Peter Dreier exposes here a false screed that appeared in the New York Times. Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College in California. Anyone who thinks that the Times is “leftwing” should see how gullible they were in posting a rightwing diatribe. Drier’s article appeared in The American prospect. The article in the Times echoed the complaint of authors that their article on leftwing bias in science had been rejected because of leftwing bias. But there are many reasons why an article might be rejected by scientific research publications, such as, because it’s about politics, not science. Maybe they should submit it to the New York Times Magazine.

Dreier writes:

Americans are more inclined than others to either deny that the climate is changing, or believe that human activity is not responsible for global warming, according to a 23-country survey conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project in 2019. More than one-third (36 percent) of Americans today believe that climate change is primarily due to natural causes—an extraordinary repudiation of the scientific consensus.

Why are so many Americans wrong about this basic question?

A major culprit is the ongoing disinformation campaign waged by oil companies and other fossil fuel profiteers, led by the Koch brothers. Between 1986 and 2018, the Kochs spent at least $168 million financing more than 90 groups that have attacked climate change science and opposed policy solutions, such as a carbon tax, that would regulate the fossil fuel industry. Other fossil fuel giants, including ExxonMobil, and the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry lobby group, have engaged in a long-standing propaganda war about global warming, pollution, and public health.

These efforts are part of a much broader and persistent campaign by corporate America to challenge scientific findings that identify the serious dangers their practices pose to the environment, workers, consumers, and public health. The key players include major food, chemical, tobacco, pharmaceutical, automobile, and fossil fuel corporations. They each have their own research, public relations, and lobbying counterparts, all designed to mislead the public and policymakers by discrediting science and sowing seeds of doubt about scientific merit and impartiality. It should come as no surprise that polls reveal an increasing distrust of science, disproportionately among Republicans.

“There’s an entire industry called product defense—devoted to creating studies that claim to exonerate dangerous products and activities,” explains Dr. David Michaels, an epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health. Michaels was the longest-serving assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (2009-2017) and author of The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception (Oxford University Press, 2020). “It’s very lucrative for these mercenary scientists to manufacture uncertainty about the dangers of the corporate sponsors of their work. Their job is to pollute the scientific literature with ‘doubt science.’”

But if you believe New York Times columnist Pamela Paul, the most egregious efforts to discredit science come from the left, not corporate America. In a May 4 column, “A Paper That Says Science Should Be Impartial Was Rejected by Major Journals. You Can’t Make This Up,” Paul claims that mainstream science has been hijacked by leftist activists who use identity politics, not objective facts, to judge the merits of scientific research. She based her argument on an article written by 29 academics, most of them scientists, entitled “In Defense of Merit in Science.”

That article contends that “social justice” advocates, including feminists and critical race theorists, evaluate scientific work on the gender and racial identity of scientists rather than on careful and scrupulous analysis of objective empirical facts. They even “deny the existence of objective reality,” because there is no scientific truth, but only “multiple narratives.”

To bolster their point that science has been kidnapped by leftists, including the editors of scientific journals, they claim, falsely, that “the paper was rejected by several prominent mainstream journals.” They eventually published it in something called the Journal of Controversial Ideas, a two-year-old publication co-founded by Peter Singer, a Princeton University philosophy professor, that primarily publishes articles from a conservative perspective.

In fact, theirs is not a scientific paper based on analysis of verifiable data. It is an opinion essay, filled with anecdotes and stories, making the uncontroversial claim that scientific research should be impartial and the controversial claim that leftists don’t share that view. The authors compare the alleged left-wing bias in current scientific work with the “dangers of replacing merit-based science with ideological control and social engineering” in the former Soviet Union. The paper goes on to attack critical race theory, affirmative action, and efforts to attract more women and people of color into science through diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training and policies.

The paper “reads like a rant,” said Michaels, the George Washington University epidemiologist. “It’s a hodgepodge of opinions masquerading as a coherent argument about science.”

The 29 authors of this article can hardly complain that they’ve been subjected to hostility by the scientific establishment. Most of them are successful researchers who, between them, have published thousands of articles in various journals. (The co-authors include several non-scientists, including linguist John McWhorter and economist Glenn Loury, both well-known conservatives.)

The authors’ claim that their article was rejected by many scientific journals based on political criteria is false. In an interview, Anna Krylov, a professor of quantum chemistry at the University of Southern California who was one of the scientists who initiated the article, admitted to me that they had formally submitted their article to only one established journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which rejected it.

What she and other co-authors had actually done was, in Krylov’s words, make “informal inquiries” to journal editors, about whether they might consider the article. This practice violates scientific norms of submitting articles to journals anonymously to avoid potential bias. Despite her efforts to use her and her colleagues’ networks to feel out journal editors, Krylov claimed that all of them discouraged her from submitting the article because of its viewpoint, but she offered no evidence from those conversations or emails.

These authors know very well that the overwhelming majority of research articles submitted to serious scientific journals are rejected. The eminent journal Science accepts only 6.1 percent of submitted papers. Other prestigious journals have similarly low acceptance rates, including Nature (7.6 percent), the British Medical Journal (4 percent), The New England Journal of Medicine (5 percent), The Journal of the American Medical Association (4 percent), and The Lancet (5 percent).

The one journal to which they formally submitted their paper, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), accepts only 15 percent of all submissions, according to Prashant Nair, a spokesperson for the journal. PNAS’s rejection is hardly evidence of the editors’ leftist bias.

Krylov refused to provide copies of the evaluations of their article by the three reviewers solicited by the journal, but she did provide a copy of an email exchange between her and one of the editors, Zan Dodson, who asked the authors to clarify the differences between “merit” in scientific research and in other arenas, such as college admissions. According to PNAS’s Nair, the article “was sent for review, and the Editorial Board found that a number of claims made in the manuscript were unsupported by citations or additional argument. The Board concluded that it cannot recommend any particular protocol for improving the cogency of the arguments. As such, the manuscript was rejected.”

Neither the 29 authors nor Times columnist Paul seem to recognize that increasing the diversity of the scientific landscape has real benefits to the scientific enterprise itself. Nor do they acknowledge that science has often been used as a tool of oppression against relatively powerless people.

The widespread popularity (among prominent scientists and the general public) of the pseudo-science of eugenics in the early 1900s was used by policymakers to adopt laws allowing the sterilization of the “unfit” and to pass federal laws limiting immigration from Asia, Africa, and Southern Europe. It is hard to believe that the infamous Tuskegee experiment would have been conducted had there been any African American officials of the U.S. Public Health Service. That experiment, begun in 1932 ostensibly to find a cure for syphilis, led to the deaths of Southern Black men who were refused treatment for the disease.

The authors of “In Defense of Merit in Science” also say nothing about the biggest threat to public trust in science—the corporate-sponsored “doubt” industry. The critique of science by progressive scientists is not about the goal of impartial research. It is about what questions get asked and how scientific findings are applied in the real world.

It is no accident that few environmental scientists looked at the disproportionate harms of pollution and toxic chemicals on low-income and minority communities until Robert Bullard, a Black sociologist, published Dumping in Dixie in 1990. Now, many scientists are exploring the issue of “environmental racism,” using basic scientific methods and data analysis to examine the health impacts of racial disparities in exposure to pollution and toxins.

Pursuing excellence in research doesn’t conflict with advocating for social justice. When Albert Einstein participated in movements to outlaw lynching and end the use of atomic weapons, nobody questioned his credentials as a scientist.