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White Supremacy in Chemistry - Apparently


exchemist
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I quote below the abstract of a recent paper from E.Carolina University, published last November in the Journal of Chemical Education, which has attracted the scorn of Jerry Coyne.

This article presents an argument on the importance of teaching science with a feminist framework and defines it by acknowledging that all knowledge is historically situated and is influenced by social power and politics. This article presents a pedagogical model for implementing a special topic class on science and feminism for chemistry students at East Carolina University, a rural serving university in North Carolina. We provide the context of developing this class, a curricular model that is presently used (including reading lists, assignments, and student learning outcomes), and qualitative data analysis from online student surveys. The student survey data analysis shows curiosity about the applicability of feminism in science and the development of critical race and gender consciousness and their interaction with science. We present this work as an example of a transformative pedagogical model to dismantle White supremacy in Chemistry.

While I've no doubt that some of the chemists of the past may have had racist views, or benefitted somehow from slavery, or committed the sin of being men, or whatever, I really struggle to think of anything in the subject itself, or how it is taught,  that could have racial connotations. Does anyone understand what they can be thinking of? Or is this just as bonkers as it appears? 

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10 minutes ago, exchemist said:

Or is this just as bonkers as it appears? 

Mad as a bag of weasels.

I've spent most of the last twenty years mentoring Nigerian graduate chemical engineers, both male and female. While there are plenty of gripes on differential terms of employment, I never heard a whisper of any cultural bias in the subject itself other than its innate opacity to the innumerate.

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24 minutes ago, exchemist said:

I quote below the abstract of a recent paper from E.Carolina University, published last November in the Journal of Chemical Education, which has attracted the scorn of Jerry Coyne.

This article presents an argument on the importance of teaching science with a feminist framework and defines it by acknowledging that all knowledge is historically situated and is influenced by social power and politics. This article presents a pedagogical model for implementing a special topic class on science and feminism for chemistry students at East Carolina University, a rural serving university in North Carolina. We provide the context of developing this class, a curricular model that is presently used (including reading lists, assignments, and student learning outcomes), and qualitative data analysis from online student surveys. The student survey data analysis shows curiosity about the applicability of feminism in science and the development of critical race and gender consciousness and their interaction with science. We present this work as an example of a transformative pedagogical model to dismantle White supremacy in Chemistry.

While I've no doubt that some of the chemists of the past may have had racist views, or benefitted somehow from slavery, or committed the sin of being men, or whatever, I really struggle to think of anything in the subject itself, or how it is taught,  that could have racial connotations. Does anyone understand what they can be thinking of? Or is this just as bonkers as it appears? 

There is a bit of an argument to be made in the area of medical sciences, but chemistry (outside of historic contexts, perhaps) seems a very odd one.

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I imagine taking the class would shed light on this, but in the US it is the case (according to this source) that in the field of chemistry, men and whites are over-represented, while black and hispanic/latino populations are under-represented. 

“The most common ethnicity of chemists is White (66.1%), followed by Asian (16.7%), Black or African American (7.7%) and Hispanic or Latino (7.1%)”

https://www.zippia.com/chemist-jobs/demographics/

Is it that hard to believe that certain institutional habits have retained some kinds of bias?

5 minutes ago, CharonY said:

There is a bit of an argument to be made in the area of medical sciences, but chemistry (outside of historic contexts, perhaps) seems a very odd one.

True. I think physics has a worse demographic failing.

edit yup

https://www.zippia.com/physicist-jobs/demographics/

(but more chemists, so more potential for such a class to have critical mass)

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1 hour ago, swansont said:

I imagine taking the class would shed light on this, but in the US it is the case (according to this source) that in the field of chemistry, men and whites are over-represented, while black and hispanic/latino populations are under-represented. 

“The most common ethnicity of chemists is White (66.1%), followed by Asian (16.7%), Black or African American (7.7%) and Hispanic or Latino (7.1%)”

https://www.zippia.com/chemist-jobs/demographics/

Is it that hard to believe that certain institutional habits have retained some kinds of bias?

