University of Southern California chemist Anna Krylov argued in a recent article1 by doing Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters Letter that science is dangerously politicized. In an answer2 in the same journal I have argued that science itself has always been political; The question is not how to prevent this, but what to do about it.
University of Southern California chemist Anna Krylov wrote a recent article in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters Letter that science is dangerously politicized.1 In an answer in the same magazine2 I have argued that science itself has always been political; The question is not how to prevent this, but what to do about it.
Indeed, Krylov’s article is a prime example of politics disguised as objectivity. “I witness ever increasing attempts to subjugate science and education to ideological control and censorship,” she says – referring to discussions of racial and gender bias and imbalances, the adequacy of nominative monuments such as William Shockley (an overt racist) and calls for justice, diversity and social justice. Such efforts are examples of an “extreme left ideology” that “turns STEM education into a farce”.
There is an important point here: we need to have a thoughtful discussion of whether and when institutions and awards should be renamed if the people they are named have values that are detrimental to promoting equality in science today. As I say in my answer, the initial removal of Peter Debye’s name from the Nanomaterial Institute of Utrecht University when he was accused of collusion with the Nazis in 20063 was premature and thoughtless. “Canceling” it is not the solution – but neither is pretending that there is no case to respond to.
Politicized statements are smuggled into chemical literature under the guise of objectivity
Krylov implies that any review of scientific practices in the light of Black Lives Matter and well-documented racial, gender, and class discrimination poses a threat to democracy and the pursuit of truth on par with that of the Stalinist Soviet Union. Along with her quotation from sources like the 2020 book Cynical theories (co-authored by a right-wing provocateur), this exposes her article as deeply politicized. (Your frequent citing of Wikipedia as a historical source, meanwhile, exposes it as something else.) As with the recent infamous example where a review of developments in organic synthesis condemned efforts towards a more inclusive science, we could reasonably feel concerned that politicized Statements are smuggled into the chemical literature under the guise of objectivity.
This underscores the point of view of science historian Naomi Oreskes: When scientists argue that they present their work in a value-neutral manner, we should not only not believe them, but rightly not really trust them. Sure, we probably don’t have to worry that someone’s Marxist leanings have infiltrated their Arrhenius plots – but there is a good reason why scholars are asked to indicate possible conflicts of interest and sources of funding in their papers.
The contrast between Oreskes’ careful discussion of science and values in her most recent book Why Trust Science? and Krylov’s simplistic analysis couldn’t be more blatant. Speaking of which: Krylov says that naming the Stark effect after the German physicist and Nobel Prize winner Johannes Stark “does not cause me any emotional reactions”. Perhaps this is because Stark simply “defends the expulsion of Jews from German institutions” (as she puts it) and does not know that he was an ardent Nazi and a vicious anti-Semite, the Hitler “God’s gift from times when the Races purer were called ‘.’
The elimination of tributes to racists, racists, and slavers is not the abolition of history, but its opposite
It is a peculiar equivalence offered by Krylov. She tells us that Marie Curie was almost canceled by the Nobel Committee because of the immorality of her affair with Paul Langevin and that Alan Turing was canceled because of the immorality of his homosexuality. Space is tight so I can only add that these are caricatures of real history. But isn’t it strange to say that we should hesitate to stop honoring racists because we would give in to the same impulse behind the past oppression or exclusion of women, gays or “non-Aryans”?
Historians have repeatedly pointed out that the removal of statues and other obeisances to racists, racists and slave traders is not the undoing of history, but rather its opposite: a recognition of history that is glossed over by these public celebrations. Awards and accolades distort this story: a scientist with uncomfortable views enjoys much more notoriety and tolerance when he has a Nobel Prize, as was shown in the case of James Watson’s racist views.
Krylov is right that “Scientists are not saints. They are people who were born into places and times that they did not choose. ‘ It is absurd, however, to suggest that by naming things after them we do not exalt and sanctify them to a certain extent. Personally, I can live with the Debye Length and the Haber Trial, but I don’t think it would be very wise to keep creating such hostages.