Postmodernism Is Now Infecting Science

Postmodernism Is Now Infecting Science January 11, 2024


As postmodern relativism, critical theory, leftwing politics, and woke ideology took hold in academia, the hard sciences were a bulwark of objectivity, with their rigorous scientific method eliminating subjectivity and their orientation to physical reality ensuring a focus on facts.  But now even the hard sciences are being infected with the ideology that has done so much damage to the humanities and social sciences.

So says physicist Lawrence Krauss in his op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall) entitled  Alan Sokal’s Joke Is on Us as Postmodernism Comes to Science with the deck “Articles in hard-science journals increasingly read like the 1996 hoax, and dissenters are suppressed.”

His title refers to a prank played by mathematician Alan Sokal, who linked some clichés together that sound like Claudine Gay’s dissertation and maintained that “physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct” so that scientists “cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counter-hegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities.”  The resulting phony article was taken seriously, though, and was published by a scholarly journal, Social Text.

Krauss says that today similar articles are being published not just in journals about postmodernism as Sokal’s was, but by legitimate peer-reviewed journals in the hard sciences.

Here is one example:

• In March 2022 Physical Review Physics Education Research published “Observing whiteness in introductory physics: A case study.” From the abstract: “Within whiteness, the organization of social life is in terms of a center and margins that are based on dominance, control, and a transcendent figure that is consistently and structurally ascribed value over and above other figures.” The paper criticizes “the use of whiteboards as a primary pedagogical tool” on the grounds that they “play a role in reconstituting whiteness as social organization. . . . They collaborate with white organizational culture, where ideas and experiences gain value (become more central) when written down.”

As if black people were treated so much better back when everyone used black boards!  And notice that the article presents literacy–writing things down–as “white” and therefore oppressive.  Isn’t it racist to imply that black people are illiterate and incapable of learning physics?

Krauss cites other examples.  I’ll just give you the titles and links:

• “A Special Topics Class in Chemistry on Feminism and Science as a Tool to Disrupt the Dysconscious Racism in STEM.”  Journal of Chemical Education (November 2022)

•  “Undergraduate Mathematics Education as a White, Cisheteropatriarchal Space and Opportunities for Structural Disruption to Advance Queer of Color Justice.”  Paper delivered at the Joint Mathematics Meeting, “the world’s biggest gathering of mathematicians” (January 2023).

Krauss also tells of scientists who lost their jobs for questioning this sort of thing.  A Canadian university fired a tenured astronomy professor for questioning the inclusion of indigenous “star knowledge” in the astronomy curriculum.  A New Zealand university fired a biologist for questioning the Education Ministry’s decree that Maori “ways of knowing” be given equal standing with modern science in science classes.

I would say that Krauss’s evidence relates more to science education than to science as such.  The absurdity of science education journals and university policies is testimony to the broader corruption of our schools and universities.  Still, science education is what turns out new scientists.  Our universities employ a good number of our scientists, and who they hire and fire, as well as the rules they impose, will certainly shape scientific research.

One of the most prestigious scientific journals, Nature, has been churning out woke editorials for some time, as well as articles such as Anti-racist interventions to transform ecology, evolution and conservation biology departments.  (See “‘Nature’ Magazine Has Lost Its Way.”)

Of course, science is a human enterprise.  Scientists are subject to social pressures like everyone else.

And if the dominant “social imaginary” is that truth is a construction, that objectivity is an illusion, and that what people believe is real is actually an imposition of oppressive power, how can science continue to exist?


Illustration:  “Scientist with Microscope,” by liftarn via Open Clipart, Public Domain

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