True. I think physics has a worse demographic failing.

edit yup

https://www.zippia.com/physicist-jobs/demographics/

(but more chemists, so more potential for such a class to have critical mass)

OK, I can easily understand arguments that the composition of the practitioners of a science may be racially skewed, but that is hardly "white supremacy".

But I can see where some confusion can arise. I had read it as claiming that the science itself has a racial bias, i.e. there is something about the theories of chemistry that is racist. That really would be bonkers.  But maybe, indeed, all they mean is that white men are disproportionately represented among chemists in the US. That would not be a surprise. I expect the same is true of lawyers and linguists.   

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Just a small question, but what do you mean by 'chemist'  ?

Mrs Thatcher was a chemist, as was the chief accountant of British Gas.

The, of course, there are pharmacists. I wonder how what the ethnic dist of these 'chemists' might be.

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43 minutes ago, exchemist said:

OK, I can easily understand arguments that the composition of the practitioners of a science may be racially skewed, but that is hardly "white supremacy".

Without seeing the arguments how can one say?

But when one sees places where racial bias appears (e.g. roadway infrastructure built to keep poor people - heavily skewed toward minorities - from getting to the beach) it piques my curiosity.

43 minutes ago, exchemist said:

But I can see where some confusion can arise. I had read it as claiming that the science itself has a racial bias, i.e. there is something about the theories of chemistry that is racist. That really would be bonkers.  

I agree; I’m not going to assume that interpretation in the current vacuum of information. Plus the abstract mentions teaching science.

43 minutes ago, exchemist said:

But maybe, indeed, all they mean is that white men are disproportionately represented among chemists in the US. That would not be a surprise. I expect the same is true of lawyers and linguists.   

The implication is some kind of institutional bias, but I’ve observed gender bias in physics (of the “women aren’t good at physics” variety), so I can imagine there’s racial bias in play. 

35 minutes ago, studiot said:

Just a small question, but what do you mean by 'chemist'  ?

One who does chemistry, presumably after having studied chemistry in school.

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1 hour ago, studiot said:

Just a small question, but what do you mean by 'chemist'  ?

Mrs Thatcher was a chemist, as was the chief accountant of British Gas.

The, of course, there are pharmacists. I wonder how what the ethnic dist of these 'chemists' might be.

In London most of the pharmacists seem to be of south Asian descent. But they are not chemists, not having studied chemistry, contrary to popular British English vernacular.

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11 hours ago, exchemist said:

In London most of the pharmacists seem to be of south Asian descent. But they are not chemists, not having studied chemistry, contrary to popular British English vernacular.

 

12 hours ago, swansont said:

One who does chemistry, presumably after having studied chemistry in school.

 

I'm sorry I don't understand, though I agree that the gender and ethnicity distribution amongst pharmacy students (not just at school) would suggest the proposal is bunk.

 

When my daughter did her medical degree at Edinburgh, the only compulsory A level was Chemistry (I was suprised that biology was not required although she also offered that).

More recently she has completed a Masters in Pharmacy at RGU and there were definitely more females than males on the course, many were indeed of asian ethnicity.
Additional there were students from many middle eastern countries, some pursuing doctorates. Whatever, the subjects studied could be said to be Chemistry, Chemistry, Chemistry

The year she took up a post at Royal Devon and Exeter, of the 8 new starters, there were either 1 or 2 males, the rest being female. There were actually zero white males.

 

A side issue, was Mrs Thatcher doing Chemistry when she acted politically, against the trend at the time, to push very hard for the CFC reduction and eventual ban ?

Or is doing Environmental Chemistry not Chemistry either ?

 

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2 hours ago, studiot said:

When my daughter did her medical degree at Edinburgh

Which is not, last I checked, in the US, so I don’t see how it’s relevant to a course at East Carolina State U.

