The Politicisation of Science Funding in the U.S.

In his 2011 book The Great Stagnation, economist Tyler Cowen argued that economic growth in the U.S. is slowing due to less technological innovation. And he suggested this is because most of the “low-hanging fruit” have already been picked. Other commentators have made similar arguments.

In a new report for the CSPI, researcher Leif Rasmussen puts forward an alternative (or additional) explanation for the decline in technological innovation: science has become politicised.

Scientists, Rasmussen argues, have come under increasing pressure to tailor their research to the agenda of woke activists. (He doesn’t use the term ‘woke’ in his report, but we all know what he’s talking about.)

Rasmussen’s method is very simple. He counted the frequency of various politicized terms (i.e., woke jargon) in the abstracts of successful National Science Foundation research awards between 1990 and 2020.

Specifically, he noted whether each abstract contained at least one of seven terms: ‘equity’, ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘gender’, ‘marginalize’, ‘underrepresented’ and ‘disparity’. Variants of each term (e.g., ‘inclusive’ or ‘inclusivity’) were included in this.  

Note: the National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency with an annual budget of $8.5 billion (so not exactly pocket change). And it accounts for a quarter of all federal funding of basic research at U.S. colleges.

Rasmussen’s main finding is shown in the chart below, with each line corresponding to a different area of science.

As you can see, the frequency of woke jargon has increased massively in all areas of science. Unsurprisingly, the worst offender is ‘Education & Human Resources’. As of 2020, more than half of all abstracts contain at least one of the seven terms.

By contrast, ‘Mathematics & Physical Sciences’ has seen the smallest increase; though even here, the rise is non-trivial. More than 20% of abstracts now mention ‘equity’, ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’ or one of the other terms.

It should be noted that every NSF abstract has a section titled ‘Broader Impacts’, in which the researchers must explain why on earth their research would be of interest to anyone else. The official guidance for this section explicitly mentions the goal of increasing representation of women and minorities:

NSF values the advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that contribute to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes. Such outcomes include, but are not limited to: full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities … development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce

Hence, it’s not necessarily true that every abstract mentioning one of the seven terms corresponds to an ideological research project per se. In a lot of cases, the researchers probably just crammed as much woke jargon as they could in the ‘Broader Impacts’ section, hoping to maximise the chance of success.

‘Our attempt to prove the Riemann hypothesis will encourage more women and minorities to enter the field of mathematics because…’ You get the idea.

Rasmussen’s finding is therefore consistent with two distinct types of politicisation. First, funding agencies may have become politicised. (And in fact, we can already see this in the text quoted above). And second, scientific research itself may have become politicised.

Further research is needed to quantify the scale of each of these types. (I suspect that both are getting worse, or at least have been for the last decade.) Nonetheless, Rasmussen’s report provides valuable insights into a troubling phenomenon, and is worth reading in full.

What’s Wrong With ‘Woke’?

Last week, Republican Glenn Youngkin won a surprise victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race, edging out the Democrat Terry McAuliffe by two points. A key issue dividing the two candidates was education.

McAuliffe had promised to “diversify” the teaching profession, noting that “50% of the students … are students of colour and yet 80% of the teachers are white”. Youngkin, by contrast, had vowed to ban Critical Race Theory. Under his administration, the Republican said, children would not be taught “to view everything through a lens of race”.

Youngkin’s victory has sparked renewed debate over the term ‘woke’. And passions are running high. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the feisty Congresswoman from New York, said it’s “a term pundits are now using as a derogatory euphemism for civil rights & justice.”

Likewise, The Atlantic writer Adam Serwer claimed that the term “expresses sentiments the people using it would be uncomfortable articulating directly” (by which he presumably meant bigotry).

And the Slate writer Joel Anderson went so far as to call it a “racial slur”. He then followed this up with the rather ominous statement, “It doesn’t mean I’m gonna do anything to you, or that anyone else will. But it doesn’t mean I won’t either.” That escalated quickly…

Should the word ‘woke’ be retired? I would argue: no. Although the term can be used derisively, this is true of many political terms that are not insults (e.g., “you’re just a bunch of Tories!”). What’s more, ‘woke’ isn’t used exclusively by people on the right; until quite recently, in fact, many leftists openly identified as woke.

They key issue is this: over the last 10 years, a new strand of leftism has emerged, which has been incredibly influential, and precisely because it’s been so influential, we need a simple way of referring to it.

Existing terms like ‘left-wing’, ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ won’t do. And that’s because this new strand of leftism is, in some respects, directly opposed to traditional leftism (as frustrated leftists keep pointing out). For example, traditional leftism says, “judge people based on character, not skin colour”. This new strand of leftism says the reverse.

‘Woke’ seems like a perfectly good label. So why all the hostility from left-wing activists? One possibility is that ‘woke’ no longer has a clear meaning. But that’s just not true. As I myself have noted, the term refers to:

a specific ideology which sees identity groups like sex and race as the primary units of society; which attributes to some groups the status of victims and to others the status of oppressors; and which posits that various ‘structural’ and ‘systemic’ forces stymie members of the former groups while conferring ‘privilege’ on members of the latter.

And if you consider my definition too vague, try defining the term ‘liberalism’, or ‘conservatism’ for that matter.

Various alternatives to ‘woke’ had been put forward: left-wing identity politics; left-wing identarian; regressive left; postmodern neo-Marxist; cultural Marxist; cultural socialist; left modernist; social justice warrior; political correctness. But none of them has quite the same resonance as ‘woke’.

The best alternative is probably ‘left-wing identity politics’. However, it’s a mouthful, and it has no straightforward adjectival form. One solution might be to use ‘left-wing identity politics’ as the noun, and ‘woke’ as the adjective. (After all, ‘wokeness’, ‘wokeism’ and ‘wokery’ sound a bit odd.)

