As NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope is sending back its first remarkable images of our universe, “queer agender” feminist physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein wants you to know she remains miffed at the telescope’s moniker.
Late last year, the University of New Hampshire professor and three other scientists demanded NASA ditch Webb’s name from the project due to his alleged homophobia.
Prior to Webb’s appointment as head of NASA in 1961, he allegedly played a role in the so-called “Lavender Scare” as a State Department official. In response to a petition started by Prescod-Weinstein et. al., NASA investigated the issue last summer but concluded there was “no evidence at this point that warrants changing the name of the [telescope].”
In a recent Twitter thread, Prescod-Weinstein said a Freedom of Information Act request shows that a NASA astronomer was assigned to “impugn” her concerns about the telescope name.
“In December 2021 [astronomer Hakeem] Oluseyi released a blog entry that in my opinion cherry-picks history to argue that JW [James Webb] was being unfairly attacked,” Prescod-Weinstein tweeted. “[I]t argued that JW wasn’t responsible for homophobia that happened on JW’s watch. Arguing that managers aren’t responsible for homophobia that happens on their watch is troubling coming from astronomers because many of us are managers — I manage a research group with three students and a postdoc. We are responsible for what happens!!”
Prescod-Weinstein went on to claim NASA used a black scientist (Oluseyi) to attack “an early career Black scientist” (her) and to “provide a shield” for a homophobic administrator. “That really hurts to think about,” she wrote.
MORE: Prescod-Weinstein: Google diversity ‘shoddy’ memo b/c science research is ‘conducted primarily by white men’
Meanwhile, Into echoed Prescod-Weinstein’s concerns and referred to NASA’s new toy as the “Homophobic Telescope.” The project has “alternatively” been called the “Just Wonderful” telescope (get it? JW = James Webb/Just Wonderful), but reminds us that the UNH professor prefers naming it after … Harriet Tubman.
The famous abolitionist, Prescod-Weinstein argued, “represents the best of humanity, and we should be sending the best of what we have to offer into the sky.”
But making Prescod-Weinstein’s complaints tougher to swallow is the fact that the Biden administration gave the green light for the telescope’s name — the same administration which hasn’t met a far-left radical with whom it didn’t immediately fall in love. And NASA’s own investigation came during the same presidential administration.
The effort against Webb is merely the latest to judge an individual of the past by the mores of today. If this is the game we are still playing, why should we listen to someone who blamed an entire race and religion (white gentiles) for black antisemitism and claimed white supremacy is “embedded in scientific practice”? Should we pooh-pooh Prescod-Weinstein’s present-day accomplishments when potentially honoring her 50, 60 or 70 years from now?
“Critical studies” philosophies like Prescod-Weinstein’s hopefully, one day in the not-to-distant future, will be looked upon with as much scorn as the irrational fear of homosexuals from Webb’s era.
MORE: Prescod-Weinstein: For black women in physics, ‘social prestige asymmetries affect epistemic outcomes’
IMAGES: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein / Twitter screencaps
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