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A Male-Dominated Scientific Establishment Creates Misogynist Science


I continue to be amazed at how commenters here are still outraged at the idea that a white supremacist society creates a white supremacist science. I never did understand the general outrage when I said these things, leading to one of the attempts by right-wingers to get me fired, given that the point is so obvious as to be non-controversial. After all, the comment I made was about white people creating facial recognition technology that threw black people in prison because they hadn’t even thought about how to create it to recognize dark skin properly. But for liberals to be outraged by this, I was just perplexed.

I was reminded of this yesterday when reading the Times obituary for Evelyn Fox Keller, who was a physicist and feminist who made a very similar argument about how a male-dominated scientific establishment created a misogynist world of science since they didn’t consider gender in their research questions.

Dr. Keller trained as a physicist and focused much of her early work on applying mathematical concepts to biology. But as the feminist movement took hold, she began to think critically about how ideas of masculinity and femininity had affected her profession.

Like many women in the sciences, she had faced years of disparagement and discrimination, and one of her first efforts was to quantify the effect such a hostile environment had on women — how it held them back, and how it drove many to leave science completely.

Her inquiry soon went deeper, in books like “Reflections on Gender and Science” (1985). “Let me make clear from the outset,” she wrote in that book, “that the issue that requires discussion is not, or at least not simply, the relative absence of women in science.”

The issue, rather, was how people talked about science, and how the scientific community thought about itself and its work — frameworks that, she argued, had been bracketed by gender ideology since the scientific revolution of the 17th century.

Dispassionate objectivity was the rule; scientists disparaged subjectivity and feeling as feminine. She noted that many of the members of the Royal Society of London, Britain’s academy of sciences, which was founded in 1662, were explicit about their desire to construct a “masculine” discipline. “Let us establish a chaste and lawful marriage between mind and nature,” said Francis Bacon, an inspiration for the society.

The problem, Dr. Keller argued, was that gender ideology, and in particular its emphasis on hard, objective thinking, excluded other modes that might prove equally useful. Feeling, empathy, intuition — these were not necessarily feminine aspects of inquiry, but they had all been excluded from “masculine” scientific methods, while potentially disruptive notions of control and domination had been placed at the center.

She called instead for what she called “dynamic objectivity,” in which the line between observer and observed was blurred and subjective feelings would be seen as resources — a situation in which, not incidentally, more women might be welcomed into the field.

“I am not saying that women will do a different kind of science,” she told The Boston Globe in 1986. “I am saying when there are more women in science, everybody will be free to do a different kind of science.”

This is all exactly right. There is no such thing as “pure” science. Science is created by the world of people. There may indeed by scientific laws, but the way we approach those laws, the question we ask about those laws, the ways that we then apply those laws, all of this is completely framed by the world in which we live. So if it is just a bunch of white dudes doing science, then racism and misogyny are going to be central to the science. And I mean, if you don’t believe me, believe the theoretical physicist whose work on bringing feminism into science who got an obituary in the New York Times.

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