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I saw something about this elsewhere and decided it had something to do with the movie Frozen.


I was thinking earlier today about the Lord, Liar, Lunatic, argument, and I've been thinking that if Our Lord really was a lunatic, the people of the 21st century would embrace him with open arms because it is obviously a lunatic we're lookin' for.


That must be a joke. Right?

It doesn't seem to be, but I can't claim to have inspected it very closely.

Re lunatics, it seems like hardly a day goes by that I don't have at least one occasion to think of "whom the gods would destroy they first make mad."

If it's a parody, they've got the language of landscape ecology down perfectly.

"...I can't claim to have inspected it very closely."

It starts getting good about halfway through section IV, where it turns out their complaint about traditional glaciology is, basically, that it's too awesome:

"There was what Hevly calls a ‘culture of field science’ in the 19th century that favored ‘authentic, rigorous, manly experience’, and scientists – let alone women – who did not explicitly demonstrate that their glaciological conclusions stemmed from heroic, manly adventures struggled to make their scientific claims credible."

They reel off a despairing list of glaciologists being brave and adventurous and despicably masculine, and then insist that indigenous people's views on glaciers be taken more seriously, which sounds great up until they cite the example of the "knowledge" that glaciers move because they're annoyed by the smell of hot grease. In section VI it turns out the angle you view a glacier from has political overtones:

"Burko also paints glaciers from an aerial, top-down perspective, one that appropriates a gaze generally associated with scientific credibility and accuracy. Such a gaze has been troubled by feminist researchers who argue that the ‘conquering gaze’ makes an implicit claim on who has the power to see and not be seen"

At the end it turns out that this is important because governments keep asking scientists for advice on stuff, but "the natural sciences are not equipped to understand the complexities and potentialities of human societies, or to recognize the ways in which science and knowledge have historically been linked to imperial and hegemonic capitalist agendas".

I suspect this gem will be withdrawn from the internets once it's been linked to enough, so download it now if you're interested...

(On consideration I suspect it's an elaborate piece of whimsy - the authors came across some feminist/postcolonialist critiques of science and thought it would be amusing to reevaluate their own field along those lines.)

My bet is that it's genuine. The publication (or site) where it appears seems to be 100% serious. And after a very quick look around, which turned up a number of stories making fun of the paper, the only one I found that seemed to indicate the people taking it as real were getting anything wrong was this story at Gawker (caveat lector) which only claims that the study did not cost $400,000, as some of the people laughing at it are claiming.

If it is indeed a bit of whimsy, it's something on the order of the Sokal hoax. I would love that. But the main author actually is working on climate-related stuff with a $400,000 NSF grant.

Serious journals in science and medicine do sometimes publish whimsical articles, often around Christmas. Like this one. But the whimsy is often laboured, and the editors or authors can be rather defensive about justifying it as stimulating "thinking outside the box" when people question whether it's appropriate.

It does seem to be real -- from an article on the research on the University of Oregon website, "As glaciers melt, more voices in research are needed":

When UO historian Mark Carey hired Jaclyn Rushing, an undergraduate student in the Robert D. Clark Honors College, to explore how nongovernmental organizations were addressing melting Himalayan glaciers, he got an unexpected return.

Her dive into the literature found that women's voices are rarely heard in glacier-related research, a finding that triggered a larger project and led to a paper now online ahead of print by the journal Progress in Human Geography.

"Jaclyn found a report that noted how women are more vulnerable to glacier changes and hazards than are men," said Carey, associate dean of the Clark Honors College and a professor of history and environmental studies. "I had never researched these gendered vulnerabilities." ...

They found that glacier research has been intertwined with gender relations, masculine cultures of exploration, geopolitics, and individual and institutional power. That, in turn, led to glacier-related academic and governmental jobs being predominantly filled by men.

"Melting glaciers are today considered a national security risk for numerous countries," Carey said. "Power and colonialism have shaped the science." ...

"The root of this paradigm comes from the era of Victorian Imperialism in which manly vigor and scientific discovery provided the dominant way of both understanding and dominating foreign spaces," Rushing said. "This results in a total lack of consideration of alternative ways of understanding glacial ice, which is especially troubling in the current age of rapid melt." ...

The National Science Foundation supported the research as part of a five-year grant to Carey for his studies on glacier-societal interactions.

