Phi Beta Cons

Where Are the Scientists?

Carol wonders where the biologists and other scientists were in the Larry Summers affair. We could expand the question. As postmodernists, identity politicians, multicultural relativists, and leftist theorists have inserted politics and power into the conduct of inquiry on college campuses, why haven’t the scientists spoken out? Many of the conceptual targets of the academic Left are fundamental to empirical study–scientific method, for one–but the scientists seem to shrug their shoulders and go about their own work.
Maybe that’s the best way to proceed in their own realms, but it is harming the intellectual climate of the campus as a whole. Do the scientists at Harvard believe that the students have been well served by the faculty agitation? Shouldn’t they take more responsibility for sustaining the ideals of learning and inquiry across the entire curriculum?
They have a model: the Sokal Hoax. We remember the episode as one of the most effective exposures of intellectual corruption in our time. (Here is a link to Sokal’s original hoax and all the articles that followed from it. Sokal put to rest what was, at the time, a growing chorus of cultural critique advanced by left-wing social scientists and humanities professors against the (supposed) pretensions of science. But only temporarily. The things they were saying at the time against objectivity, peer review, scientific language, and the like are not so different from what the academic Left says today. Tenured and secure, they can ride out the public scorn and the news cycle, and as the scientists go back to work on their own research, the academic Left can spread its gospel of anti-Enlilghtenment power politics in its own domain uncontested. To counter it, we need more help from across the quad.

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