Astronomy Becomes the Playground of the Social Left

 

This isn’t a shocking novelty to me, and it isn’t my first post on this topic. Yet it makes me despair when I see astronomy conferences taken over by irrelevant left-wing social issues. There’s an astrobiology conference going on now and, while I’m not there, I’ve been enjoying following the discoveries and new research online.

Today, though, the NASA Astrobiology Twitter feed is preoccupied with retweeting social issues that are apparently coming up. My inspiration for the post is this tweet, which complains about color-blindness in the workplace. Remember: racism is wrong because we’re all the same, deep down, and if you treat everybody the same, you’re a racist for not recognizing our differences. Her follow-up tweet here reminds us that because we need to make the culture of science inclusive, which means explicitly excluding “white male” science culture. This tweet celebrates the underrepresentation of men on one discussion panel, while this tweet complains about their overrepresentation on another.

I avoided this year’s big American Astronomical Society meeting in part because of the town hall session titled “Racism: Racial Prejudice Plus Power.” Note the session’s axiom:

We operate under the assumption that all people are created equal. If given the same choices and opportunities, all people will make choices that lead to beneficial life outcomes. Thus, any disparate and insidious outcome (e.g., astro demographics) is not natural/intrinsic, but created/extrinsic.

Remember what an axiom is? It is a statement of truth that is so fundamental that you don’t need to prove it. This “axiom” implies that all groups of people would choose to become astronomers at the same rate, if it weren’t for racism. There are no internal cultural differences that could possibly affect their choices, no differing priorities. Every difference in demographics must be due to racism.

Are fewer than 50% of astronomers women? That’s because of sexism. Conversely, are fewer than 50% of, say, schoolteachers men? Nurses? What about English majors? Women’s studies majors? That’s not sexism, though — except that because men freely choose not to go into these fields, that points to their own sexism in devaluing the work of schoolteachers and English majors.

Even better, get a hold of this page’s “About Us“:

“We are committed to an intersectional feminist approach combined with a framework of cultural materialism to understand the past and present repercussions of systemic oppression of marginalized groups on our ability to study the Universe

Please see the Resources page for a list of vocabulary words and background reading.”

That last sentence kind of cracks me up.

But it worries me that we’ve hit the point when this radicalism becomes the norm even in a scientific field, and none of us will be brave enough to speak up against it in public. I’m sure not!

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  1. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I’d love to see someone go to a conference on racism and give a talk about astrophysics.

    • #1
  2. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    While they’re all wasting their time denying that group differences exist, the rest of us are busy doing science.

    • #2
  3. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Burn down the academy. It is clearly past its Use By Date. At the very least, cease to provide it with taxpayer funds.

    • #3
  4. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Wow, I guess there aren’t enough stars, planets, and universe to explore and study to keep everyone busy. Perhaps we are spending too much time looking for intelligent life out in the universe, although I’m not sure we would be able to recognize intelligent life on another planet since the bar for intelligent life seems pretty low on our own world.

    • #4
  5. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I keep saying it.

    But conservatives need to become very familiar with EO laws, and learn how to use them.

    • #5
  6. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Mike H (View Comment):
    While they’re all wasting their time denying that group differences exist, the rest of us are busy doing science.

    At this rate not for long, social justice physics coming soon to your academic institution of choice.

    • #6
  7. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    It looks like they suffer from the grave sin of binary thinking.  The T in GLBTXYZASF is telling us that gender can fluctuate daily.  Those formenting revolution should be aware that it will eat its own.  All hail the end of affirmative action.

    • #7
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Mike H (View Comment):
    While they’re all wasting their time denying that group differences exist, the rest of us are busy doing science.

    While they’re getting all your funding, what will you do then?

    • #8
  9. KC Mulville Inactive
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    Tim H.: Note the session’s axiom,

    “We operate under the assumption that all people are created equal. If given the same choices and opportunities, all people will make choices that lead to beneficial life outcomes. Thus, any disparate and insidious outcome (e.g. astro demographics) is not natural/intrinsic, but created/extrinsic.

    Game theory shows why that axiom is … naïve. If the other members of a group choose in a certain way, then it is usually a strategic advantage for other individuals to choose differently. And, often, it doesn’t matter whether the “other” choice is better or worse than the consensus – the mere fact that it’s different makes it strategically superior.

