Rhode Island Professor Denounces Science, Statistics, and Technology As “Inherently Racist”

We have previously discussed the radical declarations of University of Rhode Island and Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis who has defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence. (A view defended by other academics). Loomis is now back in the news with a declaration that “Science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist because they are developed by racists who live in a racist society, whether they identify as racists or not.” It is a curious position from the person who heads graduate studies in history at the University of Rhode Island.

For many, science and statistics are fields that are inherently objective not racist. While racism can certainly impact any field in a myriad of ways, these fields are based on proven experiments and calculations. One can support scrutiny of our programs to root out racism without dismissing all fields as “inherently racist.” Yet, this view of math and science is being voiced by others, including those who denounce math as a “tool of whiteness.”

Loomis’ statement came as part of a tweet in reference to a New York Times article and added “This is why I have so much contempt for those, including many liberals, who ‘just want the data.’ The data is racist!”

 

I have defended the right of Loomis to make his past comments as a matter of free speech. While Loomis has shown nothing but intolerance for opposing views, he has every right to express disturbing, extremist views.

On this occasion, he is making a statement that would appear to undermine the basis for graduate studies at his school and other schools.  While I still view the statements as protected, they would appear to undermine faith in the basis of much of the work of his colleagues.  The tweet prompted University of Rhode Island Assistant Director of Communications Dave Lavallee to issue a statement:

“Mr. Loomis’ recent social media posts on science, statistics and technology are entirely his own opinions, and in no way represent the positions or values of the University of Rhode Island..His recent tweet runs completely counter to URI’s first Cornerstone Value, which says, ‘We pursue knowledge with honesty, integrity and courage.

In making such remarks, Mr.Loomis calls into question the work of thousands of researchers and scientists across the country and particularly the outstanding work done by our talented and diverse researchers at URI. While Mr. Loomis has a First Amendment right to make such comments as a private citizen, he does not have the right to make such unsubstantiated claims in the context of his university position or role.”

From my perspective, the most important aspect of that statement is the acknowledgment that Loomis has First Amendment protections in uttering such viewpoints. The question for the university is whether those viewpoints undermine his role in leading graduate studies, particularly in dismissing the very basis for much of that work as racist.  Loomis claims that “all” science, statistics, and technology is racist. Period. It is a patently absurd statement that is devoid of any intellectual foundation or inquiry. It will certainly appeal to many who relish extremist and rejectionist views, including some in academia. However, it is the very antithesis of our intellectual mission as scholars and it does a great disservice to the many respected academics at the University of Rhode Island.

Nevertheless, Loomis wrote a column entitled “When Fascists Attack” for the site Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Loomis is listed as as one of a handful of “members” who contribute to the site. (For the record, that is the same site that ran a column by a Colorado law professor who claimed that raising questions about the 2020 was akin to Holocaust denial. That attack occurred a few days after the election when I noted that there were irregularities in the election, including an error in reporting the results from a district using Dominion software. I noted that the error involving a few thousand votes that was quickly corrected, did not indicate any widespread fraud, and would not affect the outcome of the election. It merely raised the question of whether such systems were still vulnerable to “human error.” The site denounced that statement was akin to denying that the Holocaust ever occurred.)

In his column, Loomis blasts the university by writing: “I guess this is how my administration responds to the need for anti-racism in American life and on campus, by openly throwing professors who talk about racism and technology under the fascist bus. Great job URI.”  It appears that now Rhode Island, in Professor Loomis’ view, is opposing anti-racism efforts and supporting fascists by rejecting his view of science, statistics, and technology.

Loomis insists that his rejection of all science, statistics, and technology as racist was

“utterly uncontroversial point that when facial recognition technology is throwing innocent Black people in prison, it reflects much larger problems of how racism influences our technology and science in an inherently racist society. … This is…utterly uncontroversial? Or it should be anyway. We see this over and over and over again, from how the medical profession ignores pain in Black patients no matter their social status, how Black people are wary of the vaccine because of traditionally poor treatment by the scientific community, how all sorts of forms of technology end up exacerbating discrimination, etc.”

