Physics, and STEM are fundamentally neutral but the human beings who do them are not, including the ones that write about how biased everyone else is. Who gets funding, who gets a job, and who gets a better student review, are all things which race, gender, class, and other sociological variables play a role in. Just as they play a role in everything human beings do. Science itself, however, is in the end all about the data and which theories fit it best. The journey from human activities to looking back at data and theories with neutrality is fraught with human biases. University of New Hampshire Professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein PhD wrote a sadly necessary paper about this fact (1). Then in the end displays her own bias with what I can only hope is intentional irony in a brief one paragraph discussion of the Thirty Meter Telescope. In social justice warrior speak she colonizes the issue of TMT into a black feminist social justice narrative. Otherwise, she is right on the money.
The key actors in this issue, on both sides, are Kanaka Maoli. Both the Ku Kiai Mauna and Imua TMT are Native Hawaiian lead. She stereotyped all of them by casting an indigenous group as monolithic and implicitly dismissing anyone who may be part of that group who does not agree with her particular social justice point of view as, to state it plainly, acting white.
Science Facts Are Neutral, People Are Not, Scientists Are People.
Therefore: how we determine science facts can be influenced by human biases to the detriment of scientific fact finding.
It boggles the mind that someone had to write a scholarly paper, replete with references, to be able to show that while scientific facts are indeed neutral that the human beings who do science are not. That should just be common sense, modus ponens type logic, and taught to every Physical Science 101 class.
Even when scientists have evidence staring them in the face, if that evidence comes from the wrong sort of person, it will too often be disbelieved. This is not just a race or gender SJW thing. It can be a matter of class or even country of origin. It effects white men who are not the right sort. If that can affect white men then why is the logical direct implication that it can also affect, women, people of color, and women who are people of color even more. Yet here we are needing to give this serious discussion in 2019.
She has been attacked and had her credentials as a physicist called into question by ignorant fools.
(Her qualifications as a physicist are impeccable, by the way, but that’s not the point — everyone should be treated with respect.)— FQXi Physics (@FQXi) December 9, 2019
Certainly, some will try to dismiss any fair criticism of her as being purely biased. A lot of the criticism is biased. Such is social media that it is designed to bring that out. Which is why it is important to point out that this issue is bigger than Weinstein discusses, and not new at all, and not even exclusive to minorities. It is a deep human problem with how we look at those who are supposed to possess great knowledge about nature.
Science, Even Physics, Have Been Derailed for Decades By Bias.
Famously the ideas of Raymond Dart that humans evolved in Africa were originally rejected in favor of the Piltdown hoax. Dart being a “colonial”, even though he was white, he was not the right sort. He even had trouble getting published with a fossil of Australopithecus Africanus in hand. All due to the bias against a white man, not born in the UK, who had an idea outside of the mainstream. It may also have been bias against the very idea that humanity originated in Africa. For decades instead it was thought that humanity originated in west Asia. Even Java man from east Asia got a frosty reception.
One may say “well of course that is squishy, touchy feely paleontology. The “ologies” are well known for being borderline pseudoscience!” Richard Feynman’s opinion expressed in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” sums that attitude up nicely.
Theoretical physics, the hardest science there is, has had this issue. Being disbelieved, at least in part, because of who the theorist is has certainly and unquestionably occurred. This has even occurred when theories fit the available data nicely.
Satyendra Nath Bose was a scholar from British India who “only” had a master’s degree, presented a “mistaken” application of statistics to particles in a lecture to students. It turned out to agree with experimental observations. He wrote it up and submitted it to a journal. It was rejected. Then he submitted it directly to Albert Einstein who agreed with it. Up to this point he has done things which are supposedly wrong. In 2019 one is supposed to humbly admit to students they are wrong, and just forget about an idea if one journal rejects it, certainly don’t mail it off to a famous scientist looking for help. Bose would’ve scored highly on John Baez’s, tongue in cheek, “crackpot index” and Einstein possibly would’ve had his arXiv endorsement privileges revoked.
Bose was different though. Einstein wrote his own paper agreeing with him. Then insisted that they be published at the same time, together. He saw to it that Bose also got published. Professor Bose was the wrong race, from the wrong place, with the wrong degree. In his lifetime he was treated with racism and his ideas even after publication were not fully believed for a long time. Even though they clearly agreed with experiment.
