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Sunday, August 29, 2021

Anna Krylov and the Peril of Bullshit part 3

PART 1 ~ PART 2 ~ PART 3 ~ PART 4

Now, as I was saying, when someone promotes an opinion within the realm of science that Anna Krylov disagrees with, they are "politicizing science." 

When Anna Krylov agrees with an opinion in the realm of science, it is The Truth.

In Philip Ball's response to  Krylov's essay The Peril of Politicizing Science, Ball wrote:
Krylov cites Robert Merton’s “clear separation between science and morality”. But Merton’s notion of a “pure science”, while it might have suited Heisenberg well, “sits in tension with the historical reality that scientists have always had patrons with motivations of their own, and which only rarely involved the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake”, according to Oreskes.(32)

“Seen this way,” Oreskes says, “the idea of science as a value-neutral activity is a myth.”(33) Not only is it patently untrue (as history shows again and again), but it is also a poor strategy for winning public trust. Why would you believe and trust someone who professes to bring no values to their work, to do it free from all ideologies, biases, and social preconceptions? And why would you want to? It is far preferable to lay our values on the table where they can be discussed and challenged than to pretend or insist that the scientific community is engaged in some rarefied pursuit free from all social, political, and ideological influence.
Scientific American published an article prior to Krylov's, in October 2020, entitled Yes, Science is Political which says:
Science, however, has always been political; the events of 2020 have only made the relationship between science and society more explicit. We are in the midst of a pandemic and a climate crisis, both solvable by centering scientific expertise. When our government ignores scientists, the consequences can be fatal, disproportionately so for Black, brown and Indigenous communities. Americans are suffering from wildfire-induced poor air quality. More than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Yet, as our nation grapples with the pandemic, our current (Trump) administration believes that “science shouldn’t stand in the way” of business as usual.
Krylov believes that an article praising Trump administration education schemes is "insightful" and evidence that Quillette is not a rightwing publication.

We've already seen that Krylov redefines the word "politicizing" to suit her own agenda. But it's even worse in her essay.

Krylov provides 14 examples of "cancellation":
  1. Soviets changed the name of a city
  2. Images of Trotsky and Kamenev erased from Soviet photographs
  3. Soviets reconsider their former admiration of Stalin
  4. The phenomenon where some people's reputations rising in relation to those whose reputations' have fallen
  5. An article proposes avoiding the use of names in science terms
  6. The renaming of a science prize
  7. Renaming a science term
  8. Renaming a science term
  9. Renaming of a science term
  10. Renaming of a science term
  11. Burned at the stake
  12. Asked not to show up at an awards ceremony
  13. Chemical castration
  14. A soap company reconsiders a word
So "cancellation" in Krylov's lexicon can mean anything from renaming a science term to murder.  She wrote:
The issue of science moralization and censorship is older than 20th century totalitarian regimes. For example, Giordano Bruno was canceled (burned at the stake in 1600) 
It appears to me she might be deliberately equating those who wish to rename science terms with murderers. 

Although perhaps it wasn't intentional - perhaps she was so inflamed by her own righteous indignation against "cancel culture" she couldn't be bothered to soberly assess her use of the term "cancel" in this essay.

But then Krylov asks rhetorically:
Do words have life and power of their own? Can they really cause injury? Do they carry hidden messages? The ideology claims so and encourages us all to be on the constant lookout...
Do words carry hidden messages? You tell me, Krylov - what does it mean to use the same word for renaming a science term as you use to describe murder? 

And if words don't cause injury, why is Krylov making such a big issue out of renaming science terms? 
Today’s censorship does not stop at purging the scientific vocabulary of the names of scientists who “crossed the line” or fail the ideological litmus tests of the Elect.11 In some schools,33,34 physics classes no longer teach “Newton’s Laws”, but “the three fundamental laws of physics”. Why was Newton canceled? Because he was white, and the new ideology10,12,15 calls for “decentering whiteness” and “decolonizing” the curriculum...
Who does it harm if Newton's Laws are called "the three fundamental laws of physics"? Certainly not Newton, who died almost 300 years ago. But a few paragraphs later, Krylov leaves no doubt that she believes that changing a term is a cataclysmic event:
The answer is simple: our future is at stake. As a community, we face an important choice. We can succumb to extreme left ideology and spend the rest of our lives ghost-chasing and witch-hunting, rewriting history, politicizing science, redefining elements of language, and turning STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education into a farce. Or we can uphold a key principle of democratic society - the free and uncensored exchange of ideas and continue our core mission, the pursuit of truth, focusing attention on solving real, important problems of humankind.
Do words have life and power of their own? Which is it Krylov, are words lifeless and powerless, or does using different words to indicate Newton's Laws mean OUR FUTURE IS AT STAKE?

It's clear what Krylov means by "the free and uncensored exchange of ideas" - she means only ideas she agrees with. When others merely proposed a new approach to science terminology, she called that an example of "cancel culture."

Krylov appears to be having it both ways, in the Steven Pinker tradition and Pinker echos her in the tweet I shared in Part 1: "...she exposes the primitive word magic of language-cancellers: that words have dreadful powers, independent of usage, convention & context."

Krylov and Pinker scoff at the dreadful power of words, yet agree that swapping out words is an existential threat.

Now as it happens, I don't think it's necessary to change "Newton's Laws" to "the three fundamental laws of physics." I don't think retaining the original term "centers whiteness." As with many anti-racist proposals, this is ultimately useless and beside the point. The reason that whiteness is "centered" has nothing to do with the fact that Isaac Newton discovered laws of physics. The extreme racism that has prevented Black Americans from thriving in the United States is the result of complex socio-economic forces that will not be improved by changing science terms. 

The reason that there are so many of these kinds of band-aid proposals to fix racism is because affecting real fundamental change via socio-economic opportunity is so much harder to do, and it takes so much longer to accomplish.

But even band-aids make some people feel better, and they don't hurt me nor - contrary to Krylov's Pinkerite hysteria - anybody else. So why not go along with the change instead of promoting panic? 

After all they are "three fundamental laws of physics" so why is it so terrible to call them that? It seems to be an accepted practice to use the term Theory of Relativity. Does Krylov also throw a tantrum whenever Einstein's name is left out? 

And is "cancellation" always bad? Using Krylov's lexicon,  I will argue in part 4 that cancellation can be a good thing, even from Krylov's own point of view.