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At Physical Chemistry Letters: The Perils of Politicizing Science

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A veteran of politicized science in the USSR speaks up:

Science was not spared from this strict ideological control. Western influences were considered to be dangerous. Textbooks and scientific papers tirelessly emphasized the priority and pre-eminence of Russian and Soviet science. Entire disciplines were declared ideologically impure, reactionary, and hostile to the cause of working-class dominance and the World Revolution. Notable examples of “bourgeois pseudoscience” included genetics and cybernetics. Quantum mechanics and general relativity were also criticized for insufficient alignment with dialectic materialism.

Most relevant to chemistry was the antiresonance campaign (1949−1951). The theory of resonating structures, which brought Linus Pauling the Nobel prize in 1954, was deemed to be bourgeois pseudoscience. Scientists who attempted to defend the merits of the theory and its utility for understanding chemical structures were accused of “cosmopolitism” (Western sympathy) and servility to Western bourgeois science. Some lost jobs. Two high-profile supporters of resonance theory, Syrkin and Dyatkina, were eventually forced to confess their ideological sins and to publicly denounce resonance. Meanwhile, other members of the community took this political purge as an opportunity to advance at the expense of others.

As noted by many scholars,7,8 including Pauling himself, the grassroots antiresonance campaign was driven by people who were “displeased with the alignment of forces in their science”.

This is a recurring motif in all political campaigns within science in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and McCarthy’s America those who are “on the right side” of the issue can jump a few rungs and take the place of those who were canceled.

The Perils of Politicizing Science, Anna I. Krylov, The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters 2021 12 (22), 5371-5376, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.1c01475

That’s probably a big factor in Cancel Culture. People who could not advance by achievement advance by thinning out the ranks above them by denouncing the societal sins du jour that they can stick on them, truly or falsely.

Krylov goes on:

As an example of political censorship and cancel culture, consider a recent viewpoint discussing the centuries-old tradition of attaching names to scientific concepts and discoveries (Archimede’s Principle, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Schrödinger equation, Curie Law, etc.). The authors call for vigilance in naming discoveries and assert that “basing the name with inclusive priorities may provide a path to a richer, deeper, and more robust understanding of the science and its advancement.” Really? On what empirical grounds is this based? History teaches us the opposite: the outcomes of the merit-based science of liberal, pluralistic societies are vastly superior to those of the ideologically controlled science of the USSR and other totalitarian regimes. The authors call for removing the names of people who “crossed the line” of moral or ethical standards. Examples include Fritz Haber, Peter Debye, and William Shockley, but the list could have been easily extended to include Stark (defended expulsion of Jews from German institutions), Heisenberg (led Germany’s nuclear weapons program), and Schrödinger (had romantic relationships with under-age girls). Indeed, learned societies are now devoting considerable effort to such renaming campaigns among the most-recent cancellations is the renaming of the Fisher Prize by the Evolution Society, despite well-argued opposition by 10 past presidents and vicepresidents of the society.

The Perils of Politicizing Science, Anna I. Krylov, The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters 2021 12 (22), 5371-5376, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.1c01475

Not going out on a limb here: Most Cancel Culture types actually wouldn’t care about the same offenses, if practised by people who advance their interests. Mediocrities can’t afford to be that fussy.

See also: Reflecting on the cancel!ation of Richard Dawkins. Calls for Random House to stop publishing his books? As if he were Michael Behe or something? Clearly, Darwinism is losing its cultural teflon. Dawkins isn;lt as much use to the Woke just now as Cancelling him would be.

7 Replies to “At Physical Chemistry Letters: The Perils of Politicizing Science

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Needless to say, there are obvious parallels between science that is held to be incompatible with the reigning political orthodoxy and science that is held to be incompatible with religious beliefs.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    This misses the entire point. There are always complainers. Sometimes the complainers are right, sometimes they’re wrong.

    Complainers are NOT HEARD unless the administrators WANT TO HEAR THEM. Cancelling only works one way. The complaint is a fake “trigger” for decisions that the admin was already preparing to make.

    Protests are the same kind of one-way ratchet. A protest that agrees with what Deepstate already wants to do is deemed “effective”, and the protesters are pleased to see that “democracy works”. A protest that disagrees with Deepstate will be summarily squashed, and the protesters will be anathema.

    See also sweetheart lawsuits.

  3. 3
    Eugene says:

    +100 to Polista @2

    There is no such thing as Cancel “culture”. There is this thing called the Deep state agenda.
    “You have owners. They own you.” George Carlin

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    science that is held to be incompatible with religious beliefs

    What finding of science is incompatible with all religions?

    There are thousands of religions so I am sure there are some things incompatible with some. So it’s just a meaningless statement.

  5. 5

    Let me give an an example of Science that is incompatible with religious beliefs

    Us Christian Creationists, we believe that lying is wrong.

    But what has Science (Lancet, Science Medicine, CDC Dr fauci, New York Times NPR CBS MS-MBC) told us about the idea that the coronavirus pandemic that killed 3 million people could have started in an unquarantined nearby lab that had been manufacturing dangerous highly infectious coronaviruses , and whose owners will not allow an investigation?
    Science told us that the idea is racist and xenophobic. “A fringe theory, put out by conspiracy mongers that has been debunked by leading scientists”, according to the New York Times.

    Telling the truth, that’s a debunked religious superstition.
    Lying, that’s how science works,

  6. 6
    Fasteddious says:

    The part about the USSR reminds me of the statements by Chekov in Star Trek, often insisting that some apparatus was actually invented in Russia.

  7. 7
    EvilSnack says:

    The people calling for the heads of researchers for committing crimethink, or pushing to have specific beliefs categorized as crimethink, do not care about any “peril” to science. They care only whether the world is run as they would have it be run. Whether it leads us to a Dark Age, or kills half of us, is a problem only when it obstructs their pursuit of their political goals.

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