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An Existential Threat to Doing Good Science


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Common Sense With Bari Weiss.

What scientists are able to teach and what research we can pursue are under attack. I know because I’m living it, writes biologist Luana Maroja.

Luana Maroja

Nov. 7 2022

For the past two days, more than 150 professors, scholars, and a few hangers-on, including yours truly, gathered at Stanford to talk about the state of academic freedom. If you read this newsletter and listen to our podcast, you know well that the need for such a conference—to say nothing of new universities—is urgent.

This one was organized and attended by many whose names will be familiar to you from their bylines in Common Sense and on Honestly: economist John Cochrane; geophysicist Dorian Abbott; mathematician Sergiu Klainerman; economist Tyler Cowen; historian Niall Ferguson; psychologist Jonathan Haidt; lawyer Nadine Strossen; and courageous young scholars like Solveig Gold, among many others. 

The most important of the panels, to my mind, were those focused on hard sciences and the way that this authoritarian ideology has impacted even fields like chemistry and biology. Below is an edited version of what Luana Maroja, a biology professor at Williams College, shared.

I’m told by the conference organizers that a video of the whole thing will be available soon. We’ll be sure to share it in TGIF this week. — BW


One of the most fundamental rules of biology from plants to humans is that the sexes are defined by the size of their gametes—that is, their reproductive cells. Large gametes occur in females; small gametes in males. In humans, an egg is 10 million times bigger than a sperm. There is zero overlap. It is a full binary. 

But in some biology 101 classes, teachers are telling students that sexes—not gender, sex—are on a continuum. At least one college I know teaches with the “gender unicorn” and informs students that it is bigoted to think that humans come in two distinct and discrete sexes. 

Even medical schools and the Society for the Study of Evolution have issued statements suggesting that sexes are on a “continuum.” If this were true, the entire field of sexual selection would be baseless, as its bedrock insight lies in the much larger female investment in reproduction, explaining the demonstrated choosiness in females (who have more to lose) and competitiveness in males (the “abundant” sex in most species, one male can fertilize multiple females). Published papers (see here, for example) ask us to be “inclusive” by limiting the sex discussion to the few species of algae and protists (such as amoebas) that have equal size gametes—even when that has no relevance to any animal or vascular plant. 


Let’s move on to the stifling of research. Some grants focus almost exclusively on identity, as federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, now offer a surplus of grants with the purpose of “broadening the participation of members of groups that are . . . currently underrepresented”—instead of funding research to answer scientific questions.

But the field that is most directly affected is research related to humans, especially those dealing with evolution of populations.

As an example: The NIH now puts barriers to access to the important database of “Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP).” The database is an amazing tool that combines genomes (the unique genetic makeup of each individual) and phenotypes (the observable characteristics of each individual) of millions of people. These phenotypes include education, occupation, health and income and, because the dataset connects genetics with phenotype at an individual level, it is essential for scientists who want to understand genes and genetic pathways that are behind those phenotypes.

The NIH now denies scientists access to this data and other related datasets. Researchers report getting permits denied on the grounds that studying their genetic basis is “stigmatizing.” According to one researcher, this happens even if the research has nothing to do with race or sex, but focuses on genetics and education.



Well so much for "Follow The Science!"

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