically-Correct Witch-Hunt, or a More Complicated Story?

In recent and even not-so-recent years, the quest for gender balance in science and technology has taken some troubling turns—from the collection of male scalps over trifling offenses (such as the pillorying of British physicist Matt Taylor over a shirt adorned with comic-book-style scantily-clad babes) to the squelching of dissent on whether gender gaps in STEM are caused solely by discrimination (heresy that got software engineer James Damore fired from Google two years ago and cost Lawrence Summers his post as Harvard president in 2005). In this climate, it’s easy to see another “politically correct” witch-hunt in the recent drama surrounding Italian physicist Alessandro Strumia. Last month, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, elected not to extend Strumia’s guest professorship after previously suspending him over a controversial presentation at a CERN gender diversity workshop in September 2018. From the start, the Strumia scandal elicited warnings about an orthodoxy that disallows questioning claims of pervasive anti-female discrimination in science. In a recent article in the French weekly Le Point (reprinted in translation in Quillette), science …

Why Are Women Under-Represented in Physics?

Six months ago CERN hosted a workshop on “High Energy Theory and Gender.” Nearly all the contributors to this and previous workshops on the same topic endorsed the view that gender imbalances in physics, particularly in the higher echelons, are predominantly due to sexual discrimination. The following phrases appeared in the presentations: “men mobilize their masculinity supporting…men in ways that advance careers,” “evaluators tend to favor men,” “scientific quality is a gender social construction,” “practically all women share the same kind of sad and unfair experiences since the beginning of their scientific career,” and physics is an “oppressive ambient.” One attendee claimed that only the military has a higher rate of sexual harassment, although she didn’t say which country’s armed forces she was thinking of. In an attempt to go beyond mere anecdotes and measure the amount of discrimination, I did a bibliometric analysis using a public database of publications, references, authors and hiring decisions in fundamental physics world-wide over the past 50 years. CERN maintains this database, but nobody had used it for this …

How I Lost My Partner to a Parasite

I have given only the first rough outlines of a province of a great terra incognita, which lies unexplored before us, and the exploration of which promises a return such as we can at present scarcely appreciate. ~Johann Steenstrup, Danish zoologist, on parasites (circa 1854) This monster isn’t David. It’s a parasite of some kind. You see, another consciousness inside him. This thing burrowed into David’s brain … and has been there, feeding off him ever since. ~Loudermilk, FX Legion. Some lose a lover to a younger woman or an irreversible illness. I lost my partner to a parasite named Edwin. Imagine watching someone you love slowly die—except they’re still alive, still walking around, and still functioning. This is what it must feel like losing them to some kind of cult. Except that intervention and deprogramming can revert them back into the person you knew. And, although reversing a parasite invasion is possible, my now-ex ultimately didn’t care to do so. I often find it hard to believe myself, which is when I have become …

In Defense of Scientism

I hear the jury’s still out on science. ~Gob Bluth In science, the jury is always out. This is because science is a methodological approach to the world, not a set of inflexible principles or a catalog of indisputable facts. Truth is always provisional. Science does not hold something to be incontrovertibly true. It says, “This appears to be true according to the best available theory and evidence.” On science, the jury long ago returned a verdict: it is awesome. It has conquered deadly diseases and eradicated oppressive superstitions. It has increased human flourishing and extended life expectancies. It has put humans on the moon and many fathoms under the ocean’s surface. It has uncovered the forces that guide the crudest motions of matter and those that govern the most exquisite processes of life. In short, it has vastly improved human existence while dramatically increasing our knowledge of the universe. Despite all this, skeptical philosophers and pundits continue to forward arguments against scientific “arrogance”—or against what they see as science’s hubristic attempt to crowd out …

Science Denial Won’t End Sexism

Last week, Nature, one of the top scientific journals in the world, ran a review written by Lise Eliot of Gina Rippon’s new book, The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of the Female Brain. Both Eliot and Rippon, neuroscientists affiliated with Rosalind Franklin University and Aston University, respectively, are vocal supporters of the view that gender, and the corresponding differences we see between men and women, are socially constructed. Not a week goes by without yet another research study, popular science book, or mainstream news article promoting the idea that (a) any differences between men and women in the brain are purely socially constructed and (b) these differences have been exaggerated beyond any meaningful relevance. More recently, this argument has evolved to contend that (c) there are, in fact, no brain differences between the sexes at all. Eliot’s article appears to subscribe to a hodgepodge of all three perspectives, which not only contradict one another but are also factually incorrect. So begins the book review, titled, “Neurosexism: The myth that men …

Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later

You wouldn’t think that a defense of reason, science, and humanism would be particularly controversial in an era in which those ideals would seem to need all the help they can get. But in the words of a colleague, “You’ve made people’s heads explode!” Many people who have written to me about my 2018 book Enlightenment Now say they’ve been taken aback by the irate attacks from critics on both the right and the left. Far from embracing the beleaguered ideals of the Enlightenment, critics have blamed it for racism, imperialism, existential threats, and epidemics of loneliness, depression, and suicide. They have insisted that human progress can only be an illusion of cherry-picked data. They have proclaimed, with barely concealed schadenfreude, that the Enlightenment is an idea whose time has passed, soon to be killed off by authoritarian populism, social media, or artificial intelligence. This month’s publication of the paperback edition of EN in the US and UK is an occasion for me to weigh in on the controversies that have flared up in the year since …

Strange Bedfellows: The Peculiar Alliance Between Centrist Liberals and Radical Feminists

A peculiar new alliance appears to be emerging between trans-critical radical feminists and liberal centrists who are normally critical of radical feminism. Radical feminists’ insistence on the biological definition of “woman” seems to align them with the anxieties of those disturbed by activists’ redefinition of “female” and “male” from objective biological descriptors to self-reported perceptions, as well as with the concerns of non-radical feminists like Helen Joyce who has written cogently on the consequences of denying sex differences. However, radical feminists are beholden to a gender theory of their own, and it ought to be possible to reject the claims of trans extremists without entangling ourselves in another equally dubious ideology. Trans radicalism is not a war against feminism. It is a civil war within feminism, and it is not immediately obvious which side liberals should be rooting for. There is a risk of becoming trapped in radicals’ own mode of discourse. Trans activists advance dubious claims about gender behind a shield of the interests of trans people as a group. There is a temptation …