How ‘Identity Science’ Canceled an Editor
The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 1978 Bakke decision, shoehorned racial preferences into legality by identifying (racial and ethnic) diversity as an intrinsic good, a non-merit factor that may be legally used to tilt hiring and college admissions. Now, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become part of the science establishment, with predictably destructive results. A recent scandalous defenestration shows how the editorial process in a major scientific journal has been corrupted by DEI.
Goals: Intrinsic and Accidental
Diversity may be an agreeable outcome, but it should never be a goal for science. Here’s an analogy: confronted with a picture, an admiring viewer exclaims, “What a wonderfully colorful painting!” Would any sensible person infer from this that “colorfulness” is the ne plus ultra of painting; that no painting lacking color can be excellent? Of course not: Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is not particularly colorful, but it is a great painting. In short, colorfulness is an accidental result of the effort to produce a good painting.
There are some things that are legitimate, intrinsic goals. There are also agreeable conditions that are nevertheless not legitimate goals; call them accidental. In painting, beauty—hard to assess, to be sure, but some aesthetic quality—is an intrinsic goal, but colorfulness is an accidental outcome of the attempt to achieve beauty. In science, truth is an intrinsic goal, but diversity, assessed simply by numerical racial representation, is accidental—like colorfulness in a painting. Diversity is pleasing to many, but it is utterly irrelevant to science, which is entirely about empirically provable fact.
In what follows I will unpack this claim using as a recent example a clash between the editor of a prestigious science journal and his peer reviewers, on the one hand, and the author of a series of papers advocating increased attention to racial diversity, on the other.
The case comes from a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Similar, but possibly less dramatic, stories might be told about most other scientific societies. This is a controversy which should never have occurred, and which would have been barely comprehensible to past generations of scientists.
APS was founded in 1988 as an alternative to the American Psychological Association (APA), which, many felt, had strayed too far from science in the direction of clinical work. Now, along with APA, the Federal Government, and essentially all the major social and biomedical science organizations, APS seems to have become committed to DEI, even above science. For example, its About page includes a lengthy DEI section:
APS Statement on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
The Association for Psychological Science is committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all areas of our leadership, membership, activities, staff, and field. Including members of underrepresented groups in meaningful ways is a vital part of this commitment. Acknowledging the harmful roles that racism and other forms of discrimination and exclusion have played in all aspects of society, including our field, is critical in order to turn this commitment into action. This includes investigating potential consequences within our own organization.
We fully embrace the guiding organizational principle that psychological science has the ability to transform society for the better and can and must play a central role in advancing human welfare and the public interest. To that end, we support the pursuit of a wide variety of scientific work that furthers our understanding of the causes and harmful effects of racism, stereotypes, and inequities; the psychological and societal benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the most effective ways to foster these outcomes and advance a more just and equitable world [emphases added].
The lead article on the page is an interview with a 2022 awardee who affirms that “[T]here’s a large overarching problem, I think, in the field … that issue is a lack of [racial] diversity in our field.” DEI seems to have eclipsed the original scientific mission of APS, which now appears committed to race-sensitive non-science.
Whether they are aware of it or not, the dominance of DEI presents conscientious APS journal editors with a quandary. They must acknowledge that DEI is part of their editorial obligation, yet they must also face the fact that DEI has nothing whatever to do with science. It is this Trojan-horse dilemma—passing off ideological claims as scientific—which entangled an editor of APS journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, Klaus Fiedler of the University of Heidelberg, less than a year into his tenure (Fiedler was appointed the first non-North-America-based editor of Perspectives on Jan 1, 2022).
A Revealing Controversy
The following is an attempt to clarify, and learn from, an academic mess created by the contradiction between the rules of science and the rules of racial activism, by APS’s mixed science-includes-activism message. Many people are involved, not to mention more than a thousand who signed an online petition (not the usual response to a scientific debate!) demanding Fiedler’s ouster. Summary stories, through December 12, 2022, are here and here.
All began with the 2020 publication of a paper in Perspectives titled “Racial Inequality in Psychological Research: Trends of the Past and Recommendations for the Future,” whose lead author is Steven O. Roberts, associate professor of psychology at Stanford University. Roberts is at the heart of the ensuing controversy. A psychologist named Bernhard Hommel, at the University of Dresden in Germany, then submitted a commentary titled “Dealing with diversity in psychology: Science or ideology?” which was highly critical of the Roberts et al. paper. Hommel’s commentary was reviewed by three people: Lee Jussim at Rutgers University, Wolfgang Stroebe at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and Keith Stanovich at the University of Toronto. All basically agreed with Hommel.
