Here is a story that is perfectly calibrated to rile up the staffers of right-leaning publications. It has federal overspending to the tune of six figures on seemingly trivial causes. It has concern for the environment and climate change. Most importantly, it’s got a big ol’ dollop of campus feminism, holding it all together. It’s too bad it isn’t really true.
Late last week, the blog Powerline posted an item titled “Academic Gibberish: We have another winner,” which highlighted a recently published paper titled “Glaciers, gender, and science: A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research.” The paper was authored by academics at the University of Oregon and published in the journal Progress in Human Geography. Reason subsequently picked it up, and, as is their Libertarian wont, mocked the study for being financed by a National Science Foundation grant. “This University of Oregon Study on Feminizing Glaciers Might Make You Root for Trump,” the headline read.
So far, so good. The paper is real, and it was really funded by a federal grant. Most importantly, the paper’s contents seem to deliver on the delirious promise of its title.
Glaciers are key icons of climate change and global environmental change. However, the relationships among gender, science, and glaciers – particularly related to epistemological questions about the production of glaciological knowledge – remain understudied. This paper thus proposes a feminist glaciology framework with four key components: 1) knowledge producers; (2) gendered science and knowledge; (3) systems of scientific domination; and (4) alternative representations of glaciers. Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions.
All of this adds up to a perfectly acceptable Republican blog post. I even laughed a little at it, and I work at Gawker! But then, the Washington Free Beacon took things one step further, in a post titled “Feds Spent $412,930 Studying ‘Relationship Between Gender and Glaciers’.” I get it, guys, a blog this good doesn’t come around very often—it’s exciting—but let’s make sure it’s real before we print it. Because unfortunately, the feds did not spend $412,930 studying the relationship between gender and glaciers.
The Free Beacon seems to have grabbed its astonishing figure from a webpage documenting the National Science Foundation grant that funded the study. And it’s true, the figure is right there. Awarded amount to date: $412,930.00. But even as someone who’s inclined to see government glut around every corner, don’t you think that’s a little much to spend on a single academic paper?
According to the webpage, the grant was awarded under the NSF’s “Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program,” which is described as an award in support of “the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization.” It is not, in other words, a paycheck for writing one paper about intersectional post-colonialism in arugula farming, or whatever.
The grant seems to have funded the professor Mark Carey’s entire body of research on glaciers. It was awarded in 2013, three years before the publication of the gender paper. Since then, his research has also focused on “the formation of glaciology and theories of ice dynamics,” “the establishment of theories about catastrophic glacial lake megafloods,” “glacier retreat and hydrology,” and a bunch of other stuff neither you nor I understand.
Did Mark Carey write a silly paper about gender and glaciers? Maybe, maybe not—maybe the paper is good, what do I know?—he certainly seems like a pretty smart guy! Did the federal government pay almost half a million dollars for it? In your dreams.