Anna Krylov: The Politicization of Science in Academia — #25

Anna I. Krylov is an outspoken advocate of freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Steve Hsu: Welcome to Manifold. Today, my guest is Anna Krylov, professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California. She works in the field of theoretical and computational quantum chemistry. Anna was born in Danette's Ukraine, graduated from Moscow State University, and received her PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 2021, she wrote a paper called The Peril of Politicizing Science, which launched a national conversation among scientists and the general public on the growing influence of political ideology in science and engineering. It has received over 85,000 views and is all time highest ranked article in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

I want to welcome Anna to the program, and I want to emphasize that she is speaking only as an individual person, not on behalf of any organization, specifically not, on behalf of the University of Southern California. Anna, welcome to the podcast.

Anna Krylov: Thank you, Steve. Pleasure to be there. Here.

Steve Hsu: It's a pleasure to meet you. When I read your article, I was extremely impressed. One of the things you did was ground the whole conversation in your own experiences, growing up in the Soviet Union. And these are experiences which I think most people, westerners won't be familiar with because to some extent they've been spared, ideology, in their own education, well, to some degree in their own educations.

Maybe we could just start with a little bit about your early life, and how it is related to the topic of our discussion.

Anna Krylov: All right. So, it was very different to say the least. So, quality of life was of magnitude below the west. And you know, most basic things were in short supply, and we had to stand in endless lines to get basic groceries and like butter, meat. But that's not the most important part. The most important difference, I think, is the only presence of ideology, Marxist ideology.

And we experienced it from very early days in our lives. We did just simply live our lives. We were told that we are building a bright future for the whole world, for the entire world. We were to liberate oppressed masses worldwide from their oppressors. And to achieve this goal, we were told we need to destroy the old world. So, we go to war with everyone else. It was a cold war, but we were surrounded by our enemies. We were told by the west, by the evil west. We were there out there to destroy our country and enslave us. So, because of that, every sin and everyone was scrutinized through the lens of the alignment with Marxist ideology. Books, children, books, music, chemistry, and you name it. And the nonconforming thoughts and actions were punished. So, if you dare to dissent, you could get in trouble in big trouble. You could get in jail for reading the wrong book, or you could go get in a mental hospital for writing the wrong book. So, not speaking up wasn't enough. So, you couldn't just mind your business and keep your head down.

You had to enthusiastically engage from the kindergarten. I remember we had Giant, our first grade, Hank in the classroom who is not with us, is against us. And, you know, God helps those who is against.

One had to join, communist organizations at a pretty, junior age. They have a whole set of age-appropriate organizations, and if you do not join them, your prospects in life, they're severely limited. So, I was pretty lucky. I think I was one of the luckiest generations in the whole history of the USSR because the wall came down in 1991 when we were still young, and my generation was able to get out and live our lives in the West and build successful careers. And it kind of scares me to think how my life would have turned if the communist regime lasted for 20 more years.

Steve Hsu: Now, in your essay, you ground the discussion in the, what you just described, the ex, the ideological environment that you grew up in. When did you start to see things start changing in the west to make you think about the analogy back to Soviet times?

Anna Krylov: You know I spent most of my career time as a normal academic, which means working long hours, writing papers, mentoring students, writing grants, and so on. So, I wasn't very much aware of what's going on, and I started to notice things about two years ago when all of a sudden, we would, you know, you wake up, and you get your daily serving of news, news articles, memos from your university, from professional organizations about things like removing names from. Well, anything you can think of, awards, buildings, chairs, equations even, and so on. Or ma and news about forbidden words about how we should change the way you speak, and we should not, you know, use proper words. And more than that, you know, we started to see these Soviet-style, really Soviet-style propaganda articles coming from our major scientific outlets that would communicate such ideas, sciences, racists sciences, western sciences, colonial. And we have to change. We have to change everything. We have to destroy scientific enterprise because it's all corrupt and, by systemic injustices, build it a new one. And the parallels are very clear for someone who experienced this in the Soviet Union. So, you could see, side by side, how these trends resemble what they remember from the Soviet Union.

Steve Hsu: So, let me, let me quote from your article. You say, eyewitnesses ever-increasing attempts to subject science and education to ideological control and censorship, just as in Soviet times, the censorship is being justified by the greater good. Does that capture your feelings about the environment at USC?

Anna Krylov: Well, maybe not necessarily at USC, although we do have part of this too. But speaking of censorship, you know, I see now that censorship permeates scientific publishing. It's not just that you cannot express your opinions routinely because you can get moped and ostracized publicly for them or even suffer career consequences. I'm an editor for two journals. I mean, nothing spectacular, just routine chemistry journals, publishing, chemistry research. And I see how, you know, they received an amendment a couple of years ago for our board for physical chemistry, chemical physics from a publisher that told us that from now on we should consider and, and prevent publication of harmful content that can often offend some people.

