Review: Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

“No matter what the lowest-eumelanin people say, Black Lives are Star Stuff and Black Lives Matter, all of them.”

I think some people, despite having no issues with the scientific concepts presented in the first half of the book, miss part of the larger point. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein’s explanation of the science in the first few chapters achieves two things: First, she attempts to explain something that is, even by scientists, not completely understood. And in doing this, she makes the concepts more approachable. In other words, she seems to be saying to the average reader “hey, we don’t yet understand why all of this is. It just is.” The second reason is that she goes on to relate many of the social dynamics of Blackness, academia, science, and colonialism to the concepts she explains. Not only allegorically but directly. If Physics is a science aimed at explaining our universe, the Dr. Prescod-Weinstein uses it to explain an aspect of our universe that seems to elude many: The ways in which racism lessens the pursuit of knowledge and humanity. 
Dr. Prescod-Weinstein recontextualizes science. For as long as there have been academic institutions in this country there has been a concerted effort to keep women and minorities out. Or to suppress their influence on respective disciplines. In the first chapter, she makes the very valid point that we are all star matter. We are all made from the same stuff. And in disciplines as empirical as physics, you cannot deny that academic or intellectual merit has nothing to do with race. It would be counter to everything that an empiricist believes. I think it illustrates quite clearly the motives behind the suppression of women and minorities. Many in these fields would rather be labeled misogynists or racists than have to admit that there is fundamentally no difference between themselves and others.  
It made me think of how often people say things like “science isn’t white or black” or “you must remove yourself from the science and be objective” and how easy it is to assert something like that when your perspective is the default. Or because the institution of which you are a part benefits you primarily because you are white. Whites aren’t told to remove their “whiteness” from science because the myth has been put forward that whiteness in is the default and by default is objective. 

I particularly enjoyed the fact that Dr. Prescod-Weinstein made the effort to explain some of the more advanced aspects of Physics without getting too technical. Despite some of the criticisms having to do with how technical it was, I loved that she expected the reader to do some of the work. Another thing I enjoyed was Dr. Prescod-Weinstein’s use of historical and modern references to people of significance. For example, she referred to both the first African American PhD physicist and the first Black woman. Two people, I had never heard of before reading this book.  In terms of modern references, she gave a shout-out to Dr. Ruha Benjamin and mentioned her book “Race after Science”.  
I didn’t just find the mention of these people interesting. I found them educational and useful to my own work and efforts. Despite not being an academic I imagine there are a lot of elements of this book that resonate with them. Particularly those from marginalized groups. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein doesn’t just talk about a need for change in academia and the sciences, but the ways in which these things must change. Though she spent a lot of time discussing science in the context of race, she did dedicate a chapter of the book on the ways in which women, from a young age, are profoundly disadvantaged in Mathematics and Science. As someone who knows this, I was still floored by the pervasiveness of these dynamics in STEM fields. Another reason for people to read this is to understand the extent to which they are advantaged or disadvantaged in these fields. It is impossible to be anti-anything unless you understand the extent of the problem. There are a lot of problems in STEM, and Dr. Prescod-Weinstein didn’t need to look beyond her own field of expertise to craft a prescription that makes sense. 

“…Black Thoughts, like Black Lives, matter.”

I am constantly critical of the current space program. But it isn’t as simple as being anti-science or “exploring Mars at the expense of Earth”. It is about the exploration and interrogation of self. It is about delivering a better human to the cosmos not encumbered by race and class paranoia. Space should not be a second gold rush or tech boom. And it certainly should not be a pretext for a second-era chattel slavery. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein’s prescription addresses much of these concerns regarding the state of humanity and uses her knowledge and station as an empiricist to discredit antiquated ideas about race and racism.

This book should be required reading in every classroom in the world.

The book is available now in electronic and hard copy format.

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