Apparently Astronomers Don't Read History

I am a white woman about to start a faculty position in astronomy at the University of Washington, Seattle. Justice John Roberts wants to know why I would care who was in my class. Although I find it baffling that a man who leads the court of a country built in an attempt to honor and value those disparate experiences and backgrounds doesn’t understand the strength of that diversity, I will do him the service I do for all of my students.
That's... an interesting reading of the American project. The country was founded in order to honor and value disparate experiences. E pluribus, pluribus.
John Roberts doesn’t want us to ask these questions because the underlying reason is ugly and exposes the systemic racism that is institutionalized at the deepest levels of our society. The laws that John Roberts and his colleagues nominally clarify and protect are created to keep Justices Roberts, Scalia, and their ilk of mediocre white men at the helm of our country.
Actually, making people astronomers or physicists is just as effective a way of keeping Justices Roberts, Scalia et al at the helm of the country. To be good at those fields, you needed to study the most advanced math you could from an early age. Focusing on that means not focusing on other things -- for example, as you yourself clearly demonstrate, the focus on math means less understanding of law, history, or political philosophy.


james said...

Focus is one thing, bone ignorance is another. She doesn't know what she doesn't know. I doubt that my math skill is inferior to hers, but I knew the history better than that.

FWIW, a professional physicist spends about as much time trying to estimate the error (how much he _doesn't_ know about the measurement) as he does making the measurement.

raven said...

The more they talk about diversity, the more I worried I get about acting differently....

She's diverse though, definitely came from the left hand side of the curve, in multiple respects.

Grim said...

In fairness, James, she's probably a lot younger than you. She's about to take her first real job, if I read her right.

I'm not sure what her math skills are like, but I assume they're solid. She worked for that, and from an early age. Clearly, though, it was at the expense of other things.

Ymar Sakar said...

The alt right can start talking about the "progeny" thing in the US foundations, though.

Grim said...

That essay is dated 1986. Much of what they claim has been disproven conclusively by subsequent historical research into the Founders, e.g., it is quite clear that they did not intend to establish a "Christian" nation as people writing today understand the term. Many of the most central Founders were sanguine about the idea that the Enlightenment ideals would prove universal, since they were based on reason and reason is the same for everyone.

They may well have been wrong about that. Cultural heritage has proven a lot more important than the Enlightenment figures believed. It may be that even universal reason operates necessarily on content given by heritage and upbringing, and thus will only endorse results that are compatible with that material.

Ymar Sakar said...

Many revolutionaries after the Enlightenment, even the communists of the dark side of the Enlightenment, thought that reason was the same for everyone. But given that passion rules reason, the outliers do not disprove the rule.

For the Founders, of course, for a government of the people and by the people, a certain amount of self independent rationality was required, otherwise it would be merely majority mob rule.

Whether that is the ideal or the reality, doesn't matter in so far as whether it is a reality that can be made true. And for many decades, even with setbacks, the US social experiment succeeded. Even as the internal virus rotted and subverted the pillars.

However, given recent events and various derivations based off what people like to call epigenetics, events such as the Islamic Invasion of Europe early 21st century, the survival of one's culture, progeny, and Race may force Reason to take a backseat. Which is a philosophical issue the Alternative Right is dealing with, even if nobody else is.

Hence, old ideas are being re adopted, in a new way, just like the National Front in France. New leader's ideals from new membership, very different from the Old Guard Clique of minority wannabes.

Grim said...

... the survival of one's culture, progeny, and Race may force Reason to take a backseat.

I gather you're Japanese, where the idea of there being such a thing as a race makes more sense. I'm not too convinced that the word refers to anything real. Southerners haven't changed that much from being Scots-Irish with a little English and Welsh to having a lot more German and Irish-Irish in their bloodlines. All of those would have been thought 'races' back home.

In any case, it's not that reason takes a back seat. It may be in the driver's seat. But it's driving something, and the something isn't reason even if reason is driving it. Even if reason is the same for everyone, it makes a big difference if you're driving a car or a boat.

The car/boat difference I wouldn't think was genetic, but it may well be cultural. Reason works on examples, and examples come from culture. You're thinking about something -- history, principles you've been taught to value, and so forth. Those are going to be different here versus there. You're going to get different results because you're working with different material, even if reason is the very same.

Grim said...

By the way, your sources use a word like "epigenetic," I assume that means they don't know what they're talking about. I mean that literally: your sources are trying to assert that there's something about the genetics at work, but are admitting that they have absolutely no idea how it would work.

"Epi-" in the Greek is a very uncertain preposition that can mean everything from near to above or even in the direction of.... It's a huge handwave. "It's something to do with genetics."

Well, maybe. But the cultural issue is not only real -- cultural differences are readily observable -- we can even say exactly how it works (as I just did in the post above). So as a theory, I'll stick with 'cultural' over 'epigenetic' every time.

Texan99 said...

"the systemic racism that is institutionalized at the deepest levels of our society."

I preferred the formulation in your earlier post: more toothiness. The Oberlin screed, was it?