And, never thought, we'll, you know, see things, such things in chemistry, but that's spreading pressure rapidly. And I see more of it in the, not just in the Royal Society of Chemistry, but also in the United States in journals managed by professional societies and so on.

Steve Hsu: So, I, you know, although I was born and I grew up in the United States, my father had come to the US from China, and the cultural revolution was in full swing when I was a kid. My dad would receive letters from his relatives in China, and he would spend time explaining to me how terrible the events that were occurring in China were.

So, I had a pretty firsthand, or maybe not firsthand, second hand understanding of what had gone on there. So, in some sense, I feel like I was a little bit sensitized, perhaps, as you have been to movements in this direction. Now, if you talk to your sort of typical American-born leftist colleague and they say, oh, Anna, you're just being overly dramatic. Nothing is really going on. We're just making slight course corrections to improve all kinds of aspects of social injustice in our work environment. What would you say to that person?

Anna Krylov: Yeah, you are very right that for people who saw it before, even maybe not through their own eyes, but from close relatives, it's very easy to recognize the symptoms. And I think it's very important to recognize that this liberal regime, like in China, in Russia, in other places in the world, things didn't happen overnight, and these liberal forces started to kind of easy first.

So, and what I would say, I would say, Okay, let's look at specific manifestations of what's going on and let's compare it with other times. Let's look, for example, at the idea that somehow, they should teach chemistry or mathematics in a way that promotes certain social justice ideas. So that, exactly how they were taught in Russia, everything, you know, was supposed to promote the preeminence of and, and, you know, numerous benefits of socialist regime. And when you, and if you're disciplined somehow, would not be sufficiently aligned with Marx's use, it can be canceled. And there are examples from the time, you know, very well example of the, and the devastating effect, it had on biology. So now we see very similar trends permeating biology and medical education in the United States.

And even at very basic education. We are told now that we shouldn't be teaching like simple biological facts. Like, you know, things that mammalian sex is pretty binary and well defined, but instead, we should be teaching that there is no such thing as biologically determined sex. likewise, in the teaching called physics or chemistry.

In some schools, you know, they do not teach laws. They say that we should dissolve in the Western, influence and we should call the laws differently in some places, people say that we should. You know, in some medical schools even they say that we should learn more indigenous ways of knowing, Okay. And not ground education in the, in this horrible Western science. And that's so, so, so similar to what we saw in the US society. And what worries me is that the consequences would also be very similar. So, I do not think these parallels are exaggerated.

Now, it's true that at this point of time we still live in a democratic society. So, dissenters may be punished, but we're not put in jail. We're not put in psychiatric hospitals. But if things continue to develop in this way, you know, we end up in this situation. And they're already very troubling examples. For example, a student in a medical school was fired, removed from the program and recommended to undergo psychiatric treatment because he openly questioned the mandatory training session [and] the validity of the concept of microaggressions. So, the student went to court and won. But, that thing happens to me very much and I think the s to are not, not that exaggerated. They're not hyperbolic likes, they're real.

Steve Hsu: You know, I think this particular incident that you mentioned, I don't think most people who are on the left really realize that many of the concepts like microaggressions or, unconscious bias, that they, they actually rest on fairly weak science in the sense that, you know, the studies, the psychology or sociological studies that underlie a lot of these, ideas often tend not to replicate.

And so even a clever undergraduate who has just done some reading on the internet might go into this kind of session and just start asking some reasonable scientific questions about some of the things that he, he or she is being taught. And, as you just pointed out, you can get into incredible trouble just by asking those questions.

Anna Krylov: But that's the main signature of totalitarian regimes. The first thing they suppress is freedom to ask questions. Yeah, it was the same. It was very similar in Soviet Russia when we weren't allowed, you know, even people that were completely loyal to the regimes, they weren't allowed to ask questions.

If you ask too many questions about history or about, you know, why we do things a certain way, that gets you in trouble. And, now we see it, these ideas, coming through the critical social justice and have idea looks like, the, or [unclear] that. Openly say that, you know, if you, if you question the existence of systemic racism, you are racist.

That's, that's it. And I think that kind of really very similar if you, if you question the validity of Marxist, Leninist doctrine in some particular instance, you are playing to the hands of reactionary westerners and therefore you should be punished.

Steve Hsu: You know, you, you mentioned the example of Lysenko and I obviously, I think you and I are pretty familiar with that history, but I would guess maybe even a decent fraction of my listeners are not very familiar with it. One thing I might say is that the Soviet study of the entire field of genetics, both in terms of agriculture and plant breeding, but also including humans, was completely destroyed by this guy. And I would say probably, at least from my understanding, it hasn't, that area of science hasn't fully recovered even today in Russia.

