Friday, September 30, 2016

Science, Logic, and Feminism

Joy Pullman, senior editor at The Federalist calls attention to a Ph.D candidate who concludes in her dissertation that science is hostile to women and minorities because it requires them to think logically and to hold to the view that truth is objective. The doctoral candidate is a feminist, but I can't imagine anything more harmful to the cause of advancing opportunities for women and minorities than declaring that they lack the cognitive ability to think logically and do science. Yet that's evidently what she says.

Here's Pullman:
College science classes are hostile to women and minorities because they use the scientific method, which assumes people can find reliable truths about the natural world through careful and sustained experimentation, concludes a recent dissertation by a doctoral candidate at the University of North Dakota.

Laura Parson, a student in the university’s education department, reviewed eight science class syllabi at a “Midwest public university” and said she discovered in them a hidden hostility to women and minorities:
Initial exploration of the STEM syllabi in this study did not reveal overt references to gender, such as through the use of gendered pronouns. However, upon deeper review, language used in the syllabi reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging, a view of teaching that promotes the idea of a passive student, and by promoting a chilly climate that marginalizes women.
Even though the course syllabi contained no “gendered assumptions” about students or other overtly discriminatory implications, Parson writes, they display prejudice against women and minorities because they refuse to entertain the possibility that “scientific knowledge is subjective.”
I don't even know what it means to say that scientific knowledge is subjective. Does it mean that the acceleration of a falling object, for example, depends on how the experimenter feels about it?
Throughout her dissertation, Parson assumes and asserts that women and minorities are uniquely challenged by the idea that science can provide objective information about the natural world. This is an unfair assumption, she says, because the concept of objectivity is too hard for women and minorities to understand. “[N]otions of absolute truth and a single reality” are “masculine,” she says, referring to poststructuralist feminist theory.
Instead of promoting the idea that knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge, the syllabi reinforce the larger male-dominant view of knowledge as one that students acquire and use [to] make the correct decision.
So, in other words, using logic and the scientific method are inherently “male” ways of knowing that women and minorities cannot employ. Rather than rejecting this insulting view of women and minorities’ intellectual and rational capacities, Parson uses it as a pretext to advocate that science classes abandon the scientific method itself (which rests on the assumption that truth is unchanging and knowable) and all other “male” forms of oppression, such as “weed-out courses, courses that grade on a curve, a competitive environment, reliance on lecture as a teaching method, an individualistic culture, and comprehensive exams.”
There's much more on Parson's views at the link. The more one reads the more suspicious one becomes that this woman is putting everyone on, but assuming she's serious I have a question. If a white male doctoral candidate had written this dissertation what are the chances that it would not have been rejected out of hand by his outraged committee as both blatantly sexist and racist? Nil.

So why is Laura Parson not held to the same standard? Or are we now to think that not only should women not be held to the same standard as men in the field of science, they shouldn't be held to the same standard in matters of gender and racial bias either?