science for the people

Meet Science for the People

June 13, 2019

Science for the People began as a group in 1969 that grew out of the anti-war movement and lasted until 1989. SftP has been rebirthed for a new generation of SftP members to explore the history of radical science and to rebuild the movement for today.

In this week’s episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with two SftP members, biologist, Ben Allen and neuroscientist, Katherine Bryant.

If science is a form of knowledge production and the knowledge being produced only focuses on a particular set of people, that knowledge can then tend to become skewed towards those groups and lead to reinforcing biases. This is only one of the topics explored on this week’s episode as these two representatives from the radical science organization, Science for the People explore the problems with science, why there needs to be more inclusivity in the field, and why the people who support pseudoscientific beliefs like genetic determinism and climate denial are much more harmful to us all than flat earthers and those who believe in healing crystals.

Learn more about Science for the People by visiting their website:

If this work interests you and you’d like to read more you can purchase one of the books mentioned on the show, Science for the People: Documents from America’s Movement of Radical Scientists or visit Science for the People’s new magazine that’s full of informative articles and news at

You can find Science for the People on Twitter: @sftporg

New music heard on this episode

“Wahre” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0

“Building the Sled” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0

The theory of change is that, oh, there’s really smart people and they’re smarter than the rest of everybody and and because they’re so smart and so in tune with the nature of the physical or biophysical universe, you know, they’re able to sort of tap into this knowledge. And that’s not really the case. 

Hi, everyone. It’s me. Kavin Senapathy your point of inquiry co-host. The past few years of Open My Eyes more than ever about how science operates within society and how science is in many ways inextricable from the world around it. 

You may have noticed that this has come up since I’ve started hosting Point of Inquiry. If you haven’t heard the episode on Scientism and Subjectivity with Mossimo Baluchi and Susan Blackmore, I highly recommend you check it out. Today, I had the opportunity to speak to two scientists who’ve been involved in the rebirth of an organization that first started in 1969. We talk about ideology, pseudoscience, scientism and how forces that seem separate from science may not be so separate after all. 

Hi, everyone. It’s me, Kavin Senapathy. Your point of inquiry co-host. Among many topics I love to talk about, science is pretty high up on the list and I know it’s safe to assume that everyone listening pretty much are also big fans of science. That’s why I reached out to Science for the People for today’s episode. The original science for the people arose in nineteen sixty nine out of the anti-war movement and it lasted for 20 years. The organization, based on my understanding, explored questions of power and ideology and democracy and science. And it seems as if they were most well-known for attempts at disrupting the American Association for the Advancement of Science because they considered triple-A US, which is to date the world’s largest association of scientists to be aligned with the US government and the ruling elite members also considered Tripoli as complicit in war, sexism, racism and capitalism. So now science for the people is back and they’re back as an organization and also as a magazine, which I’ve been devouring. So far. So when I reached out for an interview, I heard back from my two guests, biologist Ben Allen and neuroscientist Katherine Bryant. Thanks so much for joining me today. 

Ben and Katherine, thanks for having us. 

Yeah. Thank you for having us. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

It’s awesome, I’ve been excited for a while for this. So, Ben, I read your piece in the magazine called Radical Science Returns. And in it you write that the return of science for the people as a publication, an organization, is a milestone in the struggle for science. Can you explain what radical science means and why the return of this organization and publication? Mark, what you call a milestone? 

Yeah, great question. In the piece I pull a quote from two of the forbearers of science for the people in two very influential people that came out of the original movement, Richard Lewontin and Dick leavens. And they sort of encapsulate the term radical as to be radicals, to consider things from their very root, to go back to square one and to reconstitute one’s actions and ideas by building them from first principles. So, you know, a lot of these a lot of times these days, radical has become synonymous or or husband made synonymous by media and other groups with the sort of extreme ideas. And I don’t think we really consider it like that. I think what we mean when we say we’re a radical organization is that we are trying to make an intentional and deliberate effort to think about how science functions in society, how it connects to larger systems of power and social reproduction, and to really map out and connect the points where we might be able to change the fundamental basis of science and its role in society to serve the needs of everyday people more than the needs of profit and war. 