[Related: “The Sign in Lee Jussim’s Window”]
Editor Fiedler was sufficiently impressed by the three reviews that he asked the reviewers, plus Roberts, to participate in a discussion forum on diversity which would be published in Perspectives. For a proposed forum, he requested commentaries from the three reviewers (based on their reviews) and asked Roberts for a written reaction.
Fiedler’s invitation to Roberts led to a back-and-forth series of emails, with Roberts asking that he have the last word in the to-be-published sequence of critiques that began with Hommel’s. Roberts at first declined to review Hommel’s critique, writing “I am on sabbatical and therefore decline,” which will strike any academic as odd since sabbatical leave is just when one has time to fulfill such responsibilities. But it does convey a certain sense of entitlement on Roberts’ part. Throughout their interaction, Fiedler is at times complementary and is never uncivil. He accepts diversity as a legitimate topic, e.g., “I believe that seeing more than one perspective on diversity can help us to widen the scope and arriving at a most useful joint definition of the construct.”
Hommel’s charge of activism leveled at Roberts is hard to dispute. Roberts’ own website proclaims: “I am interested in the psychological bases of racism, and how to dismantle them,” and his CV confirms this interest. For example, “The view from somewhere: Challenging the white = neutral framework in psychology” is an extraordinary 2022 contribution to Perspectives, which complains that “racial identities” are too often ignored in psychological research and “will prevent psychology from becoming a truly objective and inclusive science … .” In other words, Roberts is arguing for racial identification in every study, including, presumably, studies on perception and memory, where race is completely irrelevant.
Moreover, Roberts is inconsistent. In one place he argues that ‘pseudoscience’ tries to prove “the superiority of white people,” which suggests that he thinks whites and blacks are essentially the same, and then a few lines later he criticizes research findings that feature white people “as if they were generalizable to all of humanity.” So which is it: the same or different? Many other articles in Perspectives deplore the dominance of white people in the field. Clearly Roberts is playing for the home team, which boded ill for editor Fiedler should he have failed to go along.
For most of the history of science, authors of scientific papers typically identified themselves by their initials, so neither their sex nor their racial identity was in view. Nowadays many journals anonymize authors. Yet, in this article, Roberts and his co-author challenge these practices and propose that authors explicitly reveal their racial identity (euphemized as “positionality”). A more blatant invitation to racial bias in the reviewing process can hardly be imagined.
The discussion between Roberts and editor Fiedler until this point was private. But then an aggrieved Roberts published his article together with the emails between him and Fiedler, interspersed with his own comments, in the open-source preprint website PsyArXiv, which inspired an angry open letter to APS leadership with more than 1,000 signatories. The letter begins:
Dear APS Leadership:
The racism, general editorial incompetence, and abuse of power enacted against one of our colleagues … is atrocious and completely at odds with APS’s stated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and ostensible commitment to “building an inclusive, connected, and meaningful global science.” We demand immediate, meaningful, systemic change from APS leadership that at minimum includes … [6 demands follow]”
Obviously, the writers of this letter see no contradiction between DEI and science, instead claiming that the full incorporation of DEI will lead to “an inclusive, connected, and meaningful global science.” This is a bit odd, since science is just facts. It is hard to imagine facts that are not “global” and “meaningful,” though they may not be “connected.”
In response to all this, and without giving Fiedler a chance to respond (and despite receiving another letter, in support of Fiedler, with many signatories, few of whom were American) APS CEO Robert Gropp forced him to resign, which he did on December 6, 2022, after less than a year in his position.
A Case Study: Roberts’ PsyArXiv paper
The reflexive ousting of Fiedler is just the most recent example of the damage that the label “racist” does to science. Othello Roberts wielded the weapon, charging that criticisms of his work are “collectively unsound, unscientific, ad hominem, and racist,” and it worked.
The definitive record is provided by Roberts’ long PsyArXiv rebuttal of his three critics: “Dealing with Diversity in Psychology: Science and Ideology,” which begins with a preface to the original Perspectives submission, followed by the long series of commented emails between Roberts and Fiedler discussed earlier.
