Apex "Peer Reviewed" Journal, Nature, in Free Fall
Now Publishing Literal Cartoons and Citing a Tweet as Scientific Fact
Note: This is an expanded version of a Twitter thread I posted on this earlier this week. In case you did not already know, I am (probably too) active on Twitter, but it is such an amazing source of evidence that academia has gone off the rails, that I can’t resist. You can follow me on Twitter here.
The Scientifically Dubious Nature of Nature
I do not necessarily oppose "social justice" (depends on the details). I do oppose bullshit masquerading as science in the name of social justice (or anything else). In this spirit, apex science journal Nature is in free fall. This does not mean everything published there is bad science, it isn’t. But read on and reach your own conclusions.
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Bo Winegard recently wrote about The Fall of Nature. The fall has been a long time in the making, but it keeps sinking to new lows, as reflected in its new policy of no longer evaluating submitted papers entirely on their scientific merit, but also on the basis of moral concerns. The Editor of Nature put it this way on Twitter:
Nature’s new ethical guidelines include this:
“Harms can also arise indirectly, as a result of the publication of a research project or a piece of scholarly communication – for instance, stigmatization of a vulnerable human group or potential use of the results of research for unintended purposes (e.g., public policies that undermine human rights or misuse of information to threaten public health).”
I can’t put it any better than Bo did in his article: “Editors will now enjoy unprecedented power to reject articles on the basis of nebulous moral concerns and anticipated harms.” This problem is further compounded by the finding identified in recent research showing that people tend to overestimate others’ harmful reactions to studies, and underestimate their benevolent reactions.In related news, over 80% of liberals massively overestimated the number of unarmed Black men (100 or more) killed by police in 2019 (the real number was 27). Now combine this with: 1. The massive left skew of academia; and 2. The ease with which one can find academics endorsing all sorts of bizarre and scientifically dubious ideas as long as they advocate somesort of “social justice” (such as can be found here, here, here or here, but there are many more examples like this). There is no reason to have any confidence in the academics who review papers for Nature (or the editors) to do anything but censor papers on ideological activist grounds, something the NIH has already admitted doing for genetics studies.
Science is a Hostile Obstacle Course as Per a Cartoon, a Tweet and (Psychoanalytic Interpretation) of One Black Woman’s Dream
But this is all old news (unless this is the first time you are seeing all this, and my guess is that many of you have already seen most of this). But here is the new news: Just as Rome did not fall in a day, the Fall of Nature is a Fall that keeps on Falling. The most recent sinkhole that appeared in Nature was this article, titled “Scientists from historically excluded groups face a hostile obstacle course.” Is its centerpiece data? A new theory? No. It is this cartoon:
Even though everything about this cartoon smacks of histrionic overreach, I was willing to entertain the idea that it was not completely ridiculous. Early on, it says this: "...in many ways, the experience for minoritized scholars is more like a vicious or hostile obstacle course 5,6,7,8,9,10.” The #'s, 5-10, are references. So I looked up the first one, "reference" 5. It is this tweet.
Here is the tweet in its original form:
The Nature paper's centerpiece is a cartoon and it references a tweet for support. I could be wrong, but I accept the factual part of this (8 black engineering Phds in the country at the time). However, it was not cited as evidence that there were hardly any black engineering PhDs a long time ago. It is cited as evidence for the “vicious obstacle course” — and it presents no such evidence. One might argue that the number itself is such evidence. If the argument was something like “a long time ago, Black students faced gigantic obstacles from birth due to Jim Crow and poverty” I might not think it completely ridiculous. But the article says nothing of the kind; it is all about “scientists” and “scholars” — presumably people who have already obtained college degrees (just look at the 2 figures in the cartoon — you see any 5 year olds?). Now, it is possible that there is massive evidence of oppression and discrimination in academia — but a Tweet and a cartoon that says so is not evidence and should not be cited as if it is.
Of course the paper cites other articles, too, and I did not bother to check them all. However, I have to credit @robsica on Twitter for pointing me to Reference 6 as well. Here is what the abstract says: “This article is an interpretation of the dream of an African American woman.”
If anyone had any doubt that American academic science is being degraded by activist agendas, this should put that to bed. This is worthy of the original Grievance Studies Sting/Hoax, but its no hoax.
It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Worse
The idea that “science is a vicious or hostile obstacle course” for “minoritized groups” (this is the language used in the article highlighted here) has now been published in the peer reviewed apex science journal, Nature. It has already begun taking on a life of its own, as other scholars cite it in support of the claim that “science is a vicious or hostile obstacle course for minoritized scholars.” Despite having just been published in 2022, the article already has 35 citations. I doubt that all make this point and did not check all 35, but some of the ones that I did check, do cite it to make this point such as this article in …. wait for it … ready? Nature Reviews: Psychology. That article will now likely be cited in psychology journals in support of the same claim.
Should I submit this to Nature as a reply?
For example, after reading about real findings showing that child abuse produces few longterm effects on adults, people estimated that over 30% of readers would take child abuse less seriously (an obviously harmful reaction), whereas only about 12% did so; similarly, people estimated that under 60% would call for more research on child abuse (a benevolent reaction), whereas over 75% did so.
“Minoritized” is social justice-speak for what everyone else would call “minority.” The idea is that … well, I am not sure what the idea is, because its logic breaks down quickly. It is meant to convey that being a minority is imposed by society, not something about the person. But try asking Americans who are Black, or have other ethnic minority heritage (Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Cuban, Jewish, etc.) if that has been “imposed” on them, and get back to me with their response. The use of the term here (and elsewhere) is a tell that what is going on is less a concern for scientific truths than for justifying political activism.
Part of the problem is that looking at the real root causes leads to difficult solutions. Blaming an invisible, but omnipresent malign force is easy and leads to quick, if ineffective, solutions. Changing admission criteria can be done in a matter of months. Fixing primary and high school STEM education in minority areas, not so much. It's hard work and takes years, as well as facing some unpleasant realities about life in those communities. Maybe these people talking about invisible obstacles should visit a housing project or a grade school in Anacostia or the South Bronx. They will see the problem up close and personal.
A correction is in order: 27 is the number of _unarmed_ Black men, not all Black men, killed by police in 2019. Interestingly, even among Very Conservative respondents, only a minority realized how rare the situation is.