Yeah, that makes sense, and it seems like a huge undertaking, but I’m I’m glad to see that signs for the people is back to to start examining this. And it’s it’s I’ll be following closely. Catherine, I read your review of the film Symbiotic Earth, which is about how microbiologist Lynn Margulis rocked the boat and started a scientific revolution. I’m looking forward to checking out that documentary. But in the review, you saying something that I found really interesting, and it’s that scientists are often presented as if they work in a vacuum. And it’s something that I’ve come to realize is crucial to examine. But it might seem counterintuitive to some of my listeners. Could you comment on how and why scientists are presented as working in a vacuum and contrast with how science actually works? 

As a scientist, as I was getting trained up as a scientist, I realized the process of science that I was becoming a part of was different than what I had in my head. 

And I think that was because narratives were told to me about individual scientists having breakthroughs and sort of, you know, ideas being attached to a name. 

So, for example, evolution is inextricably tied to Darwin’s name, even though there were many other scientists and other people who were thinking about processes along the same lines. He was he was very important, but he wasn’t the only one who was contributing to that development of thought. 

So and then once you get in a laboratory or you become a scientist just like any other job, you find that your work is inextricably bound and facilitated by networks of people. 

And so I think it’s it’s quite a dichotomy. 

And one of the things that I thought was so interesting about that documentary was that it was reflecting back to me. What I I was living as a scientist was that, oh, I’m part of a community and all these people are making it possible. 

Other scientists are making my work better and contributing to it. But even, you know, the greater society around me allows me the privilege to become a scientist and to do this work. So I wanted to highlight that in the piece and kind of push back against that default idea of an individual scientist making an individual discovery because the discovery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is made possible because of the networks of people around us. 

Mm hmm. 

I mean, do you what do you see as kind of the harm, I guess, in associating one scientist with one discovery or one area of science? 

Right. I think it feeds into a notion of. 

The process of creating idea is something that you stumble upon on your own and you don’t rely on anyone else for. 

I think in science also there, I think. Lately, scientists are becoming more aware of this. 

But it used to be that often the most privileged people in the laboratory, the people who are the P, H, D, or whoever the most senior, got the most recognition for the ideas. 

And perhaps a graduate student who may have given a key component or a technician or someone else in the laboratory could get swept under the rug. So a great example would be Rosalind Franklin not being acknowledge her contribution for the discovery of the structure of DNA. I would like to think that that wouldn’t happen today, but I think it was very common practice at the time for what happened to her to happen, which was her graduate adviser took her data without her knowledge and shared it with his colleagues and didn’t give her credit for it. So that’s another example of the harm that was done right. Like it’s taking a lot of work by a lot of people, a lot of writing, a lot of advocacy for us to now realize. Rosalind Franklin was very important to that story. So that’s another dangerous. I have not seen the contributions of other scientists. 

And a lot of times in the past, those contributions that were the least likely to be seen were ones from people who were perhaps less privileged or more marginalized. 

Yeah. And if I can jump in on that. You know, I think very much science suffers from this sort of, you know, great person theory of history. The theory of change is that, oh, there’s really smart people and they’re smarter than the rest of everybody. And and because they’re so smart and so in tune with the nature of the physical or biophysical universe, you know, they’re able to sort of tap into this knowledge. And that’s not really the case. Like Catherine is saying, everything is driven by a social context. Change is always driven by, you know, large groups of people acting in concert. And I think that’s, you know, a fundamental aspect of our vision is that we believe that science can be made better by engaging it with lots of everyday people and being present in their lives and supporting their life and their health and their well-being and things like that. And just to one more point, what Catherine alluded to about people being left out of research, if you wanted to understand, you know, one of the biggest labor struggles within science today, and this is a really common problem where people like technicians or graduate students or undergraduates or people that are, you know, quote unquote, lower in the hierarchy, do get left out of out of publications, out of acknowledgments. I was just in a meeting with a bunch of technicians at the institution that I work with. And this was something that they all reported as having happened to them, where they had contributed greatly to the research. And then their P.I. just decided, well, not including you, even though you ran the methods or did the analysis. You know, it’s it’s my career. And I get to choose whether or not I’m going to elevate you or not. And there’s no protection for them because most scientists don’t have unions. 