Fiedler asked Roberts to revise just one section of his rebuttal, where reviewer Jussim quoted from the musical Fiddler on the Roof to make the point that “diversity” proffers science but delivers activism (“Of course, there was the time when he sold him a horse, but delivered a mule”). Roberts seized on the mule metaphor to accuse Jussim of racism, claiming that what Jussim intended by mule was not a sterile science-diversity hybrid but black people. Fiedler quite properly asked that Roberts delete this unjustified allegation from his response. Soon after this exchange, Roberts withdrew from the proposed forum. Fiedler asked him to reconsider, after which Roberts resubmitted his: “… manuscript: ‘Dealing with Diversity in Psychology: Science and Ideology’ as it is currently written, along with [a] cover letter [which complained about the editorial process].” The “mules = blacks” claim remained. A careful reading of this final version of Roberts’ manuscript reveals the differences between the DEI faith system and the faith system that makes science possible.
The Faith of Science
Roberts’ piece reveals a fundamental contrast between the way that science has been viewed traditionally and the way that it is viewed now by Roberts and his allies. The traditional view of science is based on the epistemology of David Hume. Science is just facts and factual claims. As Hume pointed out, a fact is a fact, not a motive for action; motives come from elsewhere. A fact cannot be racist. There is no such thing as ‘racist science,’ only racist action.
Darwin famously wrote: “A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, a mere heart of stone,” but he was only partially correct. Science itself provides no motive for doing science. A “scientific man” must have a faith, not provable by science, a faith whose central tenet is a belief in truth: that nature follows fixed laws that can be discovered by the methods of science. These methods, I must add, are not at all well-defined, nor can they all be described beforehand. There is no “gold standard.” Scientific method is not an algorithm, like the rules for assembling IKEA furniture. The only condition is that the results are convincing to rational men—or women—of any race. As I have argued elsewhere, science is best understood not by enumerating rules but by examining successful examples.
Until very recently, this description of the “spirit of science” was understood by all practicing scientists. It was not explicit, because to most scientists it seemed obvious. This informality turns out to be a mistake, because the beliefs that underly science are novel in history and are by no means the default position for humanity. They are a relatively recent product of Western civilization. They are fragile. Because they are unstated, they are vulnerable to replacement by older, more primitive ways of looking at the world.
[Related: “Challenging the Academic Publisher Oligopoly”]
Roberts’ Perspectives submission provides a textbook illustration of this scientific primitivism. How much of the traditional view do we see in it? Here are a few quotes:
I do not write for anyone but myself and those scholars who have felt similarly marginalized, oppressed, and silenced.
So, his article is not science, since it is not accessible to every rational person. It looks more like a literary essay written for the like-minded—the book-end quotes from two black literary icons, neither a scientist, confirm this impression. But it makes his position, and its congruence with APS’s DEI proclamation, perfectly clear.
Roberts criticizes at length the supposed dominance of white people in his field. In a survey, he found that “Most articles [are] edited and authored by White psychologists,” to which many would reply, “So what?” This seems to mean for Roberts either that the identity of the author determines the truth of his claims or that morality demands proportional representation by race.
The first claim is utterly opposed to traditional science, which is evidence-based: the truth of a claim depends on the quality of the evidence, not the identity of the claimant. The goal of proportional representation, ‘diversity,’ underlies much DEI, but it is antithetical to merit and orthogonal to science. Roberts repeats assertions of ‘identity science’ throughout the piece, ending with what he seems to think is a clincher: “And it would be disingenuous of me to not point out that Hommel, Jussim, Stanovich, and Stroebe, along with Editor Fiedler, were all senior White men,” as if this in some way discredits their scientific arguments.
Roberts summarizes his view of science thus:
There is a racialized power structure that marginalizes research by (and about) people of color. This case study demonstrates an intellectual echo chamber in which a single worldview held by the majority group … formalizes itself in the permanent scientific record under the guise of a scientific debate. That single worldview is then used as the scientific metric by which to evaluate opposing worldviews, and to then accuse those opposing worldviews of being ideologically motivated and unscientific. By definition, then, what counts as “good” science is what only aligns with the ideological needs of the dominant group … [emphases added]
It’s not clear just what Roberts means by “worldviews,” other than that they are incompatible and untestable. A later comment makes clear that he thinks that “everything is political,” science included:
Hommel … questions whether dealing with diversity in psychology is a matter of science or ideology. The short answer is that it is both.
So Roberts denies that there is any such thing as universal science. In short, he does not share the faith of science: the belief in a single truth about the world that is discoverable by the scientific method—and by anyone, not just people of a particular race. In addition, the paragraph is full of allegations that lack both proof and relevance. What does he mean by “power structure,” and how is it relevant to a scientific argument? What “majority group,” what “opposing worldviews”? Are they testable, like hypotheses? And, finally, he writes of “ideological needs”—what needs? Are there needs of the non-dominant group? How do you know all these things? Und so weiter … Roberts’ ‘mulish’ view of science is about as far from the traditional one as can be imagined. Yet he won the Perspectives battle.
