Floyd Jiuyun Zhang, a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, published research in Nature Human Behavior on Monday that questions the wisdom of parent journal Nature’s decision to endorse then-candidate Joe Biden in 2020.
“Joe Biden’s trust in truth, evidence, science and democracy make him the only choice in the U.S. election,” the subheadline of the 2020 endorsement reads.
The endorsement cited COVID and climate change, as well as less scientific issues, such as the Iran nuclear deal, immigration policy, and Trump’s allegedly “toxic attitude towards women,” as reasons to support Biden. Trump “failed catastrophically” by allowing 215,000 COVID deaths on his watch, the Oct. 14, 2020 endorsement claimed, indicating that Biden’s trust in scientists meant a less painful end to the pandemic.
That most U.S. COVID deaths occurred after Trump left office despite vaccinations going into arms before Biden’s inauguration indicates how far scientists veer from science when they delve into partisan politics, a subjective world not made for the detached and dispassionate.
Zhang notes the peculiarity of Nature, the Lancet, and Scientific American endorsing presidential candidates in 2020 (when do they start providing box scores, crossword puzzles, and TV listings, too?). His online survey, made up of 4,260 people, found that Nature’s political endorsement did not influence votes but did diminish trust in the journal among voters of the endorsed candidate’s opponent.
The evidence caused Zhang to conclude:
This study shows that electoral endorsements by Nature and potentially other scientific journals or organizations can undermine public trust in the endorser, particularly among supporters of the out-party candidate. This has negative impacts on trust in the scientific community as a whole and on information acquisition behaviours with respect to critical public health issues. Positive effects among supporters of the endorsed candidate are null or small, and they do not offset the negative effects among the opposite camp. This probably results in a lower overall level of public confidence and more polarization along the party line. There is little evidence that seeing the endorsement message changes opinions about the candidates.
Skepticism toward Nature and other such journals stems not from sour grapes but sound reason. Political obsessions that transform, say, late-night comedy shows into soap-boxing for causes and candidates corrupt purpose. One sees a corruption of purpose on a daily basis at Nature’s website.
Articles — “The sting of sizeism in the scientific workplace,” “Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine is wrong and must stop,” and “Mathematics prizes have a gender problem — can it be fixed?” — display non sequitur headlines belonging to some publication, just not one of a scientific orientation. Nature now closely monitors the number of men and women quoted in its news articles, noting in an editorial last month: “Our data show that people using he/him pronouns comprised around 55% of those quoted or paraphrased in written articles published since April 2021, with about 36% using she/her pronouns.” They promise to do better, which, to them, means quoting fewer men. (READ MORE: Nature Frets Over How Many Women It Quotes)
Nature, unaware of its own irony, responded to Zhang’s study with an editorial, a device appropriate for the Daily Screamer but out of place in a scholarly journal. The 154-year-old London-based institution noted that it “doesn’t often make political endorsements.” It excused itself for 2020 because we live, it said, in “troubling times.”
One guesses that sandwich-board scientists crusading against sizeism in the laboratory and for gender parity in quotations find The American Spectator as persuasive as voters found their Biden endorsement. So perhaps another voice may dissuade them further politicization of, and damage to, Nature.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a retirement interview with NPR’s Science Friday last year, warned: “When you mix politics with science, you get politics.”