Yeah, I’m sure we could do an episode on that comment about most scientists don’t have unions. But regarding science for the people’s rebirth, the Web site says that some of the issues we face today have changed in important ways. But fundamental questions of power, ideology and democracy and science remain. Since the organization’s previous iteration, can science be ideological? I’m sure that this idea sounds paradoxical to a lot of people, right. 

I think if you’d asked me that question when I started my page, I would have said, no, it can’t. And I think exposure to science. And then I just to describe my personal journey for a brief moment. I had the opportunity to start taking classes outside of science when I was doing my page. And I got exposed to some other ways of looking at knowledge making. So one of the things about scientists is we focus so much in our training and we and they really keep us very busy that you don’t have time to get informed about other ways of thinking about the world. And I was fortunate to have some exposure to people and ideas that maybe were a little bit uncommon during my teacher. 

And one of these things was involved in, like, the notion of philosophy of science. So it turns out there’s a whole body of literature, people thinking about this question. Can science be ideological? Can science be political? 

And it sort of turns out that the notion of pure objectivity, which is kind of what we’re taught as scientists, is, is. 

I’ll say problematic, and I think a better way of thinking about it is that we’re all individuals. We all have a certain perspective and a certain bias. We cannot be perfectly unbiased and we all bring different things to the table. 

So now the way I think about science is I think about, well, what’s the question? 

A scientist is asking and why are they asking that question? 

And then if I look at science on a broad scale, like on a national level, like what NIH funds or NSF or other organizations, I think about, well, why are they funding that study? 

Why is that important? Because we all have to have priorities at the end of the day. Right. If science is truly objective, we could investigate anything at any time. But we obviously have limited resources and limited people and also vested interests. So for me, that way, I think science is inextricably bound with ideologies and political stances. And I think it’s important to be aware of that. 

Yeah, that’s right. You know, I just to do a plug here would really encourage folks that are really interested in understanding some of the, like, takes of science for the people on this. There is a book that was published called Science for the People Documents from America’s Radical Scientist. And then the first chapter of that is a chapter called Science, Power and Ideology, where we tried to map out or tried to reconstruct some of this understanding that people back in the 60s and 70s became sort of aware of that the governance and the priorities and the politics that play out in constructing science. Right. Who gets funded? Who doesn’t? What kind of projects do we value and which ones do we not value and not support? These are all questions that are determined by politics and ideology. They’re not determined by some hyper rational system of, you know, computing, whatever is going to be the most valuable because. Right. Valuable to whom? To whom, for whom is the most important question in politics. And it should be the most important question in science as well. 

And yeah, you know, just to tap into it, wanted to tell this story just because of who we’re talking with here. You know, in my undergrad, the person a good friend of mine who really inspired me to become a biochemist and do science as a career track. We used to. He was a big like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Right. Like this was in the mid 2000s as sort of the peak of that movement. 

We used to, you know, spend time debating and all this stuff back in our dorm room about. About science and power and all these kind of things. And, you know, he was sort of like a true believer, I would say, in that, you know, the the objectivity of science. And it’s like incorruptibility. Well, like my good friend. I mean, he went to go and do his P HD and he dropped out toward the end because his advisor was essentially committing scientific fraud, trying to, you know, publish results that were not ready, you know, fixing data. And this kind of stuff. And so he just I mean, it it kind of broken because he was such a strong believer that science was sort of standing above all of the real content of society. And then, you know, you encountered that. 

And it’s just like it all falls apart. So. 

A couple years ago, or maybe I mean, it was a process that took a while, maybe a year, that that sort of realization also broke me and I had to figure out how to reconcile everything that I once believed. And I thought that was kind of a tough, emotional thing for me. But I’m glad that I went through it. You know, science is particularly insidious because it often resemble resembles a legitimate science. Right. But the other side of that coin seems to be scientism, which can also resemble logits science. I think to the unsuspecting individual and science fans seem to be less aware of scientism than they are of pseudoscience. Would you think that’s accurate? And could you share your thoughts on pseudoscience and scientism and how science for the people and its members navigate this? 

