November 17, 2021 - 11:22am

The influence of Left-wing identity politics on the media is beyond doubt. That’s not an opinion, but a quantifiable fact. By counting the number of times that relevant terminology like “whiteness”, “male privilege” and “cultural appropriation” is used in mainstream publications like the New York Times, one can chart an explosion of coverage over the last decade. 

However, this isn’t just happening in the media. A new report from the Center for the Study of Partnership and Ideology (CSPI) looks at an area one would hope would be free from ideological influence: scientific research. 

The report’s author, Leif Rasmussen, uses natural language processing to analyse the abstracts of successful grant proposals to the National Science Foundation — the main grant giving body for scientific research in the US.

This is the key finding: 

As of 2020, across all fields 30.4% of successful grant abstracts contained at least one of the terms “equity,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” “gender,” “marginalize,” “underrepresented,” or “disparity.” This is up from 2.9% in 1990. This increase is seen in every field.
- Leif Rasmussen, CSPI

That’s a big change, but is it necessarily a bad thing? Though the CSPI describes the overall trend as “politicisation”, one could argue that science can remain objective while being made more relevant to the lives of previously marginalised communities. Scientists should also address specific issues such as the underrepresentation of certain groups in medical trials, which can lead to an incomplete understanding of the effectiveness and side-effects of treatments.

Credit: CSPI

If researchers are wording their grant proposals to reflect a genuine and useful effort to make science more inclusive, then that could be counted as a positive trend. However, the CSPI research also finds a marked and recent uptick in the use of overtly ideological language like “intersectional” and “Latinx”. 

Credit: CSPI

Another potentially worrying trend identified in the report is an “increase in similarity between documents that is particularly pronounced beginning in 2017.” In other words, the language used in grant proposals is becoming less distinctive. Why would that be? Politicisation might be one explanation, but it could just be that scientists are generally getting better at wording proposals to tick the boxes of the grant-giving bureaucracy.  

Whatever the reason, we should be wary about any trend towards groupthink. Though we certainly don’t need any old or new form of pseudo-science, the progress of actual science still depends on the ability to push beyond the established consensus. 

As long as scientific rigour and ethical standards are maintained, grant-giving bureaucracies should be encouraging scientists to think differently not the same.