Remember that crazy study that purported to examine glaciers through the lens of feminism and post-colonialism? Its lead author, University of Oregon Associate History Dean Mark Carey, defended the integrity of his research in a recent interview, claiming that the opposition misunderstood his point.
He also expressed some measure of happiness. "The good news is people are talking about glaciers!" he said.
The interview, unfortunately, didn't really provoke Carey to offer much of a defense of his incomprehensible paper, since his interviewer seemed to endorse his assertions that applying the lens of social justice activism to glaciology was a worthwhile enterprise. Carey said:
Professional research is published in journals for specialists in a given field. When removed from that context and described to nonspecialists, the research can be misunderstood and potentially misrepresented. What is surprising about the brouhaha is the high level of misinterpretations, mischaracterization, and misinformation that circulate about research and researchers—though this has, unfortunately, been happening to scientists for centuries, especially climate researchers in recent decades.
The good news is that people are talking about glaciers! But there's much more to the story than just the glaciers. People and societies impose their values on glaciers when they discuss, debate, and study them—which is what we mean when we say that ice is not just ice. Glaciers become the platform to express people's own views about politics, economics, cultural values, and social relations (such as gender relations). The attention during the last week proves our point clearly: that glaciers are, in fact, highly politicized sites of contestation. Glaciers don't have a gender. But the rhetoric about ice tells us a great deal about what people think of science and gender.
But there's a difference between what Carey claims his paper does—makes the case for a gendered examination of glaciology—and what it actually does—recycles platitudes that already presume the inherent value of a social justice framework as applied to the physical sciences. And while it's certainly true that women have been historically underrepresented in the field, Carey's paper fails to shed much light on what this specifically has to do with actual science. Sure, cultural depictions of glaciers were shaped by masculinity and colonialism, but the actual glaciers themselves have the same properties, regardless of the genders or races of the people studying them. Ice is, well, ice.
Jerry Coyne, an opponent of pseudoscience, made this point quite elegantly in his criticism of the Carey paper:
In the end, the paper, infused with anecdotes, confirmation bias, and calls for "other ways of knowing," reminds me a lot of theology. It's a maddening and useless piece of work, and it angers me that the money we taxpayers spent on it wasn't diverted to something that actually adds to our knowledge.
Read the rest of Coyne's thoughts on the matter here.