    “Disparate” outcomes are not, therefore, signs of external dysfunction … in a group, they’re perfectly predictable and expected behavior.

     

    • #9
  10. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):
    While they’re all wasting their time denying that group differences exist, the rest of us are busy doing science.

    While they’re getting all your funding, what will you do then?

    I don’t get funding from the government.

    • #10
  11. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Mike H (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):
    While they’re all wasting their time denying that group differences exist, the rest of us are busy doing science.

    While they’re getting all your funding, what will you do then?

    I don’t get funding from the government.

    • #11
  12. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):
    I’d love to see someone go to a conference on racism and give a talk about astrophysics.

    I’d love to do this. It’ll make a great travel grant proposal.

    • #12
  13. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    Tim, this is why I never go to any of the non-Astro/cosmology sessions in these conferences and collaboration meetings. I came for the physics updates. I didn’t come to be lectured at. It probably wouldn’t look great if I spent the entire time rolling my eyes.

    Besides, it doesn’t benefit me to say anything. I’m just trying to graduate.

    • #13
  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Also from one of the linked pages:

    White male stereotypes of geek culture can mean decorations like SciFi posters result in women interviewees performing poorly.

    Sigh.  Thank goodness I don’t have to interview people.  If the Hillary for Prison – 2016 bumper sticker or this card

    on my wall don’t scare women off, I hardly think my Battlestar Galactica poster will do it.

    • #14
  15. Penfold Member
    Penfold
    @Penfold

    I was just at a regional amateur astronomer’s conference last weekend.  And while us amateurs hold conferences that are nowhere near as  scientifically cutting edge or serious, we do have some great speakers.  In this case, we heard from a very nice PHD who’s studies are centered on firing stuff at high speeds into various materials and varying atmospheric conditions while recording the events with high speed cameras.  Is that cool or what?  No social issue there, though I’m surprised her university allows guns on campus.  These are pretty special guns.  What a woman.  If only I was 30 years younger.

    • #15
  16. Joe P Member
    Joe P
    @JoeP

    I’m so glad that I didn’t go to grad school.

    Is this particular form of mental illness going to fizzle out soon? Asking because I’m not sure what to tell my unborn children about college.

    • #16
  17. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    That slide is pure soviet socialism from the 1920’s.

    • #17
  18. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Tim H.: “We operate under the assumption that all people are created equal. If given the same choices and opportunities, all people will make choices that lead to beneficial life outcomes.”

    In all fairness, doesn’t that raise questions about why anyone would become an astronomer by vocation?

    • #18
  19. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    Larry3435 (View Comment):

    Tim H.: “We operate under the assumption that all people are created equal. If given the same choices and opportunities, all people will make choices that lead to beneficial life outcomes.”

    In all fairness, doesn’t that raise questions about why anyone would become an astronomer by vocation?

    I try not to think about it too much.

    • #19
  20. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Where to the funds for the organization come from?   What power do they have over astro physicists?  Why can’t they be replaced with a serious organization? Why can’t the leadership   be replaced by astrophysicists rather than political activists?

    • #20
  21. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Where to the funds for the organization come from? What power do they have over astro physicists? Why can’t they be replaced with a serious organization? Why can’t the leadership be replaced by astrophysicists rather than political activists?

    Because activists prefer to operate in societies middleware, while people other than activists prefer to actually do the stuff.

    Its just a cultural difference with an expression in preferences.

    • #21
  22. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Why can’t they be replaced with a serious organization? Why can’t the leadership be replaced by astrophysicists rather than political activists?

    Because activists prefer to operate in society’s middleware, while people other than activists prefer to actually do the stuff.

    I think we on the non-left need to adopt Leninist tactics if we are to fight Leninist tactics. Or eschew organizations.

    • #22
  23. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Where to the funds for the organization come from? What power do they have over astro physicists? Why can’t they be replaced with a serious organization? Why can’t the leadership be replaced by astrophysicists rather than political activists?

    Because activists prefer to operate in societies middleware, while people other than activists prefer to actually do the stuff.

    Its just a cultural difference with an expression in preferences.

    It can only happen if organizations develop a white collar specialized middle which happens when they become mature.  They need to be killed and started over before that happens.  This is part of Parkinson’s law isn’t it?  That tells us something about organizations and what happens with time.

    • #23
  24. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Larry3435 (View Comment):

    Tim H.: “We operate under the assumption that all people are created equal. If given the same choices and opportunities, all people will make choices that lead to beneficial life outcomes.”