Yeah, I think right. It’s really easy to punch down. And I think people who are aware that there are people that believe in magical thinking or, you know, the moon charged crystals or whatever, it’s really easy to call them out for having a totally nonscientific understanding about the universe. But they’re not the people that are making the problems that we have today. Right. Denial of science is most potent at the highest orders of society. And like right now, right with the, you know, major findings of the IPCC and the of the recommendations that we see about, you know, what we have to do to decarbonize society or, you know, prevent exhaustive biodiversity loss. These things are scientific findings that people in power are essentially denying. And I am way more worried about that pseudo. Their pseudo science. Right. The pseudo science that says, well, we can’t change anything about the way that things work because we have to keep business as usual going and we have to support the status quo. Those are the people that should be the targets of that frustration, not like the woo woo crystal healers of the world. And, you know, so and so scientism acts as a sort of shield to to avoid asking those tough questions, because if you sort of build around yourself a sort of sense of a superior logic and higher order rationality, you don’t have to could you’re kind of protecting yourself from engaging in the messy work of meeting people where they are. And, you know, working through their understanding of reality and whether that’s social or physical reality and grounding it, grounding it in the the practice of of reproducing themselves every day. Right. I think that’s the kind of problem is that science is really not present in a positive way in a lot of people’s lives. Right. It’s it’s it’s easy to understand why people deny the validity of vaccines when most people can’t see a doctor without going bankrupt or potentially. Right. So so where is science in their lives? 

And I think the scientism acts as a way to sort of protect the status quo and protect and protect us from having to reckon with real questions of science and society. 

Catherine, would you have anything to add to that about pseudoscience and scientism and your thoughts on those and how science for the people fits in to it? 

There are some pseudoscientific ideas that are currently posing some issues. I would say like anti vaccine movements would probably be one. 

And that’s a good example, too, of something that came out of a scientific publication that was published and later there were severe flaws in the publication. But I will say that, you know, there’s a lot of science out there that has flaws that you discover later. Papers are papers are retracted. 

And I’m sure there are worse papers out there than that vaccine study that had not been retracted because it didn’t have the social implications. 

So I think when we look at pseudoscience or, you know, scientism, I think another thing we need to think about in terms of what we want to actively work on or address is what are the social implications of this particular idea. 


Like, I’m not super concerned about flat Arthur’s right, because I don’t think they’re having actually and implicate, you know, an actual impact on people’s day to day lives. 

But I am concerned about the way, you know, genetic determinism is making a resurgence and might end up impacting the lives of certain kinds of people unequally. And so that and that to me is more problematic cells. Yeah, it’s scientism. This is a huge topic. I mean, you could I could talk about it for for a long time, but I think we have to be very careful about scientists. And I hope that science for the people is able to move this message forward. I’m part of a working group called Biology Society. Called sociobiology, and it basically is. It started out as a reaction to the poor and overapplication of scientific ideas to social issues. 

Inappropriate and problematic application of ideas. 

And I think that’s what we’re really trying to our working group is really trying to pay attention to those ideas as they pop out and pushing back on them and making people aware of them particularly. 

So a lot of scientists get very excited when they discover, like, you know, a new pattern in their data. And we have very powerful algorithms now that can find like very, very, very tiny associations between different things. And if you get a nice P-value, you know, that’s something you can publish. It made that p value may not hold up over time and someone else may find, you know, that that is unable to replicate it and someone else may feel unable to replicate it. But oftentimes the original finding is what stays in the public’s head. 

Because that that, you know, the science isn’t just the publication. It’s also what media outlet picked it up and publicized it. And what’s the finding, you know, quote unquote, controversial. And often what that’s code for is it has a big implication, right, for social issues. And so one of the things that I pay attention a lot to and hope to make an impact on it is kind of pushing back on that, because you have to think about the social implications of what you’re doing. And if you’re finding like, oh, here’s a tiny thing that might be sort of related to some other thing. It can get reported in media such a way that people start thinking that this there’s something genetic that determines people’s fates when that’s not at all, you know, they might’ve been studying fruit flies. But what the public gets is something quite different. Yeah. And scientists at science play a part of it, too. And they need to be responsible with how they ask their questions and how they disseminate their science. But there’s also responsibilities outside of that, too. Right. 

So my next question is a big one. And I’m glad that I get to ask you this question, because I’m sure you’ll have a lot to say. How do forces like systemic racism and the patriarchy that are perceived by many to be unrelated to science impact science and how it’s carried out? How how are these these things tied to? 