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8 minutes ago, swansont said:

Which is not, last I checked, in the US, so I don’t see how it’s relevant to a course at East Carolina State U.

Thank you for the clarification. Reading this thread, I started to suspect that there is one in UK.

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41 minutes ago, swansont said:

so I don’t see how it’s relevant to a course at East Carolina State U.

Nor do I, but I prefaced my remarks with

3 hours ago, studiot said:

I'm sorry I don't understand,

furthermore I understand the important discussion part of the op to be the line

 

19 hours ago, exchemist said:

We present this work as an example of a transformative pedagogical model to dismantle White supremacy in Chemistry.

 

Which surely applies pretty generally?

 

I specified Edinburgh (and RGU, which is not in Edinburgh) because I am not familiar with the requirements for other colleges even in the UK.

 

 

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5 hours ago, studiot said:

 

 

I'm sorry I don't understand, though I agree that the gender and ethnicity distribution amongst pharmacy students (not just at school) would suggest the proposal is bunk.

 

When my daughter did her medical degree at Edinburgh, the only compulsory A level was Chemistry (I was suprised that biology was not required although she also offered that).

More recently she has completed a Masters in Pharmacy at RGU and there were definitely more females than males on the course, many were indeed of asian ethnicity.
Additional there were students from many middle eastern countries, some pursuing doctorates. Whatever, the subjects studied could be said to be Chemistry, Chemistry, Chemistry

The year she took up a post at Royal Devon and Exeter, of the 8 new starters, there were either 1 or 2 males, the rest being female. There were actually zero white males.

 

A side issue, was Mrs Thatcher doing Chemistry when she acted politically, against the trend at the time, to push very hard for the CFC reduction and eventual ban ?

Or is doing Environmental Chemistry not Chemistry either ?

 

I'm not sure I'm following all this. But the study of chemistry at university level - and the subsequent professional practice of it, academically or in industry etc., which is what the article seems to be about, is a discipline of science distinct from pharmacy, which is about the medical application of drugs (and obviously a fortiori of medicine). Also the article is specific to the USA  - and possibly to the states south of the Mason-Dixon line, as it emanates from East Carolina University, which is in North Carolina.

So I don't think the racial or sexual makeup of UK medical courses, or of London retail pharmacy staff, has a great deal to do with it. Nor is Margaret Thatcher's choice of degree subject evidence of much. There was a handful of Somerville chemists in my year and some more from St Hilda's, but as there were only 5 women's colleges, we were over 80% male - much to my chagrin, though I did eventually acquire a physicist girlfriend from St Anne's. The colleges went co-ed one by one, from the end of the 70s, I think. (In fact, that is evidence of how, until recently, women were so poorly provided for at the ancient universities, probably because of the hangover of their original monastic foundation.)       

Edited by exchemist
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I'm sorry if I am not making myself clear.

 

The bit that I consider

2 hours ago, studiot said:

surely applies pretty generally?

is the underlying assumption that the statement in the article I linked to

21 hours ago, exchemist said:

White supremacy in Chemistry.

Is actually true.

 

In other words the first question to answer before wasting time of discussion about anything else in the article is

Is that assumption true or justified ?

 

 

I did try to follow up the article from your information but hit an american paywall.

I did discover the Jerry Coyne (who is JC, is he as reliable ?) and his article

https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2023/01/15/ideology-stomps-all-over-chemistry-in-a-new-paper/

 

But I was not impressed by his style either.

Perhaps swansont is correct and this is the sort of nonsense that only american society can afford to indulge in.

 

So I hereby formally return it to them lock stock and barrel.

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2 minutes ago, studiot said:

I'm sorry if I am not making myself clear.

 

The bit that I consider

is the underlying assumption that the statement in the article I linked to

Is actually true.

 

In other words the first question to answer before wasting time of discussion about anything else in the article is

Is that assumption true or justified ?

 

 

I did try to follow up the article from your information but hit an american paywall.

