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Attempt to link science and political correctness goes wrong: the Nature case


In August, the journal Nature Human Behavior, dedicated to the study of human behavior, published an editorial in which “it is reserved the right” to reject articles that fail to adhere to a certain moral view. This moral vision would, in theory, be an adherence to human rights. The editors promised not to publish content “that is premised on the presumption of inherent biological, social or cultural superiority or inferiority of one human group over another.”

In the arguments, the editorial recalls tepid adherence to freedom of expression: “Although academic freedom is fundamental, it is not without limits”, reads the sentence that opens the article. Research “can be discriminatory, racist, sexist, capable or homophobic,” the editors explain. They adhere to concepts whose scientificity is questioned, such as gender as something “socially constructed”, in addition to “gender fluid”, “non-binary”, “agender” and “bigender”. It’s the same vocabulary as identity activists. The notion that gender would be something other than sex, for example, is questioned by the philosopher of biology Helena Cronin and by Marco Del Giudice, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.

Noah Carl, a doctor of sociology who in 2019 was fired from a position at the University of Cambridge, UK, after pressure from progressives who disapproved of his studying differences between ethnic groups, is skeptical of the editorial’s real intentions. “In other words: don’t even try to submit any work on biological differences between groups”, commented Carl, in his own publication. With sarcasm, he “congratulated” Nature Human Behavior for being honest about a policy “that most social science journals already have”, “but not assume or, if they do, hide it in small print.”

At the time of Carl’s resignation, the British newspaper The Times

described it as yet another example “of an academic monoculture that prizes the victim narrative of various minority pressure groups over robust debate.” This monoculture, for the paper, defames anyone who disagrees with it “as a threat to members of marginalized student body groups.” “Some racists have looted his research for their loathsome purposes, but an author cannot be blamed for his readers,” the paper concluded. “His main ‘crime’ seems to have been challenging a leftist orthodoxy of identity [“woke”] that now takes British universities by storm as it does many American ones.”

As reported in June by Gazeta do Povo, 100 British universities were offering a course that claimed that “cancellation has benefits” and that defamed the English language itself as a language that preaches “white superiority”. It is in this climate that the magazine’s editorial was published: a climate of pressure for more adhesion by universities and the academic world to identity and other forms of left-wing authoritarianism. In fact, the magazine Nature, the most famous of the same group as Nature Human Behavior, removed an article in 100 because the publication showed evidence that female scientists could be more successful in research when being mentored by men, a conclusion that offends feminists in particular and identity progressivism in general.

The amendment to the sonnet

The August editorial was met with revolt by many scientists besides Noah Carl. Gad Saad, a professor who studies the application of the theory of evolution to the market, said on Twitter that the editorial “codifies forbidden knowledge as part of its editorial guidelines.” Colin Wright, an evolutionary biologist who questions the so-called “gender ideology”, commented on the same social network that “it is now completely possible that the magazine will not publish, and even begin to remove, articles that correctly say that there are only two sexes among humans”. . Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist who has authored accessible books on the replication crisis and the intelligence quotient, said the editorial “should send a shiver down my spine.” For him, the good intentions are clear, “but vague language is easy to abuse and could be used to cancel surveys that anyone finds offensive for any reason.”

In response to criticism and “questions raised by readers”, last week (18), Nature Human Behavior published clarifications regarding its new guidelines, with hypothetical examples of publications that would be rejected. The journal says the guidelines were developed over a two-year period in consultation with editors, researchers and ethicists. Commenting on why it published the editorial with the guidelines, the magazine says that science is the search for knowledge, “but the search for knowledge cannot be done at all costs”, citing the Nuremberg trials that revealed cruel research practices in humans made by the Nazis.

In the new clarification editorial, the magazine asks itself “is this guideline to suppress socially controversial outcomes?” and answers no, because “knowledge can be uncomfortable, controversial or inconvenient”. It also says that the guideline seeks to minimize potential harm from human research, as well as “use respectful language to refer to human groups” and help authors present their work in a way that minimizes “misuse, misinterpretation and other unintentional harm.”

The journal also denies that it has equated “causing harm” with “offending”, adhering to the notion of harm under United Nations human rights treaties. United. “Not all content that offends is harmful”, he explains, using as an example the creationists who feel offended by evolutionary biology research, which nevertheless should not be barred.

On the potential for abuse of well-intentioned starting guidelines, the editors recognize this risk and say that “the best way to avoid this is to remain accountable and transparent in our editorial decisions, seek advice from ethicists where needed” and discuss potential problems with the authors. In the hypothetical examples, the editors say that for articles that use dated terms like “Caucasian”, they will make “suggestions for changes”, but they do not say if the article will be rejected if the authors refuse to follow what was suggested.