Anna Krylov: For a couple of decades, people, you know, it was not possible to publish a paper talking about chromosomes. And he stayed in power for like 10 years past the Stalin death at least. And it was really, truly devastating for the field. Now what is interesting, like some of the ideas that he was promoting, the kind of, he sees them defacing today. For example, that, you know, everything is a black slate. You can teach orange trees to grow in Siberia. You can teach, you know, you can change the wheat and make it grow in a cold climate differently and things of that nature. He even believes that, you know, cuckoo chicks become … they’re here because of the diet of other birds. So, but now, you know, we see very similar ideas that, you know, there is no such thing as biologically determined outcomes spreading around at alarmingly pace.

We hear this idea of, you know, clean slate, clean slate, humans that you can make anyone to be anything was very, very dear to communist. It was central to communist party. And we see resurfacing of it here too. For example, in California, I do not know if you followed, there is a proposal to reform mass education and K-12 and it has a lot of different things proposed, which are very worrisome. They want to change, remove algebra and calculus and what's not. But one of the things that is proposed is to do away with these programs for gifted children and to keep everyone in public school in the same classroom till 11th grade. And the justification for it comes because they say, Well, first of all, you know, these programs are racist because the demographics in these programs don't reflect demographics of the state. And point number two, the proponents of these changes are making, they say there is no such thing. They say they reject the idea of natural talent and gift.

And so, they say gifted children do not exist. Everyone is the same. Therefore, we should not create special programs for children that study mathematics at an advanced level.

So that's very similar to how communist’s ideologue s saw the people. No one is replaceable, everyone is equal, and it's up to communist party to join people and tell them what they want them to be.

Steve Hsu: I think ordinary Americans, you know, would be surprised by a policy like that because most people when they went through school could see some children were more talented than others, say at learning science or something. But I think, you know, when parents encounter this kind of thing at their school, they just shake their heads and they say, Okay, my god, my, our school board is really mismanaging the education of my children.

But the thing, the step that I think most Americans don't take is they don't realize that sometimes the origin of these policies is really highly ideological. And it originates in the writings of somebody like Ibraham Kendi. and that connection I think is kind of hidden from most people.

Anna Krylov: That's true. And if you try to explain to people some policies like at universities or in school, when we hear all these, You know, policy. So, diversity, equity, and inclusion about, equity, equity of outcomes and, anti-racist pedagogy. And you explain to people that, look, you know, it's coming from a critical social justice perspective.

It's, you know, slightly dusted over remarks. Learning isn't just repackaged for modern consumption. People say, No, no, that's not true. You know, like, I never heard of this, and you know, I'm part of the DEI committee or administration. They never heard of these ideas. And that's deceptive because you do not need to be schooled in these ideas to be implemented.

System is set up in a way that promotes these ideas. You can be blissfully unaware of the origins and still be very effective at propagating. So, I think it important to explain to people, and I hope that more people in STEM will, educate themself and finally will realize what is the reason for all these sudden changes in policies, changes in, and how things are done in science.

So, they're not just randoms, they're not coming through activisms, they're coming from a very specific, epistemic domain. And that's I think very important to, to appreciate.

Steve Hsu: I think you said that very well. And, if I could just rephrase a little bit, you know, most of my colleagues who are happily trying to implement and support some of these DEI efforts, I think they really are unaware of what the true origin of this whole movement is. And I think, you know, if I'm being charitable to them, I would just say their attitude is something like, Well, diversity is a, a good goal. I would really like to see more underrepresented minority students in my classes and in my profession, and therefore I should just support all these efforts. And, and anybody who, anybody who opposes these efforts is probably secretly a racist.

Anna Krylov: Mm. Yeah. Yeah, that's, very, that's how I think many, most people, get fooled by this nice sounding words and, how, how this ideology spread because it presents itself in a very, nice sound and way saying, Okay, don't we all want to make our society, make our universities more just, more equitable, more welcoming?

So, this is all great, and, but the question is how do we, how are you going to achieve it? And then, come to a specific implementation. That's where it's important to stop being fooled by nice south sounding words, but look at what is exactly happening, what exactly is implemented. If you look at some practices that are pushed under the DEI umbrella, they are very far from, you know, what they do.

They talk about diversity, right? So, diversity is a great thing. Diversity of opinions, diversity of culture. So, I'm all in favor for it, but the standard implementation in American university now is a diversity is understood as, the lack of diversity, actually, it's understood as, you know, treating people by their race or gender and categorizing people by their oppression points, how much they're oppressed as a representative of a particular group. And, as part of this policies, result in the discrimination of other groups, people from other groups.

And that is, not what regular people would think about what diversity is supposed to mean.

Steve Hsu: You know, one of the things that outrages me the most is that on other topics, when I speak to my colleagues, if we say we have a department meeting or some administrators who are scientists or meeting, usually the conversation is held at a pretty high level. You can be skeptical, you can demand data, you know, you can demand rigorous arguments.

But as soon as we get into this regime, you can't ask for anything. You know, if you say, Well, if we admit students who are not so well prepared into this major, what happens to them? Do they graduate? You know, are they prepared? Is it bad for them ultimately to admit them to USC instead of Cal State Los Angeles? And the people who ask those questions now are more or less labeled as racists for just asking those questions.

