On Why That “In Defense of Merit in Science” Paper Will Fail In Its Worthy Goal

On Why That “In Defense of Merit in Science” Paper Will Fail In Its Worthy Goal

You might have heard of the peer-reviewed article “In Defense of Merit in Science” by “intellectual dark web” members like Peter Boghossian and old-school lefties like Jerry Coyne, John McWhorter and so on in the hilariously named Journal of Controversial Ideas. Authors Coyne and Kylov have a WSJ editorial on it.

I did a “live” Twitter thread last Friday on this, which I expand here and correct the many typos inserted by my enemies.

The author’s goal, a good one, an obvious one, is implied in the name of the paper. But I must report to you, sadly, that they seek to reach it by surrendering on every point made by the left.

The paper starts with an Obama quote—yes—the first reference is to Yuval Harari, and right off they signal “climate change” worry among the usual list of woes, announcing “science holds the key to solving these problems”.

All these might reflect genuine attitudes, or it might be purposeful strategy to stave off the inevitable criticisms of being bad people because they must later attack idiotic “identity ­based ideologies”.

That they even have to argue merit is the “best and fairest way to conduct science” shows they’ve already lost, though. If this isn’t obvious, it cannot be taught to those who do not care about the best way to do science, but do care about power.

Next is a long, and quite de rigueur, section on science being a “process” leading to truth. They have the usual smoke about willingness to be corrected, and how science beats up religion with its vaunted openness. We’ve all read thousands of passages like this:

The ability of science to self­-correct—one reason that scientific truth claims are uniquely credible—can be epistemically contrasted with conformity to religious and political dogmas, which are disturbingly closed to self­-correction. Self ­correction is facilitated by pluralism to maintain intellectual diversity and maximize the chances of uncovering provisional truths. Intellectual diversity ensures vigorous skeptical vetting of scientific claims by a critical mass of doubters who ultimately accept being bound by objective truths once they have been rigorously determined by extensive evidence

This kind of silliness always appear because most, not all, scientists never bother reading any theology, nor metaphysics, or even much history. But they do know all good scientists are supposed to say how humble scientists are. This “epistemically contrasted” stuff is anyway obviously false, but you won’t see them self-correctthis error.

They say, “Scientific truths are universal and independent of the personal attributes of the scientist. Science knows no ethnicity, gender, or religion.” Et cetera.

This section goes on a long time. All the stock phrases are used. Problem is, gender ideologues don’t care. It’s not interesting to them. GIs use science language when it suits them, because scientism belongs to everybody, but they don’t give a damn about science itself, it’s only a rhetorical tool. If they did “—- love science”, they could never call a man a woman.

Our authors work hard signaling they are for most of the same things gender ideologues are. Two examples from many: “Whether sexism prevented Cecilia Payne­ Gaposchkin from receiving credit …” And “Merit ­based science is truly fair and inclusive.”

Science is not “fair and inclusive” in the way GIs want. To GIs and the left, it’s all about power, and power only, whatever window dressing of “feminist physics” they give it. They want what scientists got, and boy are they going to get it.

“Merit is a vehicle for upward mobility”, say our authors. Sure it is. For those possessing merit. For those who don’t—all the usual Victims—this is not satisfactory. It will not do. The woke are eager to sacrifice quality for power.

“While some might argue that CSJ [critical social justice] has improved science by disrupting the barriers to entry for marginalized groups, those barriers had been falling for decades, without any help from CSJ dogmas, and long before CSJ rose to prominence and power.”

This isn’t so. DIE quotas and other forms of Victim promotion account for a great deal of “entry” and falling “barriers”. Without the last 50 years of it, this “entry” would be a lot less.

“Yet politicians should not dictate how science is done”. Sigh.

So are you prepared to give up tenure, positions, and money? You should. Better science would come out of the freedom from the government lash. As I say, often, there is too much science.

“ideological control of the scientific enterprise leads to its decline.”

This is so, and obvious. And applies beyond GI. But again, they woke don’t care about standards. Standards are what hold them back. They won’t buy this. They believe in EQUALITY. EQUALITY is realer than gravity to the woke.

Social justice, rightly complain our authors, is “spreading to medicine, psychology, and global public health with worldwide implications.” To the woke, it means greater “inclusion.” That’s what they want. That’s what our authors should have attacked: The “goodness” of DIE.

EQUALITY is false. It is not true. It cannot be reached by pleading, money, effort, or any amount of DIE. Equity can only be had at the point of a knife. That is the only way. Our authors lament the “rejection of equal treatment” for all. The woke embrace it with vigor. To DIE is better than science!

Below we discuss publications making unsupported claims of systemic injustices and attacking merit. Such publications rarely, if ever, provide evidence that observed disproportionalities in the race or gender distribution of a scientific field are the result of present­-day structural or systemic racism.

Again, all true. But the woke believe all “disparities” happen because evil people willfully hold back EQUITY because these evil people deny EQUALITY.

The woke complain that “Theme 1: Science is white and colonial” Well, it’s largely true. That’s the way it happened. It’s now yellow, too. But it’s not other vibrant colors to the tune of EQUITY. And that’s unacceptable to the woke. This is why the woke complain “Theme 2: Science is racist”. It is if “racist” means, as it means to them, denying EQUALITY.

And our authors are most anxious to deny “racism”. How’s this for a winning strategy!

A Nature editorial in 2021 reaffirms this narrative: “Racism in science is endemic because the systems that produce and teach scientific knowledge have marginalized and ill­treated people of other skin colors and under­represented groups for centuries”? organizations “must ensure that anti­racism is embedded in their … objectives and that such work wins recognition and promotion”? [blah blah blah]

Instead of arguing “Stop believing in Equality, it is absurd,” our authors are anxious to show science can lead to EQUITY.

