How do I fight SJW ideologies

Science must not become a justice project

Martin Nettesheim, law professor at the University of Tübingen, writes in his guest article about the dangers of "cancel culture" for science.

Prudent people don't just react to cracks in the foundations of a house when it starts to slide. More than 100 German-speaking scientists have recently joined forces to form the Scientific Freedom Network to point out possible undesirable developments in the scientific system. They are aimed at the opinion that the freedom, openness and efficiency of today's scientific system must be protected from interventions at inappropriately politicizing. They defend themselves against the attempt to moralize science by distinguishing between good and bad questions or between admissible and inadmissible results.

There is no reason for alarmist exaggerations. In the European countries, the science system is not exposed to any inappropriate attempts by the state to steer it. The changes are in the social sphere. The scientific system is confronted with a public whose members can no longer reliably differentiate between necessary criticism and irrelevant political influence.

Control, criticism, sanction

The number of cases in which attempts are made to stop scientific projects or events because the topic or possible results are not liked is increasing. Often it is about interference from outside - by people who try to trigger a "shit storm" with the megaphone on their Twitter channel in order to influence a sphere that was previously inaccessible to them. In recent years it has been observed again and again that university managements have given in too quickly to demands to prevent unpleasant things. The willingness to defend academic freedom against moralizing pressure must be strengthened. No scientific institution should allow itself to be blackmailed.

That doesn't mean scientists can do what they want. You have to face the internal mechanisms of control, criticism and sanction. But it cannot be a question of whether your questions and possible results are pleasing or not.

Changes are also becoming apparent in the science system itself. In many subjects and disciplines, important efforts have been observed in recent decades to question traditional perspectives. Existing approaches and paradigms were critically questioned and deconstructed in order to show the interests and power structures behind them.

Efforts were made to bring the voices and perspectives of now marginalized people to bear. To give an example: Today international law is intensively examined to see whether its institutions continue to express western hegemonic or colonial power structures. "Critical Studies" occupy a central place today in almost all areas of social and cultural studies.

Such approaches become problematic when they see themselves as a justice project that is not only intended to serve the purpose of description and analysis, but also directly aims to improve the world. Then politics and science mix.

To silence

If science is based on the ethos of fighting injustice, it is not only natural to distinguish between good and bad science. It also makes sense to understand differences of opinion not as a factual dispute over the better argument, but as a struggle to see whether the fair will prevail.

Scientific controversies then turn into political disputes in the name of advocacy for social justice. Then it makes sense not to want to convince the opponent, but to silence him and deny him a legitimate place in the scientific system. Anyone who is on the road as a "Social Justice Warrior" cannot leave room for dissenting voices. As a result, tendencies towards a "cancel culture" are now also becoming noticeable in the scientific system.

Of course, science has always been carried out in the shadow of politics and with a view of social issues. The state has always used the science system to forfeit political and ideological goals. The members of the scientific system cannot fundamentally avoid this. However, they should be able to distinguish between the role of a scientist and the role of a political citizen. Science must keep an eye on and critically reflect on the social implications of what it does. Science bears social responsibility. Today, more than ever, the science system must therefore ask itself whether it is sufficiently inclusive, including whether it needs to be more open to perspectives and concerns that have so far been assigned too little role.

Free, open, diverse

Science that fulfills a social mission must absorb the social changes that western societies are subject to today. However, a scientific system must never destroy the epistemic structures that enable free, open and diverse knowledge and knowledge production.

Anyone who wants to fight for social justice must do so in the political arena. Anyone who judges science exclusively or primarily according to whether it promotes a certain goal of justice strives for a post-scientific system that can no longer serve to advise politics, but is absorbed in it. (Martin Nettesheim, February 19, 2021)

Martin Nettesheim is a lawyer and holds the chair for constitutional and administrative law, European law and international law at the University of Tübingen. Nettesheim is a member of the Scientific Freedom Network.