A case study in how identity politics poisons science
Reality is that which when you are politically incorrect or un-woke doesn’t go away.
I purchased a SciAm subscription last year in an effort to get away from all the sermonizing woke think pieces I saw proliferating throughout media, and was this immediately crestfallen to find that yes, even this formally respected science magazine had been fully captured. I started to dread each new issue.
I just cancelled my subscription for the new year, the final insult being their “click to subscribe, call to cancel” policy that should be illegal.
Good on you for calling them out Michael. Great piece.
Michael, I agree with your criticisms and concerns. And Scientific American is not the only scientific publication to be captured by political activists. For example, a recent paper in the supposedly respectable Journal of the American Psychiatric Association described “whiteness” as a “Malignant, Parasitic-Like Condition.” https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/research-article-in-medical-journal-describes-whiteness-as-malignant-parasitic-like-condition/ar-AAKSjAq
Today many scientific papers are being retracted, or canceled, not because they are wrong, but because of their supposed “impact.” The mob expresses outrage over its inconvenient findings, and the paper is retracted. Invariably it’s claimed that the paper was “inaccurate,” with little or no support for that claim, and away it goes. This is neither science nor scholarship. Science must go, however tentatively, wherever the data seems to lead, but this is no longer possible in many cases. Retraction Watch is filled with such incidents. https://retractionwatch.com/2021/11/03/astronomer-apologizes-withdraws-preprint-slated-for-pnas-about-impact-in-the-field-after-criticism/
And then we are repeatedly admonished by self-proclaimed ‘smart’ people to “trust the science”! But it’s clear to any independent thinker that this is no longer wise, or even possible.
As for what term to use, I think at present “woke” is best, because it is widely understood. We all know exactly what it means. One can alternately say “Politically Correct,” an older term meaning the same thing, which recalls the essentially Stalinist outlook of its adherents. It does not matter what the facts are, the Party cannot ever be wrong, and Wrongthink must be opposed in every way possible. Even small infractions among true-believing Leftists are not tolerated. You must conform, or be attacked and excommunicated.
The “woke” ideology is a religion, in the full sense of that word. It informs one’s entire view of life and society, of virtue and sin, of one’s relation to the earth, etc. Perhaps the best name for that religion would be Identitarian, in that the identity one is born into is the primary determinant of one’s life and one’s role in society.
I have been reading Scientific American since I was 14. I am now 80. The magazine helped guide my education into Physics. I always read your articles. For me SciAm was a safe harbor--at least in the past. It was a place I could read evidence based articles. Not political opinion. After all these years I am sadly considering cancelling my subscription. Michael, keep up the good work.
Jessica, please read my follow-up piece to this, "What is Woke, Anyway?" as that will perhaps help your brain hurt less. Here it is: https://michaelshermer.substack.com/p/what-is-woke-anyway?r=2xbjf&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=copy
Doing science is hard work, doing politics is a cinch.
I am astounded by the comments of your editor at Scientific American, particularly where they concern your rejected article. The irony is the scientific truck that could be driven through his comments!
As long as Michael Shermer continues writing, I will continue reading.
The internal contradictions of wokism will lead to its downfall. On one hand it is stated that race is a socio-linguistic construct with little to no basis in Biology and on the other hand they claim that 35% of White College Applicants lie on applications claiming to be Native American (or other races). I am confused: if race is a socio-linguistic construct with no biological basis how can those students be lying when they self-identify as any particular race? If a person self-identifies as a gender other than their biological gender are they liars, too?
Worse than Wokeism is the Green Religion.
Isn't the whole point of a column that it's the opinion of the author? It's independent writing and not necessarily agreed on by the editors? It's a pity you couldn't continue your long streak of consecutive columns, but luckily there are enough other ways to share your views.
Bravo Dr. Shermer and thank you for your efforts. A per usual, your insights are a candle in the dark.
I have wondered in recent years what is going on at Sci Am. I have read it for almost 50 years, and in the last few years I have seen many articles show little or no hard science content, and more disturbing is the trend towards soft science, and in many case as Micheal has written about poor science or even politically motivated science, which is of course rarely science at all. It is sad to see the venerable magazine slowly becoming another victim of made up "science". And of course there is no arguing with true believers, whether religious, or right wing, or in this case mostly left wing. I think it was very important that Sci Am stand up for science in the face of a possible Trump win. In that case it was a fact based position. However that was an exceptional circumstance. Regularly publishing nonsense as science, and censoring thoughtful essays is unacceptable. It may be time to consider unsubscribing from Sci Am. It will be a sad day, when the far left takes it over, and once again the voices of reason are shouted down.
Michael, thanks for telling the story of how your tenure at SciAm ended - I did wonder. I always looked forward to getting to the end of the magazine every month: there was your Skeptic article waiting to be read.
However, I am not surprised that you tangled with your editor in 2018. I couldn't help noticing a change of tone in your articles that year - you had moved on from science and scepticism to morality and politics. I read your articles anyway - Utilitarianism, Atheism, Google - but they were no longer scientific.
You criticise SciAm for diverging from science in 2021. Insofar as the magazine has done so, you are absolutely right. But this is what you did in 2018! Getting tangled up in intersectionism is good entertainment/journalism, but it isn't science.
You are too good to be just a journalist - keep it real!
I noted the hard left turn in SciAm many years ago. Fewer and fewer columns that addressed hard science, and more and more fluffy social commentary pieces that initially sounded like they had a basis in scientific methodology. But in fact, they were shallow opinion pieces. I dropped the magazine more than a decade ago.
I fully agree with Michael's essay. I have been a subscriber to SciAm for 50 years. In the last year I have written to the Sci Am editor to complain about the loss of hard science and the switch to social issues. I told them that if I wanted progressive opinion writings I would listen to MNBC or CNN. I will write again and finally cancel my subscription.