Anna Krylov: Yeah, that's, and yeah, more than that, this data being hidden by universities and, I heard recently, I think, California Board of Education, they started hiding the data about, racial constitution of students taking advanced placement classes. I think because they didn't like the statistics that they saw. And, people are afraid to ask for good reason because they know that they will be labeled racist and don't want to be called racist. And people are afraid because they are examples of public ostracism. And, and that's horrible. Cause you know, if you really want, if you're, if you're serious about, problems of inequalities of social injustices and want to solve them for real. We need to discuss them. We need to look at the data. We need to talk earnestly about, effectiveness of different interventions and the consequences of different measures. And now we cannot do it because these topics have become nearly forbidden. Topics taboo topics.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. You know, the, the, the degradation of the level of discourse is extremely strong, so, In every other area, you and I would be allowed by our colleagues to, you know, if, if our colleague made an argument, even if the conclusion is correct, if one of the steps in the argument was not fully rigorous or sound, we could question even that step, even if the final result was correct. In this case, they pushed it all the way down to not just using non rigorous arguments, not just removing data from the argument, but actually penalizing you from even any kind of disagreement with them. So, it's multiple, multiple levels of degeneration of the level of analysis.

Anna Krylov: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, Very well said.

Steve Hsu: It, it just, yeah, it just drives me crazy. I'll tell you a funny story from when I was the vice President of research here at Michigan State. At one point I was at a meeting with the president, the provost, and all the senior leaders, the vice presidents at the university. Maybe some deans were there as well, and.

We were discussing two items on the agenda. One was one of my items, which was I was leading an effort to try to create a kind of scalable coding experience so that even if you weren't in a quantitative major at Michigan State, say you were an art major, if you were curious about learning a little bit more about how computers work and you just wanted to have some very elementary lessons in how to write a short program and make it work, that we would offer some kind of one credit, you know, mini-course like that so that any, we could say any student who graduated from Michigan State had the opportunity to at least learn a little bit about how an, what an algorithm is, or how to write a little bit of code or something.

And at the very same meeting where I and the engineering dean were discussing how we were going to try to implement this kind of ambitious university-wide program, the other item on the agenda was removing algebra two as a math requirement for graduation. So up until that time, to graduate from Michigan State University, you had to demonstrate mastery of Algebra II, which, you know, for someone, for someone who went through the Russian education system, this would be like something you learned like when you were 10 or 12 or something.

But that was like kind of one of the last, vestiges of rigor in our curriculum were that if you couldn't score above a certain level on the SAT or ACT, then you had to take a kind of basic math course and at least pass it, pass it so that we could be confident that you understood Algebra II.

Steve Hsu: And it was explained to us by the DEI people and the provost that we were eliminating this requirement because they had done some very sophisticated data analysis and found this is an extremely difficult bottleneck, which was preventing a lot of underrepresented minority students from graduating from the university.

I could not believe that we had this meeting where I and the engineering dean were trying to roll out this coding opportunity for everybody. And meanwhile, this other group was eliminating the Algebra II requirement for graduation. It was, it was like being, you know, in some kind of surrealist, you know, kind of play, but that, that was a real thing that happened, maybe five years ago at this university.

Anna Krylov: it's very common sentiment. We heart it, you know. Okay. School education masses repeatedly described as racist. They had this idea that it creates bottleneck, for people to enter to higher level. is deem as you know, sign of oppression and ill intent. So, most programs are criticized.

Now there are signs of this coming to chemistry, unfortunately. Now, a few weeks ago there was a case, which you might have heard about a professor at New York University. His contract was not renewed. He was an adjunct faculty. So, professor of organic chemistry. Now I teach chemistry too, not organic, but general chemistry. And it's a difficult class. Uh, there are a number of people who cannot get through this filter.

And to learn the way of quantitative thinking is a way to apply very important basic chemistry concepts to problems. And some of them do not make it. And I think it's important to. step to prepare students for a career in medicine. We have a lot of students, interested in health professionals and so on.

So now this professor was teaching chemistry and students complained that grading is too tough, and their grades do not reflect the effort they put in the class and that they were not tested on what they know and things like that, which is, you know, it's a usual thing. The students always complain. What is unusual in this case is that the professor was, you know, the administration just let him go. even though he was very experienced teaching teacher who won numerous awards, he wasn't just incompetent teacher.

Now what is shocking? So, in this case, the university acted just because students complained and that was it. Now, immediately after that, a Science magazine, Holden Thorp, the chief editor of Science magazine, published the editorial. He publishes editorials regularly, where he develops, where he promotes concepts of systemic racism and things like that. So, he wrote an editorial where he went on to talk about how the whole, you know, educational system is wrong because classes are selecting students into better performing and less performing students, and that's wrong. And then he asks the question, why do we need organic chemistry as a prerequisite for medical school anyway? And so basically to me, it sounded like a preparation for, you know, ideological pogrom in chemistry education. So, I'm.