One of the ways that I describe what science for the people is to to others is that I say we’re we have two functions. One is to fight for justice within science. Science is a job. Science is a practice to fight for justice for the people that are in this profession or enterprise. And then the other aspect is to take scientists and put them into the context of work for justice and liberation and freedom for all people. And what you at least when you understand in this came out in the march for science, the lead up to that, what you understand when you listen to people and lots of different voices that are especially not the voices of white straight men, is that a lot of people are not having a really good time in science. And in fact, the pursuit of this profession has been actively damaging or traumatic to them. And of course, that tends to happen to people from oppressed and marginalized identities more than it happens to people who look like the the people in control of society right now. 

So we saw this come up in the march for science, where people know that the line that they were taking on, you know, science and society is like science is this good thing for everyone. 

And we’re all equal under science. 

And then a lot of people came and said, no, no, no, no, that’s I haven’t experienced it like that. And we watched that group really struggle to come to understand those things, to give a really concrete historical example. So I’m in Tennessee and in Memphis, there was a split. 

There was actually two different march for sciences because I didn’t encourage looking into the history of this because it’s so palpable. So what happened was like. Right. There was a convergence of people when the march for science was announced and these people started organizing and planning the activities. And there was. Right. A lot of younger folks that were students or graduate students and activists. 

And then there is a lot of career professional folks that were, I think, mostly older. But, you know, these are, you know, people, professionals. 

And they struggled over the court, both the location and the content of the of their march, the professional group of people. This is so hilariously bad. They they wanted to host the event in this place that’s now called Health and Sciences Park, but used to be called Nathan Bedford Forest Park because it has a big statue to Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is one of the original founders of the Ku Klux Klan. And so, you know, these people right there were these younger and more diverse group of people were like, what are you talking about? That is not like that’s not appropriate. 

That’s like redefining all of these traumas and historical experiences that, you know, black people are not going to show up to this thing if you go if you do it at this place. And so there is a split. There is to march for sciences. And in the professional one, you know, was all they had it at the same place and they had all. Oh, yeah. 

They had had it. Yeah. Right. 

People had all their corporate booths sell with, you know, all, you know, all this kind of non, you know, nonscientific stuff, just brands and corporations promoting themselves. And then the group of social justice minded people had their march at Lemoyne or in college or HBC, you and Memphis. 

And they had unsurprisingly, a much larger turnout of people. So that’s like a just a historical example of where people put up the. 

Blinder’s and you heard about this. There was stories of this from other marks for sciences, too, or like, oh, race. 

We’re having the CEO of Racey on, you know, coming and talking at our March for science is like, great. So we’re just going to synonomous eyes the practice of science with developing weapons to kill people all over the world. That’s really bad. 

I was at the March for Science in Madison and I actually spoke at the March for Science and in Madison. And I thought that it went really well and definitely wasn’t the Raytheon brand of March 1st. Yeah, I think the march for science, just as a phenomenon, is fascinating. 

But anyway, continue to build on what Ben was saying. I think if you if you zoom out a little bit into sort of what inclusion means in science. So I think what question we want to ask is like, well, who gets to do science? 

So as Ben described, there are a lot of people who pursue this career who are not having a good time. We talking about at least four women. We can’t talk about the leaky pipeline, which really means we’re successful at recruiting women and other groups who are not very well represented in science. We’re successful getting them to try to go into science, but we’re not successful in retaining them. Right. And people are finally starting to take this a little more seriously. 

Initially, it was sort of like, well, we just need to recruit more. And it’s like no recruiting people and they’re leaving, which means they had a dream of something they wanted to do. 

