The Disordered Cosmos

A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred

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I have my Master's Degree in Physics from the University Near Here. Although I eventually decided (way too late in life) that the field was not for me, I still kind of keep tabs on it, mostly by reading "for the layman" physics books. Recently, my old department added Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (CPW) to its faculty, and she pretty quickly made herself, um, known. (I don't think I could name another current faculty member.) She has appeared at Pun Salad occasionally since 2018: here (pre-UNH), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

When I noticed that the Portsmouth Public Library owned her recent book, I decided to grab it. From my previous encounters, I knew it would be outside my comfort zone, but you need to go there every so often, right? So…

Well, the good things first. She likes Star Trek. Hey, so do I! And (in the first chapters) she describes the wonders of modern particle physics and cosmology with a lively voice and obvious enthusiasm.

But even there, it's clear her real topics are (a) race and (b) herself. And once she's done with the physics, those drive the rest of the book. It's occasionally interesting, but mostly not. She hammers science, history, and philosophy into a 100% "woke" hard-left perspective, all wrapped up in the tedious and tired jargon that implies. On her bumpy journey, she indicts: capitalism, colonialism, the proposed Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope, sexism, misgendering, global warming, … and so much more. Any valid points she might have made are drowned out by her obvious confirmation bias. Except for (I hope) her physics research, she's not looking for truth; she's looking for ammo. This approach leads her into making ridiculous overstatements.

Example (pp 241-2): "In this [American] system's sphere of influence, Black children cannot safely rest on the couch without being murdered in their sleep by police. Black children cannot go to the store and buy candy without being murdered on the street by vigilantes who are operating as part of a surveillance structure encouraged by the state. Black children cannot listen to music in a car without being murdered by vigilantes who believe the state gives them permission to shoot loud Black children. American white supremacy is a total authoritarian structure that shapes every aspect of Black lives."

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Chicago Sun-Times counts 99 people shot over last weekend, 17 fatally. The wounded include 11 children. The article doesn't classify by race, but it's safe to assume that both shooters and victims were mostly Black, and the shooters were neither police nor "vigilantes".

[Update: apparently the Sun-Times revised its count: 104 shot, 19 killed, 13 kids wounded ("at least").]

Analogies are strained far beyond their breaking point to bring the discussion around to the Real Topics. Example (pp 119-120): "I tend to think of [weak gravitational lensing] as being a lot like systemic racism. You look at any one incident, say when someone comments on my hair and asks me if it's real, and some person who hasn't experienced racism might say, 'Oh, that's not racism. That person was just curious.' The hair incident, which happened to me while I was grabbing lunch at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is a classic example of an individual manifestation of systemic racism. But in order to understand it as such, one has to have an awareness of systemic racism or a lifetime of experience with its various patterns. If you're experienced, it's easy to identify. I didn't need anyone to tell me that the white man who asked me if my hair was a wig was doing something that Black folks might call 'super white', and it academic parlance is a microaggression—an almost mundane expression of racism."

CPW doesn't show the slightest awareness that her "lifetime of experience" causes her to see racism everywhere, even in an innocent, probably clumsy, effort to engage her in conversation.

CPW points with pride (p.235) to an article she co-wrote a couple weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated: "We Are The Scientists Against A Fascist Government", her protest against the relatively moderate "March for Science" which (unsuccessfully in my view) strove for big-tent non-partisanship. Nope. Unless you view Trump's rule as a "totalitarian catastrophe", exercising "total authoritarian power over communities of people", and didn't admit that it all showed a "fascist, totalitarian pulse" in "America's political foundation" you ain't on Team CPW.

Geez. I didn't like Trump either, but that seems overblown.

Well, I've yammered long enough. Bottom line: America's sins of racism are real, of course. CPW thinks they're the whole story. They aren't. She thinks hard-leftism is a valuable lens for analysis. It isn't.

Last Modified 2021-07-07 7:39 AM EDT