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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Anna Krylov and the Peril of Bullshit part 4


Anna Krylov believes that when she advocates for women in STEM, it isn't political it's "fairness and merit-based approach." But those who propose a change in science term conventions are motivated by naive idealism or cynical power-grabbing.

I don't happen to agree that changing science labels, in most cases, will be efficacious in promoting fairness and a merit-based approach, but I am certainly willing to grant that those who wish to change the terms are every bit as motivated by a desire for fairness as Krylov claims to be.

Krylov's free and easy use of the term "cancellation" is not only curious because she uses it for such a diverse collection of things she doesn't like, it's also curious because she uses it, in one case at least, for something she surely must like

In her essay The Peril of Politicizing Science, Krylov provides this example of a series of cancellations - my highlight:

I grew up in a city that in its short history (barely over 150 years) had its name changed three times.2,3 Founded in 1869 around a steel plant and several coal mines built by the Welsh industrialist John Hughes, the settlement was originally called Hughesovka (or Yuzovka). When the Bolsheviks came to power in the 1917 Revolution, the new government of the working class, the Soviets, set out to purge the country of ideologically impure influences in the name of the proletariat and the worldwide struggle of the suppressed masses. Cities and geographical landmarks were renamed,4 statues were torn down, books were burned, and many millions were jailed and murdered.5 In due course, the commissars got to Yuzovka, and the city was stripped of the name of its founder, a representative of the hostile class of oppressors and a Westerner. In modern terms, Hughes was canceled. For a few months, the city was called Trotsk (after Leon Trotsky), until Trotsky lost in the power struggle inside the party and was himself canceled (see Figure 1). In 1924 the city became the namesake of the new supreme leader of the Communist Party (Stalin), and a few years later renamed to Stalino. My mother’s school certificates have Stalino on them. 

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the Communist party underwent some reckoning and admitted that several decades of terror and many millions of murdered citizens were somewhat excessive. Stalin was canceled: his body was removed from the Mausoleum at Red Square (where it had been displayed next to Lenin’s); textbooks and encyclopedias were rewritten once again; and the cities, institutions, and landmarks bearing his name were promptly renamed. Stalino became Donetsk, after the river Severskii Donets.

I think we can conclude that Krylov is not a fan of Stalin, since she writes: 

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the Communist party underwent some reckoning and admitted that several decades of terror and many millions of murdered citizens were somewhat excessive.

And yet, she summarizes anti-Stalin changes made by the Soviet Union to books, cities, institutions and landmarks as well the removal of Stalin's body from Red Square as "Stalin was canceled."

Surely Krylov is not complaining about depriving a murderous dictator of his former honors. She gives an example of renaming Stalino to Donetsk, after a river. Not even after another Communist overlord, but a river

So it seems fair to conclude that, sometimes, according to Krylov's own lexicon, cancellation can be a good thing.

Although she didn't respond to my last email, I emailed Krylov again because I was curious - does she consider removing the names of Confederate generals from public buildings, and the removal of Confederate statues and flags from public lands, examples of cancel culture? If she responds, I will report on it in another post.

Towards the end of her essay Krylov portrays Stalin as an exemplar of the follies of cancel culture, but those paragraphs also demonstrate the absurdity of Krylov's extreme paranoia over contemporary perils:

 In the late forties, after nuclear physicists explained that without relativity theory there will be no nuclear bomb, Stalin rolled back the planned campaign against physics and instructed Beria to give physicists some space; this led to significant advances and accomplishments by Soviet scientists in several domains. However, neither Stalin nor the subsequent Soviet leaders were able to let go of the controls completely.

Government control over science turned out to be a grand failure, and the attempts to patch the widening gap between the West and the East by espionage did not help.17 Today Russia is hopelessly behind the West, in both technology and quality of life. The book Totalitarian Science and Technology provides many more examples of such failed experiments.17

Today, STEM holds the key to solving problems far more important than the nuclear arms race: reversing climate change, fighting global hunger and poverty, controlling pandemics, and harnessing the power of new technologies (quantum computing, bioengineering, and renewable energy) for the benefit of humanity

Normalizing ideological intrusion into science and abandoning Mertonian principles24 will cost us dearly. We cannot afford it.

As discussed in part 3 of this series, Krylov compares "cancel culture" to murder. But the murder of Giordano Bruno was in 1600 and perpetrated by what was, at the time, the all-powerful Catholic Church. Another extreme example of cancel culture provided, the chemical castration (among other things) of Alan Turing, is from 1952. She also gives examples of "cancellation" from Soviet Russia, an infamously authoritarian state that no longer exists.

Of the 14 times Krylov gives examples of "cancellation," seven of them are contemporary:
  1. An article proposes avoiding the use of names in science terms
  2. The renaming of a science prize
  3. Renaming a science term
  4. Renaming a science term
  5. Renaming of a science term
  6. Renaming of a science term
  7. A soap company reconsiders a word
So to summarize, the evidence for contemporary crimes against science are:
  1. A renaming proposal
  2. Five renamings
  3. A corporation tweaked its marketing copy
It's likely the reason Krylov includes the extreme examples from the past is because her contemporary examples are laughably minor, and do not demonstrate anything close to the grave threat to science that religions or governments could. They are barely consequential actions - or just a proposal in one case - that Krylov does not agree with. But with no evidence, other than slippery slope ad absurdum, she asserts they are a threat to our very future

She truly is a member of the Quillette/IDW industrial complex.