Quashing Racist Pseudoscience Is Science’s Responsibility

Although these two classes (mainstream and marginal) are very different, each contributes to the public confusion that directly or indirectly feeds the racist pseudo-scientific machine. For example, although the Buffalo terrorist was deeply rooted in the world of alternative science, his regulations presented selected and out-of-context figures and data from conventional science, published in Nature, on genes associated with “educational achievement,” to support their worldview. This is consistent with the work of scholars who have documented that white nationalist circles consume conventional genetic literature at a high rate.

Leading research that aims to resolve the relationships between genes and traits that matter to us (e.g., the risk of diabetes) is important for improving life on Earth (and perhaps beyond) and has provided critical knowledge that helps us treat diseases and improve agriculture. , and even aids in conservation efforts. Learning about how genetic information creates traits across the biosphere is also an exciting frontier of science, regardless of its practical value.

Even acclaimed geneticists Recognize, however, that human studies are not without flaws, and in particular when applied to the statistical interpretation of findings: the design and results do not guarantee the kind of headline-worthy conclusions they have led to. For example, the results of the 2018 educational achievement study (the same as mentioned in the manifesto) were summarized by Steven Pinker as “a collective prediction[ing] much of the variation in educational performance. ”This is misleading.

For most, the best summary is less tempting: large genome studies often identify hundreds or thousands of genetic markers (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) associated with human traits or behaviors, all of which often “explain” ( statistically) rather small percentages of the difference of the whole population in one shot. These studies are important, but they hardly “predict” anything in a meaningful way.

Consequently, even the honest work of well-meaning scientists should be clearer about their message. Improved and more accurate communications of genome-wide study results would sound less sexy, create fewer clicks, and (perhaps) fame for authors. But if the main message of honest work is distorted for dangerous purposes, over and over and over and over, then it is our scientific responsibility to participate in the correction of the course.

The work of the marginal scientific community of high genetics requires a different intervention: an aggressive effort to eradicate any force that legitimizes the rot of racist pseudoscience. This would include the active responsibility of the actors who create, process or propagate this misinformation. From my point of view, helping to promote racist pseudoscience is like scientific embezzlement. Consequently, mass retraction, public embarrassment, termination, and abandonment should be on the table as reactions, as with other major and consequent violations of the scientific process. For example, the work of Jean-Phillipe Rushton (and his associates), whose professional existence has been built around a biological fantasy, cannot be ignored. It should be treated with the same relentless hand used to tackle various destructive acts of irregularity (e.g. the Jonathan Pruitt scandal).

In the case of conventional or marginal science, censorship is not a relevant issue: the question is not about what we have the right to ask, but about how we can let science do what it does best: select useful ideas and discard -les. the broken ones. Demanding the best of the job is not censorship. It’s science.

What would a formal effort to correct misinterpretations seems? If the modern era of “great science” is good at anything, it is to organize institutions around ambitious goals. From Bell Labs to the Manhattan Project, Nixon’s “War on Cancer,” and the Human Genome Project: Science knows how to mobilize resources around issues we believe are important. While these great efforts may have contradictory results, they at least draw attention to the issues that concern us.

A unified effort is needed, and it must be holistic and inclusive, with the participation of funding agencies, school teachers, ethicists, doctors and everyday citizen-scientists. But it starts with geneticists, who should not see participation in these efforts as a community service, but as a protection of the science that keeps the lights on and is the best knowledge-making tool in the universe.

Bets are higher than ever. Anything else is called complicity or cowardice.

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