We previously discussed radical statements by the University of Rhode Island and graduate studies director Erik Loomis, who defended the murder of a Conservative protester, and said he saw “nothing wrong” with such violence. (A view defended by other academics). Loomis is now back in the news declaring that “Science, statistics and technology are inherently racist because they are developed by racists who live in a racist society, whether or not they identify as racists. ” It is an odd position from the person directing the study at the University of Rhode Island.
For many, science and statistics are areas that are inherently objective and not racist. While racism can certainly affect any field in a variety of ways, these fields are based on proven experimentation and calculations. One can support the review of our anti-racism programs without dismissing all areas as “inherently racist”. However, this view of math and science is voiced by others, including those who denounce math as a “tool of whiteness”.
Loomis’ statement came as part of a tweet regarding an article in the New York Times, adding, “This is why I have so much disdain for those, including many liberals, who” just want the dates. “The dates are racist!”
I defended Loomis’ right to make his previous comments on the grounds of freedom of speech. While Loomis has shown nothing through intolerance of opposing views, he has every right to express disturbing, extremist views.
On this occasion, he makes a statement that appears to undermine the basis for study at his school and other schools. While I still consider the statements safe, they seem to undermine confidence in much of his colleagues’ work. The tweet prompted Dave Lavallee, assistant director of communications for the University of Rhode Island to make a statement:
“Mr. Loomis’ recent social media posts on science, statistics and technology are entirely his own opinion and in no way represent the positions or values of the University of Rhode Island. His most recent tweet completely contradicts URI’s first cornerstone value that says : ‘We pursue knowledge with honesty, integrity and courage.
With such remarks, Mr. Loomis questions the work of thousands of researchers and scholars across the country, and in particular the outstanding work of our talented and diverse researchers at URI. While Mr. Loomis has the right to make such comments as a private individual, he does not have the right to make such unfounded claims in connection with his position or role at the university. “
In my view, the most important aspect of this statement is the recognition that Loomis has the protection of the First Amendment in expressing such positions. The question for the university is whether these viewpoints undermine its role in leading all graduate studies, particularly in rejecting the basis for much of this work as racist. Loomis claims that “all” science, statistics and technology are racist. Period. It is an apparently absurd statement that has no intellectual basis or investigation whatsoever. It will surely appeal to many who like extremist and negative views, including some in academia. However, it is exactly the opposite of our intellectual mission as scientists, and it is a major disadvantage for the many respected academics at the University of Rhode Island.
Even so, Loomis wrote a column titled “When Fascists Attack” for the Lawyers, Guns and Money site. Loomis is listed as one of the few “members” who contribute to the site. (For the record, this is the same site that ran a column by a Colorado law professor who claimed that raising questions in 2020 was akin to denying the Holocaust. This attack occurred a few days after the election when I discovered that there were irregularities in the Region of The Election, including a bug in reporting a district’s results using Dominion software, and found that the several thousand vote bug, which was quickly corrected, was not a widespread fraud The only question raised was whether such systems are still prone to “human error.” The website condemned this statement as being akin to denying that the Holocaust ever happened.)
In his column, Loomis blows the university by writing, “I think this is how my administration is responding to the need for anti-racism in American life and on campus, by openly throwing professors talking about racism and technology under the fascist bus . Great job URI. “It seems that, according to Professor Loomis, Rhode Island is now against anti-racism and supports fascists by rejecting his view of science, statistics and technology.
Loomis insists that his rejection of all science, statistics and technology was as racist
“There is no controversy that facial recognition technologies that are throwing innocent black people into jail reflect much larger problems of how racism affects our technology and science in an inherently racist society. … That is … absolutely undisputed? Or should it still be. We see this over and over again in how the medical profession ignores pain in black patients regardless of their social status, how black people are cautious about vaccines because of traditionally poor treatment by the scientific community, how all kinds of forms of technology ultimately exacerbate it discrimination, etc. “
What is striking about this answer is that it is separate from its actual statement. It raises island problems like facial recognition that have been discussed by others without disregarding all of science or statistics. In fact, I just published a long study that looked at this problem and its underlying causes as part of a broader look at biometrics and privacy. See Jonathan Turley, Anonymity, Darkness, and Technology: Reviewing Privacy in the Age of Biometrics, 100 Boston University Law Review 2179-2261 (2020).
Loomis points to a few specific areas where racism is a well-documented problem, and many of us have tried to suggest ways of tackling racial injustice. It is not a defense of Loomis’ categorical rejection of all science, statistics, and technology. This view is not “undisputed”, but unfounded and irrational.