A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Science in Danger!

A bunch of fringe elements are attacking the very roots of science using dubious "facts" taken from sacred texts.

No, not those fringe elements. The other ones, the ones that are taken seriously within the academy, by which we mean feminists.

One day professors of gender theory and critical studies will critically study discourses for implicit and explicit values and elitist norms and determine quantitatively that the stance and interdiscursivity of the syllabus descriptions do not privilege masculinist values; but that day is not this day.

Evidence presented by the prosecution:

1. Ståhl, Marie and Anita Hussénius. "Chemistry inside an epistemological community box! Discursive exclusions and inclusions in Swedish National tests in Chemistry." Cultural Studies of Science Education (2016) pp. 1-29.

Abstract: This study examined the Swedish national tests in chemistry for implicit and explicit values. The chemistry subject is understudied compared to biology and physics and students view chemistry as their least interesting science subject. The Swedish national science assessments aim to support equitable and fair evaluation of students, to concretize the goals in the chemistry syllabus and to increase student achievement. Discourse and multimodal analyses, based on feminist and critical didactic theories, were used to examine the test’s norms and values. The results revealed that the chemistry discourse presented in the tests showed a traditional view of science from the topics discussed (for example, oil and metal), in the way women, men and youth are portrayed, and how their science interests are highlighted or neglected. An elitist view of science emerges from the test, with distinct gender and age biases. Students could interpret these biases as a message that only “the right type” of person may come into the chemistry epistemological community, that is, into this special sociocultural group that harbours a common view about this knowledge. This perspective may have an impact on students’ achievement and thereby prevent support for an equitable and fair evaluation. Understanding the underlying evaluative meanings that come with science teaching is a question of democracy since it may affect students’ feelings of inclusion or exclusion. The norms and values harboured in the tests will also affect teaching since the teachers are given examples of how the goals in the syllabus can be concretized.

2. Parson, Laura. (2016). "Are STEM Syllabi Gendered? A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis." The Qualitative Report, 21 (1), 102-116.

Abstract: This study explored the gendered nature of STEM higher education institution through a feminist critical discourse analysis of STEM course syllabi from a Midwest research university. I explored STEM syllabi to understand how linguistic features such as stance and interdiscursivity are used in the syllabus and how language and discourses used in the syllabus replicate the masculine nature of STEM education. Findings suggest that the discourses identified in the syllabi reinforce traditional STEM academic roles, and that power and gender in the STEM syllabi are revealed through exploration of the themes of knowledge, learning, and the teaching and learning environment created by the language used in the syllabus. These findings inform and extend understanding of the STEM syllabus and the STEM higher education institution and lead to recommendations about how to make the STEM syllabus more inclusive for women.

TOF is astonished to learn that in Sweden chemistry tests -- excuse me -- "the chemistry discourse presented in the tests" showed "a traditional view of science" by discussing topics like oil and metal. Who knew these were chemicals? If one wonders at the shortage of women among metallurgical and petrochemical engineers, look no further than feminist professors.

Fortunately, discourse analysis and multimodal analysis "based on feminist and critical didactic theories" were used. Presumably, these were calibrated to the relevant ISO standards prior to the analyses.

Parson in the second reference also used "discourse analysis," which appears to mean counting whether and how often certain words were used in the course syllabus descriptions. Apparently, some people pay attention to these things. Technical-sounding terms like "stance" and "interdiscursivity" are used to give it all a patina of objectivity, due to the curse of scientism infecting all of post-modernity. TOF is not sure what "findings" means when one always finds what one sets out to find a priori. In technical fields one sometimes discovers surprises, and this may form a sort of disconnect for those who regard such things as a form of false consciousness or even oppression.
Example of discourse analysis

Notes for the perplexed. The paper defines the term: "interdiscursivity is the use of elements in a text that carry institutional and social meaning from other discourses (Afros & Schryer, 2009). Syllabi reflect the conventions, values and practices of neighboring discourses and communities that are identifiable, in part, through content-specific terminology (Afros & Schryer, 2009). Specifically, the discourses that syllabi refer to are college teaching (e.g., learning objectives) and discipline-specific languages/terminology (Afros & Schryer, 2009). Connecting to larger discourses about STEM education and teaching is often accomplished through interdiscursivity." Now you know all that TOF knows about interdiscursivity, which seems to be a fancy, pseudotechnical term for using common words like "learning objectives."  TOF also does not know why the same reference text was mentioned three times in the same definition, but without page references. 


  1. As I think I've said before, "stance" is real linguistic jargon, though it's not much used by real linguists. (Linguistics is arguably the most empirical of the social sciences, except maybe archaeology.)

    And (so far as I can puzzle out) "interdiscursivity" doesn't actually mean that. It means terms and concepts from one discipline being used in another, as when archaeologists talk about the "evolution" of the European sword, or when economic analysis is applied to things like biological mating systems.

  2. A comment and suggestion for a future post:

    Read Scott Alexander's post at
    In it, replace "lightning" by "God", and "thunder" by "Nature".
    The same blog post then comes a lesson that we can entirely believe in!
    Try it!!

    1. It is a truly amusing discussion, with the usual cherry-picking. Bruno is cited, but Nicholas of Cusa never mentioned. Roger Bacon is cited, but not his friends and mentor, Grosseteste and Peter de Maricourt. It is easy over the course of 400 years to find a few people who were treated badly (or you can construe as having been treated badly) and you can even pick the designated bugbear. But then you have to explain why the said bugbear did not similarly mistreat the other folks. Why Galileo and not Kepler? Why Bruno and not Nicholas of Cusa? Why R. Bacon and not Grosseteste or Pilgrim Pete?

    2. It's especially amusing because it only makes sense if one actually thinks it is bad for a society to have a reigning orthodoxy, not what the orthodoxy is. The Soviet example and the thunder/lightning example can both be tested against objective reality and found to be deficient on strictly empirical grounds. The Catholic example cannot be similarly dismissed.

    3. Anyone who objects to a reigning orthodoxy really just wants to substitute their own; only some of them have the self-awareness to know it (or the honesty to admit it).

    4. What struck me is how innocently he calls for a ‘Kolmogorov option’ where a powerful patron would create a sort of island in society where scientists could work without ideological interference.

      You know, something pretty much exactly like the mediaeval universities, which were sponsored by… wait for it… the Catholic Church.

      Pity they didn’t have something like that, eh?

    5. Utterly unrelated-- TOM! You're alive! Yay!

    6. But I'm beginning to suspect time has finally caught up with Dr. Boli to the left.

  3. Afros in Sweden? Isn't that cultural appropriation?

  4. "This study was framed through the lens of poststructuralist feminist thought to providea lens through which I explored how power is gendered (Hesse-Biber, 2014)."

    A study was framed through a lens.... to provide a lens. Was this even reviewed for editing before it was published.

    "Poststructuralism “rejects objectivity and the notions of an absolute truth and single reality,” and “knowledge is complicated, contradictory, and contingent to a certain social context and historical context”(Hesse-Biber, 2014, p. 44)."

    So... should I take it that the good author isn't really intending to tell me the truth? Well that's a waste. She is trying to break down a science whose very existence philosophically depends on the notions of objectivity and absolute truth.

    And y'alls, that was just the first two sentences of the "conceptual framework" for article number 2.

    As a STEM female, this is just insulting to me.

  5. For lack of a better place, I’m posting this tweet that made me think of you for some reason:

  6. "TOF also does not know why the same reference text was mentioned three times in the same definition, but without page references."

    Because modern modes of referencing sources privileges the masculinist obsession with claiming credit for minuscule achievement.


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