I did discover the Jerry Coyne (who is JC, is he as reliable ?) and his article

https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2023/01/15/ideology-stomps-all-over-chemistry-in-a-new-paper/

 

But I was not impressed by his style either.

Perhaps swansont is correct and this is the sort of nonsense that only american society can afford to indulge in.

 

So I hereby formally return it to them lock stock and barrel.

Yes, Coyne is on a bit of rant in his response. I sympathise with him to some extent, but there may be a bit more behind the article than he gives credit for, in the context of past educational practice in the Southern USA. 

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As Coyne points out, science is supposed to be where you leave your identities at the door.  

Where the Carolinian zealots lost me was here:

Quote

The other aim was to shine light, through this process, how scientific epistemology and culture have strong links with capitalism, enslavement, colonization, and exploitation of female-bodied folks.

What?  FFS, the entire arc of the Enlightenment and its valuation of reason and science and egalitarianism was AWAY from enslavement and exploitation.  That it took a couple centuries for the "female-bodied" (dear God what an idiotic phrase) to reap the benefits of this arc is an indication of the sluggishness inherent in vast social change not an indictment of Enlightenment values.  

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Has anyone here actually taken the course or seen details of the case it makes? I don't know if it is valid or not,  but I presume the instructor intends to make their case during the duration of the semester. 

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1 hour ago, TheVat said:

As Coyne points out, science is supposed to be where you leave your identities at the door.  

 

 

21 hours ago, MigL said:

Institutions, that teach or place, scientists, can , and often do, have biases.
The science itself, can not.

There is some truth to that, and I really think in this context we need to distinguish between the aspirational goals of science, the science system in which it is taught and executed and finally the scientists themselves.

Yes, leaving out identities is the ideal, yet it is not something that can realistically happen as research, teaching and learning cannot be done without context.

To provide some random, not very thought out examples. For quite a while now, English is the de facto language of science. This has broad impact that native English speakers often do not consider. For example, it can be exclusionary for folks who might be great in science disciplines, but suck at learning a second language. It has an impact on high science is taught at the upper level and English-speaking institutions have a much easier time recruiting talent. There is also to some degree a rather (vague) philosophical line of thought (e.g. explored to some degree in Orwell's 1984) that language might shape our thinking and by extension could influence how we build scientific models and arguments.

There is also the the argument to be made that the current science system, which includes the way we publish our results, how papers are structured how arguments are made, how evidence is provided and how we evaluate the qualities of scientific research, is born from an European traditions. While it does has the qualities we need in science (e.g. ability to self-correct), it is unclear whether alternative models might be preferred. Different research disciplines developed their own methodologies, but it still reminds me of phylogenetic trees, where adaptations are made to tackle specific challenges. However, as a whole the historic development has created a specific system with its own constrains that would make it very difficult to create a parallel system that could actually challenge it (even if it as a whole it might eventually work even better).

I.e. the system has so much inertia that a complete revamping is almost impossible to do at this point. And I think the current science system shapes our thinking so much that quite a few folks use it synonymous with science as an ideal. Leaving your identity at the door seems a bit like such a case, where we have clear historic examples where identity not only guided what we learned (or did not learn) but also how we think about historic achievements.

Watson/Crick and Franklin is an example that comes to mind. Watson and Crick were credited with figuring out the structure of the DNA, yet if we actually did pure data-driven sciences (and read Franklin's paper) it was clear that they just happened to be right. The actual data, on the other hand, was of insufficient resolution to unequivocally support their model (and Franklin's paper actually discusses that). So from a data perspective the structure of DNA was not clearly resolved. Yet, Watson/Cricks proposal, which ultimately turned to be right, was in a way folks jumping the ship and using their station to elevate their idea above the actual data. I.e. we see here two types of personalities or identities at play. One, that in my mind comes closest to the ideal of science, data-driven painstakingly doing the experiments and carefully interpreting based on the available data. Then on the other hand heavy propagation of an idea which was but one of several potential valid interpretations of available data. So even internally the science system simply does not work identity-free.

