It’s time we acknowledge that science is still being used to denigrate women.
The brouhaha over the Google memo stoked the paranoia of all the science bros: right-wing dung nozzle Quillette ran an article called “The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond,” in which the Google memo got dusted off and praised for its bravery in speaking truth to the politically-correct powers that be. Anyone not quite as infatuated with the pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology as Quillette‘s editors should have been amused by the debunking of the shoddy science in the Google memo by various sites. But the question remains: do evolutionary psychologists misuse science, or is science by definition prone to misuse?
In Slate magazine, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein wrote an article called, “Stop Equating ‘Science’ With Truth,” questioning the myth that science is bias-free and completely neutral when it comes to sexist ideas. The idea that science cuts through prejudice to get to the Truth is simply false, says Prescod-Weinstein: Science’s greatest myth is that it doesn’t encode bias and is always self-correcting. In fact, science has often made its living from encoding and justifying bias, and refusing to do anything about the fact that the data says something’s wrong.
I’ve always called the idea that scientists and science fans “just follow the evidence” a piece of self-serving dogma that shows more intellectual dishonesty than objectivity. That facts and evidence have some sort of power to transcend cultural context and bias is truly magical thinking. If we concede that scientists often correct the work of previous researchers, let’s also admit that far more often, shoddy or biased research survives because it panders to the prejudices of an institution and system that inherently advantage males. The history of science is the history of research objectives in a male-dominated society. Says Prescod-Weinstein:
[O]ur scientific educations almost never talk about the invention of whiteness and the invention of race in tandem with the early scientific method which placed a high value on taxonomies—which unsurprisingly and almost certainly not coincidentally supported prevailing social views. The standard history of science that is taught to budding scientists is that during the Enlightenment, Europe went from the dark ages to, well, being enlightened by a more progressive mindset characterized by objective “science.” It is the rare scientific education that includes a simultaneous conversation about the rise of violent, imperialist globalization during the same time period. Very few curricula acknowledge that some European scientific “discoveries” were in fact collations of borrowed indigenous knowledge. And far too many universally call technology progress while failing to acknowledge that it has left us in a dangerously warmed climate. Much of the science that resulted from this system, conducted primarily by white men, is what helped teach us that women were the inferior sex.
Let’s talk about the way we idealize science. If science is so “self-correcting,” why do scientists and scientifically literate laypeople in 2017 still pay lip service to this nonsense? Can there be any more persuasive proof that we don’t “follow evidence where it leads,” but rather lead it where we want it to go?