Steve Hsu: Ihab I have to say the, the writers at Science magazine are as hard left as any you could encounter, You know, you could go to the world Marxist Leninist webpage, and it seems to me the writers at Science magazine are, would feel perfectly at home there. I, I'm, yeah. I'm very. I'm very shocked that this guy doesn't receive some pushback for at least, at least I would guess half the scientists who have a subscription to Science magazine disagree violently with that editorial. Or maybe I'm just too old and I'm out of touch, but, but certainly many people with him wrote. Many people disagree, but you know, he keeps publishing this and he is not the only one. So, Nature actually seems like the competition to publish more critical social justice types of material. Recently, I think they're rolled out nature series on racism in science, and series of editorials and papers, and you should look at them quietly, quite something.

Anna Krylov: And, unfortunately, so that's, I think if it is an example of a capture of an institution by, by this ideology, and I see it throughout. I see it throughout, I see it in the pub publishing business broadly. So, it's not just Science or Nature. We see elements of it in ACS journals, elements of it in the Royal Society of Chemistry.

I work now. Recently, I was renewing my contract for a while, where I'm serving as an editor for another journal. So, I'm getting this draft of the contract, which I usually just, you know, the usual things they say that you shouldn't, you should do your due diligence. You should not engage in anything which is ethically questionable and so and so kind of legal sounding stuff.

All of a sudden one-page talks about how the publisher is dedicated to the cause’s diversity, equity, and inclusion. They want me to sign that as an editor I will be promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in selecting, inviting authors for in use and executing peer review processes that I should look at, diversity of reviewers and so on.

Now, it turns out none of the science editors, including the chief editor of this journal, had any idea about this change. So, it came slightly from the top, from the bureaucracy and, you know, in this case I fought, I said, I'm not signing it. It's not a part of an editorial process to deal with diversity and promote you.

Do anything with, I'm willing to execute the peer review process and do due diligence, but not, and in this case, I won. I pushed and moved it. But the things coming, like from everywhere and, you know, practically every organization, out there is push con, it's constituents on the committees, on organizers, these critical social justice grounded policies.

And it's very hard to fight back, even though I think it's fair to say that the majority of people, majority of people are against them.

Well, I hope you're right. I feel. I feel that a majority of scientists should be against many of these things, but I'm, I'm not sure, you know, I always wonder whether I'm just out of touch and, I'm in the small minority of old people who, you know, just aren't getting with the times. Well, there is numeric data that proves that the majority of Americans are against these policies. For example, affirmative action, race-based admissions, and race-based decisions, was defeated recently in California. This pretty big margin and California is Democrat and as leftist and as diverse as you can imagine.

So people, see correctly that these policies are not fair and So, you know, I would say this type of policy is critical social justice based policies, they are, in my opinion, wrong on a moral level cause they cause discrimination and cause they're anti-human, they treat people as representatives, so particular groups, but they're also ineffective because, cause if you stop, doing our business by using merit, you know, it's over.

If you start publishing papers, not based on the quality of arguments and findings, but on the basis of, gender and race of the authors, you know where it'll take us.

Steve Hsu: Yes. I, you know, I should have said that I think even among faculty that at least the polling of. Not, you know, all but maybe the youngest faculty, I would guess a pretty strong minority, or maybe even majority are opposed to a lot of these things. So, I think the polling does show that, surveys do show that.

but it, it does seem sometimes like, the, the other side is already won and it's almost

Anna Krylov: Yeah, because they're very loud. They're very loud, unfortunately. And unfortunately, now it's not just activism that promotes these ideas. I think one big loss for common sense and for, you know, for normal people is that we somehow missed this point when this diversity, equity inclusion bureaucracies took hold of our institutions and universities, and now they embedded it everywhere.

Every professional society has this committee from diversity, equity, and inclusion universities. That's a multi million business, these many administrators, and they are empowered to interfere with normal processes. They empowered to, you know, interfere with faculty hiring, with the way we teach, with the way they run conferences and so on.

So that's unfortunately a pretty difficult situation because now we need to fight not only against the small number of loud activists, but also against these big machines supported by a serious budget.

Steve Hsu: I think I heard you say in another interview that UC Berkeley is spending $25 million a year?

Anna Krylov: Oh, that's wrong. It was two years ago. Now, their budget is $41 million per year. That's last year's budget. $41 million per year for UC Berkeley for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, in this $41 millions. So, you know, people, some people. You know, when I mention this to people who are supporting PIs, they would say, Oh, but maybe this money is going to under-represent students.

And that's okay. That's not true. However, because if you look at their website, it's, you know, information is not, which is not secret. And they proudly announce it. 65% of this $41 million is going into administrative salaries. So, they pay bureaucrats, you know, all kinds of deans, vice, wise deans, chief diversity officers and so on.