This is not easy field to go into. They sacrifice something and they still left. That suggests that this is not a hospitable or sustainable environment for them. Right. And there’s plenty of you know, you can read there’s many stories about this. It’s obvious that that’s true. But so but then this isn’t just about inclusion. Right. So, like, of course, people should be included. That’s critical. But also, when you don’t include people equally, it also affects what science is produced. Right. So and that can happen. And in kind of two different ways. So one is sort of. So science is in some ways a form. Well, it is a form of knowledge production. Right. And I think a lot of peop for a lot of people, it is it is the most important or the key form of knowledge production. And so who’s producing the knowledge? Who’s asking the questions and who’s who is producing the data? And if one group is overrepresented and all the other groups are underrepresented. That means we have a skewed form of of knowledge production. And what it’s skewed towards, you know, cis white men or or whatever, people who are in power, they’re gonna produce the kind of knowledge that is going to tend to reify their position. Right. Or reify the status quo. The status quo is what permitted them to get there. And it can be actively done. So I think in the past especially. But it’s still a problem today. 

There are people that pretty science that is actively trying to to reinforce biases that we have in our society. So, of course, you know, eugenics is the classic example. But right now, we have a lot of scientists who are interested in work that finds differences in the brains of different groups of people. I mean, I’m a neuroscientist, so that’s what I’m keyed into. And I find a lot of that that were pretty sloppy and pretty harmful. There’s also kind of the passive way where you don’t realize that you have a bias, but you are interpreting your data that way because you were you know, we’re all ensconced in a certain culture and then we sort of see things through that lens. 

And if you have a question that we’re gonna continue to interpret things that way. And so then it kind of then that cycles back. Right. Because who’s viewing the science? But as a child growing up and you see all signs saying this, that or the other, and then depending on who you are, it may be less attractive based on what the science is saying. 

I remember I was at this like seminar, but I was in an anthropology department for a postdoc and we had a lot of graduate students in the seminar. 

We were reading a paper where they found some interesting kind of neural correlates of change during, during and after pregnancy. 

And these kind of things are very hard to interpret because some people say, oh, well, white matter does this or gray matter does this. 

That means we really don’t know. Basically, they found a slight thinning of gray matter in certain regions of the brain of these women who are pregnant versus women who weren’t pregnant. 

And they went ahead and interpret it as like, oh, well, this clearly, you know, it’s a loss of brain tissue and women are taking this cognitive hit. There was no data that there was any functional change in these women. And I remember that. But the paper was presented in a way that implied this. And I remember the women who were graduate students in the room just looking dejected. And it kind of it really broke my heart because I was like, this is harmful. And it’s not, you know. And so that’s that’s those kind of things that I think about. And I really want I want upsides to be a hospitable places where we can foster them these different voices and get new ideas. 

Right. You know that this brings up an example that maybe you could comment on. All right. That just comes to mind that I’ll share. I’ve been working on this about just a genomic data, especially from humans, and how there’s this huge problem of all, you know, all of these massive data being mostly from people of European descent and how that’s causing real problems in terms of diagnoses and treatment, but also just sort of this idea that this huge body of very important data should be almost based on white people is problematic and it has real outcomes. But also, my understanding is that some experts are just are calling for solutions to this, including bringing on or committing to train more researchers of color and scientists of color, because then they’re going to ask that questions relevant to their communities and hopefully increase research participation in these communities who often don’t trust participating in medical research. 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s I think it’s a great idea, right. To to bring more diverse voices into science. But I do think we have this. Yeah. Again, these these larger questions about the dominant structures and ideologies in science, because you can’t just say, oh, well, if we grab, you know, more diverse people, then the work will just suddenly become better or more just. Yes, we should be funding way more people of color, way more women and empowering them to become scientists. But in the kind of larger social and economic context where you have systemic racism and six systemic gender oppression, if those things are still the dominant forces in the background, then they are going to work to actively suppress and repress the work of those people. And so that’s kind of like when we say like it’s a struggle, like it’s a struggle over science and that’s what we’re sort of giving into it. We want to struggle within science to indeed amplify the voices of people that struggle in society in general. But we also want to empower people to attack these larger systemic issues like systemic racism and and and gender oppression, rather than just empower people to have jobs in this profession. Genetics is a and gene genomics sciences these days is a we are really, really engaging in a paradigm shift in our ability to collect gigantic amounts of data. Right. Like the the curve of data accumulation and genomics. Sir, sir. Surpasses Moore’s Law. Right. That’s a common trope that we use to describe the situation of biology today. And I think, like Katherine was saying it, there’s a temptation there to find needles in the haystack and point to very small, small things as having determinative effects at at orders of magnitude larger scale than they really operate. Right. Gee, genes do not operate at the scale of of social practice or they’re if even if they do, their impact is vastly less significant than the larger organizing forces of society. You know, the forces that make us go and work eight hours a day or see the forces that, you know, ensure that people of color in the United States are way more likely due to. Be harmed or engaged violently by the police. Those have a lot more impact on the on our social situation than shifts and in nucleotides, right. You know, identifying identifying one snip from a JIHUA study and going, oh, this is this is a just so story of why this people are this way. 

