Also importantly, while some of Feynman’s utterances and actions appear sexist to modern sensibilities, it’s worth noting that they were probably no different than the attitudes of a male-dominated American society in the giddy postwar years, a society in which women were supposed to take care of the house and children and men were seen as the bread winners. Thus, any side of Feynman that raises our eyebrows is really an aspect of a biased American society.
And much more in the same vein. Another boring PC exercise. So, where’s the fire*? Well, some background from Farhi: Commenters were upset by a defense of the view that got Larry Summers fired (that women avoid hard sciences due to high time commitments). That piece was written by someone other than Jogalekar (but it doesn’t matter, once the blood’s in the water, does it?):
The second land mine was a post in May by Ashutosh Jogalekar, which favorably reviewed a controversial book by Nicholas Wade, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History.” Jogalekar praised the book, saying it confirms the need to “recognize a strong genetic component to [social and cognitive] differences” among racial groups.
Many of us would disagree sharply with the premise; we need a vastly improved understanding of epigenetics. Before that, any such conclusions are reckless as well as controversial. Still, such praise is not exactly a bandwagon in Parade Floats of the Year, is it? Well, as Farhi tells the tale, it turns out,
After his review of the Wade book, Jogalekar said Brainard had asked him to run posts about “controversial” topics by the editor before posting them. Until then, Jogalekar had written almost 200 blog items, none of which were edited or had prompted widespread complaints.
But Brainard never specified what topics were “controversial,” and Jogalekar said he didn’t believe his Feynman post fell into that category. He posted it without consulting his editor.
“It’s perfectly fine for an organization to decide what kind of content it wants, but they should let their bloggers know what the policy is,” Jogalekar said. In this case, “it’s apparently controversial if a lot of people say it’s controversial. That’s dangerous territory. You’re leaving yourself open if 10 people complain on Twitter.”
Maybe 10 did, so he was fired. So now we know who runs Scientific American.
Also, earlier, I’d commented
Given the overall strangeness of science writer Nicholas Wade’s largely unopposed efforts to revive Darwinian racism in Troublesome Inheritance, it is tempting to speculate that Jogalekar’s cautious praise in Scientific American for at least discussing his ideas was a catalyst. The bosses might not want to draw more attention to that biohazard. So they pretend to fire Jogalekar over some transparently stupid kerfuffle instead, preventing him from using the occasion of his dismissal to attract more attention to the smouldering stinkpot.
That explanation makes even more sense now, with more inside information: The requirement that he show only unspecified “controversial” items to the editor first was (seen from afar) an obvious setup. Enough squawking can make almost anything controversial, and that was what happened. Then the editors swooped.
The comments are worth a read too. Many resent the downward drift of Scientific American to pop sci mag status. If their boss is Twitter, can the hair salon and the checkout counter be far behind?
Note: Owned by Nature
* Jogalekar is mistaken. Jerks were jerks back then too, but there was no organized grievance industry. So such matters were addressed informally (i.e., the guy perceived to be a jerk was escorted out of the bar or dance hall, and knew better than to assert his “constitutional rights.” Feynman probably got a pass for the same reasons as, at a lower intellectual level, movie hunks did (and maybe still do). Remember, when it comes to being a jerk, perception matters. Among thoughtful people, it is a topic for a coffee break, not a witch hunt.
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