(Natural News) Scientific American just did a hit job on one of America’s leading biologists and conservationists. All that, right after his passing. This marks a shameful low point in a steep decline of the magazine in recent years.
(Article by Peter Burns republished from Medium.com)
Scientific American is the oldest magazine in the US dealing with science. Continuously in print since 1845, it is known for being full of articles by world-class scientists on different topics. According to its About page, over 200 Nobel Prize winners have contributed to it.
One guy who wrote articles for them was Edward O. Wilson, an American biologist often touted as Darwin’s natural heir. Unfortunately, this great mind passed away on the 26th of December, 2021. His ideas have greatly influenced my thinking on the world. Learning of his death, I decided to Google around the internet a bit, trying to find some summaries of his life’s work.
The almighty algorithms suggested one particular article. The title was “The complicated legacy of E. O. Wilson.” Subtitled “We must reckon with his and other scientists’ racist ideas if we want an equitable future”, it dragged this important scientist through the mud.
I was surprised to find who published this ominous piece. It was none other than Scientific American!
Accusations of racism are a serious charge
Basically, the article accused Wilson of being a racist. Since he died a few days ago, there is no way for him to defend himself. Yet, this type of a piece published in one of the most renowned scientific magazines can seriously smear a person’s reputation and legacy.
What proof did the author present to support this accusation? None. There was not a single quotation from Wilson showing any racist speech. In fact, on her Twitter, the writer of the piece wrote: “I purposively didn’t quote his work so you could read it for yourself.” Seriously?
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the non-sense that was published in Scientific American. Strap in. It will be a bumpy ride!
The author started off by saying Wilson’s field is fraught with racism.
“Wilson was hardly alone in his problematic beliefs. His predecessors — mathematician Karl Pearson, anthropologist Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and others — also published works and spoke of theories fraught with racist ideas.”
Granted Karl Pearson and Francis Galton were proponents of eugenics, however Charles Darwin never advocated anything related to what later came to be called Social Darwinism. While Darwin is a stretch, the name from the list that really struck me was Gregor Mendel.
Seriously, how was Gregor Mendel a racist? This guy spent his entire life in a monastery in Brno (in what is now the Czech Republic) observing peas grow. Unless he wrote somewhere that yellow peas are racially superior to green peas, I don’t see why his name was on the list. However, his inclusion shows the real target of the author’s rant: genetics.
Wilson wrote several books on sociobiology, a field which aims to explain social behavior based on evolution and genetics. He applied it not only to the analysis of various types of animals, but also humans.
The author of the hit-piece of course isn’t really a big fan of one of his most influential works.
“His influential text “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” contributed to the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture and spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms.”
So basically the crux of the author’s argument why Wilson is racist is because he came down on the nature side of the debate. Why is stating that genes play a role in a person’s behavior even controversial now days? Sure, you can argue the extent to which genes contribute, but even Wilson himself wrote numerous treatises examining the intricate interplay between genes and culture in determining behavior.
The author apparently didn’t care that her arguments didn’t make sense. She went on to cite geneticist J. Craig Venter in order to make some sort of a point on racism being inherent in the discipline.
“Even modern geneticists and genome scientists struggle with inherent racism in the way they gather and analyze data. In his memoir “A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life”, geneticist J. Craig Venter writes, “The complex provenance of ideas means their origin is often open to interpretation.””
Yes, but what does the complex provenance of ideas and their origins being open to interpretation have to do with racism, especially with the accusation that E. O. Wilson was racist?
Fun with statistics and other stuff
The author of the text goes on to make another interesting statement.
“First, the so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against. The fact that we don’t adequately take into account differences between experimental and reference group determinants of risk and resilience, particularly in the health sciences, has been a hallmark of inadequate scientific methods based on theoretical underpinnings of a superior subject and an inferior one.”
No, that is not what the normal distribution is. The normal distribution is not about default humans. It’s about the fact that in many statistical studies, the characteristics of the population tend to cluster around a mean. So if the average height of the human population is 5 foot 7, then most individuals will be around that height. The outliers, the very tall or very short people, will be just a tiny minority.
The author then points to other pearls of wisdom.
“Other scholars have pointed out that feminist standpoint theory is helpful in understanding white empiricism and who is eligible to be a worthy observer of the human condition and our world.”
