The science of political correctness

A perspective on the recent controversy involving Tim Hunt's comments on women in science.
22 June 2015


Test tubes


The first hurdle to understanding what science is is to discover what the scientific method is...

After learning its six steps (question: what is it to be discovered, research: what has already been learned by others on the subject, hypothesis: creating a guess as to where to go and what might happen, experiment: testing the hypothesis, analysis: going over the results of the experiment and detailing how much of the hypothesis was shown to occur, and then finally making a conclusion: sharing with others the results of the experiment and the analysis that came from it), then one can endeavour to take on almost any challenge to unlock its mysteries.

This foundation for exploring has been the bedrock of scientific study for centuries now and its rational, objective method has allowed many to boast of its purity.

Academia came to embrace the scientific method and used it to tout about its own understanding of the universe and its ability to set aside politics and so called irrational inhibitors to learning, in order to say with more definition what is and what is not both real and rational.

That was then and this is now. Academia throughout the world has been racing to set aside the power and purity of the scientific method and use of empirical evidence, and instead is adopting political correctness as the new method of hierarchy.

While political correctness may have begun as a method to improve the language or clarify ideas and possibly offer more gentle methods of discussing subjects, it has as of late turned into an entirely different creature where no longer are there plentiful examples of "how to say things," rather it has grown to become a force of "what not to say" altogether.

What happens when the scientific method butts heads with political correctness and who should be the winner? That answer depends on where you stand on the issues. However, more and more they are butting heads and those who stand for the scientific method are not only losing out to those on the political correctness side, there are a growing number of cases where scientists are not just giving into the political correctness they are empowering it.

Take for example the most current case where Nobel laureate, English biochemist Tim Hunt, said at a convention on June 9th, of senior female scientists and science journalists, "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls, three things happen when they are in the lab, you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry." His comments were tweeted by Connie St Louis, who is the director of the science journalism program at City University, London.

Within days he was forced to resign or face being sacked according to his wife, Professor Mary Collins, "I was told by a senior that Tim had to resign immediately or be sacked."

This battle between science and political correctness is most disturbing in its lack of use of the scientific method, and since it has now hit home in the field of science itself, what this may mean for the future of science itself is now in jeopardy.

This situation of pushing people out of their place's of work due to comments purposefully creates its own level of fear and intimidation, but now that it is fully bleeding over into science how many will stand up against it or fall prey? BBC's the Science Hour not only took it up, but after pouring on more shame on Mr. Hunt, the presenter went on to say he had a point and it should be looked at. What kind of idea is that, where Mr. Hunt deserves shame but still might be right? How is that science?

Many people who are siding with Mr. Hunt on the issue are still couching their comments in first shaming Hunt's original proclamation, including even Mr. Hunt, all the while deserting the bigger scientific question of the validity of his comments.

Brian Cox followed the same pattern after saying Mr. Hunt's comments were "very ill-advised," and the response from the University College London (UCL) as well as the Royal Society had gone too far.

When dealing with scenarios that can be measured with the scientific method, such as those laid out in the comments of Mr. Hunt, using terms like "very ill-advised" bends not toward the scientific method where such statements can be shown to be valid or not, instead such remarks are the essence of political correctness. Brian Cox's fame carries more weight with the public because of his notoriety, and for him to join the crowd along with the other scientists saying Mr. Hunt's examples earned their shame, are all avoiding what science is about, discovering truth.

The situation modern scientists are creating is a realm of not being allowed to make "ill advised" comments, even when they might bear truth. If that is the point we have come to can any claim to still be scientists anymore?

Irony is not abandoned in this situation when writers like Anne Perkins at The Guardian ask the same question, "Tim Hunt, where's the science in your prejudice against women?" and then offers not a single example of science in her article. However, Ms. Perkin's question is the exact right question for everyone who cares about science to be asking. Shame is a rational choice, not science, and scientists must ask themselves is this the time to forfeit the scientific method in order to appease people's emotions or agendas? In regard to Mr. Hunt, the answer has already come in the affirmative.

Before this furore with Mr. Hunt broke out, the question was addressed with more civility in February by Jennifer Rigby, with the headline, "Is there any science behind the lack of women in science?" and even then there were confessions of fear of language as well as the fear of revealing the results.

"I'm's crazy...we're walking on eggshells. These aren't the kinds of comments you normally hear from scientists discussing their research. But when you are talking about the differences between men and women and how this affects science, and indeed scientists themselves, a theme emerges. Scientists are worried."

Fortunately for Ms. Rigby, she was not treated in the same manner as Mr. Hunt and still enjoys having her job and reputation intact.

If Mr. Hunt's comments hold validity science is supposed to stand up to that, if they are disproved that should be pointed out as well, but if no one takes up the challenge to see if what he said is valid and relies on the shaming of political correctness, then where oh where is the science in the field of science?


Add a comment