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Physicists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and SUNY Stony Brook recently concluded that two black holes maintained their total surface area after merging. While this research was a welcome confirmation of the theory of general relativity, it failed to address a crucial matter: What were its racial implications?
That’s a lacuna that an astronomy course at Cornell University aims to prevent. “Black Holes: Race and the Cosmos” poses the question, “Is there a connection between the cosmos and the idea of racial blackness?”
Anyone familiar with academia’s racial monomania knows the answer: Of course, there is. Though “conventional wisdom,” according to the course description, holds that the “‘black’ in black holes has nothing to do with race,” astronomy professor Nicholas Battaglia and comparative-literature professor Parisa Vaziri know better.
Battaglia and Vaziri draw on theorists such as Emory University English professor Michelle Wright, whose book, “The Physics of Blackness,” invokes “Newton’s laws of motion and gravity” and “theoretical particle physics” to “subvert racist assumptions about blackness.” The course also studies music by Sun Ra and Outkast to “conjure blackness through cosmological themes.”
Many scientists, reading about Cornell’s course, might wonder: Is this a hoax?
There’s precedent, after all. In 1996, New York University physicist Alan Sokal published a paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” in one of high theory’s holiest of shrines: the journal Social Text. Sokal drew on efforts among comparative-literature and American-studies professors to deploy scientific concepts toward a postmodern end: showing science to be a mere power play designed to silence “dissident or marginalized communities.”
Sokal cited such postmodern giants as Andrew Ross and Luce Irigaray on topics like “oppositional discourses in post-quantum science” and “gender encoding in fluid mechanics,” proposing a new theory of quantum gravity that could serve as the basis for a “postmodern and liberatory science.”
Sokal’s paper was a prank. Clouded in Theorese, it obscured its own scientific illiteracy and was accepted for publication—a mistake which should have triggered an academic reckoning. Instead, postmodern theory continued to fester, particularly in humanities and social-science departments.
In 2017, it happened again. Three academics submitted theory-drenched fake articles to various cultural-studies and social-science journals. Four were published, and three accepted, before the hoax was exposed. “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” published in the journal Cogent Social Sciences, argued for understanding the penis not as “an anatomical organ, but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity” (with climate change identified as one of its most damaging threats). Another analyzed the rape culture of dog parks.
The humanities and much of the social sciences have been beyond parody for a long time. What’s different about “Black Holes: Race and the Cosmos” is its co-listing in an actual science department. The course fulfills Cornell’s science-distribution requirement, touching as it does on such concepts as the electromagnetic spectrum.
Astronomy departments have been on the forefront of campus identity politics — and so has Cornell. Cornell’s astronomy department won’t even allow prospective graduate students to submit the physics GRE since female, black and Hispanic students score lower on average. Meanwhile, Cornell’s engineering department accepts female undergraduates at over two and a half times the rate of male students, even though the average male math SAT score is significantly higher than the average female score.
Today’s academic charlatans mistake rhetoric for knowledge and words for things. This sleight of hand is particularly prevalent in matters relating to race. Hunter College professor Philip Ewell argues that the concept of tonal and harmonic hierarchies in music theory is a stand-in for pernicious racial hierarchies. Black business school students at USC protested in 2020 that hearing a professor use the Mandarin phrase for “that” — “nèi ge” — constituted racial harassment, since the Mandarin expression can sound like the N-word. The professor was sent on leave.
For decades, science has stood guard against the racial hysteria and postmodernism besetting the rest of the academy. Bit by bit, it is succumbing.
Heather Mac Donald is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal, from which this column was adapted.
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