Does Ideology Beat Merit Now?

Science and scholarly publishing have become infested with political, identity, and social justice priorities, thwarting merit and truth-seeking

Does Ideology Beat Merit Now?

A recent paper by 29 authors in the Journal of Controversial Ideas proposes an idea that shouldn’t be controversial at all — scientific findings should be evaluated on their merits, not their politics.

The paper was rejected by multiple journals before finding its way to publication, with one journal’s editors describing the authors’ use of the word “merit” as “hurtful.”

The authors’ premise is summarized as follows:

Liberal epistemology prizes free and open inquiry, values vigorous discourse and debate, and determines the best scientific ideas by separating those that are true from those that are likely not. The statuses, identities, and demographics of scientists are irrelevant to this great sifting of valid versus invalid ideas.

In contrast, identity-­based ideologies seek to replace these core liberal principles, essential for scientific and technological advances, with principles derived from postmodernism and Critical Social Justice (CSJ), which assert that modern science is “racist,” “patriarchal,” and “colonial,” and a tool of oppression rather than a tool to promote human flourishing and global common good.

This shift from merit to identity-based ideologies manifests in our world as “positionality statements” — statements some journals require describing a person’s race, sex, privilege, and “experiences of oppression,” to be used before or while evaluating their research. These are spreading into the sciences from the social sciences.