Scientific Institutions Are Going Woke—and Hemorrhaging Credibility | Opinion

Recently, the American Psychiatric Association announced upcoming changes to its guidebook for mental disorders, known as the DSM. Someone with "gender dysphoria," for example, will not longer be called a "natal male" or "natal female" but rather an "individual assigned male/female at birth." The new language implies that biological sex is "assigned" by doctors and nurses rather than a biological reality, a view favored by far-Left activists and intellectuals but far from mainstream in the general public. And in redefining men and women in this way, the American Psychiatric Association is signaling allegiance to one side of an ongoing culture war.

And yet, the American Psychiatric Association is not the only scientific institution that has done so. The America Psychiatric Association is part of a trend of science organizations "going woke," siding with Leftist elites on controversial topics over race and gender.

Much of this is done through language policing; the American Psychological Association has started to discourage the use of words like "elderly," "senior," "birth sex," "born male/female," "pipeline," "spirit animal," or "violent" language like "killing it" or "take a stab at it." Endorsing racial "color blindness" is also out. The American Medical Association begins its language guidelines with a performative land acknowledgement (though no actual plan to give land back to Native American tribes), and forbidden words include "Caucasian," "disparities," "equality," "illegal immigrant," "sex," "slave," and "blacklist." "Low-income people" should be referred to as "people underpaid and forced into poverty as a result of banking policies, real estate developers, gentrifying neighborhoods, and corporations weakening the power of labor movements."

It's not just about gender though, or income. These organizations have also pushed far-Left views of race in the United States. For example, in 2020, the president of the American Psychological Association claimed that "If you're black in America—and especially if you are a black male—it's not safe to go birding in Central Park, to meet friends at a Philadelphia Starbucks, to pick up trash in front of your own home in Colorado or to go shopping almost anywhere." It's a view not supported by the nuanced and complicated data on race, crime and policing that you would expect from the president of the American Psychological Association.

And it's prevalent throughout scientific publications, too. Nature Magazine has taken to encouraging social justice activism instead of neutral science with pieces headlined "Anti-racist interventions to transform ecology, evolution and conservation biology departments," and Scientific American is running pieces called "Why the Term 'JEDI' Is Problematic for Describing Programs That Promote Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion."

The list goes on: The Centers for Disease Control and some state health boards promoted racial preferences for distributing COVID-19 vaccines. The Smithsonian released a racist chart linking qualities such as self-reliance, the nuclear family, objective rational thinking, math, and hard work as qualities of "whiteness." Many universities have punished or fired professors for questioning new orthodoxies.

Protest, Black Lives Matter
A Kentucky college faced criticism on social media in response to a student event titled, "White Citizenship as Terrorism: Make America Great Again, Again," which took place Wednesday. In the photograph above, a protester is seen holding a sign that reads, "Racism Is A Pandemic Too!" during a demonstration in Brooklyn, New York, on September 24, 2020. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This phenomenon is called institutional capture, which refers to what happens when organizations get caught in a moral puritanical movement and lose sight of their primary missions—as places of knowledge, objective learning, and the free exchange of ideas.

And then these same organizations are befuddled when the public doesn't trust them on critical issues such as vaccines or climate change.

Part of the issue is that scientific institutions are signaling allegiance with progressive culture war causes. This not only turns off half the population on the other side of these debates (as well as many on the center), but it makes these organizations appear ideological rather than neutral. They appear untrustworthy—or even nuts.

Worse, when scientific institutions are captured by ideology, they end up suggesting policies that actually hurt people. Who can forget when the CDC suggested prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines for essential workers rather than the elderly in late 2020—because the elderly were proportionally "whiter" than young essential workers. If implemented, this would have certainly resulted in far more deaths—including deaths of people of color!—as elderly people die in far greater numbers from COVID-19 than do young workers.

It is essential that scientific institutions remain dedicated to neutral, rigorous data, even when that tells people on either side of our polarized debates what they don't want to hear. This creates trust, and trust is critical to the mission of these organizations.

To be sure, there are many on the right with deep skepticism of science who engage in their own cancelations and pseudoscience. But capitulation to the moral agendas of the far-Left only worsen this problem.

Scientific institutions need to do the hard work of rejecting moral grandstanding and returning to data-based objectivity. And they need to begin immediately.

Chris Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University and author of How Madness Shaped History, Mortal Combat: How the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong and the mystery novel Suicide Kings.

The views in this article are the writer's own.