Science is about truth, a single truth imperfectly but repeatedly tested and revised. It has no room for ideology, because there are many ideologies, which can only compete and, since they are not based on evidence, can never be resolved. It is not about “power.” Allowing “diversity” to introduce these untestable beliefs must destroy science. Editor Fiedler was quite right to try and put together a symposium that would separate diversity of thought from diversity of skin color.
Unless the Association for Psychological Science firmly dissociates itself from DEI ideology and restores its commitment to objective science, it will lose all credibility as a scientific organization.
Image: Kemal Hayit, Public Domain
2 thoughts on “Diversity Is a Trojan Horse”
In Bernard Hommel’s commentary the following is in the abstract:
“It is argued that uncritically accepting and introducing political activist arguments into science is likely to damage scientific freedom and independence.”
One would have thought that to be intuitively obvious; apparently it’s not. Or I guess I should say it’s not to political activists like Roberts and his ilk.
I have been conducting research for more than 30 years. I am also heavily involved with professional organizations in my field. I have yet to encounter any group of white researchers colluding to exclude people of color from participating in anything. Any claims otherwise are just fraudulent. I have never seen such claims present any actual examples or evidence.
It has been my observation though that people who can do science, do science. People who can’t do science become political activists. DEI provides the latter a forum, nothing more. In five years no one will remember what they did. Or care.
You can stop the fellow in his tracks by asking him to define “white”. Truly the nascent but pervasive DEI field is utterly confused. Why? The reason the DEI field is confused is because The Usual Suspects (church/”social services”/non-profits, academia, media, and politicians) stole their ideas from the philosophy the world renown “Undoing Racism” training program, based out of New Orleans. The Usual suspects don’t understand what they are talking about, but caught a little light from lightly perusing “Undoing Racism” and gifted themselves full torches of understanding to go forth and light up the world. Again, the question, “why?”. They gifted themselves with the power to teach and judge and demand conformity because the gift came with what they really seek – power and resources.
The pattern of race creation, racial hierarchy, fallacious racial narratives, and demands for conformity were purposely supplanted into the “Undoing Racism” framework, after our modern civil rights movement started in Ferguson 2014. Why? To cause conflict and co-opt political capital. This sort of racial wedging is not a new phenomenon, it is Political Science 101.
What is “whiteness”? What is “white”? Anti-racist activists have to define their terms *before* requesting conformity to their ideas. Demanding conformity is a sure sign of political wedging.
In fact, “whiteness” in no way refers to race. Race is not real – that is a bit of science The Usual Suspects will ignore because they, of course, need “race” for racial wedging. “Whiteness” actually refers to *the construct of race*, race creation, racial hierarchies that pit groups against each other, fallacious racial narratives to disseminate the new racial identities into culture, and demands for conformity that threaten people to play their new racialized roles. So “white” does not refer to a legitimate race, but a political creation – a false racialized identity buttressed by The Usual Suspects. Of course, “white” has an opposite to fight with – “black”. Both racialized groups were hazed into this structure of racism. Why? So that elites can hoard opportunities and resources.
The exploitation of our modern civil rights movement by The Usual Suspects was made glaringly clear when The Smithsonian had to take down their display on “White Culture”. In fact what The Smithsonian did, with the support of academia, media, politicians, and non profits, was: create race, create racial hierarchy, create fallacious racial narratives, and demand conformity to their race creation. They were literally carrying out “whiteness”. The entire DEI industry is a copy of what MLK wrote about the Bourbon Elites of the south. He said the elites re-wrote “white supremacy” to pit “whites” and “blacks” against each other to prevent a popular movement powerful enough to oust the elites. It is the same pattern, today.
The bigger picture that the DEI industry won’t acknowledge is that the internalized superiority and inferiority are *fake identities*. “White” and “black” are fake identities with attached fallacious characterizations. Race is a false construct. The goal is to “undo” those fake identities and relationships. DEI is legitimizing these fallacious racial narratives, and re-legitimizing “race”, “race” by “color”, and segregation…what Baldwin refers to as “the plague called color”. Newspapers recently changed editorial rules to capitalize “White” “Black” and “Brown”…as legitimate races.
DEI is the work of The Usual Suspects. They steal much of their “work” from true grassroots activists, who are trying to truly “Undo Racism” and build on the good of humanity. The DEI industry is an exercise of “whiteness” – it hurts the community and benefits “elites”.