What is striking about this response is that it is divorced from his actual statement. It is raising insular issues like facial recognition that have been discussed by others without rejecting the entirety of science or statistics. Indeed, I just published a long study that addressed that issue and its underlying causes as part of a comprehensive look at biometrics and privacy.  See Jonathan Turley, Anonymity, Obscurity, and Technology: Reconsidering Privacy in the Age of Biometrics, 100  Boston University Law Review 2179 -2261 (2020).

Loomis’ reference a couple of specific areas where racism is a well-documented problem and many of us have sought to suggest ways to address racial injustice. It is not a defense of Loomis’ categorical rejection of all science, statistics, and technology.  That view is not “uncontroversial,” it is unhinged and irrational.

 

This column was edited.

112 thoughts on “Rhode Island Professor Denounces Science, Statistics, and Technology As “Inherently Racist””

  1. Love how Loomis gets under your skin, Turley. Pointing out the racial biases in the mechanisms of a society built on the back of slavery is never going to feel good. Interesting to watch how this can make you sort of sizzle and stand up for the rapey coup pro facism caucus. Or maybe your history of doing such is what makes you sizzle? Either way, it can be fun to watch.

    Elvis Bug

  2. Every race can be “racist”. There are lots of colors out there. Black on one side and white on the other with lots in between. Yellow. Tan. Brown. Red.
    What was Obama? His mom was all white. Dad? Brown? Black?
    What is Kamala Harris. People on the news call her “black”. No way Jose.
    One side from the nation of India and the other from Jamaica.
    What was Red Skelton?

  3. From the LG&M posting by Loomis, about Jonathan Turley’s article:

    “There are lots of great parts of this: his hatred of Campos, the fact that none of these people can figure out that I am DGS for History, not the university, or dealing with any of my claims seriously, just completely ignoring how facial recognition technology is placing innocent Black people in prison!

    “It’s great to now be a frequent target for the most reprehensible law professor this side of Dersh. I wonder how people like this sleep at night. I guess whatever money he is making for supporting a coup attempt against a lawfully elected American government must help.”

  4. Erik Loomis:

    “Nice that @JonathanTurley can take time away from supporting coup attempts against democratically elected American governments in order to attack me for pointing out the role of racism in technology”

    9:59 AM · Jan 25, 2021·Twitter Web App

    https://twitter.com/ErikLoomis/status/1353734338093993984

    Loomis’ response:

    540 Comments

    “IN WHICH JONATHAN TURLEY MAKES ME HIS FAVORITE TARGET”

    BY ERIK LOOMIS / ON JANUARY 25, 2021 / AT 10:59 AM

    https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/01/in-which-jonathan-turley-makes-me-his-favorite-target

    “Jonathan Turley, in his goal to be a 15th rate Alan Dershowitz but even hackier, has decided that my role as Director of Graduate Studies for the history department for a small public university graduate program is out of bounds because I mention how racism infects our science and technology.”

      1. Erik Loomis tweeted:

        ‘Part of the task force’s goals:

        “Proposing mechanisms for the association to inform the public about how statistics and data science can contribute to—or, if used responsibly, help fight against—racial and ethnic bias in society.”

        Yes! This is how to fight racism in data!’

        10:51 AM · Jan 25, 2021·Twitter Web App

        https://twitter.com/ErikLoomis/status/1353747445126221831

  5. I was so worried about what the Professor(?) said I immediately tested I lne3w I needed to check myself.
    I tried to duplicate 2 + 2)
    The results advised that 2+2 did devolve an answer of 4.

    I am relieved. Well today I am relieved.

    Tomorrow, I will go through the entire process again.

    1. Professor Turley is a beacon of legal sanity in an academic milieu gone over the edge. I guess he struck a nerve and Loomis certainly has enough of those to spare.

  6. Deaths from 🚬 ng. Today’s info on Google show 480,000 died in 2020 and that includes victims of second hand smoke.

  7. Science, statistics and Tech do not have the capacity to be racist, only the interpreter is capable of racism. This guy thinks he’s intelligent but instead he’s an obvious idiot.

    1. Don’t be ridiculous. The questions asked used to gather statistics can in fact be racist. What numbers to focus on, what questions to ask what things to measure can be racist.

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