He is not just responsible for some obscure statistics. A whole class of particles that obey those statistics, the Bosons, are named after him. Bosons include, light, gravitons of gravity, just about anything we think of as “pure energy”. Bosons also include combinations of matter particles which can occupy the same quantum state a Bose-Einstein condensate, such as superfluid helium.
Yet somehow, he did not get either a PhD or a Nobel Prize. Maybe he was too smart for a doctorate and too far ahead of the curve for the Nobel committee. Certainly, being an indigenous colonial in the British Empire did not help.
Only with the test of time and experimental data has the human bias against him been eroded away to expose the solid basalt of truth. Bose was, in my opinion, one of the ten greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th century. The most numerous particles in the universe are all referred to by his name for a reason. Yet bias cleary shaped his career.
If it were not for the help of Einstein a man forced to flee from Germany because you know... Hitler... he'd likely not be known to us now. Speaking of which Hitler thought atomic science was too Jewish and embraced talk of a racial Deutche Physik. Considering that he liked Rocket science I am for once OK with a fool being biased. Strange to think if Einstein's Miracle year had been in 1935 instead of 1905 it may never have happened. All due to bias.
Bias Starts Young And Runs Deep.
Then there is the well known “Draw A Scientist” test. This is where both children and adults are asked to draw a picture of a scientist. When this is done most pictures are of wild haired, older, white, men in lab coats. Even if one wants to say most scientist are white men for umpteen unbiased reasons. See above, unless you are old enough to be gray, and wear a lab coat, and act like Doc Brown from “Back to the Future”, or Rick from “Rick and Morty”, the general public may be skeptical.
The image of who should be a scientist, and how scientist act, is strongly implanted in people from a young age. Along with a healthy dose of anti-intellectualism.
From cute cartoons to the “Big Bang Theory”. If you are a scientist and not like that then you are at a disadvantage. If you are a scientist and are anything like that then prepare to be painted with the mad scientist stereotype. This was done, by the FBI, to Bruce Ivins a US army scientist who in death was accused of sending the post 9/11 anthrax letters. To this day there is no actual proof he did anything other than the very fact he was a capable scientist.
Knowing this, it does not surprise me that physicists, and the general public, will display bias. We are part of the culture, not separate from it, not above it, and not next to it. We eat, drink, and breath like everyone else.
These reasons are why you should read Dr Weinstein’s paper "Making Black Women Scientists under White Empiricism: The Racialization of Epistemology in Physics".
So Wrong About TMT And Indigenous Issues
Physicists writing about social justice issues has a checkered past. Physicist Alan Sokal famously published a completely bogus article in the well-known journal “Social text”. More recently three scholars in humanities wrote 20 utterly obviously fake papers and they were accepted in journals in those fields. People who truly believe in humanities and wish to defend their honor now have to look askance at papers in those type of journals. Use the right buzz words and they may publish just about anything.
Let me make this perfectly clear, Prof Weinstein is NOT hoaxing. She really means what she wrote. This is serious scholarship. In an age where one can only be… not sure if serious or trolling… she is serious. She is 95% A+ correct about most of what she wrote.
The following however is wrong and colonizes an issue that is mainly between Kanaka Maoli, Native Hawaiians, and Hawaiian Natives and residents more broadly. Rather than pulling a sentence from its context here is most of the paragraph.
As we enter an era where physics and astronomy are both studied and practiced by increasingly larger teams with wide geographic footprints, these social dynamics will become important in new ways. For example, in the debate about the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the question of which epistemologies merit legitimate consideration is intimately tied to white empiricism (Swanner 2013; Salazar 2014; Kuwada 2015). White empiricism can help explain why the Thirty Meter Telescope was evaluated so differentially by Mauna Kea protectors and telescope-using scientists, resulting in a specious debate over who was for and who was against science. Protectors, who do not subscribe to white empiricism, have been forced to repeatedly challenge press coverage that tends to assign a higher knowledge prestige to the role of nonindigenous scientists than to cultural knowledge holders of indigenous communities (Fox and Prescod-Weinstein 2019).(1)
I will let the following people respond to her with their easy to find videos.
With all due respect I wonder if she’s done due diligence in trying to listen to Kanaka who are for TMT? If so, how could she possibly write what she wrote?