And that’s really tempting because there are people that fund that work. I think that’s the other crucial aspect, is that stuff doesn’t just come from people’s, you know, ideological constructs. There are material supports for that kind of science. 

And I mean, in some cases there are, you know, Koke brother affiliated entities. 

Right, that like directly on scientists to do that work. And, you know, just to kind of jump back to the pseudo science question. 

You know, genetics and genomics is for these days, as you know, these services like 23 and me, consumer oriented technol technology products become more prevalent. It’s really done a disservice to that science because it has turned genetics into astrology. 

Yeah. That’s a really good analogy. 

You know, people are trying to be like, yeah, I’m young. 

I’m you have the divine right of kings because I have to share DNA with some ancient European ruler. I mean, this is this is how people interpret it. You know, I know I’m the first scientist in my family and I talk to my parents and they’re like, oh, you know, I got this 20 like me done. You’re gonna love it. And I’m like, oh, no, this is going to be bad, right? 

I oh, God. 

I interviewed I interviewed Carl Zimmer, the science writer, and we talked about this as well. And he said one of the biggest misconceptions about genetics and heredity is that being somehow connected with with some famous ancestor makes special in some way. 

That’s right. I’m great because I share the blood with great people. 

Like that’s a really, really strange biological determinist trend that’s. Yeah. Really reemerging and how these things shape our society and just what, you know, just so people understand, like the science that goes behind. 

Right. Studying different haplogroups and organizing these organizes these genetic patterns of microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA and inferring like geography that is done so unevenly. And yeah, like me, you were saying the dominant people contributing to that are white European descendants. There is there are very small groups of like African-American researchers or Asian and Asian-American Pacific Islanders that are that are organizing and, you know, sampling that data. So it’s really it’s really, really biased in the approach to it. And so they’re trying to tell really big stories about why things are are the way they are based off of, you know, a fairly limited sampling and and biased sampling. 

So it’s you know, these things are really, really deeply challenging to come to the scientism ideology when you start to investigate the historical and material frameworks in which people are doing these investigations. 

Oh, man, I want to jump on that, too. Yeah. Just from my side. Yeah, I think that’s right. 

Now, it’s this seem like a really important time in terms of how science is interacting with everybody’s lives. And I think, you know, maybe that’s part of the reason sense of the people. There’s many reasons, signs of the people experiencing a resurgence. But I think that’s part of one. 

One of the reasons why we have access to these, quote unquote, genotype ourselves. And I think for for neuroscience, which is, I think, very hot with the public. 

It’s a similar thing where, you know, I when I talk to people who are not scientists and they find out what I do, they will often ask questions like, can I look at a brain scan and tell something about somebody’s personality? They they actually don’t ask me if I can tell a female brain from a male brain because they assume that I would be able to. Which is not it’s not possible. Right. So that’s been fascinating years as well. 

And I mean, I’m wondering at some point ten years from now, will people try to offer the public, you know, brain scans and like a quick sort of reading this, you know, always a astrology, like, well, you know, your insula is the size and you’ve got an extra sulcus here. So maybe, you know, maybe. 

Yeah, just just like genetics. I think neuroscience. You know, when you study the brain, it’s it’s such a complex organ that it’s basically about these incredibly complex connections. 

And every brain is different and brains can process the same information in different ways, depending on who’s brain it is. 

So it turns out it’s it’s it’s not a one to one mapping. You can’t you know, you can’t find causal inference that way. But people think think they can. And it’s understandable. 

But, yeah, I can totally believe that in 10 years you’ll go into a nutrition store and they’ll scan your brain and offer you certain tropics or brain circuits. 

Oh, yeah. And Targo have an up and up version. Am I allowed to say that? I don’t know. 

