Some of us remember when Darwinian commenters chided us for writing about the war on math. Now that Jerry Coyne is starting to talk about it, will they start to listen? He’s talking about a recent Scientific American op-ed, “Modern Mathematics Confronts Its White, Patriarchal Past”:
The article, of course, claims that mathematics is a hotbed of racism and misogyny, which explains why there are so few women and blacks in academic mathematics.
The article begins with stories of thee women mathematicians, all of whom report that they felt discriminated against or at least looked down upon. All of them have academic jobs, two as professors and one as a postdoc. I don’t doubt their stories, but what we have are three anecdotes. At face value, they show that there is some racism or sexism in academic math, but these are cherry-picked anecdotes that demonstrate little except that, like all fields, math is not entirely free of bigotry. I also procured two anecdotes with no effort. First, I asked one of my female math-y friends, Professor Anna Krylov, a theoretical and computational quantum chemist at USC, who deals extensively with mathematicians, if that had been her experience…
“I was often a single women in a room — but so what? It did not turn me away from the subject I was passionate about. I experienced some forms of discrimination throughout my career and can tell stories… But — as McWhorter often says — “there was then and there is now”! These anecdotes [from Sci. Am.] are blown out of proportion and completely misrepresent the current climate.”
She also worried that these narratives, which don’t resemble her own, cultivate a victim mentality in women. (Anna is no anti-feminist, either: she helped initiate a protest against an all-male speaker agenda at a chemistry conference.)Jerry Coyne, “Scientific American (and math) go full woke” at Why Evolution Is True (August 29, 2021)
“Performative wokeness,” as Coyne puts it, does much more damage in public education than it would among accomplished mathematicians. It lets people who can’t really teach get away with not teaching math — in favor of a group spout of some sort of Wokeness.
Presumably, if a student can get marks for “performative wokeness,” that effort counts toward numeracy, whether the math topic is grasped or not. And — yes, we have said this before — the students most harmed are predominately poor and underprivileged. The well-to-do can afford private lessons for their children in actual math. Prediction: The social divide will soon be bigger than ever.
With any luck, espousing the war on math will work out about as well for the Woke at Scientific American as the claim that creationism is a form of white supremacy did.
All that claim, made in the same magazine, did was: It finally freed Darwin doubters of all stripes to start talking to the public about the racism inherent in Darwin’s body of work.* In the past, we have been drowned out by widespread mass bellowing that he was anti-slavery (“Darwin’s sacred cause”** and all that).
- See: Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten History of Scientific Racism (book)
(Note: YouTube sometimes attempts to restrict the documentary but that’s YouTube. The facts are well-attested, not under dispute.)
** It cost Darwin little to be anti-slavery. In the time and place where he lived, slavery was not a pressing issue. The issues in Victorian England had to do with the dreadful conditions under which poor people who were not slaves lived and worked. Attention to that problem was the mark of a social justice warrior in action, not armchair opposition to outlawed chattel slavery.
You may also wish to read: Darwinian biologist Jerry Coyne speaks out on a SciAm op-ed’s claims that denial of evolution stems from white supremacy It seems obvious, on reflection, that Hopper’s piece is a disastrously clumsy effort on the part of Scientific American to get Woke. Darwinian evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne thinks the mag is not just circling the drain but “approaching the drainhole.” To the extent that the editors couldn’t find someone who at least gets basic facts right, he has a point.