CAMPUS WATCH: Concordia scholars plan to counter colonialism in physics

Academics at Montreal’s Concordia University plan to track down and counter what they say is colonialism in physics, which they describe as a “social field” rather than one of “pure knowledge.”

The project website He says the initiative “explores ways and approaches to decolonize science, such as revitalizing and restoring indigenous knowledge and capacity building.” It also aims to develop “a culture of critical reflection and investigation of the relationship between science and colonialism.”

What reported Per The College Fix, “Decolonizing Light” is led by Concordia Associate Professor Tanja Tajmel, who also serves as Special Advisor to the Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Tajmel’s biography on the Concordia website notes that “his main interest lies in investigating the policies of STEM education and how STEM education and STEM discourses impact social (in)equity”.

Fifteen other people are working on the project, including Concordia associate professors Louellyn White and Ingo Salzmann, who are co-investigators.

The “Decolonizing Light” initiative, which was established in 2021, receives funding since The federal government’s New Frontiers in Research Fund, which was created to support “transformative, high-risk/high-reward, interdisciplinary research led by Canadian researchers working with Canadian and international partners.”

Tajmel, White, and Salzmann co-authored a paper with Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf, who it serves as Concordia’s director of decolonization curriculum and pedagogy, in which they explained that they are exploring decolonization in physics because the discipline “plays a special role in the field of science due to its unique scientific authority.”

“Physics is commonly regarded as the ‘most objective’ and ‘hardest’ science,” the scholars wrote, “it fundamentally defines key scientific concepts such as energy, matter, force, light, space, and time, for all other sciences. ”

The academics say that “it is important to understand physics as a social field and not as ‘pure knowledge’ independent of social values ​​and decisions.” They chose to focus on light because of its ubiquity across societies, languages, and cultures.

As part of their project, they said they intend to create “courses together with indigenous scholars and knowledge custodians in which students address questions from different or culturally diverse perspectives, as well as decenter Eurocentric Western science.” They will also aim to “critically investigate whether and how physics itself has contributed and continues to contribute to colonialism.”

Scholars say the purpose “is not to find new or better explanations of light; we do not seek to improve scientific ‘truth’. Rather, our project initiatives are motivated by the marginalization of women, blacks, and indigenous peoples, particularly in physics.”

“We consider marginalization as a key problem for both social equity and scientific quality. In addition, we consider unacceptable scientific knowledge that reproduces biases and colonial power relations”.

The Concordia academics’ “Decolonizing Light” project drew criticism from other academics, including McGill University chemistry professor Patanjali Kambhampati.

Kambhampati told The College Fix that “decolonizing STEM is absurd and offensive to many people from all walks of life, including me as a third world born scientist.”

“There are no other alternative forms of knowledge. There is only science.”

Kambhampati also criticized the feds for funding the project, saying that “neither the Canadian government nor the United States government should be funding these quackery activities.”

True North reached out to the “Decolonizing Light” project and Tajmel for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.

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