They clearly have way more cultural knowledge and know when people in their indigenous group are full of baloney. (Just as I know that about American Indians sometimes…. i.e. trying to call the name of my great ancestor a racial slur… BULL )
There are Kanaka on both sides. Yet, according to Weinstein, somehow this has something to do with black feminism. As black people we did not colonize Hawaii. In 1893 or even 1953 we could not even get a drink of water where we wanted. Thus, we are most neutral on this matter unless we live there. Making this a black civil rights issue of any sort is not a thing anyone there wants.
The protest of TMT has revealed some real, heartbreaking, saddening, and current injustices in Hawaii. Lands truly promised by US and state law not being distributed to Kanaka Maoli beneficiaries in a timely fashion. A state that has become more and more a playground for the rich and for tourist leaving behind the normal people. With a fear that the benefits of TMT will only go to outsiders, and that somehow it will harm their land in ways they are being lied to about.
The thing is none of those will be helped by stopping TMT. In fact, it will demonstrably make things worse. You can’t get a high-tech job in a facility that does not exist because you protested someone not of your group also having a chance to get that job.
Calling all of those people "colonized" or that they "subscribe to white empiricism" (never mind the many East Asian, Indian, and Middle eastern astronomers past, present and future) etc is a very educated version of this.
Relating To The Kanaka Maoli, The Right Way.
Take them on their own terms. Don't go kissing up to them. Don't be hostile to them unless they are hostile to you. Don't frame their issues as identically the same as mainland issues. The last one of which can mean having to push back when some of them try to appropriate mainland issues or tropes for telling their own stories.
Pro sovereignty Kanaka Maoli don’t even want their issues to be confused with those of us “tribal” Indians. The TMT issue looks like a pro Hawaiian sovereignty movement at this point. They welcome support of course but the issues are not the same. After all, they had a kingdom with recognized diplomatic relations with countries. Never mind that “tribal” Indians did have such things too.
Like this gift to the last powerful Weroansqua of the Pamunkey Indians and clearly recognized Manmanatowick of the Powhatan, Cockacoeske who the English called a queen and made treaties with and tried to comply with. The treaty of Middle Plantation she made with England now stands as a basis for federal recognition of the Pamunkey Indians and of their reservation in Virginia which has never been ceded to anyone. (If anyone ask to my knowledge no one in my family is related to them since the early 1700's. They are part of my heritage though.)
So "tribal Indians" do have that in common with the Kanaka and their kingdom, as well as oppression in the early 20th century. The real difference is ethnic cleansing, removal, and genocide. Had that happened then all the Kanaka Maoli would’ve been forcibly removed from all or most of Hawaii.
They also never experienced anything like the hundreds of years of chattel slavery. They were never bought and sold off to another continent, another island, or to another place on that island unless it was done before contact by Kanaka to Kanaka.
They had a kingdom that was overthrown. Their sovereignty was taken, then they were treated like second class citizens in their own country, not even taught their language in their schools. (Which is not the same as it being “banned”. The laws that prescribed death for black people learning to read were what a ban looks like.) All the while being told their new country was all about freedom and equality.
It is simply not correct to conflate any American Indian or Kanaka Maoli issue with the Black civil rights struggle. We should just take them on their own terms. The only intersections laying in the bodies of those with both ancestries.
Keep comments civil. Personally, attacking anyone mentioned in this article, in any way, will not be tolerated. Be strident about the facts not about the people. For one thing it is a logical fallacy to attack people. Focus on the content of their messages, assuming you understand how they speak or write, not how they have said them, or who they are. Especially if you are here to defend what Dr Weinstein wrote since that was the point of her paper.
Focus on content, intent, and meaning of what is being said not the person or personality of the speaker. That is the TL;DR of her paper minus anti TMT stuff.
1. Making Black Women Scientists under White Empiricism: The Racialization of Epistemology in Physics. Prescod-Weinstein, Chanda. 2, Chicago : UIniversity of Chicago Press, 2020, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 45, pp. 421-447. https://doi.org/10.1086/704991
Between when I started to compose this and publishing it it seems some people are being critical because ... she was unfair to Quantum Gravity researchers.
It should not be controversial to say that relatively speaking, string theory is more speculative than Black women telling you about racism and sexism they experience for their entire lives.— Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (@IBJIYONGI) December 10, 2019
For the permanent record, I do 100% agree with her stance on quantum gravity research as a quantum gravity researcher. It is theory constrained only by the observations that support GR and QFT. If a theory comports with those observations then it is in, it is equal. The absurdity of it being treated as proven while discrimination which can be shown by data is unproven is very telling. She ought to get one or two humanities publications out of that.