One suspects the real reason that activists like AOC want to do away with ‘woke’ is that it’s much harder to fight something if you don’t have a name for it. They want us to believe that woke politics is just traditional leftism: you know, helping poor people and that sort of thing. But that’s not what it is at all.

The woke recognise the power of language better than anyone, which is why you might have seen medical journals referring to “bodies with vaginas”, rather than “women”. Note: this is a clear attempt to change reality through language. And pretending that ‘woke’ doesn’t have a clear meaning stems from the same impulse.

In a recent article, the non-woke leftist commentator Freddie deBoer wrote, “please just fucking tell me what term I am allowed to use for the sweeping social and political changes you demand”. Notwithstanding the profanity, deBoer was sincerely asking for a better term than ‘woke’, and said he’d “happily use one if offered”.

If the woke do want to come up with a better term, here are the rules. It can’t be ‘left-wing’, ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ (those are already taken). And it can’t be too cumbersome (‘person who believes in social justice’ isn’t going to fly). So why not just ‘woke’?

Stop Press: Watch a Free Speech Union discussion about wokeness with Professor Frank Furedi.

U.K. Orchestra Provokes Outrage by Dropping Nearly Half Its Performers To “Prioritise Increased Diversity”

The English Touring Opera has unceremoniously sacked 14 of its white members, some of whom had worked there for decades, after its recently-appointed Musical Director held auditions “prioritising diversity”. The move has proved sufficiently extreme to anger even the Musician’s Union, which has hitherto been an advocate for such policies. The Daily Mail reports:

The musicians, aged 40 to 66, have been told they will not be offered contracts with the company in Spring 2022 citing diversity guidance from the Arts Council England, the Sunday Times reported. 

The musicians, who officially work as freelancers, can be dropped from the opera season-on-season but many have played with the company for up to 20 years and consider it a permanent job. 

The Arts Council England has hit back at the ETO, which it funds to the tune of £1.78 million a year, saying it never encouraged the company to sack musicians.

“We did not instruct the English Touring Opera to send this letter,” the Council said. “We are now in conversation with ETO to ensure no funding criteria have been breached.”  

The unfortunate artists received the following from the orchestra’s director:

Woke Power Grab in the C of E Reflects Corporate Obsession With ‘Diversity’

This week the Church of England unveiled proposals for a shake-up of its national governance structure in what critics have called “a coup by Archbishops to take control of everything”.

I won’t bore you with the details (you can read the full report here, headed-up by the anti-Brexit Bishop Nick Baines) but what stood out to me was the barely concealed aim of replacing the organic accountability of democracy with a sterile rule by a woke technocracy. One purpose of this is, inevitably, to increase ‘diversity’, but it’s not hard to see that the real agenda is to impose a woke uniformity of political ideology on a church already infamous for being led by a clerisy out of touch with ordinary churchgoers and the country as a whole.

At the heart of the takeover is the all-powerful Nominations Committee, which is tasked with establishing “a community of diverse, appropriately skilled and appropriately knowledgeable people from which panels would be convened to oversee appointments and ensure eligibility for election”. Anglican blogger Archbishop Cranmer puts his finger on the problem here.

Note “appropriately skilled”, “relevant knowledge”, “suitable to stand”, “talent pipeline”, and “appropriate.. behaviours”. It will fall to the Nominations Committee to ‘sift’ all applicants to all Church of England boards, committees and governing bodies. It will be for them to discern and define what is ‘appropriate’ and ‘relevant’, who is ‘suitable’ and has ‘talent’, and whether or not they manifest appropriate ‘behaviours’.

Has it not occurred to the Review Group that this Nominations Committee will have the power to create a church in its own image, and that the Chair of the Nominations Committee will have more executive power than the Archbishop of Canterbury? Or perhaps that’s the idea. It isn’t clear, however, which committee will ‘sift’ nominations to the Nominations Committee, but you can be sure that the process will be the antithesis of transparency and accountability.

He sees parallels with the notorious Cameroonian ‘A-list’ for Tory candidates:

Clause 200 is designed to be the safety valve, the check or balance on the abuse of power, but it is a bit of verbal chicanery. In what sense is pre-election ‘rigorous sifting’ not a negation of of [sic] democracy? If candidates may not emerge organically and appeal to their electorates directly, but instead may be weeded out by the Anglican Conclave compliance committee to ensure theological conformity and gender/ethnicity diversity, then democracy is indeed removed. The proposal apes the process adopted by the Conservative Party under David Cameron and his ‘A-list‘ for candidates, which caused such outrage among Party members with its social engineering of removal of democracy that it was eventually abolished – but not really: it is still very much in place to ensure the ‘right’ candidates are nominated to the ‘right’ seats, and are seen to be. But the Conservative Party’s Candidates Committee doesn’t operate with transparency and accountability. If it did, it would be subject to democracy, and that would hinder the political objective.

The Church of England’s ‘sifting’ people for the ‘talent pipeline’ is also a mechanism for seeming: to ensure the ‘right’ women and ethnic minorities are appointed to the ‘right’  boards, committees and governing bodies of the Church of England, in order that they might in turn select the ‘right’ candidates from the list ‘sifted’ by the Nominations Committee, who, you can be sure, will sift some more than others.

The report is clear that it regards democracy as an inadequate mechanism for ensuring sufficiently diverse governance.

In the Church of England, a significant number of appointments to governance bodies are made through the electoral process. In our view, this does not deliver what the Church needs from its governing bodies. …

The Church bodies which either elect or nominate people onto the Church of England’s governance bodies are themselves not very diverse bodies, meaning that the people they elect or nominate onto governance bodies tend not to supply the diversity which is one of the requirements of the Charity Commission’s Seven Principles of Governance.