So that's the type of budget we're talking about.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. You know, if they were spending that $40 million on hiring tutors for underrepresented minority students, you know, who had been admitted, say, through affirmative action, then to me that would seem reasonable. But just to spend it on bureaucrats seems like an incredible waste of money.

Anna Krylov: On that would create all these, you know, mandatory training, this compile lists of forbidden works and, you know, do things of that nature. You know, I have been involved in, science and engineering program at USC for many years. And one big barrier for women, but I assume it also probably would apply to other underrepresented groups, is how to effectively combine your family obligations with your professional life.

And they have been trying very hard to lobby universities to invest into childcare programs to make it easier for people with families and kids to go on with their lives. Now if you put $41 million for childcare, that would help a lot of people, women and people from poor backgrounds who do not have resources to pay for private childcare and so on. So that would do a lot of good things. But no, that doesn't know what they're doing. Cause they're putting millions into administrative salaries and.

Steve Hsu: And unfortunately, I think, I don’t know who said this, maybe Milton Friedman or someone, but basically, once you create a bureaucracy like that, it's the hardest thing to get rid of. They'll, they'll fight for their own e even if their cause goes away, they'll fight for their own, continuation.

Anna Krylov: Yeah. If you imagine just, you know, what will happen if, you know, let's assume that we do have, you know, the problem of diversity and sustainability exists and that. So, they established this institution. You have a lot of people whose profession is diversity, equity, and inclusion. Let's say we look back in two years. Yes, five years. And you know, we see that problem is solved. We have perfect equity. Our faculty and student board represents the demographic of the state perfectly. No one is complaining about any harassment or anything. So, what do you do? I mean, they will not go away, right? So, they will fight very hard to pretend that we still have problems, even if we do not have them.

And we see this happening because a lot of narrative about horrible oppression and, you know, a friendly climate is coming, is promulgated by this BOS of people.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I think for that group of people, a racist incident on campus is quite good for them because it gives them something to talk about and to motivate their side.

Anna Krylov: Yeah. And they're very reluctant to speak up when, for example, incidents like hate crimes on campus turned out to be hoaxes and I talked to my friends from other schools. We didn't have many of this at USC and not at all, probably, but I heard from other schools that these hate crime incidents often are hoaxes and, university officials and university, you know, outlets are very reluctant to publicize it. They would publish, I hate crime and, you know, will use it as a need to institute new policies. But when it comes to lights, it doesn't happen. They would just quietly, you know, let it go.

Steve Hsu: Yes. So, I think we've, we've done a pretty good job of outlining what the problem is. Now, you were kind enough to share with me a new article that you've written with a collaborator, Jay Tansman. This article is called Fighting the Good Fight in An Age of Unreason, a new dissident guide, which I love your title, and I love the content of your paper, so maybe we can talk about that a little bit.

Anna Krylov: Yeah. Yeah. So maybe I should start with a joke. It's a Russian joke. You know, like it's, what is the difference between Jewish optimist and Jewish pessimist? And Jewish pessimist says that things are so bad they cannot get any worse. Now an optimist says, No, no, no. They surely can. So, I think, I keep thinking about this, you know, all the time. Because on one hand the situation here is really bad. I think encompasses and lost a lot of ground with establishment of, and this infiltration of this ideology and ideologues in our professional societies. But I think this can get much worse if we do not fight back. So, I think it's important to push back. And it's important to do it, soon and later because the more grounds they get, the more difficult it is to receive them and to push back. And I recently read a book called Counter Walk Craft by an Anonymous Professor in STEM. It's a very short book. It's barely a hundred pages long, but it's very well written and it explains very well in very compact ways the ideological basis of this critical social justice explains this concrete example, what happens in new universities and offers some, a number of ways to resist. And what I liked about this book is that some means of resistance are very low risk for people. So, you do not need to become, you know, a public martyr for free speech and for anti-DEI activities, you can do your job doing some small but important things. So, and what I wanted to emphasize is there are a lot of things we can do in our existing institutions. You know, we can organize letters to administration and to newspapers maybe and push back against discriminatory practices.

I learned from Dorian Abbott, for example, that in the University of Chicago, they have a faculty group called UChicago Free and they succeeded in making departments that post political statements that violate institutional neutrality. They made them remove it, acting through the existing governance structures at university.

So, they also managed to, through Title IX, actually no less, discontinue several programs, seven programs specifically that you established in a discriminatory way, programs that would give preferences to specific races or sexes in violation of federal regulations. So, they succeeded in doing that. So, another example that I love is, at the University of Washington, their administration wanted to push. They put a proposal to require mandatory DEI statements, not only for hiring candidates, but also for tenure and promotion. And it's already happened in Kenna school. So, you have to put, you know, not only your scientific impact, but also what you did for diversity? And faculty protested and there was an email campaign initiated by a single faculty member. The faculty voted and defeated the proposal. So, they can do something, but we need to act.

