Saying “(Baby) Steps Toward Feminist Physics”, as did Barbara L. Whitten in her peer-reviewed paper of the same name in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering—an honest-to-God actual academic publication, I swear—is like saying “Toward Yak Mathematics” or “Approaching Bittersweet Electrical Engineering.” Beginning with a non sequitur is a poor start, which is why Whitten has to spend the bulk of her article explaining just what “feminist physics” must mean.
Before we get to that, why pick on Whitten? Because she was cited by the Equity & Inclusion in Physics & Astronomy group who wrote an open letter to SCOTUS, in which occur these idiotic words:
We hope to push our community towards equity and inclusion so that the community of scientists more closely matches the makeup of humankind, because the process of scientific discovery is a human endeavor that benefits from removing prejudice against any race, ethnicity, or gender.
The very last thing physics needs is its members to “closely match the makeup on humankind.” What physics wants, what physics needs if it is to survive and be of any use or interest, is an extreme, elite minority that doesn’t even vaguely resemble the bulk of mankind. Choosing physicists based on race, sex, or, Lord help us, physical desires, is to guarantee the destruction of the field because, as is obvious, none of these characteristics has any bearing on the ability to do physics.
Imagine basketball teams made, nay, mandated to closely match the makeup of mankind. Who would pay to see them? Why, it wouldn’t be long before people stopped keeping score because wins and loses would be meaningless.
Say. Where else have we seen this? Skip it.
As proof of the utter irrelevance and destructive nature of “feminist physics” we return to Whitten. She starts with science which can be classed as “feminist” in outcome. Example: the “discovery that eight [not seven!] layers of sari cloth would reduce the population of V. cholerae in drinking water.” Realizing this is weak and knowing “the objects of inquiry” in physics are “not gendered”, she pushes on to quantum mechanics and the crack opened by measurement.
In short, measurement matters: the measurement apparatus interacts with the thing measured, which was always so but was not always realized until the small scale of QM forced people to think hard about what measurement means. Obviously, physicist builds their measurement apparatuses and design their experiments. “Sometimes,” Whitten says, “the gender, race, class, and other demographic characteristics of the experimenter can be clearly seen to be a factor in her choices.” This is so, especially in poorer experiments. Experiments should be designed to elucidate as efficiently as possible the phenomenon under study and not provide insight into the experimenter. There is no toehold for feminism here.
Whitten then pokes reductionism, but not very hard; she doesn’t even suggest a feminist alternative and is satisfied with the whispery intimation that reductionism is masculine (and therefore bad). She really comes into her own when she jettisons physics and asks instead for the study of the relation between physics and society. Aha! The definition is finally revealed: Feminist physics is feelings. She says, “Ecofeminists like Merchant have helped us understand how our interactions with the natural world structure are structured by our cultural history”, which presumably nobody knew before that clever “ecofeminist” Merchant.
Standpoint epistemologists like Harding (2004) argue that feminist science should begin by taking everyday life as problematic, and by starting from marginalized lives. The working class women who are clerks in shopping malls are grateful (or would be if they knew) to Waymouth for providing bright, efficient lighting for their workplace.
Whitten is keen on feelings, but knows there’s something lacking with them. Still, she suggests a list of projects which “are not ‘real physics,’ in the sense of being publishable in Physical Review or some other physics research journal” but which should still be pursued. For instance? Well, “the restoration of Western women physicists and physicists of color to their proper place in history.”
In other words, complain, whine, and carp or get together and hug and talk about not Bell’s theorem and its relation to local causality, but instead talk about the relations between feminist physicists and how women feel about Bell’s theory and its relation to the reductionist idea of causality.
Whitten says, “My feminist training has taught me that science is a socially constructed artifact of human culture.” That being so, and culture being fluid, science can become whatever we wish it to be. Such as not being science at all.
Quod erat demonstrandum.