Could you give listeners just one or two main takeaways on how to recognize these issues as they encounter them on the Internet or as they’re reading about science or like, are there any red flags? 

Just be like, oh, I should. This is something that I should consider more deeply or perhaps explore or think about the way that it gets transmitted down. 

It’s hard for the person. I mean, if I’m looking at an article that’s outside of my field like a popular article, I sometimes have trouble assessing it. I think when when I look, I guess I could say what I do when it’s something outside of my field. 

I would say I try to think about the implications that they’re drawing from the study, how tightly tighter those to the methods like a pizza joint, you know, like say it’s a genetic study on mice about autism. I need to think about, well, you know, how much can do you think I’m a mouse can tell you about autism and you trust your gut on that one. And the second thing I would think about is when they discuss the conclusions. Who are these conclusions beneficial for? Right. Are they reinforcing the status quo? 

If so, I would take a second look. And because I think that’s a that’s pretty convenient. If if the study is is sort of making me feel like, oh, I don’t have to worry, the way things are is just fine. 

Yeah, I would just encourage folks in the scientific profession or enthusiasts to really think deeply about where we are at this point in history. 

We understand the science tells us that we have, you know, 10 years to bring carbon emissions to a flat line 2030 until 2030 to decarbonize all of the major nations in the world. And we see the institutionalization of science, denial and our inability to address those issues, as it’s been said. It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism and imperialism. The the forces that drive that catastrophic climate change that we see on the horizon and that some people are actively experiencing today, you know, the largest emitter of the earth, the largest user of fossil fuels and therefore emitter of carbon dioxide is the US military. So we have to think about our role as scientists in bringing forward a revolutionary transformation of all of society. 

And the way we’re going to get there is as scientists is to deepen our work with the most exploited, most oppressed and most marginalized people of the world to build a strategic alliance with them and to develop a united front with other organizations that are actually trying to survive this climate catastrophe that we’re heading straight forward to. 

And so I would just encourage people in your life and in your work and what you’re doing with your time to try to seek the personal transformation you need to make to commit yourself to those ends and minimally support the people that are trying to do that, because that is what we have to do. 

That is what the science says, is that the business as usual and the systems that operate in that generate so much carbon in the pursuit of profit and domination of the world. The only way that we’re going to solve that issue is by deepening our commitment to radical social change driven by masses of everyday people. And I think that’s why people should support us, because that’s our ambition. And it’s really ambitious. And we’re not going to be able to do it alone, no matter how many people we have in our eyes on our side. 

But I just would encourage your listeners to speak. 

Truth to power in your labs and then unite with the people that are willing to engage in these bigger social struggles to transform where you are and make change on a much larger scale as well. And that’s what we try to do. 

And if you want to help and you want training and you want new ideas. 

That’s what our organization serves to create. 

And so reach out to us. 

Sign up for our patriots. And, you know, eventually we’ll have a more open membership structure to allow people to engage with us more directly. 

But in the meantime, stay focused on on the big issues. And don’t be afraid of. Of seeking big ideas and big transformational change, because it’s totally possible. 

And it is possible for us to address these big social issues and environmental issues. 

Science for the People is putting out a lot of content to answer these questions. And as Ben said, you can also check out their Web site, their social media, to figure out how to support them and learn more. And we will have. There you are, El’s and Twitter handles and other information in the show notes. Thanks so much, Ben and Katherine, for joining me there. 

Thank you. A real, real honor. 

Thank you so much for having us. 

This has been your host Kavin Senapathy point of inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry CFI is a five a one c three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence, science and compassion rather than superstition, pseudoscience or prejudice guide public policy. 

You can visit us at point of Imbrie dot org. There you can listen to all of P0 eyes archived episodes and learn about me and my co-host Jim Underdown and support the show. 

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And please remember to share episodes on social media and email. Thanks again, everyone, and talk to you again in two weeks. 

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, food, parenting and their intersection. Her work appears regularly at various outlets including Forbes, SELF Magazine, Slate, her "Woo Watch" column for Skeptical Inquirer online, and more. When she’s not writing and tweeting, she’s busy being a “Science Mom”—also the name of a recent documentary film in which she’s featured. Follow her on Twitter @ksenapathy and Facebook.