Steve Hsu: You know, I, at, at Michigan State, there is an effort to actually require the, the promotion rubric used to be teaching, research, and service, or actually research, teaching and service, I guess, in kind of order of importance, and now they're proposing to add separately, diversity, equity, and, and inclusion in each of those categories.

So, you end up with a three-by-three matrix of things, and you have to be satisfactory in each of those elements of the matrix. And so, we can't even get a clear statement for what is the difference between working for diversity or working for equity in the research context versus the teaching context versus the service.

It's, it's incredible change in our promotion system here.

Anna Krylov: Yeah. Well, that's, I mean, if it passes, it's a really dangerous precedent, but unfortunately, you know, we see examples in other schools when that's already happening. and that's, you know, undermining merit and introducing this work non, you know, work, politically charged criteria. And that doesn't, it's not good news for universities.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, if, if you're very, the people here that are thinking about resisting it, you know, have commented that by making it so ambiguous, I mean, it's, I don't think they deliberately, ma, maybe they did deliberately make it, but it's quite ambiguous. You, it's hard to tell whether you've succeeded in all of the entries of that three-by-three matrix.

And by making it ambiguous, it just makes it easier and easier for the administrators to promote the people they like and deny the people they don't.

Anna Krylov: That's absolutely correct. And that's the problem that I also have is funding agencies. You know, like in say for a long time, a long time ago I introduced these broader impact statements. And at the time I didn't see the danger of it, and I thought, it's not a bad idea. Why shouldn't we explain how our research benefits society at large? But because it's work and because it's not really, you know, well defined, it can be used to manipulate the outcome. Because, you know, as much as people disagree about the merit, scientific merit of their ideas, as much as, you know, people have their preferences, overall things kind of settle and cream rises to the top. Good things, eventually getting recognized and moving up.

But with this vagueness, with these undefined statements criterion that empowers bureaucracies to do what they want to do. Cause you can always say, Oh, you know, the impact you bought is not broad enough. Or your diversity, your contribution to diversity, equity, and inclusion, it's not as good as contribution to diversity, equity, or inclusion of they be and so on. So that's, that's a real danger of these things.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, probably you know that the Department of Energy is also introducing this now.

Anna Krylov: Oh, it's so depressing because the Department of Energy is our major funder for chemistry, for physics, and for some other areas. And I mean, it's a very important agency charged with promoting fundamental research. They are ultimately related to central, central, central issues for our society, like energy independence, climate change, and so on. And now, Yes. So, they introduced requirements that each proposal should include the plan to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. And if you think about it, okay, so here, you know, there is a young person coming with a brilliant idea on how to solve energy problems. And you said, no, no, no, not the trust. You know, tell us how you're going to promote diversity, promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, I think it's true, and yeah, they made this criterion explicit.

Now, Steve, unfortunately, it's not just that as they in another context, the Department of Energy, they now also introduced additional policies that are related to conference organizing. And they have, you know, they can support conference organizers and give money for, to pay some expenses to rent venues, to support graduate students.

Now, if you want to get support from DOE, your conference should have a set of policies of, misconduct and harassment with the ways to report and, and it seems very, prescriptive, and very overstepping for me. So that's, you know, another example from DOE, which unfortunately is set in motion very unhealthy dynamics in many communities. I heard recently was involved with, one groups that organizes conferences and people who are talking how you should now put some code of conduct to comply with DOE and I think it, it's pretty unproductive for scientific community to go down the road of kind of policing everyone and have some, you know, anonymous reporting clients to report real or imaginary violations of this code.

And, you know, we see examples of that. I heard from people that in some conferences people would complain about harassment or not being welcomed. For example, someone would say, yeah, I do not feel welcomed. You know, there is this person so and so, and they do not make eye contact when they talk to me. So that's the type of complaints people are getting because of this, these policies encourage this type of mentality and these behaviors, unfortunately. So, they're not really solving real problems or harassment, which I do not think of. I wouldn't say they do not exist, but I think they're extremely rare, but they encourage people to go down this road.

Steve Hsu: I wanted to mention an idea that I had for a kind of mechanism that might make it easier for people that are hiding their true opinions, self-censoring or engaging in what some people call preference falsification, to nevertheless influence events. And I thought that if someone were to build a computational system, you know, just an online system that would allow you to register as a, for example, in your case USC chemistry professor, and verify your identity, but then within the system you would be anonymous. The only thing that is preserved about you is just that aspect of who you are. But then it would make it easy to make anonymous polls or surveys of the actual scientists in a field or the actual professors in a particular department or university. And then if say 50% of the professors violently disagreed with some DOE, now, the proposal policy change, they could make it known as you could conduct the survey very quickly and say, Yes, these are all validated researchers who have been funded by DOE in this field. And look, 80% of them think this change is terrible, but you wouldn't have to identify any of them. specifically, as individuals, it seems like the technology, you know, the technological base to do this is very simple. and it would have a very, I think, could have a very strong impact.