    In all fairness, doesn’t that raise questions about why anyone would become an astronomer by vocation?

    Yes!  One (of probably several) fallacy they make is thinking that everyone must have the same attitudes as to what are the best life choices.  But we have free will, and we’re individuals, not herd animals.  This is patently false.  Trivially so!

    • #24
  25. Lily Bart Inactive
    Lily Bart
    @LilyBart

    Tim H.: Remember: racism is wrong because we’re all the same, deep down, and if you treat everybody the same, you’re a racist for not recognizing our differences.

    This does seem to be the view these days.

    You know, I have a dream that someday people will be judged on the content of their character.  Crazy, I know!    And it doesn’t allow special interest groups to amass power, so its probably just a fantasy.

     

     

    • #25
  26. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Where to the funds for the organization come from? What power do they have over astro physicists? Why can’t they be replaced with a serious organization? Why can’t the leadership be replaced by astrophysicists rather than political activists?

    The American Astronomical Society is funded in part by our membership dues and (largely, I understand) by our conference registration fees.  These people are astrophysicists, but more and more of them are becoming influenced by these themes from sociology and *-studies courses, even if it wasn’t in their major field of study.  It doesn’t take a Grievance Studies major to think this way…it doesn’t require much thinking at all beyond reading a few things on the internet and mastering the jargon.  (That link to the vocabulary list still makes me laugh.)

    I do think that these ideas are spreading during the college years and reaching non-social sciences majors through the introductory sociology or psychology courses.  Once it takes root in a person there, it can deepen its hold just from reading Tumblr or some social justice warrior’s blog.

    Does this theory strike any of you as plausible?  Did anyone here major or work in these social science fields, and could you straighten me out?

    • #26
  27. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    My wife was telling me last night that in the Gravitation section of the American Physical Society, which she belongs to, they used to talk just about physics at the meetings.  But recently, just two people—one homosexual and one transgender—joined the section, and they’re pushing these social topics at the meetings.  Only two people, and the character and feel of the meetings has changed.

    So how can we get rid of this and go back to discussing only the science?  I don’t see how it’s possible without some massive effort to stigmatize the social issues.  We’d have to make an effort to “shame” the people who raise these topics at meetings, but even if they’re a small number, they’ve got the momentum and dominate the conversation, and we are the ones who are stigmatized for not wanting to talk about it.

    • #27
  28. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    LC (View Comment):

    Larry3435 (View Comment):

    Tim H.: “We operate under the assumption that all people are created equal. If given the same choices and opportunities, all people will make choices that lead to beneficial life outcomes.”

    In all fairness, doesn’t that raise questions about why anyone would become an astronomer by vocation?

    I try not to think about it too much.

    @LC, I had to think a moment to remember your old handle, and I’d forgotten you were an astrophysicist-in-training.  What is the area you’re specializing in?

    • #28
  29. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Skyler (View Comment):
    That slide is pure soviet socialism from the 1920’s.

    Right—value people not for who they are but for what groups they represent.

    Awful.

    • #29
  30. TheRoyalFamily Member
    TheRoyalFamily
    @TheRoyalFamily

    Tim H. (View Comment):
    Does this theory strike any of you as plausible? Did anyone here major or work in these social science fields, and could you straighten me out?

    Any class or seminar on multiculturalism is going to be about social justice these days. All it takes is one short course, even one taken as a puff course for easy elective credits, to infect the mind with this meme. Doesn’t hurt that it gives some philosophical weight behind many folk’s already present politics, and promoting it is good leverage for future career moves (as long as one isn’t a white cis male). This has been in the lofty heights of the pedagogical establishment since at least the late 80’s, and I imagine in most of the -studies stuff way earlier. I imagine that once “scholars” of that generation started getting real power in the establishment, they pushed social justice theory hard, which is why it started becoming a major thing in society in the years around 2010.

    Tim H. (View Comment):
    But recently, just two people—one homosexual and one transgender—joined the section, and they’re pushing these social topics at the meetings. Only two people, and the character and feel of the meetings has changed.

    So how can we get rid of this and go back to discussing only the science?

    It would require people with backbones to shut them up and keep things on-topic. A lot of scientists don’t have that backbone – heck, a lot of people don’t – so it keeps getting bigger and bigger until one gets pushed out for opposing it.

    • #30
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