That all being said, while I do the idea of recasting science attractive from a pure science perspective, as it is always good to figure out things that might potentially bias or limit science progression, there is the issue of inertia (i.e. changing things might make things worse, not better, at least in the short to mid-term) but also the fact that there is a risk of over-extrapolating social science models and approaches, which generally are on somewhat shaky grounds. On the other hand, I am in favour at least exploring ideas and figuring out why they might not work. In the long-term this might give as at least a rough idea what we can do improve.

 

 

 

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C.T is based on Objective assumptions where subjective realistically applies. 

Science is the Objective here, or should be.

Applying a secondary objective to science, such as white supremacist, blurs the line between the reality of science, and its environment.

Definition of its margins by furthering its Objective (elimination white supremacy within) can only reduce its value or property, by excluding environment. Drawing connections where they don't belong.  White supremacy and other bigotries are environmental. They exist in the environment science occupies, so will affect its direction to some extent while those environmental problems remain. They should not be confused with the scientific objective itself.

The value people  people(s) might find in  pursuit of science is subjective. So is the experience and opportunity. 

So yes, there will be evidence of its existence in science, if you assume that connection to be part of its Objective.

But these forms of oppression have nothing  to do with the Objective of Science and no matter how much you try to reduce their influence, you can only reduce the value recognized to science, if its value is to be judged with that double negative. You  introduce a negative bias to the values found within its objective.

Not science. Belief.

Edited by naitche
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On 1/22/2023 at 6:09 AM, exchemist said:

We present this work as an example of a transformative pedagogical model to dismantle White supremacy in Chemistry.

 

Which can only be done through discrediting science of its base, or supporting environment.

Edited by naitche
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"all knowledge is historically situated and is influenced by social power and politics"

This phrase reveals that the course designer's epistemology is one of social constructionism.  Social constructionism posits that there is no objectively true knowledge in and of itself; knowledge is inherently created and defined by the society in which it arises (and therefore is the offshoot of gender, race, class, etc).  Therefore the body of knowledge that underpins all the scientific disciplines is subject to "re-interpretation" since it is inherently the result of a racist and sexist society.  This epistemological outlook is Neo-Marxist in origin and in my opinion is nothing more than thinly veiled solipsism, fundamentally incompatible with science.

The rest of the course description is just grandiose jargon designed to make it sound legitimate.

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3 hours ago, Alex_Krycek said:

"all knowledge is historically situated and is influenced by social power and politics"

This phrase reveals that the course designer's epistemology is one of social constructionism.  Social constructionism posits that there is no objectively true knowledge in and of itself; knowledge is inherently created and defined by the society in which it arises (and therefore is the offshoot of gender, race, class, etc).  Therefore the body of knowledge that underpins all the scientific disciplines is subject to "re-interpretation" since it is inherently the result of a racist and sexist society.  This epistemological outlook is Neo-Marxist in origin and in my opinion is nothing more than thinly veiled solipsism, fundamentally incompatible with science.

The rest of the course description is just grandiose jargon designed to make it sound legitimate.

Thank you for bringing S Constructivism to my attention.

Looking it up on Wikipedia it certainly does not embrace all scientific  knowledge, let alone all other types of knowledge.
In fact it seems very limited in its scope, far more so than exchemist's original quote (why did you not acknowledge it ? I had to waste precious time finding it in the thread.) .

So I would say it was a fair attempt at noting that human observations tend to be some way from truly objective, despite our best efforts to the contrary.

So it is always refreshing to see someone doing his or her best to act objectively.

Quote

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism

Social constructionism is a theory in sociology, social ontology, and communication theory which proposes that certain ideas about physical reality arise from collaborative consensus, instead of pure observation of said reality. The theory centers on the notion that meanings are developed in coordination with others rather than separately by each individual

 

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