“Dirty, bourgeois chemistry,” Sigma Nutrition Radio#425: Prof. Anna Krylov – When Ideology Hurts Scientific Discourse

During the Trump presidency, I participated yearly in the Portland March for Science. Science educators, researchers, and other concerned citizens marched in the thousands against the anti-science agendas of an administration who years before COVID set the stage for distrust in professionals, placing profits over real climate change action, religious beliefs over medical decisions, and denying countless data pointing towards systemic inequalities in policing, education, housing, and so much more.

In this interview, Dr. Krylov, who comes from the former Soviet Union, begins by sharing real-life, worst-case scenarios of what happens when science is rejected over political ideology, a sneak-peek into our potential future if we can’t turn away these anti-science elements in our culture. And beneath the warning is a hard datapoint–that it is pervasive on both sides of the political spectrum, that progressives are creating political pressure of their own, leading to self-censorship in science and research.

She points out the dangers implicit in requiring perfection from our scientists, in the expectation that they “must live up to our moral standards” for their research to be validated. She warns of the risks of ending meaningful academic dialog when dissenting points of view are shut down. I don’t know what this looks like in practical terms. I do know that Charles Darwin thought women were inferior to men due to biological factors not social ones, and that doesn’t take away from the importance of his work. I also know that the field of statistics was largely born out of a desire to prove the superiority of the White race. Science and political ideology have been intertwined from the beginning, and science as a tool is only as humanity-serving as those who wield it.

I am also unclear on how Dr. Krylov believes we can move away from the politicization of research when we are in a world that has become so toxic and tribal. Sometimes, I unfriend and unfollow not as a tool of social isolation, or to “silence” dissent, but to create a healthy boundary for myself, to limit the emotional toil of bearing the harmful ignorance of others. Is this boundary-setting acceptable in my personal life but not in academia? What is the role of social capital in scientific circles? To what degree is it ok to have consequences for unpopular points of view? Or is it that she sees social consequences as separate from professional consequences? It’s unclear to me based on this conversation where she stands.

This is a very nuanced conversation, and honestly, I wish I could ask both Danny and Professor Krylov lots of questions to be sure I’m understanding each of their points. However, in the absence of that opportunity, I’m grateful to them for having it and sharing their ideas, and I hope it serves as a catalyst for more discourse between consumers and creators of scientific information on the role of politics, creating safe spaces for dissent, and allowing for diversity of scientific point of view.

Feature Image Credit: Hans Reniers, via Unsplash

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