In this article I take on the question of how the exclusion of Black American women from physics impacts physics epistemologies, and I highlight the dynamic relationship between this exclusion and the struggle for women to reconcile “Black woman” with “physicist.” I describe the phenomenon where white epistemic claims about science—which are not rooted in empirical evidence—receive more credence and attention than Black women’s epistemic claims about their own lives. To develop this idea, I apply an intersectional analysis to Joseph Martin’s concept of prestige asymmetry in physics, developing the concept of white empiricism to discuss the impact that Black women’s exclusion has had on physics epistemology. By considering the essentialization of racism and sexism alongside the social construction of ascribed identities, I assess the way Black women physicists self-construct as scientists and the subsequent impact of epistemic outcomes on the science itself.Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, “Making Black Women Scientists under White Empiricism: The Racialization of Epistemology in Physics” at Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Volume 45, Number 2 | Winter 2020
Here’s the paper. (open access)
Prescod-Weinstein is with the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of New Hampshire, Durham, and the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here’s her site, where we learn:
Feminist Theorist: My work lives at the intersection of particle physics and astrophysics, and while I am primarily a theoretical researcher, I maintain strong ties to observational astronomy, as you can see from my CV. I am lead axion wrangler for the NASA STROBE-X Probe Concept Study. My driving impulse: understand the origin of spacetime and the particles that populate it. Using ideas from both physics and astronomy, I respond to deep questions about how everything got to the be the way it is. I also do research on feminist science studies, with a specific focus on the experiences of Black women in physics. I believe we all have the right to know the universe.
This quote from the paper has attracted attention:
Albert Einstein’s monumental contribution to our empirical understanding of gravity is rooted in the principle of covariance, which is the simple idea that there is no single objective frame of reference that is more objective than any other (Sachs 1993). All frames of reference, all observers, are equally competent and capable of observing the universal laws that underlie the workings of our physical universe. Yet the number of women in physics remains low, especially those of African descent….
One commentator writes, “This is completely insane. I can only assume that it is an embarrassing excuse for an unsuccessful career.”
Dunno. In the post-science world, people can presumably define success according to their own frames of reference, in relation to to their own facts and their own truths. That world has been long in the making.
Admittedly, we are more used to this kind of thing in the social sciences, where it gets exposed by social science hoaxers. But why should it be a hoax?
See also: The progressive war on science takes dead aim at math
How naturalism rots science from the head down
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