A new course offered this semester at Rice University called “Afrochemistry” went viral this week and was widely panned by observers as ridiculous, an example of politics polluting the sciences, and an indication of how far collegiate-level STEM has fallen.
The full title of the course is “Afrochemistry: The Study of Black-Life Matter,” and is offered by the private and prestigious Texas university’s chemistry department.
“Students will apply chemical tools and analysis to understand Black life in the U.S. and students will implement African American sensibilities to analyze chemistry,” its online description states.
“Diverse historical and contemporary scientists, intellectuals, and chemical discoveries will inform personal reflections and proposals for addressing inequities in chemistry and chemical education.”
It adds that taking the course does not require prior knowledge of chemistry or African American studies.
News of the class went viral on X this week, earning widespread ridicule among many.
“Finally, Chemistry can advance as a discipline because it has accepted the importance of Afrochemistry,” quipped scholar Gad Saad.
“I’d love to see Afrostatistics,” chimed in another.
The class was first spotted by University of Chicago emeritus evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, who wrote on his popular blog Why Evolution it True on Nov. 4 that although “students get credit for this in the AAAS minor at Rice (African and African-American studies), could one could get science credit as well? I hope not. ”
“Regardless,” he added, “it pollutes science by conflating it with ‘progressive’ activism.”
The course was then flagged in a The Wall Street Journal op-ed Jan. 5 by famed theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss under the headline “Alan Sokal’s Joke Is on Us as Postmodernism Comes to Science.”
Gone are the days, he argued, when “my colleagues and I took pride in our position on ‘science hill,’ looking down on the humanities scholars in the intellectual valleys below as they were inundated in postmodernism and deconstructionism.”
Classes such as Afrochemistry illustrate progressive and DEI-based ideologies “haven’t totally colonized scientific journals and pedagogy, but they are beginning to appear almost everywhere and are getting support and encouragement from the scientific establishment,” he wrote.
A column Jan. 15 in Spiked argued it’s an example of identity politics in the hard sciences.
“Afrochemistry appears to be the pet project of Brooke Johnson, the ‘preceptor’ (whatever that is) in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) department at Rice. Johnson obtained her PhD in chemistry from Princeton, but it seems that the ‘intersection of science and social justice’, as she puts it on her university profile page, is her primary academic passion,” wrote Alka Sehgal Cuthbert.