Hi, it’s been a while. I hope you had a nice holiday break? I think there are some real gems in here.
The Professor: “Maybe the most powerful person is the one who dares to refuse the gift.”
Note the date on this article and you’ll find it was quite prescient: The Pandemic Movie of Our Time Isn’t Contagion. It’s Jaws.
There’s been some discussion among the Society of Systematic Biologists about removing Ernst Mayr’s name from an annual student award. It’s rather curious because this isn’t because of anything particularly bad or wrong that Ernst Mayr did or was known to be. It’s just that his existence and success came at a time when there were many accomplished people with marginalized identities who didn’t get recognized, and many people who had not had an opportunity to accomplish because of their identities. Essentially because he was a scientifically impactful white man in a time when influence was being hoarded by white men. That short description of mine lacks nuance and doesn’t come close to addressing the issues that matter here, and I thought here’s a more thorough, and I think well-considered, take on this situation from Mark Holder.
Why are women of color leaving NPR in droves? Oddly enough, I think useful perspective comes from NPR’s site itself (written by an NPR host but not subject to editing NPR editorial staff.)
Beronda Montgomery is moving from Michigan State for a leadership role at Grinnell. Here she explains why. It’s a good read.
Nature wrote a news feature about the ongoing revelations of the pervasive environment of sexual misconduct at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
There are a lot of obituaries for E.O. Wilson. As an ant biologist and a scientist whose work and path have been influenced by what he’s done — and because the lives of many people I know have been positively affected by him directly and indirectly — I’ve read a lot of them. The one I recommend the most is rather pithy, by his friend and coauthor Bert Hölldobler, which came was published by Nature.
And last, I wouldn’t say that this is a “recommended” read, but I did want to briefly discuss a couple essays in the wake of Wilson’s death that have gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks. As the initial set of obituaries were coming out, Scientific American chose to publish a curious short essay* that reflected on Wilson’s legacy of “racist ideas.” A large group of prominent scientists took this essay really personally, and decided that it required a sharp rebuttal. So what did they decide to do? They signed on to a letter from overtly racist geneticist, that defended Wilson. To be clear, this rebuttal was led by the overtly racist guy.
Yes: we are at a place where many prominent scientists, including several members of the National Academy, and some regulars on the DEI talk circuit, are teaming up with an avowed racist to defend the legacy of E.O. Wilson, who was accused of being racist. What a world we live in.
The rebuttal wasn’t published by the Sci Am, so the racist guy published it on his substack.
I don’t think they’re doing Ed’s legacy any favors here. If you’re saying he wasn’t racist, then maybe teaming up with an alt-right poster boy who writes for white supremacist websites is unwise? Who are these folks who think that E-fricking-O Wilson’s legacy needs defending? One weak opinion piece isn’t going to tarnish that legacy. But what might harm his legacy? Championing Wilson with the pen of one of our loudest scientific racists.
( In case you’re curious what I thought about the essay itself. I saw it shortly after it came out. I just thought it was exceptionally weird. It clocked in over 1000 words but was mostly content-free with respect to what Wilson did that was wrong or racist. I guess we the readers were just supposed to take it for granted that his work on sociobiology was racist? The essay had useful and important observations about dealing with scientists and scientific work informed by harmful ideologies, but there wasn’t just much about Wilson. The headline read like a hit piece on Wilson’s legacy but the article itself was wholly vague about his problematicness. I thought ‘meh’ and moved on, because there is a lot of serious scholarship about what happened in the 1970s sociobiology, and Wilson and the Gould and Lewontin and the Spandrels, and this opinion piece didn’t even dip its toes into those waters. The essay wasn’t substantial enough for me to fuss about. I think folks are more upset that Scientific American published this essay without requiring revisions to explain to readers how Wilson was allegedly racist. I also think that was weird.)