The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
Humanity is doomed if we let woke zealots destroy scientific truth
In 2012, enrolled on a gender studies MPhil, I was shocked to discover a body of feminist thought that claimed that science itself – as in, the natural sciences – is patriarchal and sexist. Admittedly, some of the arguments were rather fun – if clearly bonkers. My favourite was the idea that science is a metaphorical rape of nature, plundered for male, Western kicks and the drive to dominate.
Other arguments were less mad. It’s not too outlandish to think that the mostly male researchers who created the disciplines of biology and psychology inevitably shaped them around male concerns. This had, and still has to some degree, a bearing on how things like women’s brains, evolution, hormones and physical capacity are studied.
Evidently, then, science is to some extent guided by the questions we ask of it, and our interpretations of the results. And of course there are debates over those interpretations, and there are explanations that are proved false, and improved upon, and again discredited.
But that does not mean that the results themselves – the data, the natural occurrences singled out for study – are just another subjective realm. A cell is a cell, a bacteria count is a bacteria count, the laws of thermodynamics are the laws of thermodynamics. The job of science and maths is to get closer to what is true. Not in a relative way only of benefit to “privileged” groups, but full stop. Scientific knowledge about the natural world is not “Western”, or “white”, or “gendered”.
Thanks to the ongoing spread of woke philosophy, however, that consensus – which gave the world antibiotics and aeroplanes, vaccines, IVF, televisions, computers and an understanding of evolution, DNA and all the other bedrocks of modern medicine, safety, speed, comfort and entertainment – is fraying.
Consider how, under former prime minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s government wanted to put the indigenous Matauranga Maori, or “Ways of Knowing”, on the school science curriculum – effectively presenting it as equivalent to science. As the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who recently returned from a speaking tour of the country, pointed out: “New Zealand children will be taught the true wonder of DNA, while being simultaneously confused by the doctrine that all life throbs with a vital force conferred by the
Earth Mother and the Sky Father. Origin myths are haunting and poetic, but they belong elsewhere in the curriculum.”
The idea of teaching “Ways of Knowing” as science has still not been quashed, to the misery of many in New Zealand, including those of Maori descent. Ardern and her government were fatally attracted to the doctrines of woke and this, predictably, left the country strewn with its sinister traces.
Teaching school kids that science is somehow racist – and that they should take their pick about what they want to believe – is a cruel and dangerous experiment. But it is not a surprising one. Look how efficiently the logic of intersectionality, which demands the sacrifice of reality on the altar of competing oppressions, maligns the tenets of basic biology as no more than a regressive and transphobic conspiracy of – you guessed it – “cis-gendered” males.
This has led to outcomes like the over-hasty prescription of puberty-blocking or cross-sex hormones to children confused about their gender identity in a society that all but instructs them to be confused about it. It has led to medics in the US and the UK being frightened of using the word “woman”.
American universities, meanwhile, devote pages and pages to the apparent new job of science: to be “anti-racist”. One provides a large “resource” titled “10 Simple Rules for Building an Anti-Racist Lab”.
In 2021, notoriously, Ivy League students at Cornell University were offered a course titled: “Black Holes: Race and the Cosmos”, which gave students the chance to consider the following: “Conventional wisdom would have it that the ‘black’ in black holes has nothing to do with race. Surely there can be no connection between the cosmos and the idea of racial blackness. Can there?
US universities devote pages to the apparent new job of science: to be ‘anti-racist’
Contemporary Black Studies theorists, artists, fiction writers implicitly and explicitly posit just such a connection.”
So the postmodern mockery of truth that underpins wokeness is now extending well beyond the humanities into areas that, until five minutes ago, had been spared.
Even things like punctuality, grammar, speaking well and writing properly are on the hit-list. We learn from the “organiser-scholars” Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones, summarised in Stanford’s Social Innovation Review, that “professionalism has become coded language for white favouritism in workplace practices that more often than not privilege the values of white and Western employees and leave behind people of colour.”
In the dock are “dress code, speech, work style, and timeliness”. Even “vocabulary and syntax can be a means for employment discrimination”.
In part because our lives depend on it, we must not let science fall under this totally insane view of the world. We’ve lost much to the woke forces of obscurantism already.
But a world in which it is not only possible, but actively encouraged, to strip science of its epistemological integrity – the quest for what is true and what is possible – and to treat it as though it were merely yet another discussion of people’s feelings, or a political platform for condemning racism and transphobia, is a world that is not destined to last very long.