There's also a video featuring the lead author. I detect no whimsy, just earnestness.

Alas, alas. (Well, not so alas for me, I have enough distance to laugh at it; but alas for the authors. And for those feminists who've thought about things like "how does giving feminism the reputation of lunatics and control freaks actually help women?" And for all the feminists trying to actually help women who'll now be mocked for this, or corrupted into defending this out of feminist solidarity. And for all the people who have this kind of nonsense going on in their own vicinity but can't afford to laugh at it. Etc.)

And alas for the liberal arts, under the banner of which this mentality is nurtured.

There was a good piece in The New Criterion some months ago about the folly of recasting the study of the humanities, particularly literature, as vessels for a sort of left-wing sociology. It's not online, but as I recall it was written by a humanities professor alarmed by the disrepute into which the field has fallen, and the flight of students from it. He argues that if, for instance, the study of literature is not principally the study of literature itself, it's complicit in its own demise because it isn't doing anything that other fields of study (sociology, anthropology) aren't better qualified to do.

It's almost as if science, having risen from the murk of magic, is sinking into something worse. Magic, at least, is fed by the imagination, while this new thing is so damned tedious, and tendentious.

Of course, there are still good scientists, but they will likely be marginalized if they don't toe the mark.


I think it's not so much actual scientists, at least not hard-core scientists like physicists, as humanities types who want to suborn science for their own purposes. And the pseudo-scientists who prosper in the "social sciences." The faculty member mainly responsible for this is a history prof. I'd be surprised if the students aren't English or Complaint Studies majors.

And as a former English major I really hate having to say that.

Do remember this is just one paper. There are thousands of physical geographers not writing papers about feminist glaciology, and four that are - it's not like the entire field has headed off into la-la land. Admittedly, it's worrying that this kind of thing can crop up in physical geography, but as a field, geography includes significant human and cultural elements by necessity, which makes it susceptible to such an infection. Note also that this is not new: google the "Science Wars", for the last major skirmish between science and postmodernist critiques of same. The critics (some of whom sound interesting - I keep meaning to read Feyerabend) didn't make much of an impression, and science carried on without caring. It's admittedly new in the tactics: the Science Wars were an attack carried on in the proper sphere, namely the philosophy and sociology of science. This is a piecemeal approach, taking it as obviously good for women and oppressed groups to get their due and using that as a lever. But there's limits to how far that will get you.

Note also that this is one field of geography, which is one subject among many. It's possible that biology and medicine might become susceptible to this kind of thing in some areas (I believe that feminists have occasionally had useful critiques of aspects of medicine, as opposed to pushing postmodern stuff like in the OP - which might actually make them unwilling to push postmodern stuff, why sully a legacy of actual usefulness?) When it comes to chemistry and physics... I would dearly love someone to propose a feminist astrophysics. Or feminist magnetohydrodynamics. Or feminist density functional theory.

...excuse me a moment, I have a grant proposal to write.

I guess this is as good a place as any to post a link to an episode of Radiolab that I heard last weekend. It's good science, but fairly frightening. I would suggest listening to the two sections called, "Genes on the Move" (from about midway where they visit some students) and "Intelligent Design." People--some of them very young--are out there just playing with genes to create what I guess must be new life forms. None of them seems to have ever heard of the law of unintended consequences.


I don't know whether I'll have time to listen to that, but yeah, this is by far the most worrisome thing going on in technology. It's really the only thing that makes me wonder if we might actually be living in the end times, because I seriously wonder whether God will permit this level of tinkering with the fabric of life itself.

Don't worry, godescalc, I know real scientists, or at least not very many of them, are going off in this direction, and in fact as I think you're suggesting they tend to be critical of it. Sokal of Sokal hoax fame is a physicist, and that whole affair was brought to my attention by a physicist/software developer.

When did "geography" become "physical geography"? Seems like that designation argues against the emphasis on human factors in general.

I think it's to distinguish the study of mountains, rivers and glaciers from "human geography", which is about things like towns and agriculture and other human uses and modifications.

Ah, that makes sense. So if something resembling feminist glaciology really has a place, it should be in human geography, not physical.

By the way, the Asterix thing you linked to is funny. There's also The Journal of Irreproducible Results, which began way back in 1955.

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