Now this is the first time I heard of “white empiricism”, and so I clicked on the linked study. I was hit with more instant classics.
“White empiricism undermines a significant theory of twentieth-century physics: General Relativity. Albert Einstein’s monumental contribution to our empirical understanding of gravity is rooted in the principle of covariance, which is the simple idea that there is no single objective frame of reference that is more objective than any other. All frames of reference, all observers, are equally competent and capable of observing the universal laws that underlie the workings of our physical universe.”
“Why are string theorists calling for an end to empiricism rather than an end to racial hegemony? I believe the answer is that knowledge production in physics is contingent on the ascribed identities of the physicists.”
“Through the recognition of white empiricism, a bifurcated logic that serves white supremacist traditions in science while deontologizing marginalized Black women physicists, I propose that the Black feminist theory intersectionality should change physics — and not just through who becomes a physicist but through the actual outcomes of what we come to know.”
WTF? Can someone please give me a translation from woke speak? Now, I support the promotion of diversity in the science field, but the laws of the universe don’t change according to your gender or color of your skin.
Reading that, I immediately wondered whether this was some sort of a hoax. Back in 1996, Alan Sokal, a physics professor got fed up with post-modernist discussions. He decided to show how non-sensical they were by submitting a totally made up essay to one of the most prestigious post-modernist publications. To his surprise, the piece was accepted.
Its title? “Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity”. Unfortunately, unlike the Sokal article, all the previous stuff I quoted is real!
Learning from history: Lysenkoism and the downfall of genetics under Stalin
Early on in the 1930’s, the Soviet Union was at the forefront of genetics research in the world. Its smart scientists were making very important contributions to understanding heredity and how genes influence behavior. Not only that, it even attracted talented researchers from abroad such as American scientist Hermann J. Muller, who moved to Leningrad in 1933 with his family.
Unfortunately, this was also the time of growing repression under Stalin, marked with the rise of what has been termed as Lysenkoism, or the one true explanation of human behavior. Muller left the Soviet Union in 1937, but many Soviet scientists were not so lucky. In 1948, genetics was put on the black list and declared a “a bourgeois pseudoscience”.
The scientists who opposed this did not fare so well. Many were dismissed from their posts. Some were imprisoned. Some even killed. Only after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, was this ban on genetics reversed and the scientists freed.
What can be learned from this horrific episode? The fact that science should not be put under shackles by any political ideology, whether from the right or left. University of Kansas professor Charles A. Leone put it best in one of his essays.
“Science cannot long remain unfettered in a social system which seeks to exercise control over the whole spiritual and intellectual life of a nation. The correctness of a scientific theory can never by adjudged by its readiness to give the answers desired by political leadership.”
Unfortunately, the US is not heeding this lesson. Science is under attack from ideologues on the far right, with their climate change denialism, creationism, and other quackery. It is also increasingly under attack from the far left as well. Particularly concerned here are the fields of biology, genetics, but also many social sciences. Self-censorship is becoming rampant.
This is a dangerous path to embark upon. We can see that increasingly many previously apolitical scientific journals and magazines are adopting woke ideology as the standard to follow. This could impede important discussions to take place, and even shackle many fields from studying certain questions. Science, and human progress will be impacted.
The real legacy of E. O. Wilson
It doesn’t do justice to any marginalized community to drag E. O. Wilson through the mud like this. Wilson was not only an expert in biology, but he made great contributions in the fight to save the planet. “Darwin’s heir” was not his only label. He has also often been called the “father of biodiversity”, helping popularize the term biodiversity.
Increasingly, we are starting to realize how harmful the loss of biodiversity can be for our planet. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, biodiversity is “essential to the existence and proper functioning of all ecosystems”. With the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and other such events, we are learning how interconnected everything really is. The EPA lists many other benefits of biodiversity, including in medicine, food security, and mental health.
“It’s been in my mind for years, that people haven’t been thinking big enough — even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto. I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”
We must protect the planet. In an interview with Vox, Wilson had this as his main message:
“If we want to know what is on this planet and why it is a live planet — what contributes to that life and what it all means, ultimately, for human existence — we should try to save it all.”
This is the real legacy of E. O. Wilson. This is what we should be fighting for. We will never get there if we start censoring science in order to promote some sort of an ideology.
Read more at: Medium.com