Science for Progress

Science for Progress

42 Entering Year Three, Dawkins and Eugenics & Ranking Unis – with Bart and Dennis

March 01, 2020

episode marks the official end of the second year of this podcast! (unfortunately,
there was still no present for Bart - consider becoming a Patron to help!) Apart
from the plans for year 3, Bart & Dennis discussed the hot topic of the
week: a provocative tweet by Richard Dawkins on Eugenics, and the dos and don’ts,
and pros and cons of university rankings.

Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon!


Richard Dawkins (a famous evolutionary biologist and member of the royal society) tweeted that, while he deplores eugenic practice, ”it” would still “work”, as “it” would work in farm animals and pets – as if breeding animals was the same as eugenics.

His tweet –
as you have probably guessed - led to a heated debate on eugenics. And geneticists
joined the uproar arguing that breeding would not even work in humans: all
inbreeding (animals or crops) leads to genetic weakness - just look at pugs! Or
the Lannister family!

Bart acknowledges that certain opinions based
on science are offensive to certain groups. But how could we communicate such opinions?
Especially on a platform like Twitter? Regularly, the lives of people at the
center of outrage are affected negatively.

In the end,
you can’t separate a term like eugenics from its fascist ideology. And if you
make divisive tweets, you must expect a strong reaction.


Bart and
Dennis compare two very distinct ways of ranking universities, and they discuss
whether such a ranking is useful at all – or possibly even harmful.

On the one
hand, there is “Nature Index” by nature publishing group. It ranks institutes based
on the number of papers published in a selected set of journals and by how often
these papers are shared with authors from other institutes (as a measure of collaboration).

Dennis points out that the journals
considered are subjectively selected by an undisclosed number of scientists with
undisclosed affiliations. The selection is further restricted to journals listed
on Web of Science, a database that excludes many journals described as “local” –
mostly journals that don’t publish in English, or simply aren’t “Western”.

It also comes at no surprise that
more than 20% of the journals considered by Nature Index are publications of
nature publishing group.

At least
they didn’t use the Journal Impact Factor – you would say - but is this better?

On the
other hand, there is the NGO “CHE” (Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung - which Dennis would translate to Centre for the Development of Higher
Education) who rank Universities in German-language-areas. Their criteria are
very different: they look, for example, at the job prospects of graduates, the facilities
at the university (gym, library, dorm), and even at the town and the general
quality of life.

High school
graduates looking for a place to live and study are certainly better served
with a CHE-kind of ranking than with the publication-based Nature Index. Having