New York Times Op-Ed: Impartial was rejected by major magazines. You can’t make this up.by Pamela Paul:
[The belief] that science is somehow subjective and should be practiced and judged accordingly has recently taken root in academic, government, and medical settings. An article published last week, “In defense of merit in science”, documents the disturbing ways in which research is carried out. more and more informed by a politicized agenda, which often characterizes science as fundamentally racist and in need of”decolonize.” The authors argue that science should instead be independent, evidence-based, and focused on advancing knowledge.
This sounds completely reasonable.
However, the article was rejected by several major journals, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Another publication that endorsed the article, the authors report, described some of its conclusions as “downright hurtful.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Had problems with the word “merit” in the title, writing that “the problem is that this concept of merit, as the authors surely know, has been widely and rightfully attacked as hollow as currently implemented.”
Instead, the article has been published in a new magazine called —you can’t make this up— The Journal of Controversial Ideas. The magazine, which receives articles that “discuss well-known controversial issues from various cultural, philosophical, moral, political and religious perspectives,” was co-founded in 2021 by philosopher Peter Singer and is completely serious. This particular paper was rewritten multiple times and peer reviewed prior to publication. As controversial as the claims in the article may be, they deserve consideration.
According to its 29 authors, who are primarily scientists (including two Nobel laureates) in fields as varied as theoretical physics, psychology, and pharmacokinetics, ideological concerns threaten the independence and rigor of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. While the goal of expanding opportunities for more diverse researchers in the sciences is laudable, the authors write, it should not be pursued at the expense of fundamental scientific concepts such as objective truth, merit, and evidence, which they argue are in jeopardy. for efforts to account. for different perspectives.
Consider the growing practice of adding a “position statement” to the research itself. This is an explicit Recognition by the author of a scholarly article of their identity (for example, “non-disabled”, “continuing generation”). Positionality statements were first popular in the social sciences and are now spreading to the hard sciences and medicine. The idea is that a person’s race, gender, relative privilege, and “experiences of oppression” intrinsically inform a person’s research, especially in ways that perpetuate or alleviate bias. …
Another concern is the increase in “justice summons” — the attempt to achieve racial or gender balance in academic references. The purpose of a citation in a scholarly journal is to substantiate claims and offer the most relevant supporting research. Proponents of subpoena justice say these subpoenas too often prioritize the work of white men. But in a field like chemistry, where less than 30 percent of papers are written by women, according to data from the American Chemical Society, and where the founding texts are written almost entirely by men, “fairness” means disproportionately favor studies of women. regardless of its relevance. Many prominent scientific journals now recommend that authors review their articles through software programs that detect any citation bias before submission. …
A third troubling development is the statements that researchers are often asked to write to apply for teaching positions (and to rise in those positions) that describe their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, something my colleague John McWhorter, one of the article’s authors. , has written about in the Times. These are lofty goals that in practice, however, can amount to discrimination, and such statements strike many as something of a political litmus test. …
Needless to say, but in today’s polarized world, unfortunately this is not the case, the authors of this article do not deny the existence of historical racism or sexism or dispute that inequalities of opportunity persist. Nor do they deny that scientists have personal views, which in turn are informed by culture and society. They recognize biases and blind spots.
Where they depart from the prevailing ideological winds is in arguing that, imperfect as it may be, meritocracy remains the most effective way to ensure high-quality science and greater equity. (an important study published last week shows that despite decades of sexism, claims of gender bias in academic science are now vastly exaggerated). The focus, the authors write, should be on improving meritocratic systems rather than dismantling them. …
You do not have to agree with every aspect of the authors’ policy or with every solution. But to ignore or dismiss his research instead of impartially weighing the evidence would be a mistake. We need, in other words, to judge the document on its merits. After all, that is how science works.
In defense of merit in science:
Merit is a central pillar of liberal epistemology, humanism, and democracy. The scientific enterprise, built on merit, has proven effective in generating scientific and technological advances, reducing suffering, narrowing social gaps, and improving the quality of life globally. This perspective documents ongoing attempts to undermine the fundamental tenets of liberal epistemology and replace merit with unscientific, politically motivated criteria. We explain the philosophical origins of this conflict, document the intrusion of ideology into our scientific institutions, discuss the dangers of abandoning merit, and offer an alternative, human-centered approach to addressing existing social inequalities. …
Imbuing science with ideology harms the scientific enterprise and leads to a loss of public trust. If we continue to undermine merit, our universities will become institutions of mediocrity instead of places of creativity and achievement, leading to the loss of competitive advantage in technology. Therefore, we need to restore our commitment to practices grounded in epistemic humility and the meritocratic liberal tradition.
We need to watch out for the dilution of our assessments of merit by prejudice, ideology, and nepotism. Also, as a community, we must continue to invest in mentoring and education to help people realize their full potential. Adopting the guidelines we have suggested does not mean that we ignore the contributions of past racism and sexism to the inequalities we see today. It means addressing these issues in a fundamentally positive way, not by introducing diversity metrics into funding or hiring decisions, nor by weakening standards for college admission and career advancement, but by investing in the early pipeline, for example by strengthening the educational outreach and programs to increase access to sustained quality education and early exposure to STEMM.
Scientists must start defending the integrity of their fields despite the risk of intimidation and verbal attacks; donors and sponsors should condition their support on rational, nonpartisan scientific research. Science as a free pursuit of knowledge uncontaminated by ideological orthodoxies maximizes the public good.
Perhaps the greatest irony of all, and the saddest comment on the state of academia, is that this article, defending its merit, could only be published in a journal dedicated to airing “controversial” ideas. As we were finalizing the manuscript for publication, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a 14-page document vision statement Outlining Priorities for the US STEMM Ecosystem The word “merit” does not appear anywhere in the document. In February 2023, the National Academy of Sciences published a report titled “Promoting Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEMM Organizations: Beyond Broadening Participation.” The report describes merit as a non-objective, “culturally construed” concept used to hide bias and perpetuate privilege, refers to objectivity and meritocracy in STEMM as myths, and calls for the dismantling of evaluation metrics based on the merit.