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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Feminist "Science" of the Day

Glaciers, gender, and science

Abstract: "Glaciers are key icons of climate change and global environmental change. However, the relationships among gender, science, and glaciers – particularly related to epistemological questions about the production of glaciological knowledge – remain understudied. This paper thus proposes a feminist glaciology framework with four key components: 1) knowledge producers; (2) gendered science and knowledge; (3) systems of scientific domination; and (4) alternative representations of glaciers. Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions."

This was very entertaining.

The article is a great example in saying a lot but meaning little (inasmuch as the aim is to improve glaciology).

But then again, the authors' aim is to have "more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions". They say nothing about actually improving our knowledge about the world (you know, what science is supposed to be about).

We learn a lot about the image, history and the statistical and inherent inequality of glaciology, but practically nothing of substance about the subject. To apply a feminist-inspired critique, this is like criticising Angela Merkel for her clothes rather than her policies. Ironically the article criticises a New York Times article on the melting Greenland glaciers saying it doesn't talk much about science (a criticism that can be applied even more strongly to itself). This also fails to situate the NYT article in its context - there is a whole genre of NYT articles written in this way which is more about the human interest angle than the putative issue that motivates it.

The authors claim that you don't need to actually have experience working on a glacier to be a glaciologist (e.g. you can be a computer modeler). Apparently the feminist ideas of "lived experience" and "authentic experience" don't apply to Science.

There is a claim that the manly portrayal of researchers in the media "can shape scientific credibility in the academy, such as with hiring and possibly even with peer reviewing". No evidence is given to support this claim. At all.

The authors are also surprised that a traditional societies "are often no more egalitarian" than the sciences. No shit, Sherlock. You don't find much feminism in traditional societies.

"‘The centrality of mathematical and technological science . . . structured by masculinist ideologies of domination and mastery’, thus determining who can or cannot participate in climate science and policy-making" is criticised. So presumably anyone should be able to talk out of their ass, all perspectives should be valued (even demonstrably false ones) and anyone, no matter how ignorant, should "participate in climate science and policy-making".

At one point, Eskimo taboos about cooking with grease near glaciers are mentioned. This "demonstrate[s] the capacity of folk glaciologies to diversify
the field of glaciology and subvert the hegemony of natural sciences". I'm sure there're Eskimo tribes who have taboos about studying glaciers. So let's shut down glaciology as a field of study!

The article gets even better towards the end where they talk about "glacier-oriented visual and literary arts", including the recording of the sounds of glaciers on glacial meltwater which has been frozen into an LP. I'm just surprised that nothing involving a vagina and/or menstrual blood was cited.

The one saving grace of this article is that doesn't have (much) jargon (well, aside from it being free).

And the one useful takeaway is that the climate is a lot less predictable than we would like (but then from what I know existing climate models already have caveats about uncertainty; this is also why, as everyone knows, weather forecasts beyond a few days are inaccurate). So I'm not sure this point is very novel.

The most depressing bit of the article is that "This work is based upon work supported by the US National Science Foundation under grant #1253779". Who is conducting a War on Science, again? [Addendum: The grant description sounds VERY different from this article]

Other fields ripe for Feminist Science's Disruption:

- Cosmology needs to take into account Australian aborigines' perspectives about The Dreamtime.
- Astronomy needs to take into account astrological perspectives about the constellations' effects on our lives
- Medicine neglects the holistic viewpoint of homeopathy in contributing to human wellness

I don't know whether to be disturbed or amused that Progress in Human Geography has a ranking of 2/76. The Impact Factor is 5.010, which is higher than PLOS ONE (3.234) - if you cite an article to debunk it that raises its citation count and thus the journal's Imapct Factor, right?
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