The role of science in rectifying social inequalities goes beyond “trickle-­down” effects of scientific progress. Science can help to develop programs addressing both the root causes of inequalities and the effectiveness of remedial policies.

They surrender again, saying how tests can be used wisely to “increase diversity”. Yet after all we have seen, they still saying increasing “diversity” is good. Diversity is our weakness.

The goodness of Diversity is what their opponents believe. And in truth the woke have the better way to get it. By seizing it.

Our authors “recognize that the playing field is not level.” Not only is this true, it will always be true. No matter what effort. “Level” playing fields are an impossibility. Good grief. Why admit you want to aim for an impossible goal, the goal the enemy desires more than anything?

Finally, they say “If we continue to undermine merit, our universities will become institutions of mediocrity”. Two points:

1) Universities are on the path to Hades, and accelerating downward because of DIE. This is very true.

2) That universities are the best place or optimal way to do science has to be argued, not assumed. It’s far from clear it’s true, and I think it’s largely false, and is obviously false in many instances.

Prediction: the paper won’t change anybody’s mind.

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  1. Alfred Naujocks

    When I hear of things like this, it makes me think that there might be some men on this planet who are not dealing in good faith.

  2. Morten Nielsen

    Praise be to God who has made the world such that evil pursuing its own objectives will alway destroy itself.

    May academia purge itself of every last vestige of honesty and competence, and when this self-chosen self-degradation is complete, may every last vestige of academia be purged from the world.


  3. Cary D Cotterman

    Mr. Nielsen–I share your prayer, and I hope it is fulfilled. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will come about after our time, and there will be a lot more damage along the way.

  4. Milton Hathaway

    Professor Briggs, perhaps you are painting with too broad a brush? In the spirit of know thy enemy, it’s wise to split them into two types, the “Expert” and the “True Believer”. The Expert knows the truth, but when the truth doesn’t serve their goals (typically acquiring money and power without accountability), they gaslight the True Believers to create a mindless horde of foot soldiers to carry out the enforcement duties. The True Believers are the useful idiots in this picture.

    In terms of numbers, the True Believers vastly outnumber the Experts. The paper will indeed fail to achieve it’s goal, but it’s helpful to dig deeper and ask why. The True Believers will never read this paper or even be remotely exposed to any of it’s ideas (unless perhaps if a more charismatic expert comes along). The Experts already understand the points made in the paper, but are contra-motivated.

    The reason the paper will fail is that there is no proposed course of action designed to address the contra-motivations. Merely imploring Experts to “do the right thing” will certainly fail, since humans are so adept at deluding themselves that their self-beneficial actions are also good for society. Until Experts are forced somehow to pay the price for their mistakes, nothing will change. I believe change is possible, but it will require someone smarter than me to devise a workable plan to force some accountability on the Experts who are causing so much damage to our society.

    BTW, replacing their unaccountable Experts with our unaccountable Experts is also doomed to failure. An acquaintance is fond of saying “make me dictator and I’ll fix everything”. It sounds stupid when stated that way, but most people on all sides have essentially that same attitude, thinly disguised. I admit I don’t have the answers, so I’ll listen to your proposals, as long as you pay a price if you’re wrong.

  5. When governments pay for science they get whatever “science” they paid for. Strangely, governments often pay scientists to make scary wild guesses of the future, with no data, Such as predicting a coming climate crisis. There are no data for the future climate. And climate. history has no evidence of any catastrophic manmade global warming. So there are also no historical data for dangerous global warming. That means predictions of dangerous global warming are data-free — just climate astrology, by people with a track record of consistently wrong long-term climate predictions.
    No data
    No correct predictions
    How is that science?

  6. Vermont Crank

    Dear Briggs. You were born in Michigan where there are no natural disasters. You were born into a good family. You had an excellent education.You were born at a time when the American economy was pretty good and when your local Parish worshipped God in the authentic Roman Rite but since that time everything has been blowed-up and gone to hell.

    You are an accomplished professional yet you have to daily deal with lunatics, goofballs, crackpots, tossers, losers, gimcracks, kooks. freaks, toadies, and queer collectivists of all shades and stripes.

    I do not know how’n’hell you do what you do and still have such a tenacious grasp of equanimity.

    Were I you, I’d be shit-faced by brunch.

  7. Briggs


    What are you talking about. No natural disasters? We have Coleman Young and Gretchen Whitmare.

  8. The True Nolan

    RE Cecilia Payne­ Gaposchkin

    Why is it that when men are deprived of proper recognition for their scientific discoveries the common reaction is “Ooooh, bad luck. Stuff happens. Be a man. Walk it off and get over it.” But when the same thing happens to a woman, it is obviously the result of conspiring misogynists?

  9. JH

    That we know overthinking kills happiness doesn’t stop us from repeating this piece of wisdom. I don’t understand why the publication of the paper signals that they already lost. The paper may reach those who are concerned in the scientific community and who matter. That is good enough for me. It is a worthy goal and if I have the time and ability, I’d encourage and praise such an endeavor.

  10. Peter Schaeffer

    Equality is racist. For example, gravity affects all bodies equally (if they have the same mass). Gravity is colorblind. Colorblind is racist. Gravity is racist. Everyone knows that.

  11. rubbernecker

    JFC. You people need to study up on egotism, entitlement, narcissism, sycophancy, and punditry. Some of these comments are downright mentally Ill= living satire.

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