Anna Krylov: I like that. I like that I shared similar ideas from somewhere else. And I think that would really help because, a lot of time, you know, people, first people do not know what their colleagues even are thinking because everyone is afraid to raise their own opinion. And second, it's very hard to communicate these things and come out when, you know, we deal with things like funding agencies because everyone is afraid for their funding and does not want to speak up and jeopardize their research. So, but having a system like that in place, I think it could be very, very valuable.

Steve Hsu: I think, you know, literally one FTE or fractional FTE could run this as long as that person, the one who runs the server, is trusted. So, if that person could be trusted to say, okay, professor X from UCLA has sent me documentation proving that she has been funded by the DOE in the division of Chemistry in the last five years. And so, I register her as having that identity, but nothing else. Then I allow her to be surveyed. And it just seems like, it's a, it's a decent way to collectively express our opinion without having to stick our necks out too far.

Anna Krylov: Mm, mm-hmm. Yeah, that would be great. But also, you know, I do not know if you noticed, but I noticed that there is a growing number of anonymously published articles. People would publish their opinion about university or policy, but under a pseudonym. And it tells me that, it's actually telling how, you know, how, how bad self-censorship has become and how people are concerned.

But, if there could be some way to help people to communicate what they think without fear of being consulted. And at the same time to have some validation in place that you can say, Yes, this article was written by anonymous Professor X, you know, he's actually, he's a professor in, you know, whatever North American that I think would help.

Steve Hsu: Right. And I mean even, I mean, of course it takes a, as, you know, a certain amount of effort to, to, I mean, your articles are really beautifully written by the way. It takes some effort to do that. Whereas just having a surveying function where you can, you know, somewhat accurately survey all the STEM professors at USC all at once, that would be phenomenal because then the provost and the provost and the president would really be, you know,

Anna Krylov: I'm delighted.

Steve Hsu: Well, they would hate it. They would hate it, honestly. But, but, but they would take it seriously. So, if, if, if, if you could really show that the system works and it really does access, most of the faculty that fit that classification and wow, 70% of them didn't like, you know, it could have real teeth.

Anna Krylov: Well, maybe we should, you know, try to get some independent funding, and start this initiative, you know.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I should keep working on it. I worked on a little bit a year or two ago and I approached a couple of foundations to get funding to build, you know, the system. I think, you know, probably you have graduate students who, you know, could, could, be paid to do it in their spare time. So, anyway, maybe I'll get back to it and loop you in if I get anywhere.

Anna Krylov: Yeah. But meanwhile, you know, people should also use existing services and they know that, you know, universities do send service and professionals, organizations send some service, and usually they're pretty narrowly set up, but often there is a box at the end where you can put your comments. And they do not know how effective they are, but I think it's better than nothing, and it doesn't take long, but you can fill them in and kind of send the message on the topic, which is, which you consider to be very important. So, I think people should do more of this.

Steve Hsu: I mean, coming back to the example you gave of the professor at NYU, who was teaching organic chemistry, and, and, and as you know, he actually had a very distinguished career at Princeton before he moved to NYU after he retired from Princeton. So, I recall the New York Times ran an article about his contract not being renewed. And, you know, the New York Times leans pretty far left. But among the reader comments, they were overwhelmingly in favor of this professor. And actually, there were many Princeton students who had taken this guy's course at Princeton over the years who put their comments there. So, in that setting, you know, it was very cool, of course it's not a scientific survey, that's the problem.

But nevertheless, there was strong evidence that the NYU Dean, by the way, I know the NYU Dean who did this, by the way, he's a, he's, he's a Russian, theoretical physicist, who, who I've known for many years. But anyway, so he, but the, the evidence is very strong that people didn't like what happened there, but it, it, it's short of having, for example, a survey of NYU STEM faculty saying, hey, we're really against this.

Anna Krylov: Yeah. Well, no, it's, it's a good idea. I like to hear ideas, actionable ideas, right? That we don't just complain that we do something. And that sounds like a really worthwhile actionable idea to create these capabilities for and to compile this service. And then, you know, we can use them to approach our universities or funding agencies or professional societies.

Steve Hsu: Yes. I, anyway, so we'll maybe offline we'll connect and, and work on this, but I want to be respectful of your time and I see that we've reached about an hour. So, let me ask you just for any final thoughts, that you have or any exhortation to our colleagues and the faculty to action and anything you want to say to conclude our discussion?

Well, I think we should fight. That's my concluding remarks because I think most of us, or maybe even all of us, we think strongly about science. We are very passionate about science. We want it to continue to thrive. We know that science is important for society, and we want it to continue to deliver benefits to everyone, and we should, unite our forces and defend science from these illiberal ideologists.

Steve Hsu: Well, very well said. My guest today has been Anna Krylov of the University of Southern California. Anna, thank you very much for this conversation and, and for writing those articles, which I think have moved a lot of people.

Anna Krylov: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Steve Hsu: Great.

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Stephen Hsu
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University.
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