Lead author Mark Carey, a science historian at Oregon, inadvertently made that case in a defense of the work for Science.
Professional research is published in journals for specialists in a given field. When removed from that context and described to nonspecialists, the research can be misunderstood and potentially misrepresented. What is surprising about the brouhaha is the high level of misinterpretations, mischaracterization, and misinformation that circulate about research and researchers—though this has, unfortunately, been happening to scientists for centuries, especially climate researchers in recent decades.That does not excuse impenetrable prose, particularly in the abstract, the introduction, or the conclusion. Yes, the main body might have to use disciplinary terms of art, particularly if the researchers are applying advanced techniques to tackle contested problems. That's precisely what Mr Carey's next statement does.
The good news is that people are talking about glaciers! But there’s much more to the story than just the glaciers. People and societies impose their values on glaciers when they discuss, debate, and study them—which is what we mean when we say that ice is not just ice. Glaciers become the platform to express people’s own views about politics, economics, cultural values, and social relations (such as gender relations).Phrased another way, people's responses to glaciers depend on the institutions and traditions within which they live, and changes in glaciers may lead to changes in the institutions, the traditions, and the responses. Academic inquiry contemplates such questions as "what sorts of changes?" and "for what reason?" and "what is the direction of causation?" It appears as though Messrs. Carey et. al. are dealing with one such question, or a small set of such questions, as is proper for a thirty page journal article.
We chose the title “feminist glaciology” to provoke discussion about who is producing knowledge about glaciers and what the implications of that existing knowledge are, including whose voices are left out and what types of scientific questions are asked (and which ones might thus be ignored). We also wanted to present a variety of different sociocultural forms of glacier knowledge that go beyond science, to generate discussion. Our goal was to ask questions about the role of gender in science and knowledge—to start a conversation, not conclude the discussion.A provocative title can be a useful way to get eyeballs on the paper, or to get the referees interested enough to turn around the report sometime before the next Ice Age. Perhaps the authors should be grateful that Jerry Coyne wasn't called upon to review the paper, which he characterises as horribly written. Plus it doesn't test any hypotheses.
The paper is an exercise in confirmation bias, picking and choosing bits of the literature that confirm the authors’ preconceived views that science is a male-dominated, Western hegemony that tramples all over women and minorities. Reading the paper, you see that it’s a series of cherry-picked anecdotes that support this view. While it’s certainly true that minorities and women have been discriminated against in science, that is well known, and remedies are already being formulated. The paper itself adds nothing to that discourse but to apply it to glaciology, and in an anecdotal rather than systematic or statistical way. One could write exactly this kind of postmodern paper about any discipline in which women and minorities are underrepresented.Thus, "Granted, if you want to incorporate scientific findings into social policy, you need to know something about society. But the examples in this paper don’t tell us anything useful about that." Let alone comment on the strength of a feminist null hypothesis against a maintained hypothesis of evolutionary emergence or randomness.
Reason's Robby Soave reminds readers that the research is Your Tax Dollars At Work. Half a million dollars and no hypotheses tested.