While left-wing activists often accuse conservatives of being “science deniers” when it comes to global warming, one biology professor at Williams College has noticed a troubling trend since the election of Donald Trump: students’ zealous embrace of social justice ideology is increasingly resulting in “denialism” when it comes to well-established biological ideas.
In an op-ed for The Atlantic titled “Self-censorship on Campus is Bad for Science,” Biology Professor Luana Maroja — who has found herself in the middle of social justice outrage in the past, and pushed back (h/t John Sexton) — describes a shift she’s witnessed among a growing number of her students since Trump won the presidency.
“At that moment, political tensions were running high on our campus. And well-established scientific ideas that I’d been teaching for years suddenly met with stiff ideological resistance,” she writes. Among those ideas is the concept of heritability, “the degree to which offspring genetically resemble their parents,” both physically and in behavior.
“In a classroom discussion, I noted that researchers have measured a large average difference in IQ between the inhabitants of the United States and those of my home country, Brazil,” Maroja writes. “I challenged the supposed intelligence differential between Americans and Brazilians. I asked students to think about the limitations of the data, which do not control for environmental differences, and explained that the raw numbers say nothing about whether observed differences are indeed ‘inborn’—that is, genetic.”
Even though she specifically challenges the reductive and potentially racist conclusions that some might reach, many of her students, “without any evidence,” reject the very notion of scientifically conducted IQ tests, declaring them to be bogus science, “invented to ostracize minority groups,” and refuse to accept the well-established idea that IQ is partly influenced by genetics. She found similar pushback from students about any scientific studies about inherent differences between men and women and different races.
“Similar biological denialism exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females,” she writes. “Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology. This denialism manifests itself at times in classroom discussions and in emails in which students explain at length why I should not be teaching the topic.”
The “denialism” at times goes as far as even rejecting the notion that people have a biological instinct to protect their kin because some students thought it was Maroja “actually endorsing Trump’s hiring of his family.”
She goes on to address the concept that infamously got James Damore fired: that some genetic differences might lead to disproportionate representation of males or females in some fields, particularly STEM fields. For social justice activists, since all people are supposedly “blank slates,” the only explanation for more men being in STEM fields than women is that they are “cesspools of sex discrimination.”
“This is what happens when ideology replaces biology,” she writes. “It’s become taboo to even mention the possibility